An App Combats Bullying, One Anonymous Compliment at a Time


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A friend’s death served as the impetus for Austin Kevitch’s anti-bullying app.

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Nathaniel Wood for The New York Times

Name Austin Kevitch

Age 25

Hometown Blue Bell, Pa.

Now Lives In a 3,500-square-foot Craftsman house in Santa Monica, Calif., that he shares with four employees and his younger sister.

Claim to Fame Mr. Kevitch is the founder of Brighten, an app that allows users to send compliments to friends anonymously, as a kind of antidote to social media bullying. “It feels good to make someone smile,” reads the app’s tagline. Mr. Kevitch said that more than 10 million messages have been sent by its one million users, many of whom are in high school and college.

Big Break The idea for Brighten came to Mr. Kevitch in 2013, when he was a junior at Bucknell University. A close friend, Oliver, died in a climbing accident, and his Facebook page was filled with positive remembrances. “I wished Oliver could’ve read those messages while he was still alive,” Mr. Kevitch said. He built the app, which he envisioned as a digital compliment box, with a programmer he met through the Kairos Society, an organization that brings young entrepreneurs together to solve the world’s problems. “I paid a couple thousand dollars; it was my life savings at the time,” Mr. Kevitch said. The app was released in 2014, and drew 5,000 users in its first three months.

Latest Project Mr. Kevitch just returned from Summit at the Sea (think Ted Talks meets Coachella on a cruise ship), where he shared ideas on entrepreneurship and wellness with the likes of Will.i.am and Wim Hof, the Dutch daredevil nicknamed “The Iceman.” “Wim was my favorite,” Mr. Kevitch said. “He thinks he has the cure for depression.” That cure? Take 25 deep breaths.

Next Thing Brighten is looking to team up with anti-bullying platforms including Kind Campaign, a nonprofit group that combats what it calls “girl on girl” bullying, and Be Cool Be Nice, a social media campaign started by Willow Smith and Kendall Jenner built around the hashtag #BeCoolBeNice and the idea that “Kindness is always in style.”

Humble Start Mr. Kevitch’s first brush with a compliment box came during high school, when he was a guest at a friend’s house. His little sister set down a compliment box, made from an old tissue box. “Write something nice about a family member,” she said. A few minutes later, she pulled out pieces of paper and read all the compliments. “It brightened everyone’s day,” Mr. Kevitch said.

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