In the wake of the Essena O’Neill Instagram scandal and an on-campus arrest for a threatening Yik Yak post, social media seems to be the newest breeding ground for negativity. I thought all hope was lost– I even did a social media cleanse for a week to rid myself of what I thought was a toxin… but then Brighten came along and restored my faith in digital media. The new app lets you send your friends anonymous compliments to brighten their days and yours too (a.k.a. it’s a ray of sunshine that you need in your life).
When CEO and Founder Austin Kevitch realized social media needed a reality check, he introduced Brighten to the world and revamped social media as we know it. After Austin’s friend Oliver passed away in a rock climbing accident in March of 2013, he watched several of Oliver’s friends take to Facebook to share uplifting memories– Austin only wished Oliver could see it himself.
To expand on how people celebrated Oliver’s life, Austin invested in a pen and paper and posted a hand-crafted “compliment box” outside his campus house. But once the box overflowed, he realized he was onto something bigger. He’s dedicated the last few years to churning out a digital “compliment box”: Brighten.
To turn his idea into reality, Kevitch joined an entrepreneurship society, the Kairos Society while continuing his undergrad at Bucknell. He was put in touch with an iOS development team in the Philippines and from there, he launched a prototype to fully validate the product. Since then, Brighten’s climbed the charts in the App Store like crazy– as of today it’s hanging at a casual #42. Plus, Austin was able to recruit some pals from high school– Alec Lorraine, Social Media Marketing and Tim Cannon, Community Manager to join the Brighten Team. The team hired what Tim calls “their secret weapon,” Matt Jensen (aka the most “interesting/talented Engineer to come out of the state of Washington”). According to Tim, Jensen dropped out college because “he’s so fucking smart and learned to develop at the age of like 7… he’s our baby genius.”
I had the chance to chat with Tim Cannon about what’s going on over at Brighten HQ and what it’s like to basically be the L.A.-based version of the Silicon Valleycrew. Yes, they all live together in one humble abode in Venice.
Cori Rosen: You went out into the world and had a job in Chicago. How did you decide to forgo a steady income and fuck it and go work for a friend’s start up?
Tim Cannon: I think there’s a trust factor. With Austin, I had no doubts in my mind. He put in the time and the effort -what you see is three years in the making– and like literally did nothing else with his time over that time period. I saw his day-to-day improvements with the app, so it was all something really easy for me to get behind. If it was still just in the idea stage, I would’ve been like “there’s no way I’m going to do this,” but it was at the point in time where like it’s all or nothing. People say to take risks out of college…this wasn’t a risk to me – Living and working with my best friends on something we’re all passionate about? Check please.
CR: A lot of Syracuse seniors, especially when they’re looking ahead towards graduation, ask themselves whether they want to work for the man or be the man and do my own thing.
TC: I think it’s a huge change in kids our age, because of things like social media. They see that they can make money in strange ways that isn’t the normal route that their parents took. Our parents literally had it ingrained in their mind at the age of 20 of putting in thirty years of effort at a good company and from there retiring. Whereas now it’s like completely flipped. People read things like Elite Daily all the time and think, “god damn it how do I make this my work?” It all comes down to preferences. A lot of people do like the content feeling of a day in and day out job, but for me, having a job based around personal achievements rather than timing/security is much more fulfilling — I think that’s a really big problem with your first job out of college at larger companies, you’re just waiting for a date to move onto the next job.
CR: So, you basically have a little frat to yourselves at your headquarters out in L.A.?
TC: If you’ve ever seen Silicon Valley, it’s exactly what it is. I don’t think we can compare ourselves to them. I think we’re more if Entourage met Silicon Valley, that would be us. We’re a lot more social and willing to do things like skate around Venice in our underwear to get people to understand the brighten movement a little better.
CR: You’re pretty much the Silicon Valley guys that get a bottle at the club then, right?
TC: We don’t go to clubs often. We really enjoy putting on performances at our apartment (Alec is an aspiring actor/singer/dancer…THE definition of a triple threat…add @brightenapp on Snapchat to see for yourself). I don’t think it’s really admirable to go to a club in L.A. and be working for a tech startup. The occasional bottle here or there is nice, though.
CR: If you had to describe Brighten in one word?
TC: I would describe it as… I can say this in three words? A ‘form of gratitude’ (made by a team of savages).
CR: So gratitude is your one word?
TC: Gratitude, yes. I think it is one of the most powerful emotions you can have. There have been studies that show that people who feel gratitude have more of a dopamine release than any other type of emotion and so we’re trying to get every person to have this experience as much as possible. There’s so much negativity around, if you even instill a positive, you really need to drill it into people and then you’ll start seeing results. I think it’s changed all of our lives. I used to get so angry, like freak out about the dumbest shit and now I just don’t care, put it behind me and we’re onto the next thing and positive about everything. It bleeds into our lives amazingly and I just want that to be the case for everyone else.
CR: You got pretty scientific there with the dopamine thing.
TC: Yeah, there’s a lot of science that goes into a lot of this, a lot of case studies. If you want to talk to Austin about that, he literally studied that for three years. In apps there’s UI and UX, User interface and User experience, and user experience is all psychological. So Austin studied that for three fucking years (I don’t have the patience for that). We didn’t just release a product, we had to put a lot of time into this and we did an amazing job of that.
Want to join team brighten? Start sharing the love by downloading BrightenASAP Ferg. Warning: it’s extremely addictive and you’ll probably spend less time on Instagram stalking the boy you made out with on Ostrom last night and more time making feel good about themselves.