Lucky to have parents who will drop everything and travel across the country with me when great opportunity calls.
Brandon Boynton contemplated ending his life when he was 14. He’d been physically and mentally tormented by bullies throughout the eighth grade, in person and online, and he worried he couldn’t take one more dig.
“I was a weird kid in middle school,” the Pendleton, Ind., native, now 19, tells Entrepreneur. “I looked weird, I sounded weird. I was really shy and scared of everyone, right up until I started to come out of my shell and decided to run for class president. I was like, ‘Hey, this could be a new me.’”
Pushing down feelings of “self-doubt,” he swallowed his fears and taped up election campaign posters all around his school. “They ended up in urinals, torn up all over the ground,” he says. “People wrote mean, hurtful things all over them. I was proud that I went out of my comfort zone to put them up, but, what they did, it just tore me up and upset me, to put it lightly. I wanted to see the people who did it punished, not in an evil way, but just in a way that would address their behavior and make it stop.”
From that day forward, Boynton’s eighth-grade year, which he describes as his “most miserable ever,” only got worse. His bullies became crueler and grew in number, as rumors spread that he’d snitched on them by name to administrators. It was true. He did, via his school’s anonymous bullying incident reporting system. (He didn’t tell his parents until much later.) In the short term, he came to regret it, even if it was “the right thing” to do.
“I experienced verbal, social, emotional and physical torment,” he recently wrote in a deeply personal Surety Bonds small business scholarship essay. “Overtime, these experiences had a profound impact on my feelings of self-worth. My confidence had been destroyed and thoughts of suicide began to creep into my daily thoughts.”
Removing stigma from asking for help.
The incident reporting system at Boynton’s middle school was no more than a box on the wall. Many U.S. schools situate these types of “bully boxes” around their campuses to encourage students to anonymously report bullying — without their names, but with the names of their aggressors — ideally so they can feel safe coming forward and avoid retaliation. “We had one on the wall of one of the most populated areas of the school,” he says, “but kids made fun of it, and it had a lot of negative social stigma around it.”
Boynton slipped in a note describing his situation. But he didn’t feel it was as effective as it could’ve been, had it been better implemented in a more modern and tech-related way.
Meanwhile, his parents, Chad, a law enforcement officer, and Tonya, a fourth-grade teacher, encouraged their son to channel his emotions from that “extremely dark period” in his life into uplifting, confidence-building pursuits. After exploring mobile app development for more than a year, and with his parents’ love and support, he found the strength to combine his two biggest passions — helping others and writing code — into a business.
Two years later, Boynton did just that. In 2013, when he was 16, he founded MostBeastlyStudios LLC, the rising, Indianapolis-based mobile app startup behind The BullyBox, the bullying prevention and anonymous reporting app that he launched shortly after. He is now the nascent company’s CEO and lead developer, heading up a remote team of five 1099/W6 subcontractor developers. Their mission: Build “apps that make a difference. Not games. Apps that improve lives.”
On top of alerting school officials to student reports of alleged physical, verbal, cyber and emotional bullying, The BullyBox provides students with a safe, anonymous outlet to tip teachers and administrators off to a host of other serious school safety concerns. Among them are weapons-, drug- and fight-related threats and incidents.
“I figured I’d spin school bully boxes in a positive way that people would be more likely to take seriously and use,” he says. His hunch proved right. Many people have made use of his innovative take on the bully box concept. Some 100,000 students in 22 U.S. states, and in New Zealand, Spain, France and the United Kingdom, are currently using the app.
Where passion meets community support.
The BullyBox was not Boynton’s first attempt at channeling a technical hobby into career. “I thought that I was going to be a YouTube sensation,” he says. “I saved up my money to for video editing software and I got really into it, running around shooting my friends with Nerf guns and videoing it. It was fun, but, looking back, the videos were the cheesiest, worst things that I’ve ever done.”
Boynton wasn’t the only one to think that, which he found out one embarrassing afternoon at school. He’d posted a school project video on his YouTube channel and stood before his entire class to present it. When the clip finished, one of his goofy Nerf battle videos auto-played. It was too late. The damage was done.
“From then on, people made fun of me, commenting on YouTube and at school about how cheesy and stupid my videos were and how stupid I was, and it hurt because I put a lot of time and money and effort into my videos. I thought I was going to make it big, and I really put myself out there and got rejected.”
Things have changed since then. On July 1, 2015, while Boynton was still a one-man shop and a senior in high school, he overhauled The BullyBox and released an updated version. He credits this accomplishment — no small one for a time-strapped student, fitness fanatic and member of the school band — partly to his parents cheering him on and partly to his enrollment in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA).
In case you’re not familiar with YEA, it’s a nationwide nonprofit initiative that aims to mold students in grades six through 12 into “real, confident entrepreneurs.” The year-long classroom program, offered by Boynton’s local chamber of commerce, teaches aspiring kidpreneurs to “generate business ideas, conduct market research, write business plans, pitch to a panel of investors and launch their very own companies,” per its website. Some of the successful young entrepreneurs we’ve previously reported on at Entrepreneur are also YEA graduates.