Among the great liberating qualities of the digital world is that it allows many people to express themselves, free from the constraints of the physical world.
For David Kennedy (BMath ’02), vice-president and co-founder of the digital avatar company Bitmoji, the ways people represent themselves and identify online should be about empowerment and breaking free of constraints.
“The genesis of the idea for Bitmoji is that we wanted to fill a gap in digital communication,” Kennedy said. “That gap is you. The people that you send messages to are the most important people in your life. What Bitmoji does is it actually puts you into those messages. It makes you feel closer to the people you are communicating with.”
Now with more than one billion avatars created, Bitmoji is used across a variety of platforms and is part of the company Snap, the popular social media and camera company. Bitmoji allows users to personalize every aspect of their avatar, and of their online identity, including hair, outfits and skin tone. The avatar can be used in many digital spaces and a new feature even brings the avatars into 3D spaces and augmented reality.
“Our core values are grounded in inclusivity and diversity,” Kennedy said. “Representation matters. Being seen matters. That’s something we have to honour for our users. One of the amazing things about Bitmoji is how passionate our users are and how much feedback we get from them. We want people to be able to fully represent themselves, so when we launch these new avatar traits and accessibility devices, it’s clear to see the impact it has on people.”
These same values are embedded in Snap’s annual corporate social responsibility reports, which they aptly call their CitizenSnap Report.
“Another aspect of Bitmoji, and something that not a lot of people know, is that it was founded in Canada and remains primarily located in Canada,” Kennedy continued. “We have our main Bitmoji offices in Toronto and maintain close connections with Waterloo.”
The company regularly takes on interns and co-op students from the University of Waterloo. Kennedy completed a degree in the Faculty of Mathematics, with a specialization in computer science. He also completed a minor in philosophy and was particularly interested in cognitive science.
“The thing that stands out for me about Waterloo and the impact it had on me was that it taught me resilience,” Kennedy said. “Many courses pushed me outside my comfort zone and helped me build new skills. It’s the same with a startup — you need to be willing to struggle and you need to be persistent.”
After 15 years in the business and with Bitmoji having recently crossed the milestone of having more than one billion Bitmoji avatars created, Kennedy is anything but complacent.
“The physical world has so many constraints on people. Our goal is to make sure we don’t recreate those constraints in the digital world, and that inspires our work every day.”
“Representation matters. Being seen matters. That’s something we have to honour.