The idea for Kindly was born out of co-founder and CEO Jordan Walker’s own need. He was just 30 when he and his wife decided to divorce. The experience was overwhelming, and despite otherwise living the life he aspired to have — surrounded by friends, in Manhattan, working a dream job at Spotify — he felt alone, with few people to turn to for support. At his young age he had few friends who were married, let alone had gone through a divorce. In addition to seeking emotional support outside his family and friends circle, he had basic questions: When should he hire a lawyer? How do other people cope?

“A crisis hotline didn’t feel justified — my need wasn’t so urgent. Chatrooms felt desperate, out in the open and full of spammers. And there was absolutely nothing mobile,” he said.

He knew there was a need for a solution to this problem, a way to enable people to get the help and support they need. So he started wireframing, and from there the ideas for Kindly flowed easily.

A mobile connection to a compassionate listener

According to a 2013 study by NAMI, one in four American adults experiences mental illness — however mild — in any given year. Of these 62 million Americans, 60 percent of them receive no mental health services at all. The traditional mental health care system is growing, however it’s still inaccessible for a large swath of the public. Reasons range from the high cost and time commitment to basic lack of education and awareness.

Together with his cofounder Greg Kucsan, Walker’s goal for Kindly is this: provide a space for a private, one-on-one conversation around a given topic. The topic can be essentially anything: job stress, relationships, creativity challenges, postpartum depression — you name it. Walker describes it as a “virtual park bench,” where the person next to you is compassionate, familiar with your experience and an excellent listener.

Kindly creates an environment where people feel comfortable speaking openly, and then connects those in need of more advanced help with licensed professionals. This new model of therapy delivered through a mobile device organically introduces professional help to people who would never have considered it or sought it out before.

Building chat into Kindly with Layer

Since Kindly gives a way of connecting people in a helpful and meaningful way, reliable communications is fundamental to the product. After scoping the app, they set out to build the communications stack.

“We took a closer look at what it would take to build it ourselves, and quickly decided to find a service that focused solely on this, so we could keep focusing on our initial goals.” said Kucsan.

The team found Layer, reviewed its clean and straightforward documentation and immediately determined it to be the service that would free them from the technical complexities around communications. And in effect, allow them to shift focus to designing an exceptional product experience for users.

The Kindly user experience today is simple and straightforward. Users press a chat button and enter their issue in 140 characters or less. They choose a category that best describes their issue from a set of options and then the app finds someone willing to lend their ear. The first well-matched listener to volunteer gets paired with the user.

Chat sessions are text based and limited to 20 minutes. If the user likes their listener, they can request to add them as a friend. If they accept, they show up in their buddy list for future conversations.

“Layer allowed us to build extremely quickly to turn around our MVP,” said Walker. “Having the core chat function handled by Layer has been huge.”

“I created this because it could have helped me at one point in my life,” he said. “By creating a simple mobile experience that connects like-minded peers in one-on-one chat sessions, I hope we can help people through those moments in life when they could use a fresh perspective. Everyone has those moments.”

Kindly is available for iOS. Download and experience it today.