by Gay Gaddis | Published by Forbes

Photo of Lizzie Velasquez, courtesy of Forbes

[ARTICLE] Great entrepreneurs start with a passion to do things differently. They become motivated by their cause and will sometimes take on dragons to prove their business model and drive their theories and profits. This was certainly the case with me, when I started my advertising agency in 1989 with a dream, a plan and a $16,000 cashed-in IRA.

This past year I had the privilege to meet, then get to know Lizzie Velasquez, an entrepreneur with a cause bigger than she could ever have imagined and the spirit and creativity to take it to a national arena. Lizzie has taken this deeply personal cause and leveraged it into a thriving business.

The cause I am talking about is bullying. Lizzie experienced this in a way few of us can even fathom. By the time she was in high school she came across a video of herself on YouTube titled, “The World’s Ugliest Woman.” The comments about the video were beyond harsh. Lizzie has a rare disorder that makes it impossible for her to gain weight. The 26-year-old has never weighed more than 64 pounds.

I had the chance to interview her, and here is what we talked about:

Gay Gaddis: Did you always think you would be an entrepreneur?

Lizzie Velasquez: I didn’t really ever think of myself as an entrepreneur. First and foremost, I had to flip the hurt and negativity of social media and turn it into something positive, to hopefully help others who have suffered from severe bullying to not let it get them down. I didn’t realize I was an entrepreneur until I was a speaker at a Malaysia conference for entrepreneurs!

Gaddis: It is one thing to have a cause. What did you do about it?

Velasquez: First, I decided I had to speak out about bullying and the devastation it had meant to me and others. My assistant principal in junior high asked me if I would make a speech to the student body. When I spoke, you could hear a pin drop. It was then I gained the understanding that people could relate to me. They would listen to me.

Gaddis: How did it feel to take that first step of speaking out on the issue?

Velasquez: We all have to have the courage to take a first step. To begin moving. It was then that I got the confidence to make other speeches, write books and recently worked with my friend and first-time filmmaker, Sara Hirsh Bordo, to create a documentary about my life.

Gaddis: Tell me about the documentary.

Velasquez: It is [called] “A Brave Heart.” I am the leading lady in my own life story. I am truly amazed that the film has won so many film festival awards. I just hope that it continues to spread the word about the damaging effects of bullying for generations to come, as well as affect legislation.

Gaddis: How have you monetized your cause?

Velasquez: Through the sales of my books, fees for speeches, and the documentary, I actually know now that I am a true entrepreneur, managing my own life and career. It is a business I couldn’t be more passionate about.

Gaddis: Social media was first your enemy. How have you turned the tide and used it for good?

Velasquez: Being an anti-bullying activist is my career and business. I have over 400,000 followers now on my YouTube channel and 10 million views for my TEDx speech, “How Do YOU Define Yourself.” Through my wide net of social followers, I continue to have a high demand for my books and it has opened countless speaking opportunities.

Gaddis: What’s next and what is a secret you can share?

Velasquez: I have been to Capitol Hill to give testimony to encourage Congress to pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act that would force public schools into a no tolerance posture around bullying. There is much work to be done and I won’t stop. Oh, and my secret is like most entrepreneurs. You always have to keep your eye on the end goal and be able to bring others along with you to build your cause or enterprise. They have to continue to believe in you because you are authentic and a fighter.