How an awkward, lonely kid grew up to make the world feel beautiful

It doesn’t take much to start something great. Matthew Hoffman is proof of that.

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He started the You Are Beautiful project ten years ago with just 100 simple stickers. Each one was printed with the message “you are beautiful.” Matthew and his friends stuck them up around their locals areas. After that, he set up a simple one-page site where people around the world could order their own stickers.

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Matthew said the project came out of his desire “to create a simple, positive, affirming message,” and has been helpful to him as well as others:

Everyone has self-esteem issues and dark times and the message has done a lot for me.

Matthew didn’t have a lot of friends because his family moved around a lot, and he described himself as a “kind of awkward kid.” Starting the You Are Beautiful project helped him find a positive message to focus on, and ended up helping thousands of other people around the world.

I could put this little sticker up and, you know, not really say anything to anyone, but it would still do something really positive.

The movement snowballed more than he ever expected, and people started sending in photos of You Are Beautiful stickers in the wild, from all over the world.

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Now the project includes murals, exhibitions and installations, and over half a million stickers have been distributed.

Even as the project continues to grow, Matthew stays focused on his original goal, sharing the message, which he says “is a message that everyone needs to hear.”

I just know how important it is to me, if I’m having a down day and something or someone does something to pick me up—what that does for me and how much is means to me. So to be able to do that for other people is incredible.

It’s okay to start small. Matthew’s story shows how big something can grow, regardless of its humble beginnings.

There are some clear lessons we can take away from Matthew’s story which have helped him to take the You Are Beautiful movement this far.

1. Do something you care about

It’s clear that Matthew has a personal interest in his project, which is why he began it in the first place. The benefits Matthew personally gets from the project helps him stay interested and passionate.

2. Focus on the message

As your project grows, particularly if it’s a business that starts to make you money, it can be hard to stay true to your original vision. Matthew offers a great example of not letting growth and success cloud your vision and get in the way of your original message or idea.

3. Let people join in

Matthew did something really clever early on: he encouraged people to upload photos of the stickers they’d put up. Photos from all over the world started to flood in as people took up the movement and made it theirs. This joint ownership of You Are Beautiful created a sense of connection and personal investment from those involved.

Don’t be afraid to let your customers take your idea and run with it. The more they are personally invested, the more they’ll help you grow.

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There’s something really great about a success story like Matthew’s. To see him start out with such a humble idea and to follow such an honest, genuine path to growing the movement is really heart-warming.

If you know any similar stories, I’d love to hear them! Let me know in the comments below.