Small Biz

Making the most beautiful things

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Visual effects CEO steps up as a role model for LGBTQ youth

By Melissa Lowery

Andrew Bly knows a little something about making your own way in the world. The CEO of Molecule VFX co-founded the company when he was just 21 years old and built it into a successful, in-demand visual effects studio. He is an example of being in the right place at the right time, of taking advantage of opportunities, of being decisive in the pursuit of a goal – a success story where small-town boy makes good in the big city.

“I didn’t grow up in New York, I grew up in the middle of nowhere,” Bly says when we sit down to chat via Zoom. “If anything, I just want to offer myself as an example. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live, whatever your dream is, you can make it happen.”

At first, this sounds like another successful person offering platitudes, the usual “pull yourself up by your bootstraps, son!” rhetoric of countless “motivational” speakers. Then Bly continues.

“I grew up in Trump country as an LGBTQ person,” he says. “I didn’t have role models, really, people out there showing me what it’s like to be successful as a gay person. So I want to put myself out there and show people, it’s possible, you can do anything anyone else can do.”

A self-professed film geek, Bly fell in love with the medium during a harrowing childhood illness.

“I was 11 years old and in the hospital, dying of meningitis,” he said. “My brother was home alone because our parents were at the hospital with me, and he decided to start making these funny videos with his friends and our home video camera. Our parents brought the tape in for me to watch and I started laughing at it and from that day, I got progressively better.”

From then on, Bly was hooked on the power of visual storytelling. At first, he envisioned becoming the next Steven Spielberg – Jurassic Park is still one of his favorite movies – but soon realized that his talents lie elsewhere.

“At school, when I had access to all the video gear, I would spend a week editing something together and it would be okay. Then my musician friend would come in and sit down for a couple of hours and make the most beautiful thing,” he says, shaking his head ruefully. “I realized that I’m not the most creative person when it comes to storytelling, but I am good on the business side of things. I’m good at wrangling people and getting a project done.”

Fortunately, running a company was also a childhood dream. At 16, Bly started his own production company called “Free Will Entertainment” where he produced videos for the Ronald McDonald House in Danville, Pennsylvania.

Dreaming of a career in the film industry, he knew some post-secondary education was necessary but chafed at the idea of spending four years earning a degree.

“I felt like four years in school would be a waste for me,” Bly says, choosing his words carefully. He wants to be clear that a traditional four-year degree is the right choice for some people, just not for him. “I wanted to get to it, to learn the basics, then get to work.”

While sitting for his senior pictures, the photographer started telling Bly about a friend’s son who went to a school in Florida and earned an associate’s degree in one year. The school was Full Sail Real World Education, at the time a technical college focused on the recording arts, animation and film and television. It is now Full Sail University, an institution offering associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in entertainment, media, arts, and technology with an emphasis on real-world industry experience.

“I thought, if I can do that, get the training I need in a year, then I’ll go to college,” Bly says. So he packed up and went to Florida for a year of intensive study. At age 19, he moved to New York City with his associate’s degree from Full Sail and a passion for the film industry.

At 20 he got a job as a coordinator for The Beastie Boys as they were gearing up for their new album, To The 5 Boroughs. It was then that he heard about an opportunity to marry his two passions – entertainment and entrepreneurship.

“I was working with Adam [Yauch] and overheard another production assistant talking about how his roommate had this visual effects gear and a free room in Manhattan. They were thinking about starting a company and I thought, ‘I have to be a part of that!’” he recalls.

In 2005, at just 21 years old, Bly became one of the founding members of The Molecule, a visual effects studio.

Bly’s 20s were an exciting time of self-realization. Growing up in a small factory town in Pennsylvania at the turn of the millennium, Bly knew he felt differently about girls than his friends did but it was years later when he understood why.

“I was kind of late to the game,” he said with a chuckle. “It didn’t really hit me full on until I met my husband when I was 22. When I met my husband, I felt everything that my straight friends talked about when they were talking about girls. I never connected with the feeling they were talking about before, but I finally understood it when I met Josh.”

Bly met Josh Sacavage through MySpace, one of the first online platforms that allowed you to search by sexual preference and location.
“I was in New York but I wanted to meet somebody from back home,” he said. “Josh is also from a small town in Pennsylvania so we connected on MySpace and then we met in person and I was like, okay, I’m gay.”

He came out to his parents and other folks back home and focused on his relationship and building his business. But in realizing and accepting his own identity, Bly started thinking back to his youth and seeing how different his experience could have been.

“I notice that a lot of LGBTQ youth end up not being as successful as their non-LGBTQ counterparts, especially in areas like where I grew up,” he says. “I think the main issue is lack of resources. So many LGBTQ youths end up getting kicked out [of their homes]. It’s happening less, but it’s still happening.”

Bly began volunteering with GLSEN, which focuses on supporting LGBTQ youth through school programs to end discrimination and promote inclusion.

“GLSEN is really good at grassroots efforts and providing resources to people who want to build safe spaces for young people. I feel like putting my energy into providing those resources will create a better path for future generations,” he says.

Bly is also a member of the Eastern Caucus Victory Board for Victory Fund where he helps identify and support LGBTQ candidates for elected office. He is not interested in running for office himself, at least not currently, but Bly sees this as another way to build a better future for LGBTQ folks.

“I really like finding candidates that actually know the community they’re running in, that have a platform that’s good for LGBTQ people, and doing what I can to support them,” he says.

He is gearing up for the 2022 midterm elections when the party in power typically loses ground. Bly expects it to be a battle, in part because people are less excited than during a presidential election year. But he has an idea for how to strategize.

“Whatever Stacey Abrams does, let’s tap into that and use it to get the whole country to come out and vote in the midterms,” he says.

Bly is actively working on his leadership skills, something he wishes he had focused on in his 20s.

“I wish I had studied leadership and done more to make myself a better leader through my 20s,” he said. “I was really good on the business side of things like winning clients, financial structures and all the technicalities of business, but the human part, the leadership part – that was a weakness.”

When Bly identifies a weakness in himself, he works to strengthen it through multiple resources. To hone his leadership skills, he joined mentorship groups, read books, listened to other leaders whose styles he likes and began developing his own leadership style.

“I think one of the biggest problems people have when studying how to start a business or how to be a leader is thinking there are a bunch of boxes you can check off, but it’s not one size fits all,” he says. “A lot about business is the same, but there are also a lot of differences. It’s important for you to be different, to bring your own personality and values and style to the table.”

In 2019, Bly attended the GLSEN Respect Awards where Tim Cook was honored with the Champion Award. It was a pivotal moment.

“He got up and talked about why he felt it was important for him to speak out about being LGBTQ in the position that he was in,” Bly recalls. “That resonated with me. I feel like we’re doing a lot to be an inclusive company every day, but I thought, as the CEO, I should be talking more, I should be putting myself out there more.”

And here he is – a successful, out CEO working to make it easier for today’s LGBTQ youth to find resources and role models.

“I think, nationwide, things are better for LGBTQ youth,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean you stop because the second you stop, it goes backward. I’m not out there screaming from the rooftops – that’s not my style – but I want to do what I can with what I have to keep us moving forward.”

Melissa LoweryMelissa Lowery (she/her) is the Editor of BEQ Pride Magazine and a contributor to other publications focused on economic equality. A native of Kansas, she enjoys subverting stereotypes and is determined to maintain her status as World’s Greatest Aunt to her 13 nieces and nephews.

Business Equality Pride (BEQPride) is the first publication from the BEQ family of national print and digital magazines exclusively addressing the needs of LGBTQ small-to-medium sized businesses, entrepreneurs and professionals.