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The Unbound Collection by Hyatt and SkiftX present The Freedom to be Extraordinary content series, which explores how breaking free from convention can lead to extraordinary success. These conversations will reveal how leading innovators and entrepreneurs approach creativity and how they’re embracing the freedom to be extraordinary.
Most people know Mae Karwowski as a social media maven. As CEO and founder of Obvious.ly, Karwowski and her team pair brands with influential content creators from an extensive network of social influencers.
Karwowski got her first taste of social media managing Facebook pages for Coke Zero and Bravo reality shows like ‘Real Housewives of New Jersey’ and ‘Top Chef,’ before taking over social media for Gilt City. Karwowski eventually began consulting — landing big name clients such as Uniqlo, BBC, and AOL. “I had a six-month plan at all times, but I knew that consulting wasn’t going to last forever,” says Karwowski. “We were going to need to find a new business model. That’s when I founded Obvious.ly.”
The influential marketing platform is relatively new on the scene but has already succeeded in disrupting the media landscape. The company connects influencers who have robust followings with brands to create organic and relevant content. With Obvious.ly, brands have access to influencers and content that meet their exact specifications. “Say a brand wants a surfer in and around the northwest. They can easily login and find an influencer that matches that description,” says Karwowski. “Thanks to our network, we’re able to find extremely niche audiences and influencers.”
Watch our interview with Obvious.ly’s CEO below.
She admits, however, that her passion for social media wasn’t the only factor that sparked her desire to branch out on her own. The freedom to be her own boss was also hard to resist. “I love being the CEO and founder of a startup,” Karwowski says. “It can be extremely stressful at times, but I always remind myself that I own it. It’s my stress. It’s been so fulfilling to be able to build a company and make decisions for myself.”
Rather than take outside investments, Karwowski chose to invest her own money into Obvious.ly. The decision to bootstrap the company granted the founder the flexibility and freedom to experiment without fearing outside repercussions. “I wanted to make sure I could make mistakes on my own dime rather than with anyone else’s money,” says the startup founder. “The influencer marketing space is so new and changing so quickly that I wanted to be able to pivot without having to ask permission from a number of shareholders.” Within three short years, the risk paid off.
Obvious.ly has managed to become a profitable and sustainable business, with headquarters in New York City, and recently, a new office in San Francisco. The New York office, located in SoHo, is only a short trip away from Obvious.ly’s clients and Karwowski’s downtown apartment — which played a major factor in her choosing the locations. “It really never takes us more than 15-20 minutes to get to our clients and I can basically see the office from my apartment,” she says. “In NYC or a big metropolitan city, [a short commute] saves so much time in your day. Your overall well-being is so much better because you’re able to get all that time back.”
Despite working within the male-dominated tech industry, Karwowski has no shortage of smart women backing her. In fact, eight of the 10 employees at Obvious.ly are women and hold a masters degree or more. “The demographics of Obvious.ly are pretty unique, especially in terms of tech startups,” says Karwowski. “I think our clients are pretty surprised when we come to a meeting and I’m a female CEO bringing two female salespeople with me. It’s been overwhelmingly positive.”
As Obvious.ly continues to expand, the company’s CEO is committed to growing the business on her terms. “It’s extremely rare to do what we’ve done and be profitable and successful without outside help,” says Karwowski. “It has really freed us up to create the product and the services that our clients want and need. We are making money and we can afford the luxury of being able to control our own destiny.”
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