The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones has finished filming and screens in April with fans waiting on tenterhooks to see who’s next on Arya Stark’s hit list.
Maisie Williams, the 21-year-old actress who plays Arya Stark, is in the midst of a new adventure, taking the tech world by storm by creating her own social media app.
The Game of Thrones star was launched into her acting career at just 12 years old and having spent the last decade in a role redefining the status of young women in a patriarchal society, Williams is now mirroring the determination of her character in the very different world of tech.
The HQ of Williams’ new venture is located in London’s artistic capital, the painfully cool borough of Shoreditch. Inside the minimalist office, a sea of oversized Apple Mac desktops mask the faces of the sixteen employees that now work for Williams’ company, Daisie. Typing rigorously, a head of pastel pink hair turns around to greet me, it’s evident from the get-go that Williams is right at the heart of her new venture.
“I’ve been in a contract since I was 12,” Williams tells me, “I’m now reliving my youth through my hair,” she laughs.
Born in Bristol, the young actress was cast as Arya Stark in HBO’s Game Of Thrones and began filming in 2011. Williams has had an extremely busy decade, also featuring in Doctor Who with Peter Capaldi, The Falling (2014) and a number of independent films, and it doesn’t look like it’s about to slow down anytime soon.
“We just got back from Paris Fashion week,” Maisie tells me casually. Adhering to the smart-casual dress code of the office, Williams wears black striped trousers with a high neck top, hands clasped in her lap, it’s obvious the ten years’ worth of experience means she’s well versed in interview protocol.
Boasting an impressive eight million Instagram followers, Williams has decided to create her own social media platform but she’s ditching the ‘damaging’ likes and follower count.
“We’ve all grown up with social media, so in terms of building your own its quite exciting being like, well, what do I hate about everything else and what do I want mine to have.”
Despite her most recent Instagram upload racking up an impressive 650,000 likes, Williams thinks this form of validation is damaging the creative industry.
“If someone like Picasso was around today, they wouldn’t have a ton of likes and follows because what he did was so bizarre and so strange,” she tells me.
The new platform is called ‘Daisie’. A combination of Maisie and Dom – the clue is that Dom Santry, a film producer from West Sussex, approached Maisie with the original idea when he was working as a camera operator on set. “We wanted to create a social media that was for artists to be able to find one another and collaborate on work. When we started out we thought it would just be a list of contacts, kind of like LinkedIn,” Williams says.
[pullquote align=”right”]”If someone like Picasso was around today, they wouldn’t have a ton of likes and follows because what he did was so bizarre and so strange.”[/pullquote]Instead, the idea quickly gathered momentum and the team decided to make the platform portfolio based, enabling creatives to connect, collaborate and share projects. The app now boasts a number of features, including ‘Question Time’ where industry professionals share their experience, and ‘Shared Projects’ enabling collaboration across different industries. Tired of the clone-like content that plagues so many of our social media feeds, Williams’ passion for her new venture comes across loud and clear.
“I think it’s a really good time for Daisie to breathe new life into the social platforms that we already see,” she says. “We’re trying to come away from this airbrushed perfect picture that we’re all kind of obsessed with and take it more to the artist, and really be able to highlight people creating interesting stuff rather than just this content that people like to thrive on.”
The home screen of my phone serves as a constant reminder of all the social media apps that have gone before; who remembers Kik? It takes something pretty special for a platform to rival the screen time of our App Store favourites.
Clarifying Daisie’s place in an already saturated market, Williams claims: “In terms of trying to come away from something like Instagram that already exists, we thought we could facilitate more of the actual collaboration, going from one idea and taking it all the way through to an actual project and inviting people in as you go,”
Celebrity app development is no new trend, but for a 21-year-old actress in the midst of performing success, it seems like quite a leap into the unknown.
[pullquote align=”right”]“I would never have had the confidence to do something like this on my own”[/pullquote]“It was Dom’s vision and he came to me,” says Williams. “I would never have had the confidence to do something like this on my own. It’s really exciting and I’m loving being part of it but in terms of running a company, it’s not a skillset that I had.”
“I’ve always understood that I’ve got a lot of opportunities, but actually taking that leap and having the confidence to embark on my own adventures, I’ve never really had the confidence to do that.”
The tech industry is notoriously male-dominated but Williams is adamant that she wants people to buy into her idea, not her gender.
“People say things in investor meetings like, ‘we are really interested in investing in women’, and it’s just kind of bizarre like they want to get their metrics up or something!
“Women are still sort of seen like people want to include them, but it’s now become about a figure thing, like how many women do we have in our company, it feels very forced and very strange.”
No wonder Williams is confused by the archaic approach to women in the industry. After all, she has spent the last decade portraying a standout forceful female character on our screens,
Maisie launched Daisie last summer. Like any successful millennial endeavour, an element of exclusivity was required, so pre-launch Maisie and her team reached out and asked artists to submit work to apply to become one of the founding Daisie100 members.
The team at Daisie are currently working behind the scenes to build a bigger and better version of the app which is due to relaunch in April 2019.
“I mean we really see Daisie being global, and being hugely successful. I think art is so important and at a time where the funding for art is being cut at the really basic levels.”
I ask how creatives get recognised on Daisie. “It’s the amount of work you put into networking, that’s what’s really going to push you far,” Williams explains. “So why can’t we translate that on to the online world, because really if you take that sort of metric and you take that use of life, that’s really what’s going to push you further.”
It’s no secret that sharing elements of your life on social media allows for it to be put under the microscope by thousands of onlookers and the concept behind the app is completely reliant on the creatives sharing their work openly. Might people be apprehensive of posting their content online, I ask.
“I think Daisie is a really safe space, we really have grown the community with fellow artists,” asserts Williams. “You know, as nerve-racking as it is if you never share your light and you never share how wonderful your creativity is, no ones ever going to know, there really is a place for everyone.”
“There’s been times where I’ve felt awful about who I am and what I look like and all of these different insecurities,” admits Williams, who starred in the 2015 movie Cyberbully which highlighted issues surrounding online abuse.
[pullquote align=”right”]“There’s been times where I’ve felt awful about who I am and what I look like and all of these different insecurities.”[/pullquote]“But there really is a place for everyone. It is so important for people to understand that and nourish and love the parts within them that they are insecure about because ultimately that’s what sets them apart and that’s what’s going to make you successful.”
Passionate about providing a platform for people that might not otherwise get noticed, Williams reflects on her big break.
“I’ve been given a voice from a really young age,” Williams says. “I could have never have afforded drama school and there’s a whole demographic of people that just get missed out because they just aren’t recognised and they can’t get a platform.
“It’s just always been so bizarre for me because that could have been me! It is such luck and timing that I got to where I am. To be creating something that could be really beneficial to those people feels really liberating.”
The small company have grown by ten in the past few months, “it feels so good to now have a team of people because you can be embarking on this mission and you can see your vision but if you can’t get anyone else on board it’s normally a good sign that it’s not a good idea,” Williams tells me.
Daisie does appear to have caught peoples’ interest: “We get emails all the time from people who just want to intern, want to see what its like here, and that sort of thing is really exciting because it empowers you to keep going.”
Williams is determined that Daisie will shake up the process of collaboration at a time where ownership of online content is being continually questioned and sharing work can open the door to plagiarism.
“The internet is the internet and we all own everything and we all own nothing and it’s kind of this strange battle,” she says. “As an actor, I read all of the credit for Game Of Thrones and I didn’t write it, I didn’t create it, I didn’t do the costumes, I literally just turned up and said my lines, and I’m the one that gets celebrated for it! I’ve always found that really, really bizarre, and I think that sort of status in the industry is really toxic.”
Williams is excited about features like ‘Question Time’, an innovative approach that allows industry experts to answer questions and share expertise: “I think people really letting down the barrier and speaking candidly about their careers is the most beneficial thing, more so than an interview.”
Williams has endured constant media attention from a young age. “There are so many scary journalists out there,” Williams says. “So many people do have a guard up when they do interviews because you just don’t know if people are going to trip you up.”
“I think doing something like a ‘Question ‘Time when it’s really collaborative with the person who we’re interviewing, where they really get to just tell their story and show what the industry is like from the inside and teach people who are so impressionable and are taking their first steps into the fickle world. That’s how you learn.”
Despite her extensive experience of being directed, Williams is new to calling the shots. Managing a business is no walk in the park, she reflects. “There’s never enough time, there are never enough people and there is never enough money.”
However, changing face is no new concept for Williams, much like her Game Of Thrones character Arya Stark. So what does the future hold for this ambitious 21-year-old?
“Honestly I’m still trying to figure this out. I think both the Daisie team and my personal team were all trying not to tread on each other’s toes, and for me, in the last six months, now that the show has ended and I’ve finished shooting, it’s just been really strange. People have been saying so what are your priorities, and I’m like, I don’t know yet!”
[pullquote align=”right”]“People have been saying so what are your priorities, and I’m like, I don’t know yet!”[/pullquote]“I’m still just trying to figure it out and for the first time since I was 12 I’m not in a contract with anyone,” Maisie admits.
But no worry, TV enthusiasts won’t have to wait long until William’s work is back on their screens. As well as working on Daisie, she will be producing a television series shortly, she tells me, clearly very excited at the opportunity.
“It is really strange because as a 21-year old I’ve been working in this industry for a decade! Even though I’m still so young, it’s really nice that people now respect my opinion and respect that I have learnt a lot.”
The word that resonates throughout Williams’ many projects seems to be ‘creativity’, when asked for her definition, she quickly confirmed, “For creative people, it’s when you feel most alive”.
Featured image by Daniella Chukwuezi