Three years ago, as Natalie Mariduena was getting ready to graduate from Lake Forest College, where she was a soccer player and a psychology and environmental science major, she took a leap and decided to work for her best friend in the world of YouTube. She knew it was a risk at the time — YouTube superstardom isn’t exactly in the college career center — but she figured it would just be a six-month internship out in Los Angeles and then she’d get on with real life, in Chicago like she’d planned.
But that changed quickly. Her best friend happens to be David Dobrik, one of the most famous internet celebrities, and she now sits as head of his brand, as well as a cofounder of the new social media photo-sharing app he started, Dispo. Oh, and she also happens to be one of this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue rookies, as well as a new part owner of L.A.’s women’s soccer team, Angel City. It’s safe to say L.A. is working out all right for Mariduena.
Mariduena and Dobrik have been friends since childhood. Dobrik moved into the townhouse next to Mariduena’a family’s in the fourth grade, but it wasn’t until sixth grade that the two interacted. Mariduena was shy and walked separately from the pack of friends Dobrik walked with, until one day he asked her why she walked so fast ahead of everyone else.
“And then from that day forward, I walked home with him every single day,” she says.
While she went off to college, Dobrik moved to L.A. and started making videos.
“I went to school and I didn’t really keep up with the things that he was doing out here in L.A. I didn’t realize the kind of internet fame that he had. I knew that he was doing internet stuff, making videos and whatnot, but I didn’t know the extent of it,” Mariduena says.
Into her senior year, he asked if she’d want to come be part of what he was doing.
“I was very confused. I was like, ‘You literally make videos on the internet? How can you afford to pay me a salary? I don’t understand.’ But I very quickly realized,” she says. “I think the first week on the job working with David, he was working with Jennifer Lopez and her SuperBowl thing that she was doing with Pepsi. I got to meet J.Lo and I was like, ‘Whoa, this is so crazy.’”
The two, along with the rest of the Dispo team, have been hard at work on the app, which officially launched last week. Originally called David’s Disposables, the app mimics a disposable camera with the ability to make shared “rolls” with friends, and a feature where all photos taken aren’t available to see until they “develop” at 9 a.m. the next day, returning an old-school approach to photo taking and sharing.
“I think what makes Dispo so special is that we are embracing photo taking and authenticity again. Because right now, when you go onto different social media apps, filters and effects and things are taking over those apps, and people aren’t really being their authentic self. It’s a very curated feed or curated photos that are edited,” Mariduena says. “What’s so amazing about Dispo is that you’re having a great time, you snap a quick photo. You don’t see it until the next day, and then you can wake up and relive all those memories the following day and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, I had such a great time,’ instead of trying to fixate on that moment while you’re trying to live in the moment. That doesn’t work. So just trying to embrace the whole live in the moment, capturing the moment and then continue to live in the moment. Don’t just be fixated on getting that perfect photo and whatnot.”
With three years of working with Dobirk under her belt — not to mention success on her own on Instagram, with more than 4 million followers, Mariduena feels she has a good sense of what people want out of their social media in any given moment.
“The thing with the digital era is things are changing constantly. Trends are new. Every single week, there’s a new song, there’s a new style, and it’s a matter of staying on top of that,” she says. “It is very tiring, but it is also super exciting because you get to do something new and cool literally every single week.”
Her biggest platform is Instagram, where she is adamant about self-love, embracing herself and authenticity.
“I think that’s what people like so much about me and why so many girls and guys alike will pay attention to my content because I’m literally just being me and doing my own thing — it’s my personality and trying to let that shine and just hoping people think that’s cool,” she says. “As we evolve with social media and as digital keeps on evolving, it’s so important to be yourself because there is nobody like you.”
The body positivity she projects online led her to receive a call from Sports Illustrated, saying they wanted to shoot her for the annual swimsuit issue as one of the 2021 rookies.
“I was extremely nervous. I’ve never done any sort of shoot like that ever in my entire life. I ‘model,’ if you will, on Instagram, but I’ve never actually legitimately modeled before ever. ‘Sports Illustrated’ being my first experience is very insane,” she says.
Mariduena is balancing all this while also working with Dispo investor Alexis Ohanian on all things Angel City, of which he is also an owner. (Dobrik gave her the ownership stake as a birthday present, topping the previous year’s gifting of two cars.)
“I think my life has thrown so many amazing and insane opportunities my way, and I just kind of roll with the punches and take things as they come,” Mariduena says.
More from the Eye: