Before Unfold, you would need to hire a branding agency or a freelancer for brand-level assets like what you can create on the app. We’re empowering anyone to build beautiful stories in seconds.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alfonso Cobo and Andy McCune.
Alfonso Cobo and Andy McCune are the Co-Founders of Unfold, an app that helps anyone create elevated and engaging stories with intuitive templates and serves as a toolkit for storytellers. In just over two years, Unfold has grown to more than 1 billion stories created on the platform, and was acquired by Squarespace in 2019.
Alfonso Cobo is Head of Unfold and was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 and Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business lists in 2019. Prior to founding Unfold, Cobo served as an architectural designer in London, designing innovative spaces for education, hospitality and residential areas. Cobo holds a Master’s in Strategic Design and management from Parsons School of Design and a Bachelor’s in Architecture from the University of Brighton.
Andy McCune is Co-Founder of Unfold and also the founder of the popular Instagram account @earth. Andy was also named to Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2019 and sits on Adweek’s Gen ZEOs Council. Previously, Andy was the founder of Coast9, an influencer-focused ad tech company. He was also the co-founder of Beta Labs, a software studio that built viral apps like Top Nine.
Thank you for joining us in this series! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Alfonso Cobo: In my final year of school at Parsons there was a career fair and I wanted to throw together a quick portfolio of my work. I was browsing for apps to showcase my work easily and beautifully on my iPad, and I wasn’t seeing anything. That night, I went home and watched countless YouTube videos on how to build an app and made it happen.
After I launched the first version of Unfold, I realized the bigger market and use case was on mobile and not the iPad. There was something about being able to showcase your work and editorialize your content on mobile on the go. Around that time Instagram was launching Stories, and so I pivoted the app away from portfolios and instead focused on an app to showcase stories of your travels or your work on social media. Once it was up and running, I messaged Instagram influencers and content creators to test out the app. Andy was one of the first people I reached out to based on his popular account @earth.
Andy McCune: I was going through my DMs and saw a message from Alfonso. I wasn’t familiar with Unfold, but I checked out the app and it was great. We decided to meet for coffee in Brooklyn where we both were living, and ended up really hitting it off. After many hours chatting about the future vision for Unfold, Alfonso asked me if I wanted to work on the project and I agreed.
What’s interesting is that neither of us are technical and we consider ourselves designers above all else. Alfonso’s background was in Architecture, and I really understood the social space. This experience really shaped what Unfold has become, which is a company with a design-first approach to everything we do.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Cobo: We were one of the first to market in terms of story creation and diving into this new way of telling stories online. We understood how telling a cohesive story online can have an impact on your users and audiences in meaningful ways. We were encouraging a different type of behavior.
McCune: We’ve also democratized access to these tools that small businesses would otherwise have to heavily invest in to create branded or editorialized content. Before Unfold, you would need to hire a branding agency or a freelancer for brand-level assets like what you can create on the app. We’re empowering anyone to build beautiful stories in seconds.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Cobo: Erin Hersey was one of my professors teaching Design Strategy and Business Management at school. She taught me the tools and processes for creating a product that has market fit and is solving real needs. We kept in touch once I built Unfold, and she continued to provide me with really sound advice. She became our consultant and executive coach and still works with the brand. One valuable thing I learned from Erin’s mentorship was the value in seeking perspective and mentorship outside of your immediate industry.
McCune: We’re big believers in cross-pollination when it comes to who we seek counsel from. Different backgrounds breed different perspectives, which is something we try to carry through to when we’re building our own teams internally.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
McCune: “Get it done.” The most important skill I’ve cultivated is the ability to get things done and get them done quickly. When building a company, there are countless lines running in parallel. Getting things done with speed is necessary to keep your headspace and energy free so that you can keep moving forward. Nothing will kill your company faster than the cost of being stagnant. It’s easy to get caught up in perfectionism, but it’s better to get something done than chase perfection.
Cobo: “Have the courage to be disliked.” In a world where we seek social validation and likes, it’s important to do things that feel real to you, even if it might be outside the norm or different from the status quo. Fear of what others think is not only limiting, but it also stops you from building great products, or even from standing up for things that really matter. You don’t become interesting by copying people, but by being yourself and following your own interests and surfacing something new.
Another one for me is “be kind on the way up.” Our success and learnings are a product of the people we have surrounded ourselves with. Unfold wouldn’t have gotten any traction without the people close to us supporting us, giving feedback, and sharing the app with their networks. Success means nothing if you can’t share it with the people who supported you from the start. It’s grounding, and makes you appreciate the journey.
How are you going to shake things up next?
McCune: We’re starting to think beyond stories. Last year we joined Squarespace, and their platform gives you the tools to boost your holistic online presence on the web. Similarly, we’re thinking of Unfold as all the tools you need to build your presence on social media.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
McCune: The Power Of Now and You Are Here have had a deep impact on the way that I think in terms of mindfulness. The reason these resonated so deeply with me was because I hadn’t yet built up my internal principles. When you’re an entrepreneur, you naturally live in a state of future. You’re always thinking about what’s next, either from a macro sense within the landscape or from a micro sense within your own company. Learning how to reset that state of living in the future to living in the now grounds you and keeps you from burning out.
Cobo: Inward by the poet and meditator Yung Pueblo. It’s not a business or strategy book, but a self-reflective poetry collection that explores the wisdom that comes when we truly try to know ourselves. Being self-aware and having a deep connection with our emotions allows us to better understand our behaviors and motivations of others.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
McCune: There are no rules. I’m not sure where this idea came, but the concept stuck with me. We were all born onto a rock floating in space. No one knows how we got here, no one knows where we’re going. We’re all just living in a constructed society of “rules” that we humans have created, but these rules are often illusions and can be bent and broken. There are no real rules, so make up rules that work for you.
Cobo: It’s not a quote, but I’ve found deep meaning through travel. Travel would be my best advice for entrepreneurs, or anyone. While many of us are unable to do so now, I highly encourage to pursue these opportunities once it is safe again. You need to be exposed to the greatest number of diverse people, cultures, challenges in order to be able to think outside of the box and be a true innovator. Traveling during my younger years has ultimately helped me make better decisions.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Cobo: I would explore the movement of self-love. The Self-Love Movement is a powerful platform for people to feel safe, heard, supported and loved, which are all things that allow our society to heal, transform and feel freer by putting our well-being first. If we all loved ourselves a little more, everyone would treat others with more kindness, increasing empathy and helping break systems oppression around the globe.
McCune: Meditation. As humans, we spend the majority of our time consumed by our thoughts. These thoughts ultimately control us and this pattern blocks our ability to feel empathy, to connect, and to find happiness. Meditation is a way to break this cycle and restore balance, and has been an incredible tool for me both personally and professionally.
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