Alfonso Cobo

If your Instagram stories get you a load of compliments, chances are you’re using a template from the Unfold app. You’re in good company. This design tool is also championed by Instagram influencers Kim Kardashian, Kendall Jenner, Sergio Ramos, and Katy Perry, and used by brands such as Forbes, Spotify, Soho House, and Equinox.

CEO and co-founder of Unfold, Alfonso Cobo, joined forces with Andy McCune, founder of the social media travel platform Earth, after noticing McCune was using his app. Together, they took Unfold to the next level. Current users number 15 million since they launched in January 2018, while average daily downloads hit 70,000. Unfold is now also an official Instagram and Facebook partner.

We met up with Alfonso—who is originally from Spain but has a Master’s degree in Strategic Design and Management from Parsons School of Design in NYC—at Cadillac House in Soho, where we talked startups, the importance of pivoting, and the way co-working spaces have changed how people dress.

The new office is that there is no office! Unfold follows that model. How does it work for you?

Even though our core team is based in NYC, we all work remotely and don’t have an office. Instead, we meet in different co-working spaces or coffee shops around the city. This offers a ton of flexibility and adapts to our lifestyle. We all enjoy traveling and promote traveling within our company—we want people to come back with a story to share with the team! I also believe travel is essential for innovation and good ideas—getting to know people different to you, experiencing new cultures, and getting out of your comfort zone are essential for thinking outside the box.

You first created your app as a template for portfolios on iPad. When and why did you decide to pivot to templates for Instagram? And how important is it to be prepared to do that in a startup?

Failing and moving fast is all part of innovation and startup culture. You need to make sure you prove your value proposition, and if you don’t, learn from the gathered insights and what didn’t work, and pivot.

 

When I created Portafolio, I found out that many people loved the idea of having templates that would facilitate the creation of a portfolio to tell the stories behind their work,

Alfonso is pictured wearing the Mulberry shirt and the Aster pants.

but most people didn’t own an iPad at that point and the target demographic was way too specific. I saw a massive opportunity when Instagram launched Stories. I realized people wanted to share the stories of their work or travels where others are actually going to see them, and that was Instagram. I redesigned all the templates for the vertical format, launched Unfold, and started targeting travel and fashion bloggers instead of designers.

What difference did it make to your business when Andy McCune came on board?

I used to DM a ton of influencers and travel bloggers asking them to check out my app. One of those people was Andy, and he started blasting me with questions, asking me about my background, the team, and product vision. When we realized we both lived in Williamsburg, we decided to meet up. I learned more about his background; how he had started a software company in Uruguay, built an influencer media platform, and grew a travel community with over a million followers.

We really bonded over our shared passions for photography, social media, tech, and design. We chatted for a few hours, and then I hit him with the question: “I’m looking for a co-founder and you seem to have the pieces I’m missing.”

Andy was an essential piece when it came to growing the app from the start. He has the knowledge, the platform, and the connections for the growth hacking that we did. His experience also helped me a ton for key decisions at that point.

In many ways, success for your type of business is in the hands of the influencers spreading the word. Liberating or scary?

Exactly, we haven’t spent a single dollar on marketing. I’m extremely thankful to all the people who recommend Unfold to their followers, as they just do it cause they genuinely enjoy using the product. When designing templates for our users and brands, we think a lot about how we want to represent Unfold. The templates are the way we do our own marketing and are how we brand ourselves.

You kept things lean when launching Unfold, and didn’t take outside investment. In retrospect, would you recommend that to other startups?

When you don’t have external investment, you are forced to think about how you spend every single dollar and how you prioritize certain things over others. There’s this culture that kind of pushes you to always seek investment, but it’s not always necessary. I would recommend trying to build a profitable business from the start, to truly find out if your assumptions are correct and if the problem you are trying to solve is a real one many people have. Working from coffee shops, acquiring talent from other countries, and building a cheap minimum viable product (MVP), as a proof of concept would be my recommendations.

How do you stay ahead of the crowd in the ever-changing tech world?

We obviously have a ton of competition at the moment, however, competition is great for innovation. We always stay ahead of the curve by listening closely to our users, really understanding the current design trends online, and collaborating with the top creatives around the world. This year we will be exploring new ways of sharing stories and providing new tools and features that people are going to love.

Today, you’re wearing ZACHARY PRELL’s black Mulberry shirt and the Aster pants in grey. How do they fit into your life? Also, we’d love to hear how you think the change in where people work has influenced what they wear.

I wear this outfit for dinner or when meeting clients. When it comes to my work environment, there’s no need for me to dress formally as there is no correlation between how formally I dress and the quality of work I produce. I want to be comfortable, as I am always moving from one place in the city to another. I feel very strongly about being real and representing myself how I really am. At the end of the day, we are about real stories, and I don’t have to change my own narrative for anyone.

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