Alfonso Cobo is the CEO and co-founder of Unfold, the app that creates elevated, beautiful, and engaging stories with minimal and easy-to-use templates inspired by magazine editorials, for Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. In this role, he oversees Unfold’s creative direction, product vision, and strategy. Under his leadership, the app garnered 20M users in a year.
Prior to this role, Cobo served as an architectural designer in London, designing innovative spaces for education, hospitality, and residential schemes. He also developed design strategies and brand identities as a visual designer in Spain.
Cobo has a Master’s in Strategic Design and Management from Parsons School of Design (USA) and a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from the University of Brighton (UK). A native of the Canary Islands in Spain, Cobo is based in NYC and is driven by good design, tech, and adventure.
Alfonso was listed as one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” 2019 and Fast Company’s “Most Creative in Business 2019”
MM: What were you like growing up, how would your friends and family describe you?
AC: I was a very shy and introverted kid growing up. Many of my friends would doubt that though, as I’ve changed quite a bit! Or at least I’ve had to adapt myself to be less of it.
I grew up in Madrid, Spain. My teen years were interesting, to say the least. I had many friends, but I always had that feeling of being a little different from the rest. There were two sides of me: the one I wanted to show to the world, and the one that I really was. I started going out pretty early on, and sometimes hung with kids I shouldn’t have hung out with. I kind of hid many of my interests or passions because I was afraid of showing how much of a ‘weirdo’ or ‘nerd’ I really was. It’s funny though because nowadays I embrace that side I wanted to hide so much back then. Those things that seemed ‘weird’ or ‘not-cool’ are now the things I like to embrace the most.
MM: You studied architecture and design in London and NYC. Can you tell us the #1 thing you took from both those experiences that made you who you are today?
AC: Spending so many hours in the studio and going through intense crits with my peers made us extremely close – it genuinely felt like a family. We all came from different economic and social backgrounds, but we were in it together. From the field
of architecture itself, I would say I learned to appreciate deeply what’s behind the façade. The small details and parts people wouldn’t pay too much attention. The back of the house.
MM: Tell us what you were doing 6 months before Unfold hit the Apple app store?
AC: I was getting my Masters’s degree in Strategy and Business Management! It was great because I could concentrate on the tools and processes I needed or wanted to learn to bring my ideas to life. I know many entrepreneurs love saying “you shouldn’t go to school”, but it was honestly a great experience for me. However, I must say I feel I adapted the system to cater to what I wanted to get out of it, instead of adapting myself to the system.
MM: What were the days and weeks leading up to the app launch like?
AC: I am quite impatient (I’m getting a lot better at it though!), so I just couldn’t wait to get it out to the world. Unfold is a pivot from my previous app, Portafolio, and it was my last shot. If it didn’t work out, I would have gone to do something else (probably more related to my career!).
MM: Best part?
AC: The best part after launching was seeing the support from my friends. Not only real-life friends but internet friends (yes, the kind my mom would always tell me not to make). Without their support, I wouldn’t have been able to grow the product. Up until this day, we haven’t spend a single dollar in marketing.
Another great thing that came a few months after I launched was finding my co-founder Andy. Of course, I met him on the internet too! I slid into his DMs and realized he lived in Brooklyn too, so we met up. It’s history from then onwards!
MM: The most challenging part?
AC: During the first few months, I struggled a lot with money. I believed in the idea so bad, chasing plan A with no plan B. I would stay at home and not do anything social for many weeks so I could save up some dollars to pay for the development of the app. I would also try and save on food. I would ask my friends for money so I could eat something different from pasta every day or help me pay the rent for my bedroom in my shared Brooklyn apartment. I’ll never forget this and who helped me out through this process.
MM: What did you learn about yourself the first year that Unfold was live?
AC: It taught me to dream and think big – I could achieve and shape my future the way I want. It taught me about trust, in every sense of the word – I have an enormous trust for my business partner and co-workers, but a lot of external people will always try and get a piece of the cake, so now I’m always on alert mode. It also taught me to really believe in myself – this is the most confident I’ve ever been. This has guided me to gravitate to what makes me uncomfortable, which is where the magic happens. I’ve also learned to defend my time. Choose what I enjoy, makes me happy, what I really want to do. I’ve started to say no much more often. A lot of things are hard, and I have struggled, but just because something is a challenge doesn’t mean you have to suffer. A lot of lessons learned.
MM: If you could do 1 thing differently when you started the app what would it be and why?
AC: If I make a decision, I truly believe it’s the correct one at that point in time, so I wouldn’t go back and change anything. Having said that I would not do some things again, such as mixing up friendships with business. I learned a hard lesson from that.
MM: Why do you think the Unfold app has resonated with so many people and brands?
AC: I started building Unfold for myself and then realized many others had that same desire to create and share that I had. It’s a product that is rooted in my passions and love for traveling, photography, design, and tech. Unfold re-interprets the aesthetic of storytelling mediums from analog photography to independent magazine editorial, and makes it accessible to everyone. We have managed to democratize design.
Social media, and most specifically stories, has become a visual extension of any brand’s own presentation book. Brands love to collaborate with us due to the impact and reach of the Stories format through the power of design and Unfold’s community of 20 million storytellers — one of the most creative and digitally- engaged audiences on the planet. Design possibilities are endless with our amazing and highly creative team.
MM: Do you have a few favorite creators that use the app., who are they what did you like seeing from them?
AC: I’m genuinely moved when people and brands tell stories that expose and inspire action for important causes. We’ve had a journalist in Syria told stories from the conflict with ISIS with Unfold, people in Los Angeles shared content from the wildfires and provided information for helping victims through our templates, LGBTQ associations brought people together to fight for human rights, and even book publishers published their books on Stories instead of printing them, using Unfold.
If we talk about every-day users, I love Joan Pala’s (@joanpala) sensibility when telling his stories. I actually loved his content so much that I asked him if he wanted to create a template collection with us. The Journal Collection was born from this collaboration. If we talk about influencers, I love seeing Tyler Oakley (@Tyler Oakley) and Aida Domenech (@dulceida) – two of the biggest influencers in the world, creating very engaging content with Unfold for their followers. They have also supported Unfold from the very start without ever asking anything in exchange. I’ll always be very appreciative to them. so much that I asked him if he wanted to create a template collection with us. The Journal Collection was born from this collaboration. If we talk about influencers, I love seeing Tyler Oakley (@tyleroakly) and Aida Domenech (@dulceida) – two of the biggest influencers in the world, creating very engaging content with Unfold for their followers. They have also supported Unfold from the very start without ever asking anything in exchange. I’ll always be very appreciative of them.
MM: What can we expect from Unfold this Summer?
AC: This summer is going to be full of exciting releases. An in-app camera with advanced photo and video filters and effects, Film Frames 2 – the continuation of our most successful and popular collection up to date, Unfold Plus – a subscription option for our biggest fans, web stories… and much more! The user is always at the heart of everything we do, and they really shape the product depending on their feedback.
MM: How do you define success?
AC: Success is such a weird concept to me, and I’m still trying to figure out what it truly means. It’s something that is extremely hard to define, as everyone has their own concept and perception of it. I believe it comes from your intrinsic values, rooted in your upbringing and life experiences.
A lot of people tend to correlate success with happiness and personal fulfillment, but in my opinion, these are not guaranteed. Happiness doesn’t come from success, but rather from recognizing and appreciating what or who has helped us get there or how we get to share it with them.
Being apart of 30 under 30 for Forbes is an amazing achievement. What achievement personally do you want our readers to know about, in essence, what matters to you that magazines and websites are not drilling down on with your story?
It was an incredible (and unexpected) achievement. However, when I got on the Forbes 30U30 list, I didn’t get an ecstatic feeling of happiness, but I did feel it when I saw the genuine support and happiness from my friends. Seeing a large money figure doesn’t drive my happiness, but being able to share experiences with my loved ones does.
MM: I think the biggest success to come out from Unfold is seeing that we’ve sparked the imagination among millions of people. Is there anything more beautiful than that? Do you have a work uniform?
AC: I don’t! I relate a uniform to restriction. Why add more rules to your life? The freer you feel, the more creative you’ll be.
MM: A lot of founders say they wake up at 4 AM, or crazy early and have a method to the way they start the day. Do you have a usual routine? What is it and why? or Why not?
AC: In all honesty, I used to do this. Wake up every day at 4 am or 5 am to start working with my team based on the other side of the world. However, in my opinion, those crazy hours reflected negatively on how I managed the team or my workload. I’ve learned to have more normal work hours, which has to lead to more productivity and better decision making. However, I do have to do exercise every day. Usually in the middle of a workday. It really helps me to have a mental break I sometimes need.
MM: Do you unplug from work? How do you do it or how often?
AC: My favorite way to unplug is hanging out with my favorite person. He is my rock, my amulet to feel calm, safe and disconnected from the craziness. The more time we can spend together the better, but it’s hard in this city (and I also try to not be too clingy haha!) It’s fun being young and so in love.
MM: What do you do to be human or have fun?
AC: might sound cliche, but I love traveling. I love getting lost and not having a plan, leaving space for improvisation and exploration. One of the reasons I chose not to have an office was
so I could work while I travel. It’s hard due to time zones and workload, but it’s my goal to hack this so I can visit a different country every month.
MM: Tell us the single person on the planet that inspires you the most and why?
AC: This is such a hard question for me. I never felt like one single person inspires me, but the accumulation of actions and words of many. From entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk – his passion and curiosity, mixed with an unapologetic quirkiness which I can breathe through his social media posts, philosophers like Alain de Botton – helping me being more self-aware about my feelings and thoughts, to musicians such as Rosalia – seeing how she manages to mix influences from many cultures and is willing to take risks with her sound without compromising her artistry.
MM: Do you have any fun plans this Summer?
AC: I’m thinking of going to Iceland – it’s been on the top of my list for a while! But at some point, I have to go back to Spain to visit my family and friends. Family is something I’m appreciating more and more as I get older.
I’m also renovating a small loft in Brooklyn. I’ve really missed that physicality in design, and I’m excited to create a space that feels my own.
MM: Words to live by?
AC: Have fun, work hard, love harder, give back, and do whatever feels right to you as long as it doesn’t hurt others in the process. (I’m sorry if this kind of ended up sounding like that “Live, Love, Laugh” quote most teenage girls have on top of their beds! Haha)