EXCLUSIVE: Openly Gay CEO Alfonso Cobo Discusses Making Forbes' 30 Under 30 List
It's a wonderful feeling when someone from our community gets acknowledged for all the hard work they do, especially in the business & technology world where people who identify as LGBTQ are still somewhat at a disadvantage.
Alfonso Cobo, CEO and co-founder of Unfold, is one of many who are out to make that sort of mindset a thing of the past. The New York-based (by way of Spain) entrepreneur has had quite an incredible month as he was named one of Forbes 30 Under 30 in the consumer tech category.
Alfonso and Unfold co-founder Andy McCune (23) fused their complementary expertise to create the first design-driven app for people and brands to seamlessly share meaningful stories with their social media connections; they aim to empower people to tell inspiring stories that drive change. Unfold also gives back to organizations such as the Ali Forney Center and CALM, donating while telling stories related to these important causes on Unfold’s platforms.
Since its January 2018 founding, Unfold has amassed 11M users. Celebrities such as Selena Gomez, Camila Cabello, Sergio Ramos, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Katy Perry, Emma Watson, and Kylie Minogue use it, as well as brands including Soho House, REVOLVE, Topshop, Equinox, L'Oréal, and CBS. High-profile fashion influencers Danielle Bernstein, Adam Gallagher and Marianna Hewitt create with it, as well.
Alfonso chatted with Instinct exclusively about his brand, earning a spot on the coveted Forbes list, and so much more. Check it out.
How did it feel when you found out that you were named one of Forbes' 30 Under 30?
The whole week has felt surreal. I knew I was nominated, so the days prior to the announcement were filled with nervousness and uncertainty. They had asked me a few questions a few weeks before the announcement, and with every answer I tried to show as much authenticity as possible, and I’m happy this came across. The best part has been seeing the support and genuine happiness from all my friends, which means the world to me. That has been the main take away from this experience.
Does it mean more to you as an openly gay man or a business owner that you earned this title?
From a young age, I've followed and looked up to so many famous entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley, but being gay, it was very difficult for me to relate to them. What matters to me the most with this is the hope that it inspires a young gay person and helps them follow their dreams.
It's important to me as both. As a business owner, I’m really proud of what our team has been able to accomplish with Unfold. Personally, it means a lot as a person and an openly gay man that I was considered among all of these prestigious individuals. The fact that these lists are becoming a lot more diverse is very important too, as representation matters.
How did Unfold come about for you?
As an architectural designer, I know the importance of crafting a portfolio of beautiful images and engaging narratives to catch the eye of potential employers. I came up with the idea for the Portafolio app for iPad as I was searching for applications to showcase my designs for a career fair, and when I couldn't find anything that I felt showcased my work in the best light, I decided to create something myself. Unfold was a pivot from Portafolio after so many people were asking for a way to share their work on mobile devices, but I didn't feel like Portafolio for iPhone made sense because I didn't think showcasing your design work on a phone was a great experience for the user. However, there was something about people wanting to share their work and tell their stories on their phones, so I pivoted the idea to Unfold. I realized users wanted to share their stories where most people would see them, and at this time, Instagram Stories was taking off, so I decided to use that to my advantage.
Did you ever have any experience, as an openly gay man, when you felt you were criticized for your sexuality in the professional world?
Personally, I’ve never experienced any sort of discrimination or hostility towards me in tech for being openly gay. I would say that there's an underlying tension in the tech industry though - there's definitely a 'straight bro' culture in Silicon Valley, which can feel a little discouraging for an outsider.
What advice would you give to other gay man who want to start their own businesses?
My advice is to not let people or society dictate what you can and cannot accomplish. That’s something I believed in, and still do, and something that drives me and the team at Unfold every day.
You can follow Alfonso on his Instagram here.