Stella Maxwell
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This Gay Tech Founder Is Giving Back to the LGBTQ Community

This Gay Tech Founder Is Giving Back to the LGBTQ Community

It may be Spain’s number one app (beating out Netflix, Instagram, and YouTube), but that’s not the only mission of Unfold. The viral app that helps social media users create engaging Stories on Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat is also leading the way in tech companies giving to HIV causes. Last December, it raised nearly $70,000 from its exclusive 99 cent (UNFOLD)RED template collection for the U.S. Fund to fight AIDS with (RED). Unfold’s contribution was enough to provide over 350,000 days of life-saving HIV medication in sub-Saharan Africa.

The gay cofounder and CEO of Unfold.app, Alfonso Cobo, 27, saw his fast-growing app amass 10 million users in less than a year and used some of that money to give back monthly to organizations such as the Ali Forney Center (which benefits homeless LGBTQ youth). App users aren’t just sharing their favorite selfies. They’re using Unfold to share critical stories too — including the conflict with ISIS in Syria and the devasting wildfires in Los Angeles. Even book publishers have publish a few “books” on Stories instead of printing them.

“This is all very inspiring,” Cobo admits, “and motivates me to push further — seeing that Unfold is actually driving change in the world through stories.”

Unfold is the only app solely focused on content creation for the Stories format, enabling users to simply and seamlessly craft elevated,engaging Instagram Stories with minimal, design-driven templates. Today there are 13 million Unfold users, and collectively they’ve created over 105 million stories. It’s the number one app in the App Store’s photo/video category in nearly a dozen countries—including Argentina, Senegal, and Slovenia — and it’s ranked the No. 1 app overall (beating YouTube Netflix, Grindr) in Spain, Croatia, Italy, Czech Republic, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The out entrepreneur behind the app was born on a tiny island in the Canary Islands and later raised in Madrid, Spain, which Cobo recalls as “a really open-minded city, full of history and creativity. Madrid has its own ‘underground’ culture, rooted back to the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when the city found a new spirit of freedom on the streets after the dictator’s death.”

Cobo, now a New Yorker, was fascinated by both tech and art as a kid. By 10, he was playing with electrical circuits and mechanical systems. He stayed closeted about his tech interests.

“I was worried people would call me a nerd in school,” he says. By 15, he was an expert in Photoshop, was coding online discussion forums for his favorite animes, and was modding PCs and game consoles.

Since Unfold is rooted in his own passions — photography, design, tech, and social media—Cobo says now, “So many people have that same desire to share their stories.” He credits the success to the fact that “every human is born with an inherent desire to be creative. You know when you have a blank canvas and all the options in the world and don’t know where to start? Our focus has always been how to eliminate this and empower users to spend more time creating through design constraints, because we believe they open up possibilities and make people more creative.”

Cobo argues that because smart phones give everyone the ability to create content on the go, and social media gives everyone the power to instantly share and consume this content, “shorter attention spans reward visual-based stories because they’re easier to consume.” Because Unfold is focused on the intersection of design and storytelling, he wants “people to see Unfold as a powerful tool for sharing the most fundamental unit of human culture: the story.”

The need to drive change is one of the reasons he supports organizations like the Ali Forney Center. “I understand that I was lucky to grow up in a positive and supportive environment,” Cobo shares. “But many people haven’t had the same opportunities or support system as I have had.... It’s my responsibility, as a gay man and as a human, to support people who haven’t had the same experience. My elders fought for my rights and worked hard so that I felt supported, but there is still a lot of work to be done for equal rights.”

Ultimately, Cobo admits he first had to get “lost” to get where he is. “Through getting lost I discovered my passion for design as a powerful medium of storytelling, especially when exposing untold tales. I discovered I enjoyed putting myself into my work to make that story more engaging. We don’t remember those nights we stayed at home watching TV. We remember those relationships we built through sharing our passions.... So, I would recommend that if your story is feeling a little too predictable, just get lost, because getting lost helps you find yourself.”

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