People who know Andy McCune aren’t surprised the 2014 Ferris High School graduate is getting national recognition as an entrepreneur.
As a kindergartener, he discussed turning his neighborhood lemonade stand into a publicly traded company. In middle school, he ran a profitable venture selling energy drinks out of his locker. By high school, he’d started a clothing business.
McCune, 23, recently was named to Forbes Magazine’s list of “30 under 30” for a consumer technology company he co-founded. The list recognizes the “ambition and impatience” of 600 youthful visionaries across 20 different industries, according to Forbes.
McCune and business partner Alfonso Cobo, 26, launched Unfold in January. It’s a design app that provides easy-to-use templates for assembling photos, text and video for storytelling on Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. The templates create sophisticated, magazine-style designs.
Unfold has attracted nearly 13 million users in less than a year. Singer Selena Gomez – whose Instagram account is among the world’s most followed – has used it, and so has Forbes, CBS and other big brands, according to McCune.
“It’s pretty crazy. We just launched in January and it’s growing faster every day,” he said in a phone interview from Brooklyn, New York, where he lives.
Once social media influencers started using the app, others picked it up. The growth in users has come through word-of-mouth, McCune said.
McCune spent his childhood in the Seattle area and Spokane, where his parents still live. His dad, Mark, is a counselor at Hutton Elementary School and his mom, Annie, teaches second grade at Linwood Elementary.
Annie McCune said her oldest son displayed an early aptitude for business. Besides lemonade, he sold motor oil and other items he found in the family’s garage at his lemonade stand. At the time, she was bemused to hear a 5-year-old talking about “expanding product mix,” “improving marketing” and “going public.”
“I’ve always been a scrappy entrepreneur,” Andy McCune said.
In high school, McCune sometimes stayed up until 2 a.m. to finish homework for his Advanced Placement classes and work on his business startups. Some teachers wanted him to study more. McCune credits a few Ferris teachers for seeing the value of his extracurricular work and encouraging those interests, even when they detracted from his schoolwork.
Among them was Robin Crain, his AP Environmental Science teacher and soccer coach.
“Andy was incredibly inquisitive,” Crain recalled. “He had his own interests and he was going to take his own route. His interest in being an entrepreneur was evident even in high school.”
McCune studied at San Diego State University for a year before leaving college to move to New York to run an advertising technology startup he co-founded. He doesn’t regret not earning a degree.
“There is no better way to learn than jumping in and doing it,” McCune said. “It was one of the best decisions I ever made. … There are so many things you can’t learn from a textbook or a professor.”
Even though his parents are educators, they supported his decision. McCune told his parents that “my opportunity costs for staying in school outweigh the benefits of moving into a new field,” his mom recalled.
“He’s always proven trustworthy, and we wanted to give him this chance to pursue his dreams,” Annie McCune said.
Unfold, his current company, came about almost by chance. McCune is the founder of Earth, which started with a collection of photos he downloaded from the internet of places he wanted to visit. He wrote captions, added geotags and it grew into a showcase for international travel photography. More than 1 million people follow @Earth on Instagram.
McCune took care with the design of @Earth photos. One day he got a message from a stranger: “Are you using Unfold?”
“What’s that?” McCune messaged back. “It’s my app. Why don’t you try it,” the stranger said.
The message came from Alfonso Cobo, who was working on his master’s degree in strategic design. For his thesis, he’d developed a simple design app.
When the two men realized they lived within a half-mile of each other in Brooklyn, they met for coffee. Cobo’s app mostly was used by his friends at the time, but “I saw a lot of potential in it,” McCune said.
Since his background was in developing apps and promoting them, “I kind of had the pieces of the puzzle he was missing,” McCune said.
“We’re both designers, so we made Unfold for ourselves first and foremost,” he said. “We felt there was this need for a design-focused app for creating story content beyond what Instagram offered. … It offers a more creative layer on top of Instagram.”
Unfold has one free template collection and offers other collections for $1.99. The company employs 15 people and is “financially healthy,” McCune said. He and Cobo – Unfold’s chief executive officer – have been able to finance the company from revenues.
For the near term, McCune expects to stay busy with Unfold, which is still a young company. But in the future, he might be interested in a different kind of startup.
“I’ve spent most of my life building tech products or software,” he said. “While that’s amazing, I’m kind of excited to build something real, tangible and off line … I’m still figuring it out.”
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