Meet Andy McCune, Co-Founder of a Social Storytelling App with 13 Million Users and Counting
Focusing his time and energy on projects that truly compliment his lifestyle, Andy has been able to grow a travel media company to more than 1 million followers and an Instagram app for storytellers to a staggering 13 million users (and counting) in less than 12 months, with users like Selena Gomez and Emma Watson to name a few. Andy believes that leading with authenticity and social-first strategies are the key for brands to tap into Gen Z. Read on for our Q&A with Andy:
Tell us a little bit about your story.
My name is Andy McCune. I’m 23 and I’m based in New York City. I’m the COO and co-founder of Unfold, a toolkit that allows storytellers to create engaging stories for social media from easy-to-use templates and I also own a travel media company called Earth. I’ve always been entrepreneurial. I grew up in Washington State and went to university in San Diego. I dropped out after my first year and moved to New York to build my first ad tech company, then ended up moving to Uruguay to start a software studio where we built viral apps. I lived in San Francisco for a while, and moved back in New York and have been here for the last few years.
What are you working on right now that you think is interesting or innovative?
Unfold is my main focus right now. We’re the only app focused solely on story content creation, which is a really interesting and innovative place to be right now. Mark Zuckerberg has said, "We expect Stories are on track to overtake posts in Feed as the most common way that people share across all social apps.” What we saw was not only this major shift in the way we consume content on social media, but also a shift in how people were creating content for Stories – a shift from more raw and ephemeral content, to more curated and designed content.
As storytellers and creatives, we built Unfold for ourselves first and foremost. We felt like the tools that Instagram Stories offered were too limited and didn’t allow us to tell our stories with enough depth. We built Unfold for people like us who wanted to tell stories in a thoughtful and curated way, and we felt like we needed more a design-focused tool to support that.
We’ve also just launched Unfold for Brands, our design agency for Stories. Whenever there is a shift in how we share and consume content, there are massive opportunities on the brand level. Whether it’s engaging with your brand’s audience through Stories, or effectively marketing through these channels to drive customer acquisition, the early adopters who execute well always win. With Unfold for Brands, we partner with select companies to develop exclusive, custom template collections that integrate these brands’ visual identities like fonts, colors, and logos. We most recently developed templates for luxury fitness company Equinox.
Brands can give anyone access to their branded template collection. They can be used by companies internally to easily create and share content that is cohesive with the brand, helping them stand out in an endless stream of content. They can be shared with influencers and ambassadors to take their content to the next level, which will maximize marketing results and ultimately increase ROI. They can be used to create brand-level ad creatives that can be promoted through Instagram or Facebook Stories ads, which are the hottest marketing channels for media buyers right now.
How would you describe your overall approach to business? What does "work" mean to you?
I love leaning into risk and making decisions based on my gut. I love thinking creatively and architecting new concepts. I’m either all in or all out. Work and life are the same to me.
Our 12-person team behind Unfold is all remote. We encourage everyone to travel as much as they can, because we believe that traveling broadens your perspective and will ultimately lead to building a better product. This approach has helped us cultivate an amazing culture.
What unique challenges do you face as a young entrepreneur?
The first challenge that comes to mind is connections. We were just hiring a few roles and there was no one in my personal network that I felt was experienced enough to fill either of them, where as I imagine if I was further in my career, I’d have a larger personal network of people from which I could find someone who’d be a good fit.
This also ties into experience. It’s important to keep an open mind and realize you don’t know everything, and always be willing to learn. The more experienced I become as an entrepreneur, the easier things become as I can pull from past challenges and learnings.
If you were to seek a position with a company, what qualities would appeal to you?
The most important thing to me within a company is feeling autonomy and ownership. I need to be trusted to try things out and take risks. I’m also a big believer in having skin in the game, and think that equity is the best motivator. I value freedom and flexibility, and need to be able to work remotely. These are all qualities that we value at Unfold, and we believe that remote work is the future. But with that being said, I can’t imagine any opportunity pulling me away from running my own company.
Where do you see yourself in five years professionally and personally?
Five years ago I was still in high school and could never have imagined I’d be where I am now, so this is a really tough question. Creativity is in my DNA, and for now, I’m focused on building tools that empower people to be more creative. Also, through Earth, I’m focused on building a platform that inspires people to explore the world because I think travel is the key to empathy and open-mindedness.
But for what the future has to hold, I’m passionate about experiences. I love building digital products, but I’d also love to build something physical and real. I’m still trying to figure out what that thing could be, but for now, I’m doing my best to focus on what’s in front of me.
What is unique about your generation and some of the biggest misconceptions?
The most unique thing about Gen Z is our generation was the first to grow up with social media. This has affected every aspect of our generation from the content we consume to how we spend money. We love authenticity and crave raw content. We do all of our shopping online and make purchase decisions based off of who we follow on social media. We’ve been bombarded with advertising our whole lives, so if you’re a brand, you need to be able to prove your value right off the bat or risk losing our attention.
The biggest misconception about Gen Z is that we’re lazy. As a generation, we’re very competitive and this mindset drives us. We’re less likely to do things that we don’t see value in and we’re more likely to find ways to rethink and optimize processes. These examples are often misconstrued as laziness, but I think they’re indicative of progress.
What's the biggest mistake that brands are making and what can they do differently to better connect with youth?
This obviously varies dramatically from brand to brand, industry to industry, but I’d say as a whole, the biggest mistake brands are making is underutilizing effective social-first marketing strategies. Hiring a social media consultant isn’t enough. Carving out budget for influencer marketing isn’t enough. If you‘re looking to connect with Gen Z, you need to develop real social strategies in order to start these conversations with consumers, gain relevancy, and build brand affinity.
What are the most exciting things happening in marketing right now?
I’m really inspired by brands like Glossier that have built cult followings and turned their customers into brand super fans. Glossier built their fan base by obsessing over customer experience and leveraging these super fans, turning them into influencers through a referral system. While many brands shell out massive amounts of money for celebrity partnerships and endorsements, Glossier realized that building a brand is about more than just exposure. Emily Weiss, CEO of Glossier, has said that over 90% of their customers follow them on social media channels. The next generation of brands are social-first and build cult followings by creating products that customers want to be seen associating with.
The Fun Questions
Favorite place to vacation? Tulum, Mexico is my favorite place to vacation. I actually split my time between New York and Tulum last year and hope to do the same in 2019.
If you were a superhero, what would your special skill be? I would be able to see into the future to better build products that tailor to the needs and challenges of future generations.
Name something that most people don’t know about you. I launched an app called Surf Sup in high school. It was a surfing game, and it tanked horribly, but I learned a lot about the process of building an app from it.
What's the best thing you've read/listened to/watched recently? I recently re-read Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss. This book has been hugely influential in shaping my mindset. It’s one of those books that you cover in highlighter and sticky notes, and you need to revisit every few months.