Before becoming cofounders of Konfront, brothers Alex and Carlos Cardini grew up selling bags of candy to their neighbors in Mexico. In between customers, they’d sneak handfuls of delicious sweets for themselves, occasionally swiping pieces from each other. But when the next customer stepped up, the brothers set aside their squabbles to sell as many bags as possible. They split the proceeds evenly, making sure each brother earned their share.
Over the years, the Cardinis’ brotherly bond grew as they graduated from a backyard candy store to building three separate ventures throughout high school and college. Though their wellness platform, network for college students, and Latin American course provider failed, Alex and Carlos still believed they’d share a successful business one day.
“Though we didn’t know what we wanted to do, we’ve always fantasized about starting a business together. We have a lot of things in common, but we also have complementary skills,” Alex says. “And when choosing a business partner, it has to be someone that you trust. Carlos, being my brother, is one of the people I trust most in the world.”
Their belief in one another paid off in 2017 when the Cardinis built Konfront. Alex drew from his software development background and Carlos used his dataset skills to build a platform for non-tech-savvy businesses. Konfront is now a product-as-a-service (PaaS) company that helps businesses launch and transform digital products.
But the brothers’ innate sense of loyalty, not their professional experience, propelled Konfront to multimillion-dollar success. When their customers’ businesses crumbled during the pandemic, Alex and Carlos continued supporting them. Even as Konfront lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, the brothers’ loyalty to their customers ensured they’d earn back that revenue and more profit in the coming years.
From Sibling Rivalry to a Supportive Partnership
Some siblings fight over toys, cars, chores, and so on. Growing up, Carlos and Alex Cardini fought over who the better student was.
The two high-achievers constantly challenged each other to ace more tests and take difficult classes. Rather than divide the brothers, this rivalry connected them as they saw how much they grew from the competition. Carlos “perfectly” remembers a specific moment that ended the rivalry and showed his brother how powerful they could be together.
“Alex said to me as a teenager, ‘Look, you’re always going to shine, and I’m always going to shine. Why don’t we shine together? Then we’ll shine more than we would individually,’’ Carlos says. “That’s been our motto ever since. And we try to give it our best together. Because regardless of what we could do individually, we can achieve more as a team.”
The Cardinis maintained that brotherly bond after Alex left for college at Universidad Anáhuac. Alex graduated in 2014 with degrees in psychology and computer science right as Carlos started undergrad. Carlos wanted to help in the public sector, so he studied political science and international affairs. He also specialized in econometrics at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics.
In undergrad, Alex was introduced to the world of entrepreneurship when he participated in a Stanford University summer program. He’d tried and failed to start ventures with Carlos before, but Alex had never witnessed an entrepreneurial environment like San Francisco.
He couldn’t believe how “connected” he felt to the startup world he had discovered. Everyone Alex talked to, from fellow program attendees to Starbucks baristas to people on the street, was building or working on a project.
“I got a chance to see what people were doing in California, which has an interesting entrepreneurial spirit,” Alex says. “In the 2010s in Mexico, we didn’t have much of a startup community. There weren’t even unicorns.”
His trip to the Bay Area transformed his perception of what entrepreneurship could look like abroad and at home. But before he could act on these new perceptions, Alex had to stabilize his life post-grad.
“I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I knew I had to learn,” Alex says. “I also had to make some money to both learn and live.”
As an implementation consultant, Alex noticed how even multimillion-dollar companies struggled to add cutting-edge technology into their workflows. He witnessed his employer’s frustration over a years-long timeline for what should’ve been a seamless transition. Little did Alex know that Carlos experienced similar issues at an IT internship.
Throughout his undergrad, Carlos leaned more toward his econometrics specialization. He realized that the private sector offered him more opportunities to help people, so he interned for a mid-sized IT company in Mexico.
Just like Alex’s company, Carlos’s also struggled with modern-day tech solutions. The company lost thousands of dollars because its data systems were outdated and not delivering results on time, which kept executives from making data-driven decisions. He wondered if the company could not only create a solution to the problem but sell that solution to other companies with similar issues.
While catching up with Alex one day, Carlos brought up his idea of pursuing a solution to this tech problem. The Cardinis realized they were in the same situation, battling on two different fronts, so they joined forces once again to start building Konfront.
Build the Wrong Product to Find the Right One
After participating in the Stanford entrepreneurial program, Alex knew that he and Carlos could build Konfront as a side hustle. Carlos graduated and began working as a business development manager while Alex applied to an MBA program. Starting in May 2017, the brothers conceptualized a platform that provided how-to templates, videos, and do-it-yourself materials for non-tech-savvy businesses.
These businesses subscribed to the platform for $99 a month and gained access to Konfront’s data transformation tools. Ideally, clients would use the tools to build IT products like programs, upgrades, modifications, and patches.
But Alex says they struggled to make sales early on, spending hours convincing customers to try the platform.
“I feel like most of the sales were more of a favor for us. People were buying it because they thought, ‘Oh, these guys are doing this, and I can spend ninety-nine bucks to help them out,’” Alex says. “But we felt we were not delivering that much value.”
The brothers realized the true value of Konfront in the summer of 2018 when a customer approached Alex and Carlos with a proposition: The Cardinis use Konfront’s tools to build digital products and transform data for customers as a service. The struggling, bootstrapped founders said yes with little hesitation.
“We didn’t know what we were getting into. But providing this service allowed us to get a little bit more cash flow and consider a pivot,” Alex says. “And we started delivering what we now call a product as a service solution. We partner with companies that are not as tech-savvy as startups, but they know that they have to offer digital products. And we become their sort of startup company from within that helps them launch products using our platform.”
The convenience of the Cardinis’ new business model appealed to the market much more than their original platform. The brothers soon signed up more subscribers by promising Konfront would build and adjust their digital products continuously for clients.
As more recurring revenue poured in, Alex and Carlos hired more engineers to help Alex with software development. Eventually, those half-dozen engineers took over operations while Alex focused on fostering customer relationships and gaining new clients. Those close-knit relationships would prove useful when the pandemic struck and revenue tanked.
How Do You Recover From a Year of Losses?
With the pivot bringing in more customers, Alex and Carlos looked to scale Konfront right at the start of 2020. But in February and March of that year, the brothers’ existing customers told them they’d be unable to pay for the next few months. Rather than terminate these partnerships, the brothers decided to provide their services regardless of income.
“Luckily, we’d been very risk-averse financially during 2018 and 2019. Both Carlos and I had savings, and he worked full-time for McKinsey & Company back then. So we decided to waive some customer fees for a couple of months and not let any employees go,” Alex says.
With no VC investment to rely on, the Cardinis poured hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket into paying employees and keeping Konfront running. “The pandemic and the economic distress we experienced shaped the whole year. For most of the year, we had little to no revenue. So that was stressful, especially being a bootstrapped company,” Alex says.
“I believe that what truly makes you a partner is not leaving when times get tough. And I believe that every Konfront colleague and customer are partners in our mission to transform how technology is built.”
Luckily, by November, new customers popped up, providing a new revenue stream. And while existing clients struggled to catch up on payments, they felt eternally grateful to Alex and Carlos for staying by their side.
“I believe that what truly makes you a partner is not leaving when times get tough,” Carlos says, “And I believe that every Konfront colleague and customer are partners in our mission to transform how technology is built. Customers realized that we were not just their technology providers but also their partners. I think that this was a breakthrough point for us.”
It took eight months in 2021 for Konfront to recover from 2020’s dip in revenue. The brothers focused on only offering one or two services rather than several, and they reached out to other entrepreneurs for advice and mentorship. The brothers implemented these founders’ feedback to improve Konfront’s service and attract more customers.
The loyalty they demonstrated to existing clients during Covid resulted in an even bigger return on investment. Not only did those customers sign bigger contracts for the coming year, but they also spread the word about the Cardinis’ actions to other businesses. By the end of 2021, Konfront’s revenue quadrupled, and its employee base tripled.
Springboard off Breakthrough Moments
The Cardinis’ seven-figure business now services 50 customers and employs dozens of workers who help them improve and sell their product development services. While Konfront could’ve grown to these levels without a year of total losses, the hardships taught them valuable lessons.
“We can do what older companies with tons of resources cannot do on their own because we have developed a resilient mindset.”
“That was a breakthrough moment for us,” Carlos says. “We can do what older companies with tons of resources cannot do on their own because we have developed a resilient mindset that would not let us lie down in the face of such difficulties.”
Alex and Carlos overcame difficulties in the past, including their three failed ventures. But without years of love and loyalty built between the two of them, they may not have had the courage to stick by their partners during the pandemic. Just as the two of them shone brighter together as kids, they knew they could shine brighter with their business partners after making it through dark times.
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