'We want to be Patagonia, not Airbnb': Unyoked is an Aussie cabin hire company that wants you to treat escaping into nature like going to the gym

Coralie. Credit: @sammyhawker
  • Wilderness experience company Unyoked has been at over 90% capacity at its cabins since it launched about three years ago.
  • The company says it is on a mission to make escaping to nature as regular a part of people’s routines as going to the gym.
  • “We want to build a business that’s more like Patagonia and less like Airbnb”, co-founder Cameron Grant told Business Insider Australia.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

There’s a corner of Instagram that is, counterintuitively, designed to help you escape the endless scroll.

It’s where adventurers post pristine shots of mountains rising above deep green forests, shrouded in mist. Where the account @cabinporn became a viral sensation by posting photos of dwellings ensconced in wilderness – eventually leading to a book deal.

It’s also the corner of the internet where you might discover a cabin run by wilderness experience company Unyoked.

‘Dawn’, a cabin three hours north of Sydney in Gloucester, NSW, ‘will give you the perspective you’re looking for,’ reads the website blurb for one of a multitude of cabins available to select, departing from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, or the Byron Bay hinterland.

‘Adventure level – spicy’, it adds beneath.

Coralie. Credit: @sammyhawker

“Our company is #cabinporn in real life,” says co-founder Cameron Grant, who started Unyoked with his brother Chris, of the company’s highly effective Instagram strategy, with a following of over 62,000.

Instagram, the company’s only marketing platform, serves as a window into the experience, presenting a grid of rustic yet perfectly curated dwellings placed like digital pins in vast expanses of nature.

If you aren’t one of the visitors who have kept the company’s cabins at over 90% capacity since launching over three years ago – barring a brief pause during Australia’s national lockdown in March last year – Unyoked offers a concept for escape from the big city that’s perfectly calibrated to the sensibilities of young people raised on Instagram and allergic to cookie cutter experiences.

From the sheets (from linen bedding brand In Bed), to the mattresses (Koala), to the cabins themselves (local, sustainable materials and built to be 100% off-grid with solar power), the company’s approach might be seen as a paint-by-numbers of hipster selling points.

But it’s working.

Heike. Credit:@sammyhawker

The founder’s story is common enough. Two young people in corporate jobs in the city, a browser filled with escapes to nature on their second screen. They decide to create for themselves what they couldn’t find in the market: eco friendly regional micro-adventures that you could feasibly get to before the sun set after work on a Friday.

With a good friend who’s an architect and another a builder, they got together what they needed and created their first two cabins on weekends while working full time. Within the first year of opening business, the cabins were 100% booked out with thousands of others on the waitlist.

The past three years have been a flurry of positive press, growing organic traffic through Instagram, and several rounds of funding through local investors. The two cabins have expanded to thirty, and most new properties come from inbound offers to the site, where properties are assessed for their sustainability credentials, safety, and what Grant calls “wilderness vibe”: the intangible x-factor that makes a property right for one of their cabins.

The success of Unyoked, tapping into the desire of young people for unique experiences with cool brands, offering an Airbnb-type experience with a twist seems obvious in retrospect.

Bastian. Credit: @steve_jl_photography

“We created a new category,” Grant says of his company’s placement somewhere between old-school farmstays, luxury regional Airbnbs, and camping.

It was also one of the first to translate the Instagram trend of wilderness rentals and A-frame retreats for the Australian market.

While the recent emergence of competitors with a similar offer suggests opportunities for growth in this niche travel space, actually, Grant and the team’s ‘brand mission’ points to its ability to tap into the growing confluence of ethics, identity and mission that now powers successful brands that thrive on the internet.

‘We’re trying to get people to see and use the outdoors like they do the gym’

Grant is adamant the company’s success comes from more than just its ability to connect twenty and thirty-somethings with Instagrammable weekends away.

He segments their core customers into two groups. Firstly, there are the digital nomads and creatives who keep the cabins booked out throughout the week, using them as a creative getaway or prep out of the office for an upcoming presentation.

“A lot of musicians, artists, chefs,” Grant said.

While only around 25% of the cabins have phone coverage, Grant says they deliberately built in connectivity for this specific use case, part of a flexible “work smarter with a more healthy attitude” approach to the work week.

Credit: unyoked.co

Then there’s the busy city professionals looking for a weekend detox somewhere that’s easy to get to and doesn’t require booking a flight or driving all night.

Grant says part of the mission is an obsession with helping more people integrate escaping into nature into their routine.

“Those benefits of nature, they’ve been scientifically proven around the world to improve your happiness, your wellbeing,” Grant says.

“Being out in natural spaces decreases your stress.”

Grant is an evangelist of the company’s philosophy that more people should be treating “the outdoors like they do the gym” — part of a daily, weekly or monthly routine.

With this in mind, he shares that there are few new and exciting projects on the horizon, hinting at an expansion of the Unyoked brand into new sectors.

Unyoked founders Cam and Chris Grant

According to Grant, it’s all part of the plan to make Unyoked do for the digital detox what the app Headspace did for meditation. Headspace, a US startup, promotes the integration of mindfulness into daily life with bite-sized guided exercises.

“Sort of breaking down the barriers; making it easier for people to understand the benefits and start adopting meditation practices — we’re trying to do that for the outdoors,” he says.

“You don’t have to go hiking, you don’t have to go camping for five days; you can literally drive one hour and feel those benefits on any day of the week.”

In this way, Unyoked is riding the tide of a new generation of companies that are part of the movement towards branding as not just as an avenue for fandom, with logo caps and laptop stickers, but as a holistic lifestyle choice — and even as a movement.

Examples include the US sweatshirt company Pangaia, which calls itself ‘a materials science company on a mission to save our environment’ and local Australian brand Worn, which states as its purpose ‘creating a consumable object that was free from ego and ethically transparent in its manufacturing.’

Credit: @Unyoked.co

‘We don’t see ourselves as a cabin company.’

Because “people have always really connected with us and what we’re trying to do,” the coronavirus lockdown period didn’t have much of an effect on business, Grant says.

What it did do was supercharge the expansion of the kinds of people interested in this sort of experience — he thinks if anything the COVID-19 pandemic sped up the diversification of their market.

In the beginning, young professionals comprised the majority of visitors – largely people aged from their mid-twenties to their late thirties who work in big cities.

But in the past few years, this has expanded to include older people and young families, as well as a “strong uni contingent”, Grant says, adding that more and more people are open to new nature experiences.

“Something that Covid has changed for the positive [are] those attitudes and that culture about looking after ourselves and working differently.”

“It’s helping us spread this message about what we’re trying to do.”

As vacancies are still limited almost three months in advance, their core strategy is to grow to meet demand, adding cabins in Tasmania and South Australia. They intend to have cabins outside most major cities by the end of the year.

“We don’t see ourselves as a cabin company,” Grant says.

“It facilitates the experience that people are trying to have; we want to build a business that’s more like Patagonia and less like Airbnb. That’s our philosophy.”

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