Marketers Changing The World: Cam Grant, CEO & Co-founder of Unyoked.
Unyoked is a self-described nature company. If you haven’t already experienced insta FOMO, imagine super cool custom designed off-grid cabins secluded in the vast wilderness where you can ‘find your inner reset button’ and reconnect with nature.
Launched in 2017 by twin brothers Chris and Cam Grant, Unyoked started with two cabins a short drive from Sydney. They have already gone global, expanding across Australia, New Zealand, the U.K, recently raising $28 million to expand in Europe.
It’s a company with a powerful purpose that clearly knows the value of brand, having recently been named by Interbrand as an AU/NZ Breakthrough Brand of 2023. We got the lowdown on the highs, lows, and that celebrity collab with a certain Texan movie star.
1. Tell us about some of the most challenging moments on the wild ride so far?
There's lots of ups and downs, a lot of stress. We’re running boutique hotel rooms in random, hard to get to locations with no phone reception. There’s a reason why no one had done it before! We’ve built a competitive advantage by making it easy for our guests.
When we first started, we didn't take a salary for the first couple of years. I was still working at Comm Bank, driving down to Kangaroo Valley at 3am to change composting toilets while wearing my suit before a 9am board meeting. Some days I think at least I’m not cleaning up sh*t at 3am!
2. How important is brand, what difference has it made to the success of Unyoked?
Since day one that's what Chris and I wanted, even though we weren’t brand experts. I studied international relations and worked in strategy. Chris did marketing and sales for a global start-up.
Brand is something we educate a lot about internally. It’s one of those things we're constantly drilling in. Investors are starting to realise a brand is what people are looking for, to find meaning. Brand, when done right, is authentic and gives people a way to live their values. Otherwise, you’re competing on very functional attributes like price, and you become a utility.
3. Tell us about the Matthew McConaughey collab, what and how?
As the creative director of Wild Turkey he was doing a TV show with brands that represented ideals of going back to nature, doing things with your hands, with famous chefs and musicians. He said I want Unyoked and his head of PR followed us up multiple times. We were head down in the field and we missed the emails. This lady was talking to her partner and saying, ‘McConaughey wants these guys and I can't get hold of them’. And he's like, ‘Oh, you mean Chris and Cam?’ He used to work with Chris, so he jumped on Facebook and said Chris check your bloody e-mail.
He flew us over to the US for the interview and we pitched him the ‘Wild Turkey cabin’. We co-designed an Unyoked cabin, jumping on calls with him at 6am. His custom cabin is in the Central Coast hinterland and has a bar and a bottle of his bourbon for every guest. We've been running it as a partnership with him for nearly four years.
Before we did the show Chris and I drove down to Joshua Tree. We we're sitting there in the mountains on one of the rocks, watching the sun go down, the stars are insane, and we’re being interviewed by McConaughey tomorrow. We just thought, what the hell, that's so random!
4. What’s a brand you most admire and why?
We've always looked to Patagonia and Nike. We just wanted to have a business that meant something to people. In accommodation, Ace Hotel is a big one. Every little touch point of their experience makes you feel a certain way, it's a tangible representation of their brand.
When they first started, Airbnb mapped out customer journey with post-it notes from a one-star experience to a five star, then right through to ten stars.
We did that before we even started and had a lot of those little things thought out. We called them the ‘little big things’. For example, when you arrive there’s a message on our sliding doors “Stop, turn around and look at the trees”. It's all those little things that add up to make the difference.
5. If budget was no issue and you could afford any brand ambassador for Unyoked dead or alive, who would you choose and why?
Andrew Huberman, an American neuroscientist, and associate professor at Stanford, who runs Huberman Lab. He talks about sleep, nutrition, fitness, diet, creativity and nature, all from a scientific perspective.
Also, Steve Jobs. He did it all himself, going walking out in the hills and the middle of nature to get inspiration for his ideas.
6. What's your biggest challenge in your role?
How to keep that authentic close and collaborative culture while we’re growing internationally. We've got people in the Philippines, the UK, New Zealand, and Australia. Trying to make people in all the different offices feel connected is something we’re working on all the time. That's the thing we need to think about the most.
7. You seem to know your customer very well, how do you capture insights?
We get a lot of insights when people book, telling us why they're coming. A recent one was “I’m an insurance broker, 34, burning out and I’m coming with my girlfriend to catch up because we haven't seen each other for ages.”
From the beginning we wanted to build personal one-on-one relationships with our customers. We've built tight feedback loops to have engaging conversations with customers. On our feedback forms, they’ll give us 10 out 10 and write us an essay about stuff they'd love to see, it's really cool.
One customer got our cabin name tattooed on her ankle, it was awesome. One thing that upsets me is that I can't respond to all of them these days, but I'll still respond to quite a few. It’s humbling to have these people that love what you've created. It’s just fun.
8. Describe culture of Unyoked, what’s the vibe of the Unyoked Christmas party in three words?
Nature. Mates. Authentic.
9. What's your tips for other self start-ups?
Getting corporate experience first like we did is one of my recommendations to anyone asking about starting a business. Being able to skip uni, skip work and start your own business and grow, I think it’s a bit of a myth. It was super valuable us having that proper experience and learning and watching and growing that way first. Also, because we knew operations, we thought about the customer journey and risks.
10. What's the next world changing move for Unyoked?
When we started, we were sitting around on a rainy Wednesday night, with spreadsheets on one screen, just needing to get Unyoked and out into nature. We wanted to be able to pull out our phone, click two buttons and then be in the middle of nowhere the next day. We're still expanding to have enough cabins to do that. We'd love to be an authority in the space, we've even got a scientific research arm. We’re using decades of research and looking at doing our own studies to prove the positive effect of people living in the city going into nature.
If you’re sitting under fluorescent lights at KPMG we want to help you realise, maybe you should go and be around some trees for a little while and you'll actually do way better on that project.
We just had a 16-page article in Wired in Japan, which is super exciting because we're not in Japan. And for a technology magazine to be focusing on the benefits of nature and specifically Unyoked is awesome. We couldn’t read much of it, but we got it translated!
It's a privilege to be able to do what we do. The only time I wear suit now is for weddings. That's pretty good.