Unyoked - Off-the-grid stays as a cure for the post-pandemic life

Unyoked is an example of a small enterprise able to identify market gaps developing an offer that is extremely relevant to the needs of vacationers.

In modern society, individuals are often struggling to find a healthy work-life balance. Growing levels of stress and anxiety are increasingly experienced by those living office jobs and frenetic city life. The endless weekly commitments, continuous meetings, calls and the overtime work that is needed to meet deadlines are causing physical and mental issues, and often even burnouts.

In modern society, individuals are often struggling to find a healthy work-life balance. Growing levels of stress and anxiety are increasingly experienced by those living office jobs and frenetic city life. The endless weekly commitments, continuous meetings, calls and the overtime work that is needed to meet deadlines are causing physical and mental issues, and often even burnouts.

For many, the need to take a break and disconnecting from the daily life is coming stronger than ever. Finding time for oneself has now become a fundamental need, which is often satisfied by taking short vacations. In this context, short-breaks and weekend escapes are becoming increasingly popular: having more frequent and year-spread vacations can be an effective way to recharge batteries on a regular basis.

Tapping into these trends, the Australian startup Unyoked is putting the concept of 'disconnecting' at the core of its proposition, developing a hospitality concept addressing the new needs of the modern vacationer. Led by the motto 'connecting through the healing power of disconnecting' the startup is offering off-the-grid and 'tech-adverse' stays for those seeking for off-work relaxation and digital detox.

Unyoked is an example of a small enterprise able to identify market gaps developing an offer which is extremely relevant to the new needs of vacationers. By thinking big and outside the box, the startup was able to develop a unique hospitality concept and scale operations with a relatively limited amount of resources. The unique approach helped the company overcome challenges in the market, among which the global crisis connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Addressing modern citizens' needs

As many Aussies living and working in Sidney, the twin brothers Chris and Cameron Grant were living frenetic lives, made of business meetings, deadlines and strict commitments. After years spent working for big corporations, they started to realise they were struggling to keep a healthy work-life balance: their over-busy lifestyle was jeopardising both their physical and mental health.

“We realised our lifestyle and the amount we were working ... [weren’t] congruent with a healthy lifestyle and how our bodies should be treated [..] - - Cameron Grant (as seen on broadsheet.com.au)

To seek refuge from the hustle and bustle of their nine-to-five modern lives, Chris and Cameron started to become passionate about camping and nature, involving other friends in weekend nature escapes. They soon realised that lots of people, and not only among their friends, were experiencing the same situation: frustrated by their stressful lives, they were seeking for quick escapes in nature. This is when they have realised there was a gap in the market

Inspired by the world of camping, they started to develop the idea of small movable cabins, to be placed in the middle of nature, but at the same time easy to access and close to the city: the idea of Unyoked was born.

“We wanted a way to access a more natural environment more often, and that's how it all started.” - Cameron Grant (as seen on broadsheet.com.au)

A 'yoke' is a wooden beam used between a pair of domesticated animals harnessing them to work: being 'unyoked' means to be free of that harness. Similarly, with Unyoked, the two brothers wanted to free anyone 'yoked' by the weight of modern life commitments.

Within just one year from its ideation, Unyoked was officially launched in 2016. During this period, the two brothers were working their day jobs and at the same time getting the startup off the ground, working by night in the construction yard together with friends and local designers.

The first two cabins were located in New South Wales' Southern Highlands and Victoria followed by other two situated just about an hour and a half away from the city of Melbourne.

Already during the first year of activity, Chris and Cameron were finding themselves flooded with requests both from vacationers wanting to rent the cabins and landowners offering their land to the project. Starting with only two cabins, the small company has now 24 cabins in as many locations across the south-east of Australia.

Joining the Cabin Movement

Joining the 'Cabin Movement' made of people wanting to spend time in simple spaces in nature, Unyoked designs, manufactures and rents 'tiny homes' in the middle of nature, within some of the country's most unspoiled locations. For Unyoked, a cabin is an antidote to the so-called 'consumer life', allowing people to go back to what is important, away from city life and tech distraction.

A remote location and a convenient access

Located on average about 1.5-2 hours away from major cities, the cabins can be rented for single or multiple overnight stays (with a minimum of two nights on weekends). The exact location of the cabin is kept secret until only a few days before departure when the coordinates of the cabins and instructions are sent to the renter, enhancing the feeling of a true off-grid adventure.

With the cabins unlocked using a personal code sent via email, there is no need to interact with the local host. Check-in is always available after 3:00 pm and check-out before 11:00 am. Given the many requests, in case a cabin is fully booked for the selected date, it is possible to subscribe to a waitlist and get notified in case of cancellations.

The cabins are located in natural settings on private land and Unyoked partners up with landowners across Australia to expand the network. The company provides the cabin, coordinates the setup and makes sure the landowner is insured for hosting guests on the property. Unyoked is also responsible for handling bookings, customer service and transactions, curating the guest experience and helping hosts with training and quality control for servicing of the cabins.

When less is more

With the concept of 'less is more' clearly in mind, Unyoked develops minimalistic Scandinavian-style cabins with a very low carbon footprint. Being wheeled and with no foundations, the cabins have a low impact on the surrounding environment and are designed using sustainable and recyclable materials. Powered entirely by solar panels, every cabin is completely self-sufficient and has an outdoor campfire area for the exclusive use of guests.

Being minimalistic though doesn't mean they are not comfortable or don't have ay amenity. Every cabin is in fact equipped with all the essentials for a pleasant stay: sink, stove, compostable toilet, shower, fridge and even a minibar with all provisions for the stay. Classic books, board games and a big comfortable bed with a view on the surrounding nature complete the offer. The bed is always placed in the corner of the cabin, flanked by the floor-to-ceiling windows, to give guests the sensation of sleeping right out in nature.

To choose the design and location of the cabins Unyoked takes inspiration from the Japanese concept of 'shinrin-yoku': meaning 'forest bathing', which consists (literally) in immersing yourself in nature to regain well-being and health.

The cabins, although comfortable, are different from hotel rooms: they have no wifi or television, nor air conditioning. But this is precisely where their success lies: their minimalistic features and style help guests relax, get back to the important things and reconnect with nature, and ultimately, with themselves.

Beyond the philosophy - a concept that works

The concept developed by Unyoked has been indeed very successful. Even before the website was online, the enthusiastic response from the audience, thanks to the word-of-mouth was impressive, resulting in a big waiting list to access the first cabins.

But how was it possible to have such an immediate success? Mostly because of the effectiveness of the business in tapping into a real market need. In fact, the two founders did not think abstractly but identified a real need in vacationers, something they felt themselves: the need for off-the-grid and nature-based experiences.

Unyoked has been able to tap into this need from day one, creating true 'micro-adventures' with their cabins. Remote but at the same time easily accessible, the cabins seem to have been created especially for those who needed to recharge batteries and disconnect. In this context, the location of the cabin plays a key role in the success of the initiative.

Australia is one of those places where nature is at the doorstep, and where unspoiled natural land is sometimes closer than you think. Aware of this, the two founders looked for properties within maximum two hours from major cities in the country's south-east. In this way, guests don't have to travel long to reach their cabin, and this opens up a lot of possibilities for those looking for short breaks within a little distance from the city.

On the other side, Unyoked was able to unlock areas which were previously inaccessible because situated on private land. Partnering with Unyoked, landowners can generate additional passive income by opening their land to nature lovers. In this way they can use previously unutilised areas of their property in a sustainable fashion: with all cabins being self-sufficient from an energy point of view and requiring no foundation, the environmental impact is kept always very low. Most of the cabins are located far from main roads and are only accessible on foot, meaning that no road needs to be built.

Intercepting market trends

Unyoked is 'all about adventure-and-chill' as clearly stated on their website. At the core of the offer, there are unique off-the-grid escapes offered to the modern citizen. Tapping into the needs of people wanting to spend time in simple spaces in nature, a cabin becomes a true 'antidote' to the stress of the modern life, allowing guests to relax and refocus, away from any tech distraction.

Part of the startup's success lies in the way they have been able to tap into the trend represented by short breaks. Over the last decade, there has been a consistent shift in the way vacations are experienced: with the increased awareness about keeping a healthy work-life balance, many vacationers have decided to spread holidays across the year, preferring short but more frequent breaks to long but sporadic vacations.

Unyoked has cleverly intercepted this trend, creating an offer that was also addressing part of the untapped demand for nature-based escapes. In its own way, the startup is playing a small but significant role in revolutionising the concept of vacation. In fact, Unyoked is actively encouraging people to add short breaks as part of their regular routine, for the benefit of the overall work-life balance.

Thriving through the pandemic

As it is often the case, success is measured by the ability of a business to adapt to sudden changes in the market. In this sense, it is fair to say that Unyoked is a truly successful business, as the unique approach of the startup turned out to be an advantage during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As opposed to many hospitality businesses, the company saw a sustained growth throughout the whole of 2020. Despite being forced to cease all activities during the first national lockdown, once domestic travel restrictions were lifted the company saw an unprecedented surge of bookings.

Suddenly, the need for natural and socially-distanced escapes such as the ones offered by Unyoked became more actual then ever. With the impossibility to travel internationally, many Australians started to become more interested in short staycations that could distract them from their routine, made of remote working, zoom calls and face masks.

The cabins offered by Unyoked were seen by many as the perfect solution to spend a well needed, relaxing break far away from the crowd but not too far from home. The small cabins, placed in remote locations, are natural socially-distanced places and ensure not only the safety but also the privacy of guests.

Over this period, the startup has also tackled the opportunity represented by remote working, promoting their offer to those creative minds and digital nomads who were taking the pandemic as an opportunity to re-start and re-focus. Over 2020, some of the cabins have been equipped with wifi and desks: even if in apparent contradiction with the business' philosophy, the experiment paid off as many of the new reservations were made by remote workers. The cabins have been seen as the perfect place to regain a whole new level of creative and productive energy.

Key Takeaways

Published on:
May 2020
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