As all founders know, startup life can throw you a few curveballs. Sometimes that’s an unplanned pivot or a sudden increase in demand. Sometimes, it’s a call from a bona fide Hollywood A-lister.
For Chris and Cam Grant, twin brothers and co-founders of tiny-house startup Unyoked, it was the latter. And when the pair received a call from the one and only Matthew McConaughey, it was so unexpected they accidentally ignored it for weeks.
Unyoked builds tiny cabins on rented land in the Aussie wilderness, and invites stressed city workers to unplug and unwind, away from it all.
Now, the founders have forged a “creative partnership” with McConaughey, Chris Grant tells StartupSmart.
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The actor has worked with them on designing a new cabin and improving the experience, and is also flying out to Australia this week for the launch of the new cabin.
“He was amazing to work with and very creative, and it’s been a blast having someone of that stature to collaborate with regularly.”
The news follows a successful year for the startup, which was first conceived back in 2016.
In June this year, the brothers raised $1.17 million through a VentureCrowd campaign. At that time, they revealed the startup had generated more than $300,000 in revenues from six cabins, and were targeting annual recurring revenues of more than $25 million by 2022.
“Matthew McConaughey is trying to get hold of you”
Getting McConaughey on board has been “a real journey for us”, Grant says.
In fact, the actor’s ‘people’ had a bit of a hard time reaching the Aussie entrepreneurs. Usually, the brothers turn down any offers for large brand partnerships. Their customer services manager files all requests in an email folder, which they don’t check often, he explains.
“They had been trying to hit us up, and had been hitting a wall.”
Finally, the team got through to a mutual friend, who reached out to Grant personally.
“He said: ‘Hey, buddy, Matthew McConaughey is trying to get hold of you’, which was interesting,” the founder recalls.
When asked how he felt at that moment, Chris says only: “I can’t remember to be honest — there has been so much going on.”
Although, he does admit it was all a bit surreal.
“It was intriguing, and we wanted to learn more,” he says.
Initially, the founders were invited to appear on Talk Turkey, an online show, sponsored by bourbon brand Wild Turkey, on which McConaughey interviews entrepreneurs.
But, through chatting to the actor off set, they realised their passions were aligned, and the idea for the collaboration was born.
A portion of the proceeds from stays at this new cabin will also go to Unyoked’s charity partner, The Foundation for Natural Parks and Wildlife, along with donations from McConaughey and Wild Turkey.
“It’s two things we’re passionate about,” Grant says.
“Getting people out into the wilderness and away from the city, and preserving that wilderness so that people can continue to do that in the future.”
And, of course, celebrity endorsement could do great things for the Aussie startup.
“If we can leverage his fan base and the platform he has, and help get our message out there, then it’s a win for us,” Grant says.
“We’re going to be working with him in the coming years as well.”
Grant believes part of the reason Unyoked struck a chord with McConaughey is that, if escaping to the wilderness is attractive to anyone, it’s the super-famous.
“He’s the type of guy that operates at two speeds,” Grant explains.
“He’s one of the best actors in the world and his schedule is hectic, so he understands the benefits of getting away from that — tapping out to tap back in, as he says,” he adds.
“It just resonates with the sort of thing he likes.”
Also, having grown up in Texas and spent some time in Australia as a child, he’s an outdoorsy kind of guy, Grant says.
“I think when we came across his desk it just piqued his interest.”
And so, if the founders have learnt anything from the experience, it’s the value of authenticity. If you’re true to yourself, you never know who’s attention you might attract.
“Cam and I weren’t out there fishing for it, he came to us,” Grant says.
“Be authentic, have a message and a real genuine problem that you’re trying to solve,” he advises.
“I think that combination hit home.”