Women in Travel Tech: Jen Rubio Creative Director of Away Suitcases

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The suitcase brand Away wants to do more than shake up the suitcase industry, it wants to completely change how your travel.

“Travel is actually a broken industry,” explains Jen Rubio, co-founder and creative director of Away. “Everyone wants to talk about their trip but things, like packing and getting to the airport, can be the most painful experience.

“We knew from the beginning that the way we were going to make a difference was to make a brand that would make travel more seamless, more enjoyable, and create products that contributed to that.”

After launching in 2016, the company did $12 million in sales in its first year alone and has raised around $31 million from investors including Global Founders Capital and Comcast Ventures.

With four stores in the US and a new store opening in London later this year, Away is only just getting started.

We spoke to Rubio about how the idea for Away started and what it’s like running a successful start-up.

Jen Rubio, co-founder and creative director at Away (Daniela Spector/Away)

How Away started: the meeting of Jen Rubio and Steph Korey

The story of Away starts with the meeting of Rubio and her co-founder Steph Korey at Warby Parker, the eyewear company which started in 2010, where they were working in social media and supply chain respectively.

Warby Parker is now a $1.2 billion company but when Rubio and Korey began working there, it was still very much in start-up mode, offering a good learning experience.

“It gave me a sense of how you can take something that’s admittedly not very sexy – in Warby Parker’s case eyewear, but by changing the way you build the company and add a new perspective to [a product], that will really disrupt the industry,” says Rubio.

Rubio then left Warby Parker to apply her start-up skills to the fashion brand All Saints, as the company’s global head of innovation. After working there for two years, she was thinking about her next career move when her luggage broke.

“When I was looking for an alternative, I realized this is an industry where there aren’t any great alternatives,” explains Rubio. “Even people who know luggage brands don’t love them, they just use what’s out there.”

Using her brand experience, Rubio couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a luggage brand that people did love.

After re-connecting with Korey, who had received an MBA at Columbia Business School in the meantime, the duo decided to set up a direct-to-consumer luggage company that had the potential to drastically shift the industry. And with that, Away came along.

(Away)

Launching the first Away product

Away cases are smart and the company counts celebrities including Karlie Kloss, Suki Waterhouse and Zoe Saldana amongst its fans.

When designing the first Away case, the company went straight to its customers first before putting pen to paper, talking to nearly 1,000 travelers about the features they wanted in a suitcase.

This is how the cases ended up with hard exteriors yet are lightweight, have great zippers, good wheels, and a handy built-in removable USB charger in the carry-on case.

“We took those steps before we even launched or designed the product, to ensure we were taking all the consumer insights to hand and getting feedback before we’d even sold a single suitcase,” she says.

As well, Away also gives its customers features such as a 100-day trial and lifetime warranty whenever they buy a product. This is part of the company’s strategy to ensure it provides an amazing customer experience.

“When the best way to reach people is your website and they’re not able to touch and feel the product, you want to make them feel confident that you’re not just marketing something they’ll be stuck with if they don’t like it,” explains Rubio.

Bridging the divide between tech and retail

Away and its founders are part of a new cohort of companies bridging the divide between tech and traditional firms. With its great brand presence on social media platforms like Instagram, as well as the fact it raises money like a tech start-up, Away can be classified as a tech firm.

However, due to the fact it sells products, it also comes under retail. This makes Away similar to other start-ups like Emily Weiss’s Glossier which are creating this new stream of companies.

“That’s what is exciting about Away, that we’re building our own kind of company,” says Rubio. “Our infrastructure and processing stem from what we learned in tech, so being lean and innovative in everything we do.

“But when we think about design and our physical products, we look at luxury and fashion companies because they’re really good at connecting with the customers.

“I think the best parts about new brands like Away and Glossier is that we can take the good parts of each sector but aren’t stuck with the old bad habits or how they’re traditionally run.”

As well as selling Away products, the stores also host events, panels, and workshops.

“We see our stores as a platform to continue building the brand rather than just selling bags.”

In the past two years, Away has been on a non-stop growth spree and it doesn’t show any signs of stopping. Rubio says this is very rewarding.

“We’re really proud of the team we’ve built. Everyone’s so talented and the company has really become its own thing, not just about me and Steph anymore,” she says.

“That’s the kind of thing that makes us feel that the brand will continue to evolve and stand the test of time, and that’s really rewarding.”

Original Article – TheStandard