Jen Rubio, co-founder and Creative Director of Away says that “When you're starting a business for the first time, you're doing everything for the first time.” It’s a perfunctory explanation as to why startup founders struggle. The ins, the outs, the ups and downs; it’s turbulent.
But when Jen and her co-founder, Steph Korey, both former execs at Warby Parker, left to launch they knew that luxury travel accessories needed retooling and they were ready for a bumpy ride. Dedicated to a piece of luggage for the way "people really move" that didn't come with a first class price tag, the first product was a beautiful, high-end minimalist carry-on without the zeros. At under $250, Away made traveling in style (hello: silk lining, removable laundry bag, TSA approved lock, charging ports) a whole lot easier. Vogue called it, “the perfect carry-on.” Forbes 30 Under 30 took notice. They had accolades in the bag, but they didn't stop there.
Away now offers four sizes, a monogrammed edition, as well as travel accessories. Steph says the goal is to “be a part of the company that’s the first thing anyone thinks of when they have travel needs.” They're changing how we travel, one charged up suitcase at a time.
Read a little about their journey below.
What is the most important step you took this far?
Steph: I made it a point at every step in my career to always look for opportunities to go above and beyond. That mentality really prepares you for all the unexpected challenges that come your way when starting a business.
Jen: Having conviction in an idea and committing to seeing it through all the way.
What keeps you going?
Steph: Coffee? Just kidding, the biggest thing that keeps me going is the excitement for the game changing travel company we're building and the mind-blowing members of the Away team who constantly inspire me.
Jen: Relationships. I'm energized by people and conversations and am at my most creative when I find myself really connecting with those around me.
What is the best piece of "real talk" advice you've received?
Jen: "You will never be great on your own if you don't learn how to work with other people." That snapped me out of my early 20s "I can do it all" hubris and got me thinking about how to be a team player and people manager.
Steph: "Hire slow, fire fast. Better have a hole than an a-hole." - Neil Blumenthal, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Warby Parker
What are some challenges you’ve encountered along the way?
Steph: The list goes on and on. If you push yourself in your career, you're constantly being challenged because you're always taking on things that push your boundaries. I wouldn't have it any other way.
What is your favorite life advice?
Jen: "Ships are safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are built for." Take the risk!
What is a habit or routine you swear by?
Steph: My clothes all look pretty similar to each other: black, white, grey, denim. Taking out the day-to-day thinking about clothes frees up brain space for other things.
Jen: Every night before bed, I think of five things from the day that I'm grateful for. Gratitude is a practice.
International Women’s Day is coming up. It's a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. If you could steer the conversation around International Women’s Day, what would that dialogue be about?
Jen: I'd want to highlight the disparity between the opportunities of women in different places around the world and bring attention the the incredible, resilient women I've met in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Haiti, etc. and their stories.
Steph: That the goal should be to one day stop celebrating it because men and women are so equal across the whole world that there would be no need.
What does female empowerment mean to you?
Steph: Historically, women haven't always had the same legal rights as men. It's really in the last generation that it became socially acceptable for women to have the same career potential. To me, female empowerment means reminding women that if any person can do something, so can they.
Jen: Being open, honest, and vulnerable with the women I call my friends, and as a result, encouraging each other to do better and enjoy the process.
What do you do to support other women, either professionally or personally?
Steph: I treat them the same as men, both personally and professionally. The whole point here is that people are people, so when it comes to hiring, promotions, or supporting your friends, everyone should get the same great support.
Jen: I try to be active in mentorship, panels, and discussions that help women, and while doing so, try to be as transparent as possible about my own experiences.