Away, founded by Jen Rubio and Stephanie Korey is a direct-to-consumer luggage company from two former Warby Parker execs. To get their company off the ground they raised over $2 million in seed funding, banking on the idea that luxury travel accessories needed rethinking. They wanted to create luggage for the way "people really move" that didn't also cost an arm and a leg.
The duo created a beautiful, high-end minimalist carry-on without the high-end price tag. At under $250, Away just made traveling in style (hello: silk lining, removable laundry bag, TSA approved lock, charging ports) a whole lot easier. In fact, you're going to plan a trip just to take this bag for a spin.
We checked in with Jen and Steph to talk fundraising, believing in your product, and of course, the best meal they've ever had at an airport (shoutout to the Delta terminal at LAX).
For someone looking to raise capital, where is the first place to start?
STEPH: The best place to start is researching how companies in a similar industry and stage as yours have raised capital. There’s a ton of information online. If you can get introductions to founders who have done it and learn from their experiences, that’s the best route forward.
What went into fundraising for Away? How did you establish what you needed?
S: We thought first and foremost about building a company, not fundraising. We developed a plan and a financial model, and figured out where in that plan we would need capital to keep moving forward. We worked for many months and only started fundraising when we reached a point where additional capital was needed to keep making progress.
Women notoriously don’t talk about money. Do you find asking for money scary?
S: Not at all, investing in a promising early stage company is a great opportunity, not a donation. Early stage investors are constantly looking for the next big deal and early stage companies are looking for great investors who can help the company grow. It’s a win-win situation for both parties.
For women who don’t have a background in writing business proposals, what would you suggest?
S: Utilize your network, that’s exactly what mentors are for. There are actually a ton of great resources online, and if you can couple that with advice from someone you trust, that’s ideal.
If comfort and trust are key to any good business deal, what would you say to women who are offered the funds, but don’t like the deal?
S: With any negotiation, the most important thing is understanding your options. If you don’t like the terms of the deal, you can absolutely go out and try to find better terms elsewhere. Once there are multiple investors interested, that helps to set a “market rate” for the deal.
What did working for Warby Parker teach you about direct-to-consumer brands?
S: We learned so much from Warby, they’ve set an incredibly high bar for modern retail brands. The most important takeaway was the power of an incredible customer experience - if you singularly put your customers first in every decision you make, they will be loyal brand ambassadors forever.
How do you gain the trust of a customer? How do you gain the trust of investors? Are the tactics similar?
S: I think it’s very similar. You gain trust from anyone by being very honest, thoughtful, genuine. Never try to trick or exaggerate to an investor or customer, you’ll lose that trust forever.
What sets Away apart from other luggage companies?
S: It’s so disappointing to be bogged down by cumbersome luggage, dying electronics, or lack of organization. More than anything, we wanted to eliminate some of that so people can really focus on the joys of travel.
While working at Warby Parker and Casper, we saw those companies completely transform the previously poor consumer experiences and high prices for the eyewear and mattress industries. In January of this year, we decided the luggage industry needed similar improvements, and created Away to offer consumers the highest quality luggage for a fraction of the price with a great consumer experience.
JEN: While we’re starting with luggage, we’re really on a mission to create a brand and community that encourages people to explore new places and cultures and equips them with whatever they need to do that as joyously and seamlessly as possible. Our own travel experiences and desire to cultivate authentic connections globally have been huge driving factors in the product, brand, and community that we’re building. Away takes a people-driven approach to everything we do: making things beautiful and functional, creating things that are emotionally and technically meaningful, and continually thinking about how people will interact with us.
People’s attentions are more scattered than ever. Do you think the “elevator pitch” is more or less vital than before?
J: People are being pulled in so many different directions now that you need to be able to communicate your idea in a way that they’ll remember after your conversation. What’s more important than a staged “elevator pitch” is being able to gauge the person’s interest or initial reaction so you can tailor your conversation to be something they’ll remember. A polished, effective pitch is nice, but to be engaging you have to be able to be fluid.
What are some of the most important questions you need to ask investors?
J: Do you understand our business and our approach? Can you refer me to entrepreneurs you’ve worked with? What kind of follow-on investments do you see the company needing? What’s your preferred way (method, timing) of communicating about the business? What’s your end game?
Not only do question like these help you figure out if you and the potential investor are aligned in the business and the strategy, but also aligns expectations for future investment rounds, a potential exit, and involvement in the company. It’s also important to be aware of potential personality or culture clashes since you could potentially be working with this person for a long time.
Best meal you’ve ever had at an airport:
J: The Salt Lick at AUS for a last shot of BBQ before leaving town. Pak Loh Chiu Chow for dim sum at HKG. For best selection, the Delta terminal at LAX wins: airport versions of some of my favorite LA restaurants, like Lemonade, Border Grill, Real Food Daily, and Lotería.
Tip for being a good traveler:
J: Leave time for the unexpected. Some of my favorite travel memories are experiences that came up along the way that I never could have planned. It’s great to have a sense for what kind of trip you want—seeing friends, touring sights, total relaxation, etc.—but allowing yourself to take advantage of surprises along the way will often lead to something really special.
When you want to get Away:
J: I go on Kayak with a budget in mind and then start typing in airport codes.