An Interview With the Co-Founder of Away

We sat down with Steph Korey to talk about her luggage company’s innovative suitcases, how the idea came about, and life as a founder.

December 5, 2016
IMAGE CREDIT: Masha Maltsava

Nowadays, it feels like there are 2 luggage options on the market:

  1. Crappy and cheap
  2. Unreasonably expensive

So, like any entrepreneurs worth their salt, friends Jen Rubio and Steph Korey set out to solve that problem.

Their solution? Away, a direct-to-consumer luggage company offering the best suitcases we’ve ever seen… and we’re not exaggerating.

Away’s innovative carry-on includes a patent-pending compression system (over-packers, rejoice!), a TSA-approved combo lock, and a built-in battery that can charge any USB device.

They’re also super lightweight, have a lifetime warranty, and if you aren’t thrilled with yours after that Fiji vacay, you have up to 100 days to return it free of charge.

We’re clearly big fans, so we’re thrilled to have had the opportunity to sit down with Steph and find out more about the Away brand and how the company got started.

Where’d the idea for Away come from? How’d you decide on the name?

The idea came from a personal pain point. Jen broke her crappy luggage one day, and when researching her options, realized she could either get more cheap, crappy luggage or really great luggage that was closer to $1000 than a price that made sense.

We dug into the supply chain and realized all those $1000 suitcases were wildly marked up because of how they were distributed, and decided we’d make the best luggage in the world designed based on travelers true experiences, and sell it exclusively direct to consumer.

The name was the first thing we came up with, travel is so meaningful because you get to experience new things while you’re away, so we’re Away.

You were both co-workers at Warby Parker prior to founding Away. What are the most valuable lessons you learned working there? Was there anything you learned NOT to do from working at Warby?

Working at Warby Parker was incredible training for what we’re doing at Away. The biggest lessons were: 1) Treat your customers the way they want to be treated, and they’ll be loyal to you for life, 2) Hire slow and fire fast, better have a hole than an a-hole, and 3) When in doubt, turn to the data.

Did you come up with the idea for Away while working together at Warby?

We came up with the idea about a year after we had both left Warby. Jen was running innovation at All Saints and I was in business school and consulting for mattress startup, Casper, when Jen’s suitcase broke. She called me complaining about how terrible the replacement options were and it was just one of those moments when you’re like “wait a second.”

What was the biggest challenge early on and how did you overcome it?

Biggest challenge early on was just figuring out how all the pieces are going to fit together, there’s an infinite number of ways you can make all the major decisions that set the foundation for your business, which can be daunting.

We just tried to be really thoughtful about creating and evaluating the options, and relying on our network for advice when we needed it.

Are you eCommerce only? Or do you have a physical store presence?

We’re both online and physical, but in both situations we’re direct-to-consumer only, so you can shop Away products at awaytravel.com or in Away stores. We have a long term store in New York City, and pop-ups right now in LA, London, and Berlin.

Do you manufacture in the USA or abroad? Any advice for companies that need to make that decision, themselves?

We manufacture abroad, largely because the product we manufacture is just not made in the USA. I think like all major business decisions, it’s about evaluating your options and being thoughtful about the pros and cons of each.

We’re lucky that we’ve partnered with some really exceptional manufacturers.

What was the process of acquiring customer feedback for your first prototype? What would you change about that process if you could go back in time?

This was intense for us, we did a really robust process of surveys and focus groups, we ended up getting feedback from over 800 people. If I could change one thing, it would be to make it more iterative, because we were moving so quickly, nearly everyone was asked the same questions, and it would have been helpful to take the first set of feedback to formulate new questions for new groups of travelers.

Where’d you get your first prototype made? Why did you select that location? Are you still working with that manufacturer?

The first prototype came from the same manufacturer we work with today, they’re based in China and probably the single most important partner to our business.

They run a world class operation manufacturing for some of the biggest names in high end luggage, and we were really fortunate to have the opportunity to work with them. Nearly all hard sided luggage is made in Asia, so it’s a matter of finding the best partner you can work with.

How big is your team now? And what do your day-to-days look like right now?

We just reached 30 people, which is up from 4 people 10 months ago. My day to day jumps around like crazy.

Recently, most days include things like meeting with candidates, reviewing a new marketing opportunity, working with our ops or cx team on how we’re scaling with the growth, to sitting down and thinking through longer term strategy for the business.

Favorite place you’ve traveled?

Prague in December, it is so festive for Christmas, no place like it for the holiday spirit!



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