In honor of our co-founders Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power’s latest book, The Career Code: Must-Know Rules for a Strategic, Stylish, and Self-Made Career ($13), we’re running an interview series featuring 17 questions (to parallel the book’s 17 chapters) about the work lives of inspirational female leaders who are at the top of their fields. Last round, we tapped venture capitalist Michelle McHargue. Next up, Away co-founders Jen Rubio and Stephanie Korey, who are disrupting the luxury luggage market.
Prior to November 2015, our concept of quality luggage was pretty rudimentary. If a suitcase had a built-in lock, it was good. Add simple spinning wheels and a hard shell, and it was the Rolls-Royce of baggage, fetching hundreds of dollars. For such a basic offering, that just doesn’t seem to add up, thought Jen Rubio and Steph Korey.
It was this lightbulb realization that catalyzed them to found one of America’s coolest new startups, Away, a smart luggage company that’s disrupting the travel market. Rubio and Korey, both alumni of eyewear e-tailer Warby Parker, couldn’t believe how behind the luggage industry was. “We saw a gap in the market for … a travel brand that speaks to and understands the way people truly travel today,” the duo told Forbes after winning a coveted spot on the publication’s 30 Under 30 list.
It turns out they weren’t the only ones who thought smart luggage was a good idea. Rubio and Korey quickly caught the attention of venture capitalists and raised $2.5 million in seed funding before the brand launched in 2015, followed by an additional $8.5 million in a Series A round. Not bad for two friends who have yet to celebrate their 30th birthday.
Fast-forward 10 months—that’s right, Away hasn’t even existed for a year—and there are few frequent flyers who don’t know about the cult luggage brand. Rubio and Korey are quickly changing the definition of luxury luggage. Boasting a built-in battery to charge devices on the go, quiet Japanese Hinomoto wheels, luxe silk lining, and a removable laundry bag, the luggage is priced from $225.
We caught hold of the dynamic duo to find out how they navigate success, structure their workdays, and lean into the challenges ahead. Don’t miss Korey’s tips for entry-level employees or Rubio’s ultimate career advice—they’ll transform the way you deal with nerves.
STEPH KOREY: “I’m the co-founder and CEO of Away. My job is to work with the rest of the team on the various initiatives we have going on all the time, from product development to financial planning to marketing. It’s really fun!”
JEN RUBIO: “I’m the co-founder and creative director, and I work with everyone on the team to make sure everything we do is on brand, thoughtfully designed, and in line with the Away narrative.”
JR: “Even though everything we produce is very creatively driven, we look to a lot of data to get to those decisions.”
JR: “I went to Bloomingdale’s with my mom and begged her to buy me a Theory pantsuit. I got the job, and I still have the suit somewhere—but luckily I’ve never had to work anywhere after that first job that required a suit!”
SK: “Steve Jobs, right before the original iPod came out. What did he think would come of this? I’d love to know what his vision for the future was at that point.”
SK: “I’m constantly reading. I want to know everything. I skim headlines from dozens of startup-, retail-, and fashion-industry news sources every day and then usually pick the five to 10 full articles I’m most interested in spending 20 minutes reading that day.”
JR: “Anytime I’ve ever regretted anything work-related, it‘s because I didn’t pay enough attention to it the first time around. So now I make sure to be really present and give things my full attention—lesson learned!”
SK: “Passion, ambition, a team-oriented attitude, comfort with ambiguity, and friendly vibes.”
SK: “I know I’m accomplishing the most when I’m comfortable—you’ll normally find me in jeans, T-shirts, and flats.”
SK: “I pride myself on being fairly self-sufficient, so I don’t have an assistant. But I imagine if I had one, he or she would also describe me as self-sufficient.”
JR: “I move. Whether it’s traveling a few thousand miles or taking a breather and walking around SoHo, I find so much inspiration in times of travel and transition. It clears my head and gives me perspective.”
SK: “Everyone will quit jobs! It’s no longer the era of a 40-year career at a single company. The best way to do it is to be thoughtful about what the impact on the company will be and be proactive about making sure the important things will be taken care of once you’re gone, by training others. When I left Warby Parker to go to business school, I gave two months’ notice so I could really make sure the rest of the team was trained and prepared to carry on seamlessly once I left.”
SK: “I get really in the zone at work, so ordering in for lunch is pretty standard. It’s something different every day. So many amazing options are at your fingertips in NYC; lately, we’ve been ordering in from Hu Kitchen a lot.”
SK: “The most common mistake I see from entry-level employees is not being enough of a sponge for new skills. If you pay attention, you can learn a ton from the more experienced people around you. For my peers, the most common mistake is usually micromanaging or insisting things are done their own way—you should align with your team on goals but let people come up with their own process that makes sense to them.”
JR: “@CB and @PopandSuki—they each have their vibe, and the consistency of muted tones and geometric shapes on @CB and the pastel pinks on @PopandSuki are so soothing (and visually pleasing). I love @SuitcaseMag for pairing travel and fashion, @PinSykes for not taking herself too seriously (while being seriously stylish), and most of all, I love seeing photos that tag @Away or #TravelAway—our customers bring their suitcases to the most lust-worthy destinations and luckily always tag us!”
JR: “My routines are stringent in the morning only: I wake up at 6:30 a.m., Uber into the city while answering my most important emails, work out (usually boxing or Pilates), and get an iced coffee (regardless of season) before getting into the office. This gives me the clarity and energy I need for my day, which involves a lot of back-to-back meetings. I’m pretty strict on this routine, but by the end of the day, anything goes.”
JR: “Something that always stuck with me was that when I was nervous before giving a talk years ago, someone told me that being nervous and being excited are physiologically the same—they’re both aroused emotions, and it’s all about how you interpret them. This reminds me that everything is about perspective.”
JR: “It’s hard to pick just one thing, but I stay up late at night because I can’t stop thinking about the spaces we’re building out in London, New York, L.A., and Berlin. Not only is it magical to see our brand come to life in a physical space, but we get to work with some of the most talented creatives in the world to build them out, and it’s incredibly rewarding to see people come into the space and experience it.”
Looking for more career advice? Shop our co-founders’ latest book: