Jen Rubio, one of the co-founders of Away, got the idea for a more thoughtful piece of luggage after she went through a travel nightmare on a trip to Switzerland. Her suitcase broke.
“I was at the airport, and all of my clothes just spilled out everywhere,” Rubio told CNNMoney. “I had to find some straps and some tape to tape everything together.”
Rubio went looking for a replacement. Her options were limited — a well-designed piece that was too expensive or a cheap one of poor quality.
Rubio complained about the experience to Stephanie Korey, her friend and former co-worker at Warby Parker. They saw an untapped market, and set to work creating an affordable, durable hard-shell suitcase with wheels and a built-in battery pack for charging electronics.
Their luggage ranges from $225 for a small carry-on to $295 for a large suitcase. Away is also a lifestyle brand that includes a magazine.
Korey and Rubio, who both have consumer marketing experience from stints at companies like Warby Parker and Casper, bring different strengths to the company. But they know their roles.
Korey, the CEO, has an MBA and is more logic-minded. Rubio, whose title is creative director, manages branding and design.
When they teamed up, they planned their company structure on Post-It notes. The pair laid out notes with all the different functions and departments that their company would need. They divided up the tasks and found they each had an equal amount.
The two also share an entrepreneurial spirit.
Rubio’s first business experience came from a lemonade stand, where she made her mark as something of a corporate raider.
“The kid down the street opened a lemonade stand about a week later, and I remember going to my dad and asking him for $20 so I could buy him out,” Rubio said, calling it her first merger and acquisition. “I bought him out and made him work for me.”
Korey had an enterprising business of her own: She set up shop in her parents’ supply closet and sold them things they’d already bought.
“My first business from a gross margin perspective was quite ingenious,” she said. “I sold them their own light bulbs and their own paper clips that they had already paid for, so it was great — 100% gross margin.”
The two plan to debut additional products for travelers soon — a priority for Rubio, who is constantly on the road.
“My relationship with travel is probably my least complicated relationship. I just love it and it loves me back,” she said. “This is so sad, but lately I’ve been feeling most at home on a plane with no Wi-Fi.”
Rubio said going through airport security, putting her stuff in bins and boarding is the biggest constant in her life right now.
But she credits her frequent travel with making her a better entrepreneur by forcing her to adapt to change and push beyond what’s comfortable. She said her experiences have also helped her create a company that makes travel easier for others.
“Our customers just really feel like this luggage kind of enables and empowers them to have better trips,” she said.