April 15, 2024

Courtesy of the founder of the billion-dollar luggage company loved by the A-list

Launching their hard case luggage in 2016 with just a team of six, even Jennifer couldn’t have imagined the journey the cases themselves would take her on. Now valued as a 1. 4-billion-dollar company with 1 million cases worldwide – in just three years – Jennifer defines the term ‘girl boss’.

Plus, the cases are even approved by the likes of Meghan MarkleandKarlie Kloss.

Jennifer Rubio is nothing short of inspiring. After years of observing the same drab suitcases being dragged around airports, Jennifer and her co-founder, Steph Korey, saw a gap in the market for affordable luggage which is not only chic, but become part of your lifestyle. With that bright spark idea, Away luggage was born. The cases are slick but functional – even coming complete with a charger kit in the carry-on size luggage.

Here, with much needed back to work inspiration, Jennifer powerfully shares her story and advice for budding young business women…

We grew from a four-person company three years ago to a company valued at 1. 4 billion dollars…

It got a little bit emotional when we announced the valuation to the team because it is a huge testament to the success of the team and how hard we’ve worked to get there. When we first started the company and it was just us, I remember thinking I had big goals. I remember calling a friend and saying, ‘If this goes really well, in like many years from now we might be able to sell the company for $100 million! ’

Which at the time was like mind-blowing amounts of money and then a year later we had raised $100 million at a fundraiser. When you are in the day-to-day, you reach huge goals and you don’t realise it. It still very much feels like we are working on it.

I never achieve a set goal and then see it as an ending…

I think Steph (my co-founder) and I are the same in that when we set goals and we reach them, we simply set another one. There’s never an ending. It is a journey and it is the same approach we take when we are travelling. When we think about travel, it is like, onto the next! My career personally is like a collection of a lot of different decisions and experiences.

We have never reached a point where we are like, ‘this is when we are going to stop,’ because I think if that was the case, we would have stopped a long time ago. I think the more successful it is, the more opportunity we see. So, in the beginning it was just about selling suitcases and now it’s about the value we can add by creating more products, having new categories. It feels like it is never going to stop, but that is the exciting part for us, there is always more to do.

I have learnt the same amounts from both success and failure. But mostly I have learnt that you as a person are not defined by either of those things…

I don’t think I am defined by a particular success or a particular failure. I am a collection of all of those things and what I have learnt from them. I actually learn the most from my failures. I think it is easy to paint a picture of all the things I am good at and all the things I have succeeded at, but I have learnt the most from the jobs I have hated, the jobs I have got fired from and launches that didn’t quite work.

That is where all of my learning and growing comes from. So, I think traditionally you are told that if you want something, there is a specific path to get it and that involves climbing the ladder, with one foot in front of the other. But my career has had so many twists and turns and sometimes I have moved forward, sometimes I have moved laterally and sometimes I have moved back. But I think it is so important for people to know that you are not defined by any one step you take.

The thing that has taught me the most is that I keep taking a step even if I have stepped backwards…

I used to work at All Saints in London and, admittedly, I wasn’t amazing at my job. It wasn’t right for me, so I left and took a job working for a juice company for a few months, and I was so bad at it. I was so miserable. I think for some people that would have been really discouraging, but for me I was like, ‘Now I have realised what I don’t want to do, and what I am not good at. ’ So that eliminated a whole field for me. A few months later I came up with the idea for Away and I think what I learnt from not being very good at one job was that I needed connection with a customer, I needed a brand that people really loved.

As female founders we are constantly underestimated…

For example, the number of private companies valued at over a billion dollars is around 350 and only 7 of them have female founders. It is crazy to me that we would have had to have a billion-dollar valuation for some people to look at us a real company and take us seriously. The company didn’t change overnight with the valuation. We have worked really hard to build it to what it is and for some people to need that extra little validation to take us seriously is a bit sad, right?

I think back to three years ago when we were starting Away and I had male friends who were starting their own companies and at parties people would talk to them and say, ‘How is your company going, talk to me about what you are doing? ’ Then when they would ask me about Away, they said, ‘How is your project? ’ As if it were a hobby I was working on. I think that is a micro-aggression and they didn’t realise they are diminishing the value of a woman’s work.

It is those little social micro-aggressions that women have to deal with that build up overtime and people really need to be more aware of that. Something that we had everyone on the team do was ‘unconscious bias training,’ as we have all grown up in a society where all of these things become so normal that we don’t even realise we are doing it. Women in the workplace get underestimated. Those investors and venture capitalists who don’t think they are being sexist by asking certain questions or treating women differently.

I think how society talks about millennials and how if they just didn’t buy the avocado toast or skipped the coffee, we would have lots of money -as if there are all these other factors that don’t exist – is damaging. The more we can change the narrative, the better. But it also shouldn’t be on the shoulders of successful woman to change all of this, everyone has a part to play. It is a big societal thing. But it is a responsibility that Steph and I welcome, that we take seriously and we realise by reaching this milestone, we have a bigger opportunity to have a voice to help others. We try as much as we can to mentor others – other women – and help them in their fundraising as much as we can.

In the beginning, identifying ourselves as ‘female founders’ was really saying, ‘if we weren’t women, we wouldn’t be here! ’…

People love a stereotype. The media loved to push stereotypes, it makes a great story and the stereotypes can be a vicious cycle. When Steph and I first started talking about the company in the press, we never wanted to talk about being female entrepreneurs and being women in business or being successful female founders or even like successful millennial females.

We very much didn’t want to be identified as that as we thought it was discounting the work we had done. We just wanted to be the best founders and we just wanted to be successful entrepreneurs. I think in the beginning it felt like identifying as female founders was really like saying, ‘if we weren’t women, we wouldn’t have this title. ’ But I think in the beginning there is a lot of insecurity around starting a business, there is a lot of imposters and there is a lot of, ‘Am I just getting attention because I am a successful woman? ’ Or, ‘Is this actually a real successful business? ’

I used to suffer from imposter syndrome…

I think I used to especially when the company was smaller. I think I like to focus on my emotional energy, using my platform to build up the confidence of other women and the next generation of entrepreneurs who might have imposter syndrome because I think that is a real thing. I think it is something that a lot of people suffer with and struggle to talk about. It is crazy that even in my head, it took this amount of valuation to get rid of that.

There is this really weird misconception that if you are the leader of something, or the CEO or the founder, that you are not allowed to ask for help because you are supposed to have it all figured out…

The more I do, the more I realise that actually nobody has it all figured out. It comes back to imposter syndrome as I used to think if I asked for help it proves that I don’t know what I am doing. But also, it comes to point where you realise that everyone who is successful just ask each other for help all the time. One way I got over this early on was I set a goal for myself to ask for help at least 3 times a day. That could be asking for an introduction or asking for a recommendation, or just reaching out to someone I didn’t know. Now I ask for help 50 times a day.

What is the worst that can happen – someone says no? When you are first starting out there is a really big fear of judgement, like, ‘if I ask for help someone may think I am stupid or don’t know anything! ’ But if someone is going to judge you for asking for help you probably don’t want their help anyway. I would just take it a step further and say you have to set goals for yourself, it was so hard for me to even ask for help like once a day, now I feel like all I do is call and email people and ask for help all the time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *