“Don’t be afraid to take risks and embrace mistakes. Failure is the best way to ensure you’re always learning and iterating, and it creates great opportunities for personal and professional growth.” - Stephanie Korey, CEO, and Cofounder of Away
This is HER Story.
What do you do when your suitcase breaks at the airport? Well, you go ahead and begin your million dollar luggage business! That is precisely what Stephanie (Steph) Korey did with her friend, Jen Rubio. She is the CEO and co-founder of luggage brand ‘Away.’ Steph and Jen are proving to be a killer combination, and their luggage brand has sold over a million suitcases to date, secured revenue gains of over $100 million, is giving tough competition to established brands such as Samsonite and recently raised a whopping $50 million in a Series C fundraise for Away’s continued growth. Incidentally, that $50 million is more eye-popping because several publications declared it as ‘the largest round generated by women entrepreneurs in 2018! In Steph Korey’s words: “It’s really cool to be part of this class of women-founded businesses that are paving the way, and proving that anyone should be able to raise money.”
So how did one broken piece of luggage give birth to one of the most successful and fastest growing start-ups? It all begins with an idea, and Steph Korey recalls her and friend, Jen Rubio’s (co-founder and brand officer at Away) frustration with the lack of trusted luggage brands. The duo decided to establish their luggage brand aptly named ‘Away.’ They began with four employees and $2.5 million raised through seed funding with Accel Partners and Forerunner Ventures. Steph says of her mission for the company: “Our goal for Away is to make the perfect version of everything people need to travel more seamlessly while inspiring people around the world to do it more often.” Apart from the lack of quality and affordable luggage, Steph noticed that most luggage was designed and advertised for male travelers, overlooking the needs and wants of female ones. Steph Korey mentions in an interview: “All of the suitcases made for work trips looked like they belonged in The Terminator… they were boxy and robotic.” The travel industry is a male-dominated one, and being a woman entrepreneur, Steph envisioned a brand that tipped the scales towards the needs of women travelers.
Steph’s early in life experiences were filled with travel, and she recalled Habor Island in the Bahamas as a special travel memory. Steph has a Master’s from Columbia Business School and worked as Head of Supply Chain at a direct-to-consumer eyewear brand, Warby Parker and mattress company, Casper before launching Away in 2016. Steph used her business knowledge and work experience to focus Away on a direct-to-consumer approach from the start and was able to offer buyers relatively lower priced luggage with quality at par with top brands. Steph and her creative team have marketed their travel and lifestyle brand Away by using social media such as Instagram strategically to achieve a vast and loyal fan base. Steph and Jen initially shared their brand story unconventionally through a book, ‘The Places We Return To’ containing interviews of prominent artists who spread the word about Away in the media through their social media networks. “Storytelling is a central part of our marketing. We think about what stories we can feed to the press and social media - things that make people take notice, things people want to share and talk about.” Away puts up engaging Instagram pictures, user-generated content, and has partnered with celebrities and travel influencers such as Olivia Lopez, Alice Gao, and more recently with the model, Karlie Kloss, and ex-basketball star, Dwyane Wade to gain visibility for their brand.
The ‘Carry-On’ was the single luggage piece that Away began with that was priced at $225 and came in four colors. They have now expanded to luggage, bags, and an elite ‘Aluminium Edition’ and even have a media division that airs a travel podcast called ‘Airplane mode’ and publishes a magazine called ‘Here.’ From a significant online presence Away has moved onto marketing their products in stores at seven prime locations including New York, Los Angeles, and London. One of the reasons for the phenomenal success of Away is that Steph Korey understands her consumer base and conceives the brand luggage accordingly. The unique Away suitcases come with Airline-compliant battery, a laundry bag, four sizes, and they come with a lifetime warranty. The distinctive customization features include the ability to get your suitcase painted, initialed, engraved, or stickers added onto it and more. Luggage is only the beginning as Steph Korey envisions much more for her company in the future: “There are so many parts of the travel experience that can be improved, whether it’s what you travel with, how you get there, or what you do once you’ve landed. Our goal is for Away to be a leader in creating those solutions.” The far-reaching goals are probably the reason why the owners picture Away as a travel and lifestyle brand, and not as a mere luggage company.
Steph values company growth and success, but for her, a parallel goal is to create and sustain a work culture that employees find enriching. “You don’t have a great product unless you have an amazing place to work …We don’t start with the product. All of it comes from people,” emphasizes Steph in an interview. Steph believes in hiring employees who are innovative and passionate about the business, and not necessarily someone with the best credentials or experience. Steph’s company Away is also doing its bit to make the world a more peaceful place by donating a percentage of its proceeds to charity. Away is in collaboration with Peace Direct, an international nonprofit organization that advocates for peace in conflict-ridden zones globally.
Stephanie Korey at Away is essentially selling a dream through her company’s luggage - the idea of hassle-free and stylish travel. Away lives up to what its brand promises and is on the cusp of changing the travel game forever.