Steph Korey, Co-Founder and CEO, Away
Selling Luggage and a Lifestyle
How Steph Korey and Jen Rubio co-founded a luggage company for the modern adventurer that is taking the world by storm.
Jen Rubio called her friend Steph Korey to vent about an irritating, expensive problem that just about any frequent flyer has endured at some point. She had a busted carry-on.
Rubio was suffering from suitcase-demolition blues, and Korey wasn’t sure what brands to recommend. So Rubio texted a dozen of their trendiest, travel-savvy friends—the kind of people who would know all the best hotels in Bangkok—but they had no clue where to direct her to buy the perfect suitcase. They were quick to tell her which brands to avoid—sharing similarly frustrating stories of failure—but no one had the answer she was searching for.
The search seemed hopeless.
A single, action-packed year later, Korey and Rubio shipped the very first piece of Away carry-on luggage.
Today, the luggage company that is so much more than a luggage company has sold over a million bags to customers across the world and captured the imagination of a generation known for its desire to chase down experiences instead of possessions.
“This business isn’t really about luggage or suitcases at all,” Korey says. “What we’re really creating is a travel brand, and travel has the ability to really impact someone’s life.”
With an eye on revolutionizing the luggage industry while leaving the world better than they’d found it, Korey and Rubio designed a bag that is durable, practical, and looks dang good in an Instagram photo.
And that was only the beginning.
Charting the Course
In the beginning, Korey wasn’t sure she even wanted to start a business. She just wanted to learn more about the way other people traveled.
She and Rubio had become friends while working together at Warby Parker, the online store that home delivers hip eyeglasses at affordable prices, so they knew firsthand the challenges that come with life at a startup.
Rather than cannonballing into the deep end, the pair chose to start small and simply follow their curiosity. They decided to create a survey and send it to 50 people in a vast array of demographics, including male and female students, young professionals, established professionals, and retirees, who lived both in the US and abroad.
After sharing information about how they traveled, how they packed, and what travel products they used, each person taking the survey was asked to forward it to five of their friends who also came from varied backgrounds.
When the survey finished making its rounds, Korey and Rubio had over 800 responses to sift through. The pair was quickly able to start noticing themes, particularly when it came to how the existing luggage industry wasn’t meeting travelers’ needs.
The survey results showed that travelers wanted a light piece of carry-on luggage that maximized packing space and still fit in the overhead compartments of airplanes. They also dreamed of a bag that could take a baggage handler’s beating if they decided to check it, including wheels and zippers that wouldn’t fail.
Respondents also expressed the need for a place to put dirty, sweaty laundry after trips to the gym, summer walking tours through cities, or perilous mountain climbs. Oh, and they hated traveling with dead cell phones.
With these results in mind, Korey and Rubio moved into the next stage of development.
Korey says they were still unsure whether they wanted to start a business when they sat down with a group of designers from the fashion, luggage, and industrial design industries. They weren’t even sure when they decided to partner with two industrial designers to transform their findings into a product design.
The team had plans for their new carry-on bag in one hand, and plane tickets to Asia—where they planned to meet with dozens of luggage manufacturers—in the other, but were still unsure where this journey would land them.
It was only when a family in the manufacturing business told them their radical design could be actualized that it all clicked together. And just like that, the family agreed to manufacture the first 3,000 Away carry-on bags.
Well, not quite.
“I’m glamorizing this story a little bit,” Korey says. “It’s, in reality, probably a little more along the lines of we begged them to work with us.”
Korey and Rubio spent days with the family, attempting to convince them to manufacture the bags. With every new pitch she used to convince the family—that they were about to revolutionize the luggage industry, and their business model was totally unique, and this was a chance to get in on day one with a company that was going to be huge one day—she felt herself becoming more convinced that this was it. It was finally time to start this business.
Their manufacturers came around, too.
“I’m entirely certain that they didn’t believe any of that,” she says. “Actually, they’ve told us that they didn’t believe any of that, but that we were so sincere and passionate about what we were doing that they just couldn’t turn us down.”
Now that the ball was officially rolling, and Away was on the verge of becoming a reality, they had to jump a final, daunting hurdle. They had to find the money.
“Raising any kind of capital is difficult, but raising seed capital is particularly difficult, because you can’t really tell the story of your business metrics at all, because they don’t exist,” Korey says. “You just have to tell the story of your vision and what you’re trying to create, and it really takes a leap of faith from investors.”
But she adds that the knowledge she had gathered from her time leading the supply chain at Warby Parker, and Rubio’s experience in the marketing team there, gave them a definite advantage.
“That is for sure the only reason that we were able to convince investors to take that leap of faith,” she says. “We knew what we were doing, and we would create something that resonated and that was successful.”
In fact, she recommends that all aspiring entrepreneurs invest some time working at a startup.
“I think it’s essential that you spend at least a couple years working at a startup first, for two reasons,” she says. “One, find out if you like it! Some people don’t like that chaos. … And then the second reason is it really gives you a sense of context of all the different pieces that go into creating something from nothing.”
In the summer of 2015, Korey and Rubio were ready to create something, so they met with more than 20 different investors across the United States over the course of a week.
After many failed pitches, and several uncomfortable red-eye flights, the pair met with Forerunner Ventures, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm that invests primarily in early-stage ecommerce brands.
While most of the firms they met with simply didn’t understand what they were trying to do with Away, Korey says that Forerunner was captivated by their vision.
“We’re really creating a broader brand and business around inspiring people to live a life of new experiences, and equipping them with all the products they need to make those travel experiences more seamless,” she recalls saying in her pitch.
Within the first meeting, Forerunner was on board as a partner. With over $2.5 million raised, it was finally time to make some suitcases.
Excited by the prospect of holiday sales, Korey says they set their launch date for November 2015. But as the date drew closer and the production of the first 3,000 suitcases was delayed until February of the following year, they had to get creative.
Instead of selling the suitcases during the holiday season, they published a coffee table book called, The Places We Return To and paired it with a gift card for the February release of the first round of suitcases.
“It was really one of the first moves we did as a brand really establishing ourselves as first and foremost about travel and not about travel products,” Korey says.
In the book, they featured stories and photos of successful chefs, writers, photographers, and other talented professionals. Each person was asked about their favorite place in the entire world, why they loved it, and what they did during their visits.
“We ended up with this collection of short stories that were very intimate because it was about people who were so knowledgeable about their favorite place in the world,” Korey says.
Those featured in the book helped spread the word about the exciting new travel company, its mission, and the revolutionary new suitcase that was on the way. And the word traveled like a millennial with a break between jobs.
Korey says they prepared 2,000 books and gift cards. By Christmas, every one had sold.
Embarking on the Journey
In February 2016, the first ever Away customer (his name is Adam) received his carry-on bag. Three years later, over a million bags in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes have made it across the world in shipping boxes, overhead bins, and car trunks.
The ribbed, hard-shelled luggage is becoming more recognizable by the day. By offering their luggage at direct-to-consumer prices, what was once reserved for only the chicest of travelers could now make it to the general public.
They take their social impact seriously, as well. Away works with manufacturing companies that have, as they say on their website, “exemplary and thoughtful work environments we would want for our own employees.” The company has also partnered with several charitable organizations, including Peace Direct, Charity: Water, and Kode with Klossy.
So what’s next for Away?
Korey says the company is currently working to expand across Europe, Asia, Australia and other parts of North America. Taking a page from Warby Parker and other disruptive ecommerce startups, they’ve also launched a brick-and-mortar component to their business with six American storefronts and one in London.
And as Away continues to expand, they’ll continue to release new products that support the modern traveler.
Korey is excited to see where the company goes next, not merely because she wants the business to flourish, but because she genuinely cares about the needs of Away customers. From the moment Korey and Rubio sent their first survey, they knew that the “why” behind their brand lay directly at the feet of their customers.
“You should never start a business because you want to start a business. It’s a terrible reason to do it. It’s going to be a long slog if you’re not really focused on a particular insight or a problem that you’re trying to solve,” she says. “Whether you’re just getting started and you don’t know where to start, or you’ve already gotten started, and you’re trying to figure out the next step, it really starts with deeply understanding the customer.”
It starts the way Away did: with a need, an idea, and a customer survey.
Interview by Nathan Chan, feature article reprinted from Foundr Magazine, by Erica Comitalo
- How one phone conversation between Korey and Rubio inspired the idea for Away
- The role data played in cementing the need for better luggage
- How the data insights were transformed into a product design
- Why one investor and one manufacturer decided to take a chance on Away
- How Korey and Rubio made the best of a worst-case scenario during their launch
- The journey from producing an initial batch of 3,000 units to selling millions
- Why Korey believes every entrepreneur should work for a startup first
- What the future expansion of Away looks like
- Korey’s words of wisdom for aspiring entrepreneurs
Full Transcript of Podcast with Steph Korey
Nathan: The first question that I ask everyone that comes on is how did you get your job?
Steph: Well, I guess my current job happened because a few years ago, my friend Jen gave me a call to complain about her carry-on breaking and a lack of compelling options for replacing it. And that phone conversation led to one thing, and then another thing, and then a year after that we were releasing the Away carry-on to the public. And here we are a few years after that in our current jobs!
Nathan: Crazy! Yeah, look, I’m massive fans of your guys’ products. I was saying before, offline, to the guys, that I purchased the big bag, the little bag, and the little, kind of handbag that you can put on top of the big bag-
Nathan: … yeah, all the way from Australia. It was awesome. And I got my initials on the two bags, and I love what you guys do.
Steph: Oh wow, thank you!
Nathan: You’re welcome. I’m curious, how did you start the first, initial MVP and really see that there was a need for these products in the marketplace, and this kind of travel lifestyle brand?
Steph: Yeah, that’s a great question. Essentially, it started with that initial pain point from Jen, and what happened when her carry-on broke is she ended up texting a dozen friends of hers, people who travel all the time, the types of friends who she would text asking for a hotel recommendation in Bangkok. And they would be like, “Well, if you want this vibe, stay at this hotel. If you want that vibe, stay at that hotel.” So people who travel a lot and have a strong point of view on their travel and what they buy and what they do, and no one could recommend a suitcase to her. Everyone said, “Oh, don’t get what I have. It’s horrible. I have nothing to recommend to you.”
So she thought that was very strange, and she and I felt the same way as friends, so we said, “Let’s figure out what other people think. Not just the two of us and your handful of friends, but let’s understand sentiment across a few different demographics a little bit more.”
So we set up a survey that each of us sent to 50 people in our networks, and we intentionally sent it to a really broad array of demographics. So we sent it to students, we sent it to people well into their careers, we sent it to people who we knew were retired, we sent it to men, women, people in the US, people outside the US. And what we asked of each person was, “Can you fill out this survey which is going to ask some demographic questions, and then some questions about how you travel, how you pack, what travel products you use today, how they’re working for you, how they’re not working for you? And can each of you also sent this to five other people who are demographically different from you and from each other?”
What we ended up with was over 800 people responding to this survey with all of these questions-
Steph: … yup, where we could really slice the data and understand, you know, for people who primarily travel for business, or for fun, or for a combination, for people who like to pack these types of things, here are there pain points. We were able to really learns from those data insights.
At that point, we actually weren’t really sure that we were going to start a company, we just thought it was an interesting learning exercise. So what we did with that data is we said, “Okay, we have all these learnings and insights from people. I wonder what it would look like to take these insights and turn them into a product design.”
So we ended up speaking to all these different designers from the luggage industry and the fashion industry, and industrial design, and all over the place. And we ended up partnering with these two industrial designers who freelanced with us, and we said, “We have all these insights. What would it look like for us to take all these things we learned and start to manifest it into a product design?”
So we partnered with these two industrial designers and ended up creating CAD files that reflected all the things that we had learned from our customer research. Then we had these CAD files. At this point, we still weren’t totally certain that we were starting a company, but we said, “Okay, we have these design files, I wonder if this is manufacturable.”
So the two of us went to JFK and boarded a flight, and flew over to Asia, and met with a dozen different luggage manufacturers just trying to understand what their strengths were, if the designs that we had come up with were even manufacturable. And we ended up meeting this amazing family who we still work with today, who said, “Yeah, I think what you’ve come up with is manufacturable. We’re willing to prototype it for you so that you guys can test it out.”
So we partnered with that manufacturer to prototype it. And I’m glamorising the story a little bit. It’s, in reality, probably a little bit more along the lines of we begged them to work with us.
Steph: But we did convince them to work with us, and they helped us create tooling to prototype our products. And then by that point, we were into summer of 2015, and we owed our designers and also our manufacturing partners payment for the work they had done with us, so we ended up going to investors and saying, “Here is our vision. Here is what we’re creating. Here’s the opportunity that we see.” We ended up raising a little bit of capital to get the business off the ground.
About six months after that, we shipped our very first Away carry-on to a customer named Adam Boardman in February 2016. Then over the last three years since then, we’ve shipped a bit over a million more of them.
Nathan: Yeah, wow, that’s incredible. Wow, interesting! So a few questions here. To do the first run with the manufacturing family that you still work with, what was the MOQ for that?
Steph: What was their typical MOQ, or what did we get them to do through our previously mentioned begging?
Steph: I think their typical MOQ was like tens of thousands of units.
Nathan: Oh wow.
Steph: They really only worked with really well established companies. They have no reason to work with a tiny company, but Jen and I really, we spent days with them convincing them, “The future of the travel goods industry is going to be totally different. Our business model is unlike anything that’s ever happened before. We’re going to totally transform this industry. This is an opportunity for you to get involved with a company that’s going to be big one day at the very early stages.” And I’m entirely certain they didn’t believe any of that. Actually, they’ve told us since then that they didn’t believe any of that, but that we were so sincere and passionate about what we were doing that they just couldn’t turn us down, they just couldn’t say no to us. So they agreed to work with us and that very first order was just 3,000 units.
Nathan: Yeah, wow, awesome. So to produce that first run, you had to go out and raise seed capital. Did that take very long? Was that hard? Was that difficult?
Steph: Raising any kind of capital is difficult, but raising seed capital is particularly difficult because you can’t really tell the story of your business metrics at all, they don’t exist. You just have to tell the story of your vision and what you’re trying to create, and it really takes a leap of faith from investors to see what you’re trying to articulate and believe that it’s possible to happen.
So when we were raising our seed round, I think we met with … we for sure met with over 20 different investors over the course of one week. And not all in the same city, so we were on like a red eye flight one night, and a red eye flight the next night just trying to figure out who we could meet with who would understand the vision of what we were trying to create.
We thankfully, in that process, came across Forerunner Ventures. They’re based in San Francisco, and they primarily invest in early stage eCommerce brands. They, within the first meeting of Jen and I explaining the vision for what we were trying to create and why we thought it would work …
Steph: And I remember one thing we said to them was, “This business really isn’t about luggage or suitcases at all. What we’re really creating is a travel brand. Travel has the ability to really impact someone’s life in terms of getting outside their comfort zone and extending their horizons, discovering new cultures, making connections with people who are new to their lives. And the first product that we’re bringing to market as part of this travel brand we’re creating is suitcases, but it’s really just the beginning and we’re really creating a broader brand and business around inspiring people to live a life of new experiences, and equipping them with all the products that they need to make those travel experiences more seamless.”
Most of the other investors that we met with thought that sounded pretty crazy and unrealistic, but Forerunner Ventures said, “We totally get it. You know, we’re living in an era where people are travelling more than ever before. The access to travel is stronger than it’s ever been. We have a new generation that prioritises experiences more than things more than ever before. And we fully understand the vision of what you’re trying to create, and we’re in.”
Nathan: Yeah, incredible. And then, you also raised from Accel as well?
Steph: Yup, exactly. So we met Accel a couple days after we met with Forerunner, and yeah, the partner that we met with there also, Brian, he was one of the very few investors out of that big group that said … I think what he said was more along the lines of, “I don’t totally understand the vision of what you guys are going for, but I trust the two of you, and I’ll back the two of you, and I guess I’ll see the vision once it unfolds.”
Nathan: Yeah, wow, interesting, ’cause both yourself and Jen were execs at Warby Parker. What was your role? What were your guys’ roles there?
Steph: Yeah, so Jen was on the brand marketing team there, and I led the supply chain function there. So I did things like product development, and manufacturing, and sourcing, and operations. And then Jen did a lot of brand and creative and partnerships. So what was actually nice was that we operated on two totally separate sides of the business, but we were always really good friends with each other, so we understood the passion that the other person had for what they were good at and what they were working on. But our skill sets were so complimentary there was basically no overlap between what we knew how to do and what we worked on.
So to be honest, when we worked together at Warby Parker, actually what was so nice about the relationship is we could lean on each other to complain every once in a while. Like if a project weren’t going well, the other person was never involved in it because we worked on totally separate things. So we were kind of each other’s work wives, and we’d go get coffee and complain about something.
But when she called me about her suitcase breaking and we started working on Away, we just had such implicit trust for each other because we had already worked together, but on totally separate things at the same company.
Nathan: Yeah, I see, and I think that that’s a really complimentary skill set because you need someone that can handle all the logistics and moving the stock, but then you need someone that can kind of go to market with it, and the branding, and all that side of things as well, so more customer facing stuff.
Do you think you guys’ experience in kind of the direct to consumer online space helped? Because it sounds like both of you guys, this is your first business, so it would have been hard to kind of go out there and say, “Hey guys, this is what we’re building. We don’t have the products yet. We need some money to bring those products to life. Believe in us.” Do you think there was some weight there with your background with your careers?
Steph: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, that is for sure the only reason that we were able to convince investors to take that leap of faith that we knew what we were doing and we would create something that resonated and that was successful. It was because of the track record and the work experience that we had at Warby Parker before.
Actually, whenever I’m talking to someone and they’re interested in entrepreneurship or starting a company, the first advice I always give people is, “Go get some work experience at a startup.” If you’ve never worked at a startup before, I think it’s essential that you spend at least a couple years working at a startup first for two reasons. One, find out if you like it! Some people don’t like that chaos, and if you don’t, you’re definitely not going to be happy starting a company. So go see if you like that lack of structure and that constant problem solving and building from scratch and figuring things out.
Then the second reason is it really gives you a sense of context of all the different pieces that go into creating something from nothing. So as you get work experience at a startup, you’ll probably work in a certain area, but you’ll get exposure to the other areas of the business, and you’ll be able to meet people who work on other things and learn from them, and learn how the work they do impacts the work you do in a way that really isn’t possible at bigger and more established companies. That exposure and visibility I think is so invaluable to anyone who is interested in starting a company.
Nathan: Yeah, I agree. What I call it, I describe that as getting paid to train.
Steph: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, we have a couple people at Away who joked a few times that they feel like they’re getting paid to go to business school here, where like instead of actual business school, where you pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to be taught about how businesses work, our team here jokes that they’re at Away instead being paid themselves to learn about how businesses work.
Nathan: Yeah, best apprenticeship we can do when it comes to starting your own sting.
Nathan: Great. So coming back to it, you’ve raised your seed funding, you had your first 3,000 units ready to go. What happened next? How did you guys sell them? You know, no one has heard of the brand, nothing. How did you sell your first 3,000 units?
Steph: Well, it’s funny you should ask that because our original intention was to sell them during the holiday season in 2015. We know people travel a lot during the holidays, luggage is a really great holiday gift. So our plan had been to release them during the holiday season. But once we were a few months out from the holiday season, it became clear to us that our first production run wouldn’t be ready for that. But we still didn’t want to miss the opportunity to talk about it during the holidays and make that opportunity available to people.
So in November of 2015, we … How do I put this? We launched the ability to buy a gift card for our carry-on which was redeemable three months later in February, but it came alongside this beautiful coffee table book that we published called “The Places We Return To”. So it was really one of the first moves we did as a brand, really establishing ourselves as first and foremost about travel and not about travel products.
So we made this book where we interviewed all these different people who are super successful in whatever it is that that person is passionate about. So we talked to some chefs, we talked to some writers, we talked to some editors, we talked to some photographers, some artists, people who were really well respected in their field, and we asked them, “What’s your favourite place in the world to go to all the time? Why do you love it? And what do you love to do there?”
We ended up with this collection of short stories that were very intimate because it was about people who were so knowledgeable about their favourite place in the world. We used their own photography. We published it in a hardcover book that came in this beautiful gift packaging that made it a great holiday gift, and in that gift packaging was a gift card for the Away carry-on, redeemable in February, in a few months.
We made 2,000 of those books and those gift cards. We released them in November, and by Christmas we had sold all 2,000 gift card and books. And when we launched the brand, we really told this story of the product we were creating, the brand we were creating. A lot of the people who we featured in our book helped spread the word about us because they were so excited to have the opportunity to tell their story about their favourite place that they ended up really organically sharing what we were doing. A lot of media picked it up because it was a really new approach, and there really hadn’t been any innovation in the travel goods space in a long time.
So it was kind of this perfect storm of launching our travel brand a few months before we launched the product itself.
Nathan: Yeah, wow, that’s really smart. And I’m assuming the way that you moved the 2,000 books, ’cause it’s not that easy to move 2,000 books, you know, a lot of published authors struggle to sell 1,000 books, you did that from the influencers, or the people that contributed to those books. Was that kind of the heavy mover?
Steph: Yeah, they did a lot of the sort of spreading the word on our behalf. You know, spreading the word through their own networks and through their own social media channels. Like a lot of the conversations that we had with the media about what we were creating, the book became sort of a vehicle for us telling the story of the brand and products we were creating. So that was kind of the other main driver of people finding out about us at that time.
Nathan: Gotcha. Awesome. So I want to kind of switch gears ’cause we’ve heard a lot about the origin story of Away, and you guys have had incredible success. You’ve sold over 1 million products. As I said, I’m a big fan. When I looked at the product, you know, some friends told me about it, it was a couple years ago, so I was saying offline that, even with the costly shipping fees, I still got the three bags and got them sent here.
And the three distinct things for me at the time when I looked at purchasing was the design. I thought the design of the bags were really cool. I loved that one of them I could have a portable charger. And I loved that I could customise my bag to put my initials with different colours on the big bag and the small bag, the luggage and the carry-on.
Those were the distinct things that really sold me, that got me really excited, ’cause when I used to … before my Away bags, I used to just have like, you know, get like a big red bow or something and just tie it to the handle of the bag so I could distinguish between all the other bags. But now I don’t have to do that ’cause I got my initials nice and printed.
So I’m just curious, in the early days, were those the distinct things that the people were looking for in the survey? Or what are the key differentiators? I know you guys have a very, very deep why and product vision and it’s about building a lifestyle travel brand, not so much producing products doing X, Y, and Z, solving X, Y, and Z problems. But I’m curious in the early days, what were the distinct things around the product that really got people excited besides the why and the mission?
Steph: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think the thing you love around having that personalised aspect, that was something that we heard was really important from people, especially before Away existed and the whole airport was full of black nylon bags, if you didn’t have that differentiator, you really needed a ribbon or something on your black nylon bag.
I think in the early days of Away, actually just having an Away bag, from a design perspective, was a differentiator, because when we were just getting started you didn’t see a lot of other Away bags at the airport. As we’ve gotten bigger as a business, we have really prioritised what can we do to make each person’s product special and unique and personalised so that there isn’t that feeling of, “Oh, I just grabbed my bag from the carousel. Oh, is it someone else’s Away bag?” Like you used to have with the black nylon bags.
But if I zoom back to those early days and the things that we heard from people, these were the key things we learned. People wanted something that was really light. So it needed to be lightweight so that you could really maximise how much you could bring without going over the airline weight restrictions. But at the same time, in addition to being light, it had to be highly durable. So could the baggage handler throw it around without you having any problems with the bag?
The things that we’ve heard from people that they were most worried about breaking were zippers and wheels. Everyone felt like zippers and wheels broke all the time on suitcases, so we made sure to put, really, the best ones in the entire world on our bag to ensure that the wheels were really smooth and silent, and the zippers were easy to use.
And even more importantly than all of that, we could genuinely offer a lifetime warranty on our product because we knew we had invested in a quality level that it would truly last for life.
Some other things that we heard from people were, you know, if they’re going on a trip and then, maybe they’re going somewhere and they get to their hotel, and they hit the gym, they work out, and then they’re repacking to go to the second part of their trip and stay at a different hotel, but now they have to put their sweaty, smelly gym clothes in their suitcase with the rest of their product, with the rest of their clothes, it’s kind of gross. So we made a built in but removable laundry bags that you could keep your dirty clothes separate from the clothes you haven’t worn yet.
Another thing we heard from people was when it came to carry-ons, they really wanted to be able to maximise how much they could fit in packed, while still having the exterior dimensions of the carry-on be allowed to be put in the overhead bin of the plane. So we were very mindful about the dimensions that we created, but then also the way we designed the bag itself makes it possible to fit more than you can in any other carry-on bag. The combination of the compression pad we designed, and also the way we inset the wheels creates more interior packing room.
So those were some of the types of things that we heard from people that were important to them. And then one thing I always think is really funny to think back on, it was about 50% of the people said that they wanted black luggage, and about 50% of the people said they wanted not black luggage. It was like, “I only want black,” or we heard, “I want anything but black. I just can’t do black.” And we’ve actually found, for us as a business, that it’s a very small percentage of our customers who are buying black luggage. Customers are really embracing colour and uniqueness, which we think is really cool.
Nathan: Yeah, interesting. It’s funny how customers often say what they want, but sometimes they don’t know what they need.
Steph: Yeah, totally. Yeah, customers sometimes think they want one thing, but once you put all the options in front of them, they realise there’s an option that they never knew could have existed, that’s the thing they truly want.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s right. I’d love to talk about, ’cause we have to work towards wrapping up kind of, you guys are starting to create these flagship stores, or storefronts. Like you’re moving into setting up these brick and mortar locations. You have one in New York. It sounds like you have set up one also in Europe somewhere. And you guys want to appeal more to kind of some of the other international markets, not just the US. I heard that you guys are wanting to kind of, perhaps, yeah, get more exposure in Australia, for example. Why is that? And what are some of the things you are doing? Can’t you just do this through online?
Steph: Well, I’ll first start and talk a little bit about our international expansion approach and goals. So Australia is a hugely important market for us. There are few parts of the world where people travel more than Australians do. Australians love to go on a lengthy holiday. I think most New Yorkers would be overjoyed to go on a vacation that’s as long as some of the awesome trips that Australians go on, I think because Australians tend to travel further. Sometimes if I’m going on a trip, I’m going for a long weekend, but I love talking to my Australian friends who pack up in a couple big suitcases and they’ll head somewhere for two or three weeks. So Australia is a really important market to us.
We’re also working on expanding across Europe, Asia, and across more of North America, outside of the US. And then from a retail perspective, it’s really just understanding in different markets, how that customer prefers to shop, and what’s important to them.
So today, we have seven stores. Six of them are in the US, and one of them is in London. And really, what drives those decisions is understanding, in different markets, the profile of the customer and how that customer prefers to shop. Would they rather have it shipped straight to their door? Or would they rather be able to go to a retail store and touch and feel the products before they make a purchasing decision? And in each market, we really thoughtfully balance those customer considerations to decide if the approach should be primarily eCommerce based, or be complimented with a brick and mortar retail presence as well.
Nathan: Interesting. Yeah, I’m noticing this as a trend that a lot of fast growth, direct to consumer online brands do start to build storefronts as well to compliment, which is interesting.
So look, we have to work towards wrapping up. Two more questions. One more, first one is what’s the best piece of advice that you’d like to share with our audience? And I guess a majority of our audience is someone, people that want to start a business, don’t know where to start, or they have just launched something, or they’ve been doing it for a while, hit product market fit, and trying to get to more customers.
Then the last question was where’s the best place people can find out more about yourself and Away?
Steph: Yeah, I think, you know, some of the advice that I always give people is you should never start a business because you want to start a business. It’s a terrible reason to do it. It’s going to be a long slog if you’re not really focused on a particular insight or a problem that you’re trying to solve. So I think whether you’re just getting started and you don’t know where to start, or you’ve already gotten started and you’re trying to figure out the next step, it really starts with deeply understanding the customer. What are your customer’s pain points? How are they being underserved? And how do you and your business uniquely solve that pain point or bring value to that customer in a way that wasn’t possible before?
I think really starting with that and starting with why you exist is the most important thing.
And in terms of where people can learn more, you know, our website does a good job of telling our story, and anytime any of your listeners are travelling in one of the markets where we have a retail store … today we’re in New York, L.A., San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Austin, Texas, and London … our teams in those stores are just awesome. They’re so passionate about the brand, and our mission, and our product that they’re an awesome resource to be able to learn directly one-on-one from someone.
Nathan: Amazing. Well look Steph, thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it. And yeah, we can wrap there.
Steph: Awesome! Thank you so much! This was such a fun conversation!
Nathan: Yeah, it was great! Awesome!
Key Resources From Our Interview With Steph Korey
- Visit the Away website
- Drop into an Away store the next time you’re in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Austin, or London!