How we launched a com­pany be­fore we launched a prod­uct

Inc. (USA) - - LAUNCH -

KOREY: As De­cem­ber ap­proached, we knew our first pro­duc­tion run was not go­ing to be ready in time for Christ­mas. Even so, we thought there are a lot of peo­ple who have ter­ri­ble lug­gage. They might be happy to pre­order some­thing.

RU­BIO: We wanted to get ev­ery­one on board in the be­gin­ning.

KOREY: The whole ge­n­e­sis of Away was that Jen broke her suit­case. She has all these well-trav­eled friends who can rec­om­mend any­thing. She jokes that she could text, “Hey, I need a cof­fee shop in Bangkok,” and they would send her rec­om­men­da­tions in an in­stant. She texted them, “Hey, I need a new suit­case,” and they were like, “I’ve got noth­ing.”

RU­BIO: We both had worked at Warby Parker, the di­rect-to-con­sumer eye­glasses brand, and thought we could take a sim­i­lar ap­proach with lug­gage. We used the same ma­te­ri­als that are found in bags that cost over $700: sturdy YKK zip­pers, dou­ble­spin­ner wheels that are re­ally rugged and glide over air­port car­pets, Ger­man poly­car­bon­ate shells that are both light and strong.

KOREY: We thought, if peo­ple who travel heard about us from an in-the-know friend, we could make their travel more en­joy­able. How do we put our story out in the uni­verse in a way that peo­ple will re­peat it? Jen had this idea of launch­ing with a book.

RU­BIO: It wasn’t sim­ply, let’s make a book be­cause we don’t have any lug­gage ready. It was a way to as­sem­ble a bunch of peo­ple to talk about our lug­gage when it was avail­able.

KOREY: We in­ter­viewed 40 re­ally in­ter­est­ing peo­ple from the cre­ative com­mu­nity—writ­ers, artists, pho­tog­ra­phers.

RU­BIO: They rep­re­sented a bunch of dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories, like food and fash­ion. These peo­ple aren’t nec­es­sar­ily house­hold names, but within their cir­cles, they’re very well-known and re­spected.

KOREY: It was a beau­ti­ful hard­cover book. We called it The Places We Re­turn To. We didn’t pay con­trib­u­tors, but we gave them a gift card for a suit­case. In Novem­ber 2015, we sold the book with a gift card that was re­deemable for a suit­case in Fe­bru­ary. It was es­sen­tially a pre­order with a com­pli­men­tary book. Peo­ple wrote about this in­ter­est­ing book—and then men­tioned our lug­gage. They were ex­cited about it. They all had pretty big net­works on so­cial me­dia. We made 1,200 books and sold out early.

RU­BIO: We were also in close to 100 gift guides. In our first year, we ex­ceeded $12 mil­lion in sales. We’ve now sold more than 100,000 suit­cases.

KOREY: Sto­ry­telling is a central part of our mar­ket­ing. We think about what sto­ries we can feed to the press and to so­cial me­dia—things that make peo­ple take no­tice, things peo­ple want to share and talk about. In­stead of of­fer­ing tra­di­tional mono­gram­ming, Jen came up with this awe­some idea to part­ner with a few hand-let­ter­ing artists. Each came up with a cus­tom al­pha­bet for Away. We took these cus­tom al­pha­bets, put them on our web­site, and gave cus­tomers the op­tion to pick their style, and have artists hand-paint their ini­tials on the suit­case. You don’t push your prod­uct. You cre­ate things that are fun to talk about, to write about, to share.

Steph Korey left) and Jen Ru­bio had a prob­lem. Their planned launch of Away, a new lug­gage brand, was fast ap­proach­ing– and none of their suit­cases would be ready to sell in time. Luck­ily, the two had a so­cial me­dia trick packed in their bags. They turned a proven re­tail­ing tac­tic, the pre­order, and an idea for a book into a cam­paign that went vi­ral on In­sta­gram and be­yond. –As told to Burt Helm

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