How we launched a company before we launched a product
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