Jet Set in Style | Meet the Founders of AWAY, Stephanie Korey and Jen Rubio

Author: Caitlin Cheng

Meet Stephanie Korey and Jen Rubio, the duo who’s introducing a new way to travel. The two first met while working at online-only eyewear startup company, Warby Parker, but went their separate ways soon after. During this time, Jen went on to earn a spot in Forbes’ 30 Under 30, while Steph obtained her MBA from Columbia University. Then, as fate would have it, the two would meet again. This time combining their love for travel, their curiosity to explore the unknown, and their desire to simplify travel, they came up with Away, the travel brand that’s giving new life to your average carry-on. From there, they gathered $2.5 million USD in seed funding and, well, the rest is history. We recently chatted with the dynamic duo of MISSBISHES and learned how they became one of the hottest startups to watch. Read the interview below – trust us, their story is going to blow you away.

What was the inspiration behind the business? 
Jen (J): Steph and I are avid travelers and we created Away to make travel easier - starting with luggage. Every product we design takes into account how people travel, the problems they encounter, and what we can do to make things better and easier, so they can focus on enjoying the best parts of their trips.

What’s the dynamic between you two as co-founders and innovators behind the brand?
Steph (S): Jen and I started our jobs at Warby Parker on the same day in 2011 and spent years getting to know each other personally and professionally. Afterwards, we both moved on to different experiences: me to Columbia to get my MBA, and Jen to London to work for AllSaints. On top of our experiences from different sides of the business, Jen’s left-brained and I’m right-brained and our personalities tend to balance each other really well. In growing Away, we’ve fully embraced that each of our strengths happen to cover the others’ weaknesses, which makes working together as a team pretty seamless.

Prior to launching Away, you both spent some time at Warby Parker, Casper, AllSaints, and more. What are some of the best skills you’ve learned from those work experiences?
S: My time at Warby Parker and Casper allowed me to experience first-hand how new companies can innovate in big and small ways to transform a dated industry. At both companies, I led supply chain, which is a key area of the new direct-to-consumer e-commerce movement, essentially that through vertical integration and cutting out the middlemen you can deliver unprecedented consumer experiences and value that are much more compelling than the status quo.

“Align what you do with who you are. That sense of purpose is what gets you through those all-nighters and propels you through tough times.”

Away started as an online retail business, and has since grown into a concept store in NYC. Were there any challenges in taking the digital to the physical?
J: Creating an in-person experience, a physical manifestation of the brand that we spent the past year building online, was an exciting opportunity. Our store doesn’t just sell luggage - we curated things from dozens of Japanese and Swedish designers to showcase our love for design and culture, and we think of the physical space as a platform for collaborations and events. In the digital world, you convey your brand through copy, imagery, UX, and more. In real life, you guide someone through an experience using architecture, visual cues, music, and even scents - it was an exciting exercise to think through all of those things for Away.

Run us through an average day...
J: Every day is completely different, but one thing is consistent - I love to wake up super early and spend the first hour or two of the day at my own pace. Whether I’m working out, catching up with friends abroad, or just working uninterrupted in the zone, owning my mornings sets me up to work with the team and other partners the rest of the day.

S: I jump around from day to day with various members of the team. It’s really fun, because we’re working on so many different initiatives, and the magic that comes from the team working together is really unique.

What do you love most about running your own business?
S: My favorite part about building our brand has been growing our team. It is so rewarding when I take a step back, look around the office, and realize what we’ve been able to accomplish in only a few months time.

What’s the most memorable piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
J: Align what you do with who you are. That sense of purpose is what gets you through those all-nighters and propels you through tough times.

Top three tips for other female entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
S: My best advice for someone who wants to work in the startup space is that heart, hard work, and flexibility will be the keys to your success. In startups, you’re going up against the odds, and you need that passion and work ethic to really take on an industry. And flexibility because need and realities constantly change, and if you’re very rigid in how you approach your work, you won’t be able to keep up.

Are there any upcoming plans you’re particularly excited about for the next 5 years?
S: Ultimately, our mission at Away is to make travel as seamless and joyful as possible. We believe that travel has the ability to enhance your life and make the world a better place through new experiences and cultural understanding, and we want to do what we can to minimize the parts that can be frustrating so that our customers can focus on the great parts. Over the next few years, we’re looking forward to continuing to build our travel product offering and continuing to empower more and more travelers to explore the world more seamlessly.

What does MISSBISH mean to you?
J: Getting shit done, but doing it with empathy and sincerity.

Photos by: Carmen Chan

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