ABOUT THIS EPISODE

In early 2015, Jen Rubio was racing through an airport to catch a flight when her suitcase broke, leaving a trail of clothing behind her. She tried to replace it with a stylish, durable, affordable suitcase — but she couldn't find one. So she decided to create her own. In less than a year, Jen and her co-founder Steph Korey raised $2.5 million to build their dream travel brand: a line of sleek, direct-to-consumer suitcases simply called Away. Jen's hunch that the brand would emotionally resonate with young, jet-setting customers paid off. Today, Away has become a cult luggage brand that has sold more than one million suitcases. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," how Jon Maroney made sledding easier for adults and more dynamic for kids with a pair of sleds that strap to your legs.
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TRANSCRIPT

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00:00:18So the plan was much before Christmas got a lot of press sell a lot of suitcases but we found out when we placed our order that there was no way that our bag would be ready before Christmas which I don't know why it was so surprising to us were like what do you mean like we have this timeline in the spreadsheet and it said that if we ordered the bags by August we would have them for the holidays and it was as if like someone had said that we had to stop doing the company
00:00:51Robin Dr it's how I built this show about innovators entrepreneurs idealist and the story is behind the movements they built
00:01:02a guy Roz and I have a broken suitcase inspired Jen Rubio to design a better one in the process will suitcase away
00:01:19you know you're standing at the baggage carousel at the airport waiting for your bag could come around and there's like a never-ending parade of black suitcases going by and every now and then that person next to you rushes to grab one of those bags only to realize it's not actually hers this is a pretty common scenario because a lot of people a suitcase is just a thing you shovel your stuff into when you go on a trip you might have bought it for fifty bucks at T.J.Maxx or on Amazon and most of the time you shove it into a closet or under your bed between trips probably only lasts a few years before the zipper breaks at handle falls off and most of us have always accepted that that's just the way it is right well Jen Rubio and back in 2015 she had a hunch that other people might agree she hated how mid-range suitcases were designed they inspired she wanted something
00:02:19go to last a long time and she wanted to create a bag that would be I catching something you want to show up at the airport and so Jen approached a friend named Steph Curry who worked with her at Warby Parker and the result of that partnership is away it's a line of sleek suitcases that come and tons of colors like rose gold or violet or blue sky blue looks like a built-in phone charger kind of bad you'd want to Instagram while you travel the world and Jen's own story of traveling the world it started when she was a kid in the Philippines mom was a dentist and her dad was a business professor there until one day when Jen found out that their lives were about to change what I was 7 years old my parents told me that me and my brother and my mom were moving to to the US and we've never been and we are so excited and they told us stories about how in the US it snows
00:03:19and we want to go to this giant mall in Manila and bought snowsuits I had a pink one and my little brother had a blue one and a reward them on the plane is my first big big fight with my mom my dad stayed behind cuz he didn't have a Visa yet and we were snowsuits remember to speak very sweaty on the plane and this was like I don't know late September or snow suit on the plane to to the US and at Newark Airport and like September sweltering was super hot and I hate it was the first time I'd ever experienced your disappointment
00:04:02why did you guys
00:04:04move would you do know what the reason was it was it just like new opportunities her or what but it was presented to us a very exciting opportunity that not a lot of people got we had a couple of aunts and uncles who already lived on the east coast and and we are going to join them and have you never even met these aunts and uncles who we are super excited about it obviously looking back now is just for my parents to to continue to grow and have more opportunities to develop their careers and I'm give a better life to to us actually Jen's dad was able to join the family in New Jersey for mom opened up a dentist office and her dad ran the business side and she started to settle into a new life in America
00:04:56did you as a kid that you like or you immersed in Filipino culture or experiences of immigrant kids and they're the ones who embrace it and they're the ones like me who are just immensely embarrassed of of the experience and I think it has a lot to do with you know the other kids at school or like wanting to fit in or but you know I only spoke English I would like get mad at my parents when they would cook Filipino food because it would make like my school jacket look smell like food
00:05:35and I was just I don't know I was like I was a kid and I just so embarrassed of the whole thing and you can't even come to terms about until you're like older early twenties you when you start to realize that it's a hugely Rich part of who you are and it's so important and I just I I spent you know play the first 10 years in the US it is like being embarrassed of being Filipino despite that she says being more interested in being cool that do well in our classes and what kind of a college she chose Penn State and it was like TV College, college in the movies and their football game chants and there are tons of people at November in the rain with the school colors and they're like a quad I know that's normal on every campus but it was just like all of the college things you saw and movies and
00:06:35this is amazing and I picked a major called supply chain it was like like in the orientation they had said you know they were one of a handful of schools in the US offering supply chain is a major and I was like cool exclusive and I chose not to study so you're doing while you're in college and
00:06:59I guess you decided that you just at a certain point you an opportunity and it and it meant that you didn't go back to college like what what happened I seen a bunch of classes in the business school and they had at Penn State was called a co-op program which is you take a semester off and you work for 6 months at a company and I was hating school and I was hating going to classes and taking the test and actually having to apply myself so I read about this program and I was like cool you got credit so you don't have to go to school and I decide to do it and I was placed at Johnson & Johnson in Skillman New Jersey and I remember getting there on the first day and it's
00:07:46don't say nothing to huge company and this is their headquarters and they told us something mind-blowing on the first day like a hundred and forty thousand people work here and I just couldn't wrap my head around that number I can remember I kept trying to relate it back to its like the Penn State football stadium and how many people could fit in there and I was I was just enamored with the whole thing I like I got a cubicle and I got an ID badge and I had my own desk and my own phone number and my own email and an email signature and just the idea of work and being like a business lady was so exciting to me and I just never wanted to go back to school but I had to so it ended I had to go back I first semester and I was just so miserable I had felt like I knew what was out there I knew it was like to work this whole like corporate world existed and it was like it was thrilling to me and I wanted to be
00:08:46part of it so after a semester back at school I got another Coop and this time I got placed at Neutrogena which is also owned by Johnson & Johnson in LA and I asked them to extend it for a summer internship and then I asked him to extend it into another thing I just begged to stay I like couldn't fathom the thought of going back to school and I don't know how I did it but they they let me stay and they made me like I promised that I would take the rest of my credits online and that I would finish get my degree and I never did and they offered you a job and I and I basically was just like the intern who never left and I was invited to walk at graduation but I think I'm still three credit short technically a College Dropout. Technically I think I think people are like a cool your College Dropout
00:09:46so I could work in a cubicle so this is like 2006/2007 you're in your early 20s living in La you're working for Neutrogena and that that was your plan that point yeah so as and one woman that I really admired and that I have never spoken to her personally but I just remember recalling like every time she sent an email like everyone would open it every wood would read her analyst reports all the time and every time she spoke with people with people would listen and she marketing and I was talking to kind of my mentor about her and I was like okay how do I get a job in marketing So This Woman's like oh well to work in marketing here you need to get an MBA and me being me I didn't think to myself oh I should finish and get my my undergrad degree so I can go get an MBA I was like there must be somewhere
00:10:46and there wasn't but now I can just this it opened up this whole new world to me as of being able to work in marketing which to me at the time that you could control how how people found out about your products and how you could take everything that people are saying about it and maybe change the products and I just thought it was so cool and I knew I really wanted to do it and that if I couldn't do it there I would find somewhere else that would let me do it so I quit and did you have a job or did you did you think okay I'm going to figure this out I'm going to try and do marketing for people and just figure it out and I don't have a degree and I didn't have that much money
00:11:39but I had to know that that platform Tumblr yeah sure so Tumblr had I guess maybe just started and I was like one of the early people on it and it wouldn't let me know I would do in my spare time I wouldn't look right on my Tumblr blog and I had met a few people in LA on Tumblr one of the guys I met you know did social media and social media as a job like I had my space I Tumblr I had Twitter and I I didn't know that you could do that and also that it was part of marketing but he would do to reduce social media person would like the OG food trucks in LA and doing social media for a food truck meant like you would just tweet where the truck was going to be weird sounds so crazy now that that was some of this job but I remember like following the Twitter account
00:12:38finding out that the truck was going to be like on the corner of these streets in La driving over there and there would be hundreds of people there and I don't know why but it just blew my mind is like you can just see it where you are and like people will come and that's that those are business otherwise like the truck would have just sat somewhere and you had to maybe drive by it and I think it was like this is marketing like this is how you get paid to do marketing and do social media and these are all things I was interested in and I was like I got this and figuring this out so I started being like a freelance consultant for social media you just put your like you to sleep on the shingle out to like how did you get people to hire you how did you know where to go on a date so much of it is like it was really a lot of the right place right time I was living in La it was when food trucks were a big thing and I kind of just spread the word I would go to small business
00:13:38says and two food trucks and my first client was the cafe on my street not around anymore but it was just a little cafe on Beverly Boulevard and I would sit in the cafe all day and sweet things like there's a password of the day and if you say the password at the register you get like a free espresso shot but there was also nobody doing it so I found myself in a situation where
00:14:07I am getting paid to do something I don't know that much about it but also at the same time everyone saw me as an expert and it was one of the wildest years of my life because my first client was was buzzed coffee and I don't even know if they paid me like I think they paid me and coffee and then all of a sudden I was doing it for a food truck in a restaurant and then all of a sudden like they introduce me to someone and I was doing it for a new hotel that was opening and then all the sudden I realized I just spent a year being immersed in digital and social media and realizing how how people could could use that in a really powerful way like I also it wasn't making a ton of money but I was so I was also doing like personal assistant stuff so I was a personal assistant to the wife of one of the heads of like one of the very big studios in LA and then she had asked me to help her with her blog and her social media and her website and I start helping her with that
00:15:07and I showed her husband I was doing a great job and all the sudden I find myself like driving up to the lot everyday like checking in with my ID and meeting with this film Executives talking about how they could Market their films like through social media and this was like this is a time when it's just starting to explode right into primarily this is like Facebook and Twitter at that at that point right yeah I was just like my space was tapering off yeah and I mean we'll just sort of doing this as you as you went along right like you weren't even set up a business or a company or you didn't sort of show the company's how the their social media impacted the world right you weren't like producing reports for them you were just out there doing the Social Media stuff and and we're hoping that they were happy with it analytics of any sort at this time
00:16:07and I was just a click what I tweeted look at all these people that responded look at these people who showed up and end for me it was that was actually great because it wasn't reports as a real tangible stop it was like people showing up and saying something we're doing something or spending money at the business and that was really exciting for me because I guess eventually you were you were able to get a job at that's like a legit Ad Agency New York and then and then you start to do this this type of stuff like marketing for real and then in 2011 you got recruited by Warby Parker how did that happen so I have Tumblr to thank for this one again so my friend Rich who worked a Tumblr was like you could meet with these guys are starting this this glasses company online and they just want to talk to someone about social media
00:17:02remember meeting this guy who work at Warby Parker and we met at at Union Square Park and I remember realize I kind of halfway through our conversation that it was a job interview I thought that I just like coming in there to like chat with them about the startup and they would like to pick my brain and there was something like really open to and I left being like I think I just interview to be a social media manager at Warby Parker and that's how I got started in the start of World to the co-founders have been on the show before and them in the Social Media stuff never really came up to they have a social media strategy wouldn't when you got there and it's still the still at the Stone Age is social social media compared compared to today but today do they have like accounts for all the different Social Media stuff and there is a Twitter account and I was basically for you know customer service
00:18:02and and the guy who interviewed me Brian you know his whole job is like replying to everyone on Twitter which then became my job for just being spent like 10 hours a day for applying to people even if they even people would be like I love where we Parker I would reply like thanks like hundreds of times a day there on Facebook on Twitter there on Tumblr and Instagram launched right when I started cuz it guys are just as cool platform I think we should go on it and they're like the pickle whatever and what did you what did you do for the black what did you start to use like me like Instagram to to expand their brand
00:18:46just so I think I started thinking about the content strategy would look like how do we how do we take this is amazing thing that we're building that's kind of weird which is selling glasses online all of my friends thought I was crazy for doing this and like how do we how do we like translate that experience it's like a social media community and we would do things like like Warby Parker had that like home try-on program to try on five pairs of glasses and we would do it to it like people who post their five and like we do repost that are Tumblr I would like to wish hedge of themselves and then like our community would like help them Pet Sounds like a big thing on on Tumblr Facebook like we're basically crowdsource what frames people should buy and we just build a sick of really loyal really engaged community and it just kept growing and growing and I think it's embarrassing to kind of like look back at your work especially in those early days but I really was just like
00:19:43I really could feel how social media was having an impact on and how much people love to Brad and that was really special to me when you want your at Warby Parker did it ever cross your mind that like I want to start my own business one day or was that not even on your radar at all
00:20:00no I never wanted to start my own business I never wanted to be an entrepreneur I think it was just so grateful to have found work into something that I really enjoyed and for me that was like social media and marketing and eventually brand development that because those opportunities seem so Limitless and that I never felt like I could learn everything there was to know about what I was doing that it never occurred to me today to start my own thing so I guess you you should have lasted a Warby Parker for about two plus years and you were recruited or are you you you've got a job with All Saints which is that the the fashion brand based in the UK to be there global head of innovation you were like 26 27 years old how did that happen maybe 15 people there by the time I left there
00:21:00Max bonded so it was still growing really quickly I still left like pretty early days but my my father passed away while I was working at Warby Parker and it kind of like a kind of slow down a little bit after that I start thinking a lot about what I wanted to be doing and coincidentally like this Headhunter called me at the same time as I'm going through that and moving to London seems like one of the most exciting things I could do and I was so drawn to the opportunity the job was really nothing to do with anything I'd ever done before so I became the global director of innovation at All Saints and this is when they were there trying to turn the company around behind you oders a new CEO has 26 or 27 and I had a seat at the table
00:21:56with all these like very seasoned Executives from Fallout 4 liked from selfridges and Harrods and engagement for the brand prison early at All Saints I think had just wanted someone from Warby Parker was like great job Great Wall like I got to live in London I didn't realize until after the fact that what was missing is that might our career had revolved around the idea that there's a brand and that someone in the middle does something and then there's a customer at the other end Who falls in love with it and I don't mind her career around like that middle part like being in the gap between in the customer and the Brad like building a relationship making people fall in love with a company and because all of my projects at All Saints turned out to be in turn off AC and more like internal enemy
00:22:56I realize that was the part that I really missed a bike wasn't wise enough to realize that at the time but I think that's basically why I was so bored she should what what happened what did you mean we just kind of waiting to to figure it out
00:23:14I was waiting to figure it out I always promised myself that I would only work on things it made me happy especially after my dad passed away is like really important for me to to spend my time doing things that I was really passionate about and I knew that I had kind of dried up for me and this opportunity and so I left I left all Saints and I was still living in London kind of for finite amount of time because my Visa was going to expire so I started interviewing for jobs
00:23:48I interviewed for like VP of marketing like CMO jobs at companies of all different sizes and during this I was completely just on a terror around the world splitting my time between interviewing and like going on vacation so I'm in Zurich Airport
00:24:11and my back brakes and it was this old bag that I'd had exes College I guess it's like no name like black ballistic nylon bag it was super embarrassing like I didn't realize it broke that the I didn't realize a zipper broke so I'm leaving a trail of like my underwear behind me as I'm as I'm running through the airport and I get home and I go on Facebook and I tell her about this embarrassing story about my back breaking and I ask people if they have any recommendations for me really like just trying to shop this is like like 2015 to 2015
00:25:00the point I've traveled hundreds of thousands of miles in my life would this one bag and I was super annoyed and I was just like okay I'm just going to buy a really nice bag that I love and this won't happen again for a long time so I asked a bunch of people and every single person is like I don't know or I have this but don't get it it's awful or or I would specifically asked a friend that I knew traveled a lot and he or she would be like
00:25:35so crazy to me that all of these people including myself who love to travel who did it all the time who packed a suitcase every time they traveled really had no connection to this thing that they brought with them on every single flight on every single trip most people would go to like Target or TJ Maxx or something or Marshalls and just like go to the suitcase area and get a suitcase luggage that they loved there is one girl who really loved hers and it was like $4,000 or $1,000 like I have to find the spread like there has to be a great luggage brand out there like I didn't I didn't think like I'm going to start while I was just like we're not looking for like just to be clear you weren't looking for that category start a business in
00:26:35not at all not at all know I was like click wanted to go shopping I wanted to buy the right thing so that this wouldn't happen again and I was I was crowdsourcing for answers and I I didn't get an answer and these are people who I have like a mast a network of friends over time who whose tastes I really trust Whose advice I take and no one had any advice for me I ran I was like good luck so I started to think why doesn't this luggage brand exist like how come buying luggage is so awful like how come we have to go until like the basement of a department store or or New York there's all these like crazy luggage stores in Midtown that are massive and and you go in and there's a $500 bag next to a $50 bag and they look exactly the same and I like the luggage sales man is like whispering in your ear like I can give you 30% off if you buy it right now is it why is it so horrible
00:27:35so that's when I maybe thought that I could start something like at this point like I was interviewing for jobs and in my head I was like I can start a little luggage business on the side and like make it like some cool brand and maybe sell it at like at liberty or another for today or like this cool places that I like to shop and that's when I caught up with Steph
00:28:06what are the Ruby Parker I met Steph Curry and we started on the same day and we became fast friends and we're friends all throughout my time at Warby Parker cheat with a cheetah or we Parker supply chain there so she was in charge of how the glasses were made like the factories that we got him from like how they got to the states to be shipped to customers just like stuff that I actually technically went to school for but really didn't know much about
00:28:36cuz we kind of went through this like a crazy growth of Warby Parker together and we stayed friends and we like Loosely kept in touch and we check in every few months so just this this like this little baby idea of making luggage that my friends would love was brewing in my head I I reach out to staff and like I said our Facebook message and I said hey there's something I've been thinking about would love to catch up with you and she was choosing business school at the time so we Parker to go to business school at Columbia and she just always been my sounding board so I called her a catch up
00:29:20and I was coming mostly complaining I was like his luggage brand doesn't exist like I have a bunch of ideas like I think I think I could make like a cool one but also how annoying I have to go interview for this other job they were just catching up and this was supposed to be a 10-minute call and 3 hours later still on the phone and basically she was in business school and she had been looking to start something and she was the one who was like what we did at Warby Parker we can do with luggage we basically got off the phone and she realize like all the same things that we saw with I wear it we were seeing with luggage like crazy markups in the industry like no brands that people really loves like a really awful shopping experience so she was coming at it from this whole like like supply chain disruption angle and she's I guess she was sitting there and business school like looking for her category and I Bay City
00:30:20called her with my little baby idea start a luggage to Brad and she's like this is it like this is what we have to do
00:30:29when we come back in just a minute and staff to turn this baby idea into a reality and have a copy table book save their business stay with this guy Roz and you're listening to how I built this from NPR
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00:31:30built this from NPR and Jen Rubio and Steph Curry have this idea for a better luggage brand but to start working on it take a leap of faith because at the time both of them work interviewing for other jobs so I still living in London and I was in pretty late stages to be VP of marketing at this fashion company stuff was in business school and talking to a few startups about being like their VP of supply chain and on and I was I was actually being flown into New York for like one of my final interviews and I realize I was doing the interview that I was like I don't want to do this but I wanted I want to do the luggage thing like I do the interview and I don't remember how it went but I got the job offer
00:32:26and I really didn't want to take it because I had been so excited about about this idea for a luggage brand that I actually wrote I wrote stuff an email about how I never wanted to be an entrepreneur before but like was really passionate about this idea and I thought that we were the two perfect people to do it and I made a whole list of everything I wanted a co-founder and then explain how she embodied all of those things like I wanted someone who has like a complementary skill set and like had other lucrative opportunities that they were turning down to do that so just go like a weird qualifier but was really important to me and it wasn't until I wrote that email like asking her to be my co-founder and asking her to do this with me that that was the point I kind of realized I wanted to be entrepreneur
00:33:20did you did you come up with the name already at that point I was looking for like some wild story about how he came up with it but as I was doing my research I was like trying to stay organized and I made like a folder on my computer
00:33:36and it was like TVD luggage brand and one day I like open my computer
00:33:43and I just typed in a way as a placeholder like it just came to me and I always had it in my head like there's no way we can use it away as a brand name it such such a simple a four-letter word sick extremely common and then at 7 I actually spent a lot of time like brainstorming and you names but we just never came up with anything as good and she found like some trademark lawyers and ask them if we could trade market and they basically locked in her face and she was like she like insisted that they looked into it and then a week later they called us and they said you have been given a gift in the marketing Gods because this trademark is available in your category in a lot of different countries are so you have a name and what's the first step like how do you get the luggage made like where do you where you can start
00:34:35yeah so kind of like our first steps made sense to us because We R Who We R I had this branding background should the supply chain background and I was like okay we need to get a branding agency like we need someone to do that it was felt like I didn't have a product we'd even know how to make it but I was like I'm going to start working on The Branding and you could design like design with the suitcases going to look like I was like we have two brand it to look what are you Brandon like the company that's where my head was at and SF was like okay well we have to come up with a product to sell so how did you find like I mean how did you begin to do because I have to assume that it should probably mainly made in China but in terms of finding a place to make them and and designers and like what was the what did you do that how did you know what to do
00:35:33at Warby Parker step easily learned how to make things and objects Industries are different but she had a bunch of contacts in China who she asked for intros to like in the luggage space you don't be cautious why not we realize that there are lots of different factories like a varying degrees of being good at what they do and like varying degrees of working conditions and like in the end product and all of that is that we couldn't really make a decision until we had decided what to make and I think the first few weeks were just a really intense like our intense version of like market research which reason we might we went shopping like every single day he was like every department store we went to every luggage store and like compared all the experiences know the prices like at very meticulous notes on what was out there it's mainly cuz we couldn't afford to pay for the industry reports so we're like we'll just figure this out ourselves so we start
00:36:33your luggage and we're like getting a better sense of like what was being offered it still wasn't super clear to us so we decided that to really create the perfect luggage we need such a figure out what people wanted so over the course of a few months we talked like maybe eight hundred people and we would just talk to them about travel and we would ask them things like not even about luggage what about their biggest pain points when they travel and we discovered things like people get hotel rooms and they would like steel laundry bags from the hotel's because like they didn't have their own or that you know everybody like wanted a bag that they could fit a ton of stuff in but also have it be flexible but also really durable and like really lightweight and then something we heard a child was my biggest pain Point like one of my biggest complaint to my travel is like my phone always dies when I'm at the airport so we were basically armed with
00:37:32was not a list of features but but story is that kept coming up and that's how we figure it out all of the things we needed to make like our one perfect suitcase the design process began what look like how did that work like what did you what did you want the back to look like Yeah so basically I had this list and then I knew what I wanted it to look like and you know it we were basically up like 20 hours a day because our industrial designers were in San Francisco we had factories that we were talking to in China basically the second one of them wrote us an email like we would make sure to write back or pass it on so there would be no delays because also in all of this
00:38:21all right to this day don't know where it came from but you know this was like January 6th February of 2015 and we had it in our heads that we wanted to launch my Christmas so in less than a year we wanted to have like product out into the world and luckily like we really didn't have anything else to do so we just like immerse ourselves fully in this and we're just obsessed with every single detail so I guess it's amazing is by this idea really begins in 2015 like January February 2015 by November of that year you guys managed to raise think like 2 and 1/2 million dollars from from from VC companies yeah was it was it hard to get I mean it was hard to make the case cuz it sounds like it was pretty easy and pretty quickly after that you had the idea in March of 2015 like when this was barely an idea
00:39:21we still didn't have a Time directions what we were doing a friend of mine in San Francisco introduced me to Eureka him who's a partner at for honor and 4Runner is the the VC firm that invested in Warby Parker and everlane and Dollar Shave Club in jet.com and they just had like he's an amazing portfolio and his amazing wins and we had heard about them obviously when we worked at werribee but didn't really interact with them and my friend was like I'll introduce you to one of the partners and me like I just had like the audacity to schedule a meeting with her even though we literally had nothing at this point we still thought away with a placeholder name it was just like an idea to create this thing and we were busy just like in the throes of doing research in San Francisco and I met with Yuri and I kind of like
00:40:13it was busy just like a meeting of me being excited about what we're doing in my head it wasn't like me pitching her but because of that because of that early meeting and because of like her wanting to stay in touch and be excited about the idea and see how excited we were about the idea that we stayed in touch which meant that when we actually went out to raise our seat around in the summer we already had like a like a foot in the door with one of the firms that we wanted to partner with admit we pitched a lot of a lot of VC is like a crazy process really super diligent we had is crazy spreadsheet of every single Venture Capital firm who'd ever invested in a direct-to-consumer brand who the partner was at each permit did it if we had any like Mutual connections on LinkedIn like how we would get to them we had this like crazy master plan for for fundraising really thought this through really really
00:41:13really did your homework
00:41:15yeah I mean I think I think part of it was at like that deadline to launch in 2015 came from nobody but us but we just we really wanted to do it I don't even know where that timeline came from and you want us to do in time for Christmas so we had this self-imposed deadline looming above our heads but like once we were the timeline down we stuck to it and that meant being super methodical and everything we were doing whether it was designing the product or fundraising or just like literally anything that we were doing this he drowned in the summer and we talked a lot of investors and and Yuri Kim at 4Runner ended up kohli-dang RC drowned and she actually brought in the other Kool-Aid which was Brian O'Malley from Excel at a time so you guys I mean by that summer you get your cute picture to a half-million-dollar so what
00:42:15plan in the summer of 2015
00:42:17So So the plan was to lunch before Christmas and we had known from previous experience at this was a very very lucrative time to to launch something all the media does guess guys there's also like a lot of demand for the human interest stories and things like that all these angles that we wanted to hit the PC the plan was to launch the suitcases and get a lot of press cuz we knew from Warby Parker that depresses a big part of a God himself like they have this article in GQ or something just like
00:42:55this is already July August of 2015 like the big magazines are already there any making decisions about their Christmas issues at this point of gift-giving guides at this point yeah so we didn't know that at the time we're like we are whole thing was lost Before Christmas got a lot of a lot of suitcases but we found out when we placed our order in August that because of the way we design the bags and we use like all these like top-of-the-line components and we had looked at like every single supplier and wanted all the best things from all the suppliers that there was no way that are back would be ready before Christmas well I don't know why it was so surprising just wear like what do you mean like we have this timeline in the spreadsheet and it says like the spreadsheet that we made up and it said that if we ordered that Eyes by August we would have them right
00:43:55it's so weird that this whole world did not adhere to our timeline and it was as if like someone had said that we had to stop doing the company even though it was a self-imposed deadline at this point we actually started like we didn't have a suitcase set and we'd already started talking to editors until I potential PR agencies about what we were doing and you had gotten some really good feedback so what do they want to see the suitcase or did you were you saying them like photos of it like like 3D renderings and just like selling them on on this idea that it like before is amazing affordable luggage did not exist and beyond that there was like this whole brand that was obsessed with travel the way that they were and that we were creating a secured as excited about that and when we found out the bags when can be ready we're like I care what are we going to Lodge like we can't launch suitcases so obviously our options were like don't launch or push it back would you
00:44:55on the table for us for whatever reason or we could lunch or the pre-order which I think is just like the most boring thing you can do when you're launching a brand like no one wants to put their credit card down for something that they like may or may not get so we came up with this idea and the idea was that we would come up with something before Christmas that people would want to buy that would show them that we were like this amazing you travel brand never heard of right so choose to write a book neither of us are writers I said I'm just like I was I was like this this freak with all these crazy ideas and stuff and be like okay okay we can make this work like we were just total enabler it was going to be a book of your liked photos of your luggage know so basically I was like we're sitting in the sweet forever like we have to show people that that were an exciting you travel Brad and that they're going to love us
00:45:55so the book was we were going to find 40 tastemakers like not celebrities but people who had really strong communities like people who you wanted to vouch for us essentially and my friend who would like a freelancer 40 magazine in Vogue and into the gloss she was going to interview these people about like their favorite place to travel to and to write the little blurb let me realize that like we would need photos in the book or be really boring so she would also ask them for their vacation photos and we came up with this list of a people that she would interview and the whole plan was to write this book and to hear we had to it was just us into designers at the time and we got them to agree to design the book so we're like working to make a coffee table book an inside the coffee table book we're going to put a gift card that people can redeem for the luggage
00:46:50wait let me just get you and raised to 1/2 million dollars from feces who wanted you to make luggage and you and I using that money to come up with a coffee table book of people's vacations even think about that
00:47:07I just I just would like did anybody say hey what are you guys doing or or do they not really know what actually funny because when we were trying to choose our investors a lot of feedback that we got were like oh you're kind of rubbery Parker for luggage great will and bass and those are super easy conversations the other feedback would like to show them a picture of the log it like a rendering of the luggage and they'd be like I don't get it it's just like a check what's different about it we're like well here's all the great things about the product but also and then I would go on and on about this brand that we were building and that I would like Rambo about the brand and I was like what we make luggage but we're travel bran it's really going to connect with people and that's the whole idea for away is that people didn't emotionally connect with Samsonite or to me or any of these other brands and basically the feces of we ended up going with we're the ones who got that brand was this tangible thing that we could make uniquely ours and that's what Woods
00:48:07what's the part so every time and even not like every time we come up with like some crazy idea like this there like okay must be for the brand so no one question what we did sell the book so we are going to that was like the book was the thing that we were going to sell so we had set up this whole website to sell luggage that wasn't going to be ready so then we change the website to sell the book so if you were on the away website in November of 2015 you could only by the away coffee table book you could not buy a suitcase
00:48:39yeah I mean I guess I guess I could different way of looking at it would be like you would use this a pre-order for the suitcase that you would get the book and the reason we did that was because we wanted people to be able to like give people things for the holidays with something tangible so yes if you want on the website and November of 2015 you would buy the coffee table book and the book would come with a gift card for the suitcase but you have to go back on the website in February 30th a gift card and it was like the craziest like least efficient idea on paper and even now as I'm telling you but stuff is like you know what I think this could really work and we made two thousand of these books and I'm I remember like the books got delivered and Haley's huge boxes and I think Stephen I looked at each other and we were like this is either a great idea or we're going to have these books in his office like for eternity yeah they showed up so November rolls around
00:49:39we had we had lined up a bunch of press we invested a ton of time and in meeting with editors like getting him to fall in love with with us and the idea and the product that would eventually launch and a November 9th 2015 we woke up and there's a big feature on Vodacom all about this new travel brand and that was our lunch and we had the book on the website and we basically spent the whole day like refreshing Google analytics refreshing are like a whole dashboard for the platform that you were selling on and people just started buying the book how much does it cost well you had so basically you had to buy the book for $225 which was the price of the First suitcase and we sold hundreds on the first day first day on the first day that it a bunch of other outlets picked it up all of the people in the book were like really excited about it being like a big dick
00:50:39everyone's posting about it as in the next day like hundreds more sold and then and then more the next day and by the end of a couple of weeks we had sold out of all of the books in each book represented one suitcase that we ordered so it's sold out of our first order
00:50:58and at this point you would still did not have a single suitcase like in stock in the US every suitcase that would come in February was accounted for 2016 the suitcases were going to arrive from China warehouse in New York so that should be it because so this like the holidays happened we sold the books we would like our minds were blow and we were like look at the appetite for for this Brad like all the stuff we told me she is as real as we actually weren't sure if it would be so that felt great but then we're like okay we actually have to to get the luggage over here so right after Christmas we flew to our Factory and we actually spent days like in the factory on the production line doing like quality control checking every suitcase like Stephen Iowa
00:51:58we're standing there with all the factory workers like we inspected every bag off of the line they got packaged in their boxes do they look the way you wanted them to look yeah it was it was a dream come true because we basically spent an entire year just just imagining it in designing it and like and putting in the work and I had never been a part of that process before of of like coming up with in designing something from scratch and then seeing the end result is there a lot of Tears emotional time but we were on the factory floor like crying like hugging the suitcase but yes it was January like they put them on a boat and they made their way over and we sold our first physical suitcase in February of 2016
00:52:50that year I think in your first the first year you actually had the suitcases you ended up selling 55,000 suitcases which is amazing how did how did people find out about them I mean I think what we saw it pretty quickly is that our timing was perfect like we were in this time and social media where travel is a status if everyone wanted to post about not just their trips and like not just about the beach that they're on or like the mountain that they're skiing on but but how they got there and people taking photos at airports or or even when they were packing and stuff and I realize it like we had to be a part of this and we had to be the bag and all those photos that people are posting as they were packing or as they were at the airport so we basically found I mean in the beginning the beginning was a lot of press and then it was a lot of basically anyone we knew you on social media that
00:53:50a lot of followers like asking them to post about the bag during that kind of like pre-trip process and we made it so that anytime you would open Instagram and then someone was like getting ready for a trip they would be posting a photo with their away suitcase pretty soon
00:54:11get image celebrities were starting to use the bags like Rashida Jones and Karlie Kloss and I mean did you did you deliberately seek them out and say hey check out our bags or have that happen I think what happened was we get such a couple celebrities and I can't remember who but your celebrities get their photo taken by Paparazzi when they leave the airport so the bag would start showing up like in all of these magazines as a celebrities were leaving airport so I think they did a lot for growing our customer base and also other celebrities seeing it but I think it's been amazing is that like celebrities were so drawn to the brand that every celebrity collaboration we've ever done has been because that's the lad has been a customer and it was crazy like I don't I don't know how it happened like when we first launched the book and we were like looking at the orders come in you know you would see the names of every single person who ordered
00:55:11send from college I give us as seen on Facebook or or like I used to work with that person and it be like memes of people eating you and then maybe like names of people we didn't know but then once in awhile like you were watching orders come in one day and Laura Jean Witherspoon order the bag and stuff sets such that it out loud noise like that's Reese Witherspoon that's her real name she's like so weird that you know that are like she had heard about it from like one of these articles are one of these influencers and she ordered a box of she actually has one of our like original books and the bag you start this company just the two of you in 2015 how many how many employees do you have now it's close to 250 employees wow it is pretty unbelievable like you know what had it is unbelievable that you start this company in 2015 today you know three even at plus years later you know you're doing
00:56:10I don't know the last I've seen is 50 million in Revenue probably hire today so we sold over 1 million two cases wow I mean it's pretty amazing how quickly that's happened but at the same time like you really was ewen's and staff came to this with
00:56:28a lot of experience in an experience a really kind of set you up to succeed in in this Venture like this was the Q you sure took the time to learn the ropes and
00:56:43let me know if it's in some ways it's not surprising that they'd succeeded so quickly does it surprise you I think that things have been moving so quickly that I don't think we stopping us like to think about what happened and what we've done I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we're so different and basically like any strength the staff has is like my weakness and and vice-versa so that might like from the beginning we had all bases covered so I feel like even if this wasn't a runaway success we would have done things like twice as quickly or or twice as good as anyone else because we really liked from the beginning operated is like one brain I mean I don't know I think it's like I never set out to do this I never set out to to run a company with the hundreds of people and I think what's asked of you when when you have a couple dozen employees and maybe like a
00:57:43Vermillion revenue is so different than than what is being asked for us now to for us like well externally it definitely has been successful and really excited and said they were really proud of where we're just like we're constantly like behind his hands like try to fix things their or trying to try to keep up with things yo they'll sit there and look at you to see if you have what it takes or if you have the idea that can turn into a 1 billion dollar company and tell us that was so daunting what how do you create a billion dollar company and now the kinds of investors that we meet with her that we're getting to know for this next phase of the business will say things like really just evaluating to see if this can be like a five or ten billion dollar company which which is mind-blowing you are like at the time of his recording your only 32
00:58:43you've got omigod like your entire career ahead of you where do you see this company going I mean to you what do you what do you Maginot way becoming Beyond a company that sells suitcase
00:58:56I'm only 31 sorry I'm sorry I mean I think for us
00:59:06it's funny because the future Away really goes back to what we were saying in those first investor meeting so we're building this travel brand and I think we talked about it a lot but we didn't really know what it meant when you were to be a cowboy Brad and we're going to start by selling luggage but we became so obsessed with just every part of the travel experience so I think you know in the short-term like our goal right now is the way you would go to like to Nike if you're if you're playing sports and you kind of get you can get everything from like one sportswear brand and then they make all the different things like we want to do that with travel like when someone's going on a trip we want to make everything they need to go on that trip seamlessly but I think in the long-term like what we've done or what we're trying to do is really set this foundation for
00:59:58how do we create a brand that people love and Trust in us so that we can solve every single part of the travel experience how much do you think of how much you think luck played a part in in your success and how much do you think it was hard work and skill and talent
01:00:15I think it's on it's probably 50-50 I mean I think for me personally luck and timing had so much to do with with everything I've done at every single step in terms of like the way we time things were the people that we met or even just the fact that like he was really lucky that I called staff when I did and that we didn't take the jobs that we were supposed to but I think we we work our tails off especially in that first year just obsessing over everything I mean I don't know I think it's like every time I saw something that excited me I would find a way to do it like I never thought oh I need to get a degree to do that or any toaster and work experience to do that I would just find a way to do it and I think I'm just a curious person does have something I learned from my dad actually and I just followed all of my curiosity's
01:01:14that's Jen Rubio of a way the company has expanded its product line a bit since those first few bags came out the factory floor in addition to their signature hard shell suitcases and I'll sell duffle bags backpacks in a package used for the brand continues to gain more and more celebrity bands including most recently got yours Meghan Markle who reportedly gifted away suitcases as party favors at a baby shower
01:01:49and please do stick around because in just a moment we're going to hear from you about the things your building but first a quick message from one of our sponsors SmartWater inspired by fresh thinkers who stories you're listening to it smart water has more ways to hydrate Smart Water alkaline with 9 + pH and SmartWater antioxidant with added selenium Smart Water that's pretty smart
01:02:18hey thanks so much for sticking around because it's time now for how you built that and today story comes to us from John moroney who lives just outside Grand Rapids in Michigan any way back in November of 2015 the Snows came early to the east side of Lake Michigan and what happened in John decided to take the kids sledding or something fun and grab a few slugs and go find a hill and then spent hours and as John watched his kids slide down the hill. Hey I want to get in on the action because sledding is awesome but John is also a fully grown middle-aged man and as he sat on that sled waiting to fly down the hill he realize that it's let's don't always agree with grownups many pounds and years later on our bodies sliding isn't quite as exciting as it used to be you know when your 8 10 12 years old which to John didn't seem fair or right sledding should be fun for
01:03:17everyone besides this seems like a problem waiting to be solved which worked out great because John happens to be a professor of product design so that afternoon he decided to take a notepad to take some notes we noticed that a lot of kids like to run and jump onto their their sleds trying to get a little bit more speed and in a lot of them would do it running and then kneeling on their slide as they go down and hitting jumps and things like that while that was terribly uncomfortable for us as adults that kind of got the wheels turning a little bit the wheels started turning and shot got in touch with the group of friends who also love to solve design problems he shared his notes with the team and he has takes can we figure out a way to make sledding more comfortable and more fun. Just for kids but for grown-ups to one of the team members said was hey I think we could really make this a little bit more exciting if we created to Independence sleds and strapped into our legs to slap
01:04:18stretch your legs, like the pads of hockey goalie might wear but instead of pads they be sleds so John has buddies decided to pursue this idea they pull together about $20,000 each and got to work the first prototype was actually kind of like a foam-filled sled that was cut in half in duct tape to somebody's legs just to see if it were possible to have two independent legs with something underneath thumb track and stay straight down a hill as possible but not that simple so for the next model John made a hard plastic shell to fit over the lower legs screwed some straps to it and then cut up some yoga mats and stuck ice on the inside just to get a little bit of cushion yeah you laugh but when you're my age that matters dispersion did move better on the snow but now John needed to make the sleds more comfortable without losing that agility the phone was kind of the key
01:05:18ingredients all this there's an impact energy absorbing foam that goes into it that sort of raises your feet up in the back and really makes it possible to go down the hill and pick up some Speed without totally dragging your feet the whole way at this point John needed feedback on his design so he got his friends his kids and his neighbor's kids to try them out you know we heard really straightforward things like I really like how I can run and slide on them it helps me go faster I like how I can walk up the hill and I have to carry my sled up by the next winter 2016 the team was ready to sell their product they use some of their money for advertising and they ended up selling 800 units it was time to celebrate but about 2 days after that big shipment we hit this local ski hill all the founders put on a pair jumped went down the hill and half of them broke on the very first run
01:06:18God for the beer because that probably made it a little bit more tolerable we discovered what the problem was but man it sure didn't feel good at all the problem was the straps attached to the team grab a beer and left the hill and spent an entire night troubleshooting and after a few days they sent customers a follow-up shipment it had better Fasteners and instructions on how to attach them and they also started gearing up for the next winter they tweak the sled design and the added a smaller size for little kids so when the 2017 season rolls around we sold 8000 units we actually sold out
01:06:59Brownie and his team are the founders of a sled legs next year they're planning to sell sled legs in stores if you want to find out more about John or hear previous episodes head to our podcast page how I built this. NPR. Org and of course you want to tell us your stories go to build. NPR. Org and thanks so much for listening to the show this week you can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts while you're there please do give us a review you can also write to us at HIV tea at NPR. Org and if you want to send a tweet it's at how I built this ishow is producer Suite by Rachel Falkner with music composed By REM teen Arab Louis thanks also to Julia Kearney JC Howard Miller could see nieva Grant Melissa Grace Anna's Michigan for and Jeff Rogers AR intern is Candice lip I've guy Roz and you been listening to how I built this
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