The Entrepreneur Behind This Popular Travel Brand Shares How to Keep Your Sense of Adventure Alive
Editor’s Note: Inspire Me is a series in which entrepreneurs and leaders share what motivates them through good times and bad, while also sharing stories of how they overcame challenges in hopes of inspiring others.
Jen Rubio created the travel brand company Away to help other people get out of their everyday lives and see and do something different so that they can come back energized and ready to be their best selves. But the everyday running of a fast-growing company, while making sure that no detail is lost in the shuffle, can be stressful. Rubio says it is one her top priorities to make sure that she doesn’t lose her sense of adventure.
Before starting Away more than three years ago, Rubio, a frequent traveler, found herself searching high and low for a suitcase she could easily carry on that wouldn’t be too clunky or too expensive. She realized she was far from the only one who had run into the issue and turned this universal pain point into a startup success after joining forces with her friend and Warby Parker colleague at the time, Steph Korey.
Today, the company’s line of suitcases retail from $225 to $595. They are designed expressly for the traveler on the go, complete with scratch-resistant shells, interior compartments to keep gadgets safe and a USB charger built in so you never have to search for a free airport outlet again.
To feed her spirit of adventure while scaling a business, Rubio regularly shakes up her office routine and finds inspiration in taking breaks during the day for a boxing session at the gym or having key meetings while walking outside, instead of inside a boardroom.
As of the spring of 2017, Rubio and Korey had sold more than 100,000 suitcases and brought in $20 million in revenue -- which led to a $20 million fundraising round, and no sign of slowing down. Rubio shared how she makes sure she is in the right headspace to lead her team to great things.
What was the moment that you realized you wanted to go into business on your own? Can you explain how you felt and why you decided to take the plunge?
I never set out to be an entrepreneur, but I became one because I felt empowered to solve a problem. I saw a gap in the market for a travel brand that people truly loved and knew that my co-founder and I had the experience, passion and skills to fill that gap. With that conviction and a great partner, I never felt frightened.Related: The Founder of #HappyPeriod Shares How to 'Get Off Your Butt and Make Your Passion Part of Your Everyday Life'
When you're facing a serious challenge or obstacle, how do you motivate yourself to tackle it?
The biggest challenge I face every day isn’t what I am doing, but what I’m not. We’ve grown incredibly fast in the last two years and accomplished a lot along the way, but there’s still so many opportunities for where we can go. The challenge is deciding what to tackle next! I’m also genuinely interested in so many parts of the business, so it can be tough to take a step back and not be actively involved in everything.
[When I approach an obstacle], I make sure I’m in the right state of mind. If I’m hungry or low energy, I won’t be able to think clearly. That’s why I keep almonds and water at my desk at all times. If it’s a really tough problem, I’ll go for a walk -- sans headphones -- to think it through. I believe that clarity comes with being physically present and feeling good.
What is a quote that inspires you, and why?
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity.” -- Amelia Earhart. This quote is a reminder that you can change your own life. It’s so important to be tenacious and stay determined -- there are moments that will be incredibly stressful or times when you’ll feel discouraged, so maintaining that tenacity, and believing in yourself and your brand will help you push through the tough times and stay focused. Remember why you started in the first place and keep tracking toward that goal. .
Was there someone who encouraged you to launch Away? If so, who was that person and how did they encourage you?
My co-founder Steph Korey and I have been in it together since the beginning, questioning and encouraging each other along every step. Without pushing each other to drive this forward, I don’t know where we would be.
Who is a woman that inspires you, and why?
[Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy creator] Shonda Rhimes. She’s smart, strong and vocal about her values and beliefs. She’s broken every stereotype and used her success as a platform to lift up other women.Related: 'It's Never Too Late' to Become a Bolder, Braver Version of Yourself, Says This C-Suite Executive -- Here Is Her Strategy.
What inspires you at work?
Working alongside our team -- our growth and momentum would not exist without their talent and passion. Everyone at Away is encouraged to take risks, explore their passions and dig into new areas where they think there’s opportunity to make a positive impact on the business. We encourage people to embrace mistakes, because that means they’re setting big goals and taking risks in order to achieve them. If you’re not making any mistakes, you’re probably not taking enough risks.
When you are feeling at your worst, who inspires you?
My girlfriends. They’re strong, kind, and genuine people that I’m lucky to have in my life. We encourage and support each other, always. Whether it’s a phone call or catching up over a few glasses of wine, they help to remind me how important it is to be present and enjoy the moment.
For those women who are looking to start a business, or have begun one but are feeling discouraged, what advice do you have for them to keep going?
Don’t stress. There’s no playbook for what you’re doing. You’ll figure it out, iterate and learn as you go. Your career path won’t always be linear or even “successful” every step of the way -- and that’s OK. The most important thing is to keep moving forward and believe in yourself and what you’re trying to create.