Brand Beyond Product: Jen Rubio of Away Travel Talks with Guy Raz at Shop.Org 2018
The first 2018 Shop.Org main stage event was “Great Retail Stories with Guy Raz.” For those of you that don’t know, Raz has a special knack for unearthing the genuine, human stories behind some of the most successful brands. It’s a skill he’s honed not only as a journalist, but as the host and creator of “How I Built This,” the must-listen podcast for entrepreneurs and anyone who’s considered starting a brewery in their basement.
Jen Rubio, co-founder and Chief Brand Officer of Away Travel joined Raz onstage to talk about her path to entrepreneurial success and why she set out to disrupt the “bleak” luggage industry.
What she didn’t have to talk about? Her product. Away’s suitcases are ubiquitous across social media. If you don’t know about them, all you have to do is follow a friend’s Instagram stories, or spend more than one minute with our Head of Growth, Vincent. He will tell you more about Away than he will about Simplr:
A broken suitcase and a big idea
The Away idea came to Rubio when she was luggage shopping after her suitcase broke. She channeled her inner Warby Parker (where she worked, natch) to think about a difference approach to the dusty travel and luggage industry. There was a gap in the market for well-designed, high-quality and affordable suitcases. The more she dug in the more evident it was that she and her team could take it on. Next thing she knew, the Carry-On was born.
A travel brand is born
But enough about the product (again, just ask Vincent if you have any questions). What intrigued me the most about Away’s success has been it’s ability to build a legitimate travel brand that has more to do with the people pulling the suitcase than the suitcase itself. Better yet, this started before the product was even in customers’ hands.
It happened because they were getting a ton of press but the product wasn’t ready yet. According to Rubio, Away had a few options to keep the buzz going until their first delivery dropped:
1. Start a Kickstarter.
2. Take pre-order sales.
3. Create a beautiful coffee table book filled with immaculately-curated photos of people traveling all over the world. Included in this book would be a $250 Away gift card for customers to use when the product arrived.
Guess which one they selected? #3, obviously. This set the foundation for a brand rooted in people’s experiences, not in its own products.
Rubio cautions that while social media has been a huge part of Away’s strategy, it ain’t everything. Not even close. In the retail space, companies put so much on Instagram that it all starts to look the same. Not only is the space saturated, but it changes all the time. If your company’s primary vehicle for brand awareness is product promotion on social, you could be in trouble. It’s just not a sustainable business model.
By firmly establishing a brand that puts people and experience before product, Away has been able to catapult itself into the hotel and travel space…and beyond.
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