Jen Rubio, the founder of Away luggage, is one of those business powerhouses that everyone wants to know: how did she do it? That’s exactly why we asked her to be on of the founding members of the Girlboss professional network. We knew her insight and advice would be invaluable to our thousands of ambitious members, looking to define success on their own terms, but looking for a little guidance along the way.
And as of just a few months ago, Away has officially been valued at $1.4 billion, according to Forbes. In an exclusive Digital Fireside on Girlboss, Jen shares how she built her dream company, the ways she sustained her vision from the beginning, and the inarguable power of community.
1. Let your passion have a trickle-down effect through your company
“Travel influences everything I do. My belief that travel sparks more meaningful human connections and changes your understanding of the world around you, means that the Away brand and culture is built on a foundation of thoughtfulness, openness, and being people-obsessed. I hope that comes through in everything we do, from the products we design to how we speak with our customers!”
2. Take stress as an opportunity remind yourself ~who you are~
“Stress is inevitable in any role, but I think you can either let it block you from feeling creative and productive, or lean into it and tackle it head on. I know that I’m fully responsible for the energy with which I handle things that come my way, and that I’m totally in control of that energy. So if I feel stressed or anxious, I reframe my thinking to acknowledge that, yes, I have a lot of shit going on, but that I owe it to myself (not others!) to get it done *well*. And then tactically, I break even the biggest projects down into a lot of tiny tasks.”
“If I feel stressed or anxious, I reframe my thinking to acknowledge that, yes, I have a lot of sh*t going on, but I owe it to myself (not others!) to get it done *well*.”
3. Be strategic, but also have faith
“All your ‘career’ is, is a summary of big and small decisions you’ve made in the context of work. Because my path has been so non-linear, it sometimes looks like every move I made was me ‘taking the plunge,’ but I was honestly just following my curiosity (paired with what I’m good at) and that overshadowed any of the fear involved with switching jobs, industries, etc. I started Away because I wanted to build a beloved brand that emotionally resonated with customers, and I wanted to do it on my own terms. To be honest, though, I’ve never felt 100% sure that any of these decisions would pan out, but I’ve always had comfort in knowing that I can follow my gut, mess up a little along the way, and then course-correct as needed.”
4. Never underestimate the power of a good story
“So much of what consumers are looking for today is a connection with the brand. If they just wanted a candle, they’d buy it on Amazon. What makes your story unique? Is one of the scents inspired by a place you love? Does one candle always transform you back to a memory that gives you a deep sense of calm, even amidst the most stressful of days? What about your candles gets *you* excited—that’s what will get other people excited about them, too.”
“I’ve always had comfort in knowing that I can follow my gut, mess up a little along the way, and then course-correct as needed.”
5. Respond to rejection with curiosity
“If you’re running into the ‘this is too early for us’ response from investors, refocus on actually getting a bit further along. This doesn’t necessarily mean post-launch traction or financial success, though. Focus your time talking to two groups: 1.) Fellow entrepreneurs, in your industry or otherwise, who you’re inspired by and who can give you a fresh perspective based on what worked for them, not just for fundraising, but for building your idea, and 2.) People who you think your business is truly going to help (your future customers): What do they want? What problem can you uniquely solve for them? This’ll make future conversations with potential investors even more meaningful, and give them conviction that you know enough about the problem you’re trying to tackle to execute it well.”
6. Take your money goals seriously
“How quickly do you want to scale? Are you willing to take on capital knowing that venture capital investors will be looking for outsize returns? For Steph and I, the support of VC’s meant that we could grow the business in the way (and at the pace) we wanted to, but it’s not for everyone. If you have an idea you’re passionate about but aren’t necessarily aiming to make it a billion dollar business, there are lots of other ways to fund your company: bootstrapping, crowdfunding, angel investors, lines of credit, and more.”
“If you have an idea you’re passionate about but aren’t necessarily aiming to make it a billion dollar business, there are lots of other ways to fund your company.”
7. Focus on: PR, relationship-building, and creating good product
“The actual tactics from what we did in 2016 might be outdated, but the principle remains the same: your brand is what *other people* say about you. We focused on influential friends, press, early customer word of mouth, and *other people’s* social media to get the word out about us. In an age where hundreds/thousands of brands launch every day, it’s not just enough to shout your company’s story from the rooftops—people will believe it when they hear it from others they trust. The earliest things we invested in weren’t paid ads, but 1.) a PR agency, 2.) the time/energy to build relationships for other people to be able to tell our story for us, and 3.) in creating things that we knew people would talk about.”
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