When luggage startup Away reached a valuation of $1.4 billion yesterday, it was a big win for founders Steph Korey and Jen Rubio. The duo, both 31 and alumni of Warby Parker, each now have a stake in the fast-growing business worth some $140 million. At that level, the two are now worth watching for Forbes’ Self-Made Women list, which profiles the country’s wealthiest self-made women. “That’s cool,” Korey said.
Forbes profiled Korey and Rubio last fall after New York City-based Away made Forbes’ 2018 Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. At the time, the company was on track to do $150 million in revenue for 2018, and was valued at $700 million. “The valuation doubling is not too complicated,” Korey said. “The business doubled.”
Away is now on track to reach $300 million in revenue for 2019. It turned profitable in 2017, a year after it launched its first product.
Korey and Rubio, alumni of Warby Parker, had founded the company in 2015 with stylish luggage that cost less than existing brands. Their first product, a four-roller hard-shell bag that can be squeezed into an overhead rack came in ten colors and cost $225, including standard shipping in the U.S.; a similar item from Tumi cost $525. Part of their success was due to an online sales strategy that included 1,000 influencers pushing their brand on Instagram.
With the new cash, which brings its total equity funding to $156 million, Away intends to roll out 50 new stores worldwide over the next three years, a big increase from its current base of seven retail locations. It also plans to expand globally, including in Asia, and launch new products, building off the idea Korey and Rubio had long had of being a travel company not just a luggage one. They’re eyeing categories that include wellness, skincare and travel apparel, though none of these brand extensions will hit the market till 2020. “We’re not fast fashion, we’re not fast products,” Korey said.
As for the unusual marriage proposal on Twitter to Rubio from Slack cofounder and CEO Stewart Butterfield that grabbed the attention of the online world yesterday evening, it’s not for real though the two are a couple. “It was just a joke,” Rubio said. “Steph and I were at dinner having a big laugh while everyone is freaking out….He’s very supportive and has a weird sense of humor.”
Away is the fourth company from last year’s Forbes’ Next Billion-Dollar Startups list to reach unicorn status. Earlier this year, Lemonade, KeepTruckin and Coursera all crossed the billion-dollar threshold. Away’s success comes at a time when the luggage market, which may be as large as $35 billion globally, has been in flux as companies scramble to sell direct to consumers amid consolidation.
“When we spoke in the fall about being a billion-dollar brand, I probably deflected it thinking it was so far off in the future,” said Rubio, who came up with the idea for the company after her old suitcase broke while rushing through the Zurich airport. “Our ambitions have really scaled with the business.”
For more on Away, see our magazine story, “Next Billion-Dollar Startups: How Two Young Entrepreneurs Used Relentless Online Marketing To Build Away Into A $700M Luggage Brand.”