Most people look at inconvenient inventions, shrug, and say it is what it is. Steph Korey isn’t “most people.”
She used her intelligence and business savvy to develop a billion dollar company after her friend had a bad experience traveling. She and that friend worked together to fix the problem of broken luggage and revolutionized an industry that had been maintaining the status quo for far too long.
Let’s take a look at Steph Korey’s ingenuity and how she changed the face of luggage design.
Steph Korey: Her Entrepreneur Origin Story
Steph Korey was about to get her MBA from Columbia Business School. She’d already earned a B.A. in International Relations from Brown University. She had years of experience as the head of supply chain management for Warby Parker. She knew a thing or two about how to get things done and solve seemingly insurmountable problems.
So when her friend called her from the airport upset with broken luggage, she didn’t just go help her out. She decided she would fix the problem for everyone.
Korey said her friend “didn’t know whether to shell out a lot of money for high-quality luggage or to buy something else cheap that wouldn’t last.” The two started “talking about why there wasn’t an affordable, durable option on the market and wondered what it would take to make one.”
Three months later, they launched Away.
Steph Korey: Development and Launch
While it seems like magic that they developed a solution and launched a company in three months, it took a lot of hard work, research, and dedication.
Steph Korey and Jen Rubio got to work and interviewed 800 people about their habits when traveling. They wanted to know everything, starting from when they packed their bags. Korey said their goal was to “map out the whole experience to figure out the pain points.”
Through research, they discovered their consumers’ pain points. From there, they could work on solutions. The primary concern was the luggage’s weight. Travelers didn’t want to handle heavy luggage, or get a tacked-on fee for a bag that weighed too much. They also discovered that the first two things to break were zippers and wheels. So that’s where they devoted their attention.
The most interesting part of their research was the amount of people that mentioned their phone dying. People said they knew a suitcase couldn’t fix that issue, but they always had a problem of their phone losing charge while waiting at an airport. So Korey and Rubio decided they would fix it. They added a USB built-in battery and charging dock powerful enough to refill an iPhone charge 5 times.
Once they came up with the design, Korey flew to Asia with take-home tests in her bag; it was the last day of classes and she still had to finish her exams. She was on her way to meet manufacturers. She worked with two industrial designers and once they had a prototype, they went through durability testing. Korey describes it as essentially “throwing the suitcases out of a third-floor window over and over again.”
To keep costs down, they use the same concept as Warby Parker and Casper. In order to use excellent materials and provide them at an affordable price, you avoid retail mark-up by only offering the product online.
Steph Korey: Angel Investor
After the successful launch of Away, Forbes named her on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for Retail and ECommerce. She was also named EY Entrepreneur of the Year. Fast Company named Away as one of the “World’s Most Innovative Companies” twice.
After founding the $1.4 billion company, Korey acted as CEO from 2015 to 2020. She still serves on the board of directors.
However, she’s pivoted her attention to angel investing.
Korey says she found that “talent is universally distributed but opportunity isn’t.” She aims to invest in companies founded by talented entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds. It’s exciting to see such a successful woman investing in others at an early stage of their innovative companies.
Author, Artist, Photographer.
Sarah Margaret is an artist who expresses her love for feminism, equality, and justice through a variety of mediums: photography, filmmaking, poetry, illustration, song, acting, and of course, writing.
She owns Still Poetry Photography, a company that showcases her passion for capturing poetic moments in time. Instead of poetry in motion, she captures visual poetry in fractions of a second, making cherished keepsakes of unforgettable moments.
She is the artist behind the Still Poetry Etsy shop, which houses her illustrations and bespoke, handmade items. She is the author of intricacies are just cracks in the wall, a narrative poetry anthology that follows a young woman discovering herself as she emerges from an abusive relationship.