"When you learn how to navigate a cofounder relationship, you become better at every relationship." - Jen Rubio on mastering communication in a work partnership
Today's skimmed from the couch is presented by a._c. Hotels by mary it. It's a global hotel brand. That's dedicated to perfecting the essentials when you learn how to navigate a co-founder relationship generally thank you become better better at every relationship. I'm like a better friend. I'm better fiance. I'm like better with my family. I'm carly's aken i'm danielle weisberg iceberg welcome to skim from the couch. This podcast is where we go deep on career advice from women who have lifted from the good stuff like hiring and growing a team to the rough stuff like negotiating associating your salary and giving or getting hard feedback. We started the skin from a couch so what better place to talk it all out than where it began on a couch. John rubio is the co founder of away be suitcases and brand so you see absolutely everywhere we love them. We use them. We have tried them in every single travel situation and they do not disappoint jan. I and her co founder stephanie corey started away in twenty fifteen raising thirty one million in seed financing making away. One of the highest funded female back startups. They performed the amazing feat of securing twelve hundred orders before they even had a prototype in hand in the three short years since then they have scaled their business to travel empire that is currently valued at over one point four billion. It's no wonder that was stats like this. They've been recognized. Cnn is by fast company as one of the top most innovative companies and have been featured on the forbes thirty under thirty list <hes> jen. We are so excited to have you here her and have this conversation thank you. I'm so happy to be here so jen. Welcome to the couch and let's get into it. Let's do it all right. Skim your resume for for us okay so it is all over the place. I don't know if i would have hired myself but i started out <hes> doing supply chain for a big c._p._g. Company then went to tweeting for taco trucks <hes> i was at an a digital agency working for big brands and they did social media for for an ira started up and retail innovation for like a traditional fashion retailer and now we're here away so i know none of that makes makes a lotta sense but it it. It got me to where i am now. Was there a common thread. When you think about all of the experiences that you've had yeah i love the idea of a common thread right because in hindsight you can find one after i kind of left the logistics and supply chain world the common thread was i wanted to do things that connected to people so it was really fascinated by how people interacted with brands by their those brands or products are restaurants. I was really fascinated with how to reach people in new ways. What is not on your linked in profile that we should know about you. <hes> actually a lot so you know to make a lot of those careers which jazz <hes> i had to kind of do other things on the side so at one point i was a personal assistant to a big hollywood director under personal assistant i was i was very good which is very high standards for personal assistant and actually that almost led into me working on a film so this gone and it's only different direction <hes> yeah i had a i had a lot of like weird jobs and jobs that didn't pan out like after after <hes> after i left all saints right before starting away. I actually headed three month stint as a c._m._o. Fruit juice company which was really bad at cal well and that's why you don't know about it just a casual c._m._o. Interim seattle did you always want to be an entrepreneur no not at all and and i have to think staff my co-founder for guiding me into that because it was one of those things where i called her and i was like there's such an opportunity here <hes> there's no great luggage brands grads. There's no no one even really talking about travel the way i think they should be and she was like well. Why don't we do it and that that little thing at the end like never occurred to me. It was just like let me just vent to her. So what what does your day like. What is the typical day for. There's no typical day. I've been been very intentional over the last year about getting to the place. I am today where my day consists less of actually doing the work more spending time with the people to guide the work that they're doing <hes> and that's really really hard for me. Like a way is kabibi. We <hes> we just started. You know it feels like <hes> but now we're in the place and at a size where if i'm the the one doing the work it's probably not very good so i spent a lot of my time with my direct report just like talking about the vision for the company the vision for what they're doing and like really really empowering them to make their decisions <hes> which is really rewarding but i think when things are tough can what makes me feel really helpless so i wanna go back to kind of the curiosity in you because <hes> i think we both started smiling when you talked about side hustles because we're we're big proponents of that i i it's clear that curiosity has kind of been the connective tissue for you throughout your career. We had to choose one and i wanna talk about the transition of how you left sort of corporate route retail to turning. What was you know frustration around what you weren't seeing in the marketplace to obviously the launching point of away so we're gonna go back to the aha moment <hes> first of all. How did you meet staff just kind of walk us through that while steph actually work together at where parker i was the eyewear yeah exactly the unnamed irons i wear startup clutch hurry whereas actually great because she was my work doc wife at worby and we we actually didn't work together on projects which i think is how we establish a friendship you know she was wanna coffees with and got lunch with and went to happy hour with but i also was in meetings with her and like we understood how each other worked and we understood each other's work ethic and what was important to us and we also kinda got trained at the same place so we had the same context going into this and i can't tell you how important that was. It just made it so easy to decide to start the company company together because there was none of that lake getting to know each other to clara's. There's always like oh. That's that's how slowly respond to emails that this but she knew that about me going. You know <hes> and i knew how fast she was. This is a perfect match but i think <hes> having worked together for a few years really helped and <hes> we kind of had no doubts going into it so i want to go back to the partnership part it because obviously the it hits close to home for us but just talk about the idea like how what happened that you were like no one's really doing interesting and travel to this is a really good idea. Yes <hes> so i was in an airport. <hes> i was in between jobs is traveling trying to figure out actually what job i was going to take next and my luggage breaks in the middle of the airport. Are you going <hes>. I was in zurich heading back to london rose still living at the time <hes> think of the end of the trip and it was kind of like this very like cartoony dramatic. I guess the zipper had slowly started ripping apart as i was walking and i turn around and there's a trail of like underwear on so i was like not only do go back and pick up all your stuff so i have this broken bag and i'm asking my friends for suggestions on what bag i should get. You know all my very well traveled france who obviously bring a bag with them. Every time they travel. No-one had a suggestion like half the people. I didn't even know what brand they use found really really <hes> interesting given the nature of the people that i was asking so <hes> it got me thinking about why there wasn't one prevalent recommendation and really dug into the industry a little more super fragmented. There's no brand love. It's like something you need had been totally commodities but i think what got me site is that obviously there's a huge opportunity to talk about travel experiences and the places you're going and all of these things passionate about an nobody in luggage was is doing that like every luggage company that existed was talking about what the nylon was made out over. You know the wheels zippers and the just wasn't interesting interesting. It's been such a short amount of time from. It seemed like when you had that too where you guys are today <hes>. Did you think think about testing the idea did you when we talk about like those twelve hundred orders that you secured before it even really was at market <hes> how did you. I know that this wasn't just a flash in the pan idea but that you could actually build a huge business off this. <hes> i mean i could have been just a flash in the pan. We didn't know until until it wasn't but i think we went into this feeling really confident for a few reasons. I think a lot of people think when you're designing a product starting company you're kind of like two people at a table being like what should it be. We were like we have no idea to really get this right. We we really believe that. You have to go the customers. We obviously didn't have any so we started like survey every single person. We knew we have friends of friends. <hes> stuff was in business school. She would like walk around columbia with like surveys and stuff and we basically just talk to i think eight hundred people to figure out what they need in a bag or and we even went beyond that as people like with their travel pain points were her <hes> and one of them at the time it's less so now was that people could never let people's phones rose diag and couldn't find where to plug it in which is why <hes> original bags like had the battery inside and it was just learned a lot about people needed and what they actually were willing to pay for so by the time we actually developed the product ought. We were really confident that it was meeting the needs and that it was better than anything else out. There versus like an idea that the two of us had i wanna talk about my favorite part part of the away bag. Which is the jail side. Hustle is a spokesperson for away visa travel laundry bag because i still say that <hes> ah yeah. I love that you say that so so big about this. I got a lot obviously for people who've never heard of away. They're like well. What's so special about it and in in some ways. I'm like the world's worst market because i'm just like it's just luggage but like but you'll see because i'm just so yeah it was very because we were so thoughtful in designing it. There wasn't like one gimmicky thing that that's like easy to talk about but what i love about our products is that if you have ten different people in a room mm-hmm who love their way bags you'll get ten different answers on what their favorite thing is about it and i address marking team crazy because never gonna advertised ties laundry by putting that on even know what was their delight factor and that was something we didn't. We didn't thank of like i sure but if you think about it everyone like seasonal hotel you you end up with dirty clothes. I would always feel like the hotel on everybody. Let's yeah <hes> and we're like oh. This is something we can build it and it becomes like a delightful will detail and i think that's kind of the same thought that we put into every single product that we make we have this everywhere bag that fits perfectly on top of the suitcase <hes> somebody wrote in the other day with the most passionate email about how the justice covered the umbrella pocket. There's an umbrella on on the bottom wait. What if you there's little zipper on this little hidden zipper on the side yeah. It's like a a wet bag like umbrella pocket it yeah i put like i just thought flip flops in there. I i need to work. We'll get back to that in a minute but first. Let's talk about something that every guest on this show deals with including us and and that's traveling for business we calculated we are on like twenty three flights a different hotel every night for the month of june on and it was amazing book tour so happy we did it. One of the biggest takeaways is learning about what helps on the road and a great eight hotel is like the only thing we wanted at the end of the day and we found that with a._c. Hotels by mariot <unk> hotels they really built the hotel with designer's eye so every hotel is equal parts just really beautiful to look at seriously look at their instagram but also functional everything from the guest rooms to the lobby to their lounge are designed assigned to know what you need before you need it. It's intuitive which is really really helpful in the u._s. A._b._c. hotels has over forty five locations and cultural hubs with plans to double that not to mention their global expansion so visit a._c. Hotels a._c. Hotels dot marietta dot com to learn more okay. I want to go back to your story. I want to talk about the co founder stuff. How did you guys decide. Who does what it's one thing to have like. You're my wife and i really like brainstorming with you and i like getting coffee with you going to happy hour versus willing to put everything on the line in now you're my business partner and i say that because we have done that we know how intense that is and that it is a marriage in a way and you have a pre-nup in a way and you have all the that stuff so i always fascinated. I stated talking to other. People and other co founder relationships yeah well. It's actually really funny because i <hes> i wrote staff kind kind of a love letter before we really decided to do this being a level at her rouse nationally not it's never too late <hes> now. There's just love notes everywhere but i basically was like here's why i think it makes sense like all the things we just talked about but it's also it was like we're friendly but not too close we were. We fully jeopardizing anything. You know what i mean. We're like we were. We're friendly enough to be friends and enjoy each each other's company but also not so friendly that it would be hard to have tough conversations like the little things like that. <hes> you asked why how we kind of split the things up. I mean for us. It was so obvious. I have everything i'm good at steph. What does it like to. I'm i'm that <hes> confused right brain left brain and the more creative right brain via right brain and she's like the more analytical and <hes> it was actually so obvious list that when we kind of rolled out on post. It's like everything we needed to do to start the company. I was like oh this this this. This is what i'm good at. I've experienced in this and she did the same thing and we ended up with exactly the same amount of posted somewhere and there is not a single posted that we both tried to grab that i love like so i mean obviously our roles have evolved change has the company has grown but it's always been really obvious and i think because of that. We have a really special partnership because as if you know somebody is very good at and focused on the stuff that you're not it. Lets you be really really good at what you're good at <hes> you you know and it's not like we're not capable i can. I can do the things excess doing but can't do that well and for me to to have to kind of focus. My energy genre like wouldn't be that productive. I give that advice a lot because i see a lot of co founder pairs. You know they may be mad at work doing the same. I'm exact bay and what they run into a bunch of stuff that nobody wants to do. It's interesting because we are sort of that but like we've figured out how to navigate. That's that's like. We have the same skill set and background on paper. We you know we had the same vocational training. If we had done the posted game we would have grabbed the same ones by we've we've always like divided and conquered and we're very eager to hire around the areas that were not strung out which for us worthy more financial and analytical parts <hes> <hes> and so it's interesting because i actually totally agree with what you're saying but for whatever reason we were able to navigate it but if i was giving somebody advice i would go with saying yeah i mean it's been amazing that you've been able to successfully navigate that because i also think that <hes> you guys obviously have a good enough relationship or you can have that conversation and a lot of people daunte and it really is like marriage and <hes> we we do couples therapy and when i say that it's executive coaching surly. Actually i am a huge proponent of couples therapy and my fiance started going to couples therapy like when we first started dating and he was like this is so so weird like no no trust me. If things get really good like you'll be happy. Things got really bad then. We'll already have a therapist. Nobody's actually just been so that with <hes> with with staff. We have inexact coach. She sees each of us individually and then <hes> like every few months. You'll see both of us together. <hes> and we also <music> gave her permission to like no in case like he does he have to communicate and it's been amazing when you learn how to navigate a co-founder relationship a generally thank you become better at every relationship. I'm like better friend. I'm a better fiance. It's a training ground for all of the other big relationships. One thing i've been dying to ask you is how you get the name in the copyright for away. It was truly a gift from marketing. God's people ask how we came up with the name away and i'm like what so obvious aways like the perfect name that she please hold her name that we were using we had like shared <hes> google and in all caps away we'd never really talked about it and then when the time has come to register. The company got trademarks stuff. She was like okay well. I guess we have to to come up with a name and i'm like no. What do you mean like this and she was like yep. No we can't we can't get the trailer for that. I'm like we'll just ask she's like i don't thank you how much lawyers cost but shirl ask them and the lawyers literally laughed at us and <hes> we're like please just check and they came back a week later and they were like <hes> somehow away is available like these nineteen countries. Can your category the <hes> so go for it. Oh my god. Let's talk about marketing god's marketing. You scaled this business into an empire. It's it's amazing even just taking step out of just the travel category what it means for female entrepreneurs founders what it means just in the investment world is extraordinary. You also are known as one of the most innovative companies and the way that you launched was incredibly innovative data and really leaned in to influence our marketing and social which again think about this was just a few years ago. It was a different climate then so these are kind of things we take for granted right now on who how did you figure out how to launch. How did you figure out how to build buzz before you had product and the first product was a book right. Yes so i'll get into that. I got this question a lot and i get this question a lot from companies that i've now invest in. It's like i don't know how to launch a company today. Hey i knew how to launch a company then but i think that goes back to the question no matter when you're launching a company of how do you get people to talk about it. I don't have like some secret. Powerpoint dak cures how to launch a company and make it successful. It's like who's your audience how they find out about you. And how do you make it something that people wanna talk about and that's really been ingrained in us from the beginning. We were like everything that this company does has to be interesting and exciting enough for someone to like wanna tell her friend over drinks. That's a hi bar. You know no one's going to talk about your like influenced sir marketing launch <hes> so we kind of looked at it through that lens which means that we kind of avoided paid media in the beginning we were just like people talk about our brand our story and our product when it comes out <hes> and one of the things that happened was that our product got delayed and we had like kind of been setting ourselves up for a big <hes> a big push before holiday. It's an amazing time orange company <hes> we were trying to kill these gift guides and when we found out the product wasn't going to be ready. Steph locks me in a room and she's like okay. What are we again. Do instead and i was like what do you mean. Are we just going to delay the launch and she's like we can't delay the launch and we also just made up these shelves like and i think that's a thing we were just very like. You're ready really ready to do it pushes. Will we just had these crazy ideas of how we needed to do it and no one to tell us that it was wrong. <hes> <hes> so we're like okay well. Why don't we write a book. Read up what garcia actually much around do publish. This was august like end of august. It was like today's before. I was going to go to burning man. I don't know how she still let me go. <hes> and i was like i got this and i called my friend alexis. Excuse an incredible writer. She was like reading tea magazine. I'd met her a few jobs ago. How can you help us write a book and i gave her list of like forty. The people that i thought were cool and influential and like taste makers and is just <hes> just interview them about their favorite replaced travel and she does all these many interviews and it's like an as told to book. We had no money and like no. I didn't even know about that photo right yeah so we're like what are we going to do do and so we asked ever took literally. Send us their vacation photos again. Everyone who was just like kind of did a severe <hes> but now there's like there was this amazing saying like hard bound book with beautiful photos like martha called the places he returned to and it came in this like little gift box for the door like we just like the experience he ends and inside the book. There is a gift card for two hundred twenty five dollars which is the price of the carry on when <hes> it would eventually launch. Thank you know what there is. No reason we couldn't have delayed the launch but like in our heads. We're like we're gonna launch this year and sometimes. I think it's nice to kind of. Put these like weird. Fake deadlines on yourself. Did you read feature anyone in the book that you didn't know and had to reach out to cold yeah definitely like i i would say we knew half the people in the book and then we what we actually did is for everyone. We interviewed viewed. We're like who's one person that you can introduce us too. I'm sure you've got asked us all the time of people who are thinking about starting their own company and they're thinking about different marketing tactics ex <hes> obviously one of the challenges in in starting companies building on a network so if you don't have friends who happen to have businesses or could be the influencers what what were the strategies that kind of helped you develop that influence or network yeah. I mean that it's a great question. I think that if you can start with just one and i think whether it's a cold email or your best friend y- there's one person that you can start with the kind of kick things off and i think you you know despite everything people really are willing to help and if you ask that one person to reduce you to one other person i mean so much of a of what we've done is is based on like referrals and friends telling friends and like the power storytelling connections and all of that so if you get that first person to talk about your product like ask them to to tell someone else or asked them to introduce you. I think that's a really easy way for someone who doesn't already have that built in network. You know to to create one. We talk doc a lot about brandon storytelling. The product really is at the center of it. We sat down on day and we're like okay once. We run out of friends to buy our luggage like how are we actually again do this so that the products really has to be at the heart of it and if what you're doing is that good like it will continue to grow beyond ah beyond you just reaching out you know so we're talking about marketing god's. There's obviously because gave you away you. Also are an early adopter personally a to a lot of the social platforms were able to get handles literally with just your name which a common name for comment and so i i mean it makes me smile. When i look at your twitter. It's like at jennifer. It's crazy that you've got that not all. It's cracked up to be every time i like notifications every time talk to jennifer lawrence o. Jennifer lopez like wings has died aged. Everyone is there are so many famous like how did you get that. That's insane so twitter's fine because i was just i was at south. Stop by south west of two thousand seven and everyone was talking about it. Was i think when they launchers vowels may i that was like cheryl sign up china for <hes> and they actually didn't start using it like two years later finally signed up because i was there yeah. Everyone's talking about it. <hes> thanks same thing with instagram. It's funny. Somebody asked me what my biggest accomplishment was at worby parker and i was like oh i signed up for instagram. Why is like no you don't understand to make a business case and there was no business case for it but i wanna know what it is like for you. When you travel personally early and you're walking through an airport and you look around and everyone around you has the product that you create it and it never gets old but here's the thing this this is the the entrepreneur and me i had never look about and say oh wow everyone has it. I look around. I'm like wow. There's so many people that don't have you know and i think it's probably the same for you guys where it's like yup. There's millions of people who read this and then you think about the million people who don't read and i think that's like a fish like a mindset that comes when you start a company like there's always more to do you and it is really fine and it's been a specialty fund the last couple of months because we're on the cover of ink and they're like where do you see magazines in their ports. It was amazing like a few times this mime. I'd walked past like a new stat and there'd be someone with an away bag in front of the house. How's your perfect also when you travel and they make the announcement about the batteries in luggage make you cringe. It doesn't really happen that much anymore and there was this weird phase where it was like a round holiday like twenty seventeen beginning twenty eighteen and and there's a silver lining to everything right so there's all these smart bags not anymore. We got lumped into that category because some of our bags did have the batteries and our batteries have always been removable so they've always like abide by the rules but there's something that happens when you're like a first mover in the space and you're like the most well known brand where gate agents would be like if you have an away the brand awareness credited like will this is kind of amazing because we're like like a one year old company and they're calling us by name but also the co founder me was like this really sucks. It's horrible <hes> but yeah i mean. I think it's fine. I think that was something that was like for sure. Maker break be made a lot of decisions when the battery band came that i actually think gave us more momentum because of how how we handled it with our customers with airlines i think now once in a while when <hes> when people say you know if your bag has a battery of take it out and like i all see people at the gate being like oh yeah just pops right outlook educating other memo about it and like basically during our marketing vats that's amazing so we're going to mature our last segment which is our favorite and it's called the lightning round. It's very difficult. I know you have to answer as quickly as you can. Dan and we're going to run through some questions. Okay first job reception. Is that a car dealership worst job. I worked in a dining room at a retirement. I'm at home. Oh yes what's the worst professional mistake you've ever made some very aim for an emails that i did not respond to the kevin great opportunities but i didn't know it didn't respond to them for like a year later just because you let your inbox get follower yeah. I'm just really really bad at that so we don't have this on the list today but i'm gonna say your inbox zero person. I'm not either now i. I'm a big fan of <hes> inbox bankruptcy zero like what you're you're my inbox soulmate asa lead at all like you know what if i had responded three months followed adop- i'm just going to start over and i always think i'm going to start fresh and be an inbox zero person but now that doesn't work <hes> that gives me. It's like this is staff inbox foxborough so yes. Everyone knows that was crazy. I think we're very smart. I strong call and you get good news my fiance what about bad news also him to get nervous when you fly no no. What color is your away luggage. You know it's funny. I should've just have an answer for this but i try all of our new products. I literally don't <music> own a bag. I'm taking stuff from the closet which drives the team crazy. If you get three sixty feedback what is the theme of your critical feedback like what are you receive sore subject or just out mine pack <hes> that i could would be better at giving feedback. Do you know what i mean. Yeah like i just <hes>. I expect everyone to know what i'm thinking yeah without actually communicating it so i'm working on it guys. <hes> what's your favorite place to return to a british columbia. I have a little like surf shack in two pheno vancouver island the best place whereas awesome <hes> who's your mentor. <hes> is a cheesy to staff know that amazing using answer. Why do you say things saving. Write me a letter of what would steph do. When was the last time you negotiated for yourself off every day. When you're co-founder you basically are your negotiator nurse salesperson and if someone had told me that in the beginning i wouldn't have done it but like you just spend your whole day like selling and negotiating by their you're trying to recruit someone or you're like trying to sell partnership. You're doing anything it's <hes>. That's a whole job with what's the destination. You haven't been to yet that you want to go to <hes> really wanna go to namibia. I've heard exp- beautiful last question <unk>. At what is your shameless plug. What's coming up with a way we should know about. You know. There's not enough time for all the stuff i'm excited about but <hes> i'm a big meeting. I have right after this is redoing our first review of our apparel collection. Oh and i'm super excited about this because this is just the first step in like kind of creating all of the things you need for your journey and there's it's like it just kind of answers that age old question like what are you were on the plane on the train on the road trip so that you don't have to wear athlete is feel good and look good impact so we're really really sad about that and for me personally. I'm excited about it because it gets me back to the building and creating read in part which is which is what i love what i'm better at jan bean you congratulations amazing. We love watching it. Thank you guys so much. Thanks for hanging out with us. Join us next week for another episode of skin from the couch and if you can't wait wait until then subscribed to our daily email newsletter that gives you all the important news and information. You need to start your day sign about the skim dot com. That's the s. k. i. M. m. dot com to 'em spur a little something extra.