Women in Business Q&A: Jen Rubio and Steph Korey, Founders, Away

Women in Business Q&A: Jen Rubio and Steph Korey, Founders, Away
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Jen Rubio and Steph Korey/Away

Jen Rubio and Steph Korey established premium travel brand Away to design and make products with the needs of the modern traveler in mind. Jen previously served as the Head of Social Media at Warby Parker, spearheading content and partnership efforts before becoming Global Director of Innovation at fashion powerhouse AllSaints. Steph was the Head of Supply Chain at Warby Parker, where she was responsible for building and leading the team in product development, manufacturing and fulfillment before consulting on supply chain and merchandise strategy with Casper.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
J: I have a deep-seeded love for the world and my constantly changing place in it. I've lived in 7 cities on 3 continents and from a young age it was ingrained in me that to go anywhere in the world was a journey to be appreciated, and more importantly, to be taken. This has made me more adaptable, open to new ideas, constantly seeking diversity in ideas and ways of thinking, and has shaped the way we think and talk about travel at Away.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Away?
S: My time at Warby Parker and Casper allowed me to experience first hand how new companies can innovate in big and small ways to transform an entire dated industry. At both companies I led supply chain, which is a key area of the new direct-to-consumer e-commerce movement, essentially that through vertical integration and cutting out the middlemen you can deliver unprecedented consumer experiences and value that are much more compelling than the status quo.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Away?
S: The biggest highlight has been growing the team, we've gone from two to fifteen in less than a year, and it's been really magical watching what a group of smart, innovative people can accomplish when they put their minds together. The biggest challenge has been the exact same thing -- growing the team -- because there is so much that is constantly new, it takes a lot of careful planning to make sure the right infrastructure and values are in place to facilitate team growth that's productive and fun and not hectic.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
S: My best advice for someone who wants to work in the startup space is that heart, hard work, and flexibility will be the keys to your success. In startups, you're going up against the odds, and you need that passion and work ethic to really take on an industry. And flexibility because needs and realities constantly change, and if you're very rigid in how you approach your work, you won't be able to keep up.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
S: Doing the right thing is never ambiguous. Whether it's speaking up when you see something that seems off, looking for every opportunity to accept accountability, or going out of your way to help a colleague out, it is always good for business to vigorously seek out the right thing.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
J: I try to own at least the first 2 hours of every day -- whether it's meditating and working out or planning initiatives and catching up on emails, I do it at my pace, sans push notifications and distractions, and in whatever environment I feel most productive and creative in. I'm an early bird now and am up at sunrise, but these 2 hours can also happen in the middle or at the end of the day and be equally balancing.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
J: I've been extremely fortunate to have been able to work for people who have created a work environment predominantly free of these issues -- where they've treated every employee based on their contribution, not gender. However, I know that's not the case for all women in the workplace and issues like double standards, wage gaps, and unfair treatment are abundant. My advice for women in those positions today is to take opportunities -- even if you feel you're not quite ready -- and know how to articulate your value. You can accomplish anything through passion and hard work; it just takes a little confidence.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
J: Being both a mentor and mentee reminds me of two important things: (1) that it's important to be a good listener and to be vulnerable, and (2) that success and leadership isn't a linear path. Being on both sides of the table has also forced me to find ways to clearly communicate a situation and my assessment of it, which can bring out solutions that don't exist when internalizing things.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
J: I've always looked at strong, fearless leaders like Angela Ahrendts and Shonda Rimes as far-off examples of women I admire, but my day-to-day inspiration comes from the women close to me who teach me how to be a better and more compassionate leader everyday: Steph Korey (my co-founder at Away), Nina Faulhaber (co-founder of ADAY), Kate Unsworth (founder of VINAYA), Avery Bang (CEO of Bridges of Prosperity), Jaclyn Johnson (founder of Create & Cultivate), Farryn Weiner (VP of Marketing at Sweetgreen), and Tyler Haney (founder of Outdoor Voices). I'm so fortunate to be close to so many admirable women entrepreneurs.

What do you want Away to accomplish in the next year?
S: Ultimately, our mission at Away is to make travel as seamless and joyful as possible. We believe that travel has the ability to enhance your life and make the world a better place through new experiences and cultural understanding, and we want to do what we can to minimize the parts that can be frustrating so that our customers can focus on the great parts. In the next year, we're looking forward to continuing to build out our travel product offering and continuing to empower more and more travelers to explore the world more seamlessly.

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