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Editor’s Note: Entrepreneur’s “20 Questions” series features both established and up-and-coming entrepreneurs and asks them a number of questions about what makes them tick, their everyday success strategies and advice for aspiring founders.
It seems that lately, whenever you read about travel, it’s about all of the mishaps and headaches that impede people as they try to get from point A to point B. Just look at United and British Airways and you will understand why the skies look far from friendly.
Jen Rubio is on a mission to make traveling streamlined, smarter and simply more enjoyable. Rubio is the co-founder, president and creative director of suitcase maker Away.
“I think travel is an incredible, exciting thing,” says Rubio. “But there companies in the space, that whether its airlines or hotels or booking sites or luggage companies, they kind of take all the fun out of travel. We built Away to make travel a better experience.”
She launched the business with Steph Korey, the company’s CEO, in February of 2016. The pair met when they were hired as some of the earliest employees at Warby Parker, where Rubio was the head of social media.
“I love travel; it really came out of a personal pain point,” explains Rubio of the company’s beginnings. “I needed a new suitcase and there wasn’t anything out there that wasn’t crazy expensive, and the ones that were affordable weren’t great quality. I just wanted to make a suitcase that fit my needs and the needs of my friends.” Solving that problem has paid off.
Travelers can choose from four suitcase in six colors that range in size and price, with the smallest retailing for $225 and the biggest for $295. They are all made with interior compartments, sturdy, scratch resistant shells, and built-in USB chargers. Customers also get a 100-day trial period and a lifetime warranty.
After just a year in a half in business, the New York City-based company has made more than $20 million in sales, has build a team of 66 employees, sold over $100,000 suitcases, and is on track to turn a profit in 2017.
We caught up with Rubio to ask her 20 Questions and find out what makes her tick.
1. How do you start your day?
I meditate first thing. I then spend at least an hour thinking about big-picture strategies and catch up on emails before I do any meetings or into the office. It is really important for me to use those first few hours of my day to get aligned with what I need to focus on.
2. How do you end your day?
Before I go to bed I call someone I love, whether it’s my family or friends. I then think about the things I’m grateful for, from the day I just had. it’s an important habit I developed. It keeps me grounded and reminds me what’s important.
3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. It is a collection of Rilke’s correspondence to a young, aspiring artist and offers candid thoughts on what it means to be a creatives. It’s a little overwrought, but full of sage advice — every time I’ve read it, new pieces of advice jump out at me depending on what’s going on in my life and career.
4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I think it’s a great story about unconditional giving, but it’s also a good reminder to not be that selfish little boy.
5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?
My best advice is to keep your eye on the prize. I think if you always keep in mind the bigger thing you are working towards, it’s a good gauge to make sure that everything you’re doing is a step towards that goal. An inch toward the bigger goal can actually be a massive step forward. Whether your bigger goal is to IPO your company or you’re really focused on building a team, make sure everything you’re doing every day is in some way a step towards that. When those opportunities come up, take a step back and ask yourself if it is actually contributing to the brand you’re building.
6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
I thought I was going to be a lawyer, at least until I got to college. I liked to argue. That was what appealed to me.
7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
The worst boss I ever had taught me how important emotional intelligence is — mostly because he didn’t have any. It made me realize that you can be super smart, super driven and very accomplished but be a crappy boss if you don’t understand your emotional intelligence.
8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
My co-founder Steph has taught me a lot about discipline. Because she is so disciplined and operational, it has let me be so much more creative. But it also taught me to better harness my creativity and be more disciplined in the things that I’m doing.
9. What’s a trip that changed you?
I went to Antarctica in 2012. I was on boat, looking at this huge glacier, and it was the first time it really hit me that you can literally go anywhere in the world; it’s not just the places that are marketed to you. That was a big thing for me.
10. What inspires you?
All of my travels. All of my creativity and perspective comes from traveling, and the people I meet along the way.
11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
I had a lemonade stand when I was six or seven. My neighborhood down the street opened one, too. It was my first acquisition. I borrowed money from my dad to buy them out, and put my brother to work.
12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
When I was a teenager I had so many menial boring tasks to do, but I learned that no matter how boring the job is, you can make it fun. I also learned that I’m not above anything.
I remember I was working at a car dealership, had a pile of like 1,000 keys and had to sort them all. I remember the box of keys being dumped on my desk, and I thought how can I possibly do this. I just made a game out of it.
13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
Buy the ticket, take the ride. This has been my approach to things. Go with my gut and take whatever comes my way, especially if it’s a new experience.
14. What’s the worst piece of advice you ever got?
When people tell me to sleep on it, it never turns out well. I just end up questioning myself and not having any real conviction in my decision.
I’ve really learned how to read my instincts. Now that there is an entire company, I will look for the right data to validate my instincts. Sometimes my instincts are wrong, but now I know the right questions to ask to get there, instead of wasting away without trying to find more information.
15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
Walking breaks or doing calls while I’m walking. I can’t sit for a lot of hours. When I’m in the office and doing check-ins with the team, we do them outside or walk around the block. It just helps so much to get moving and clear your head.
16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track?
I’m a big Slack user. I always use the command-backslash-remind function. I use that 100 times a day to get Slack bots to remind me of things, whether it’s to call people or to reread certain messages or even make notes to myself.
17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
I used to think work-life balance meant a certain amount of hours allocated to work and to your personal life. But to me, work-life balance is about having a purpose and loving what you do. Sometimes weeks will go by and I will have only thought about work, but none of that time feels wasted because there is a purpose to what I’m doing. It’s not about the hours.
18. How do you prevent burnout?
Boxing really takes the aggression out. Even when I’m traveling, I try to box a few times a week.
I think more generally, being aware of the world around me. I’m passionate about Away and all the things we’re doing here, but having perspective and talking to friends about things that aren’t work is so important.
It’s easy to burn yourself out if you’re in a bubble of what you’re doing, and you’re not aware of the world around you. I used to think things were life and death, but I realized, we’re selling suitcases. We’re good at it and we love it but getting perspective is really important.
19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
Always being around other creative people. I’m not the kind of person that can lock myself in a room and start innovating and creating. As soon as I start talking about what I’m working on with someone else, that’s when the ideas kind of start flowing.
20. What are you learning now?
I’m taking Mandarin and reteaching myself to play the the piano. I’m doing these things to remind myself that you are never too old to be learning new things.