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Away’s former CEO is returning as its co-chief (www.nytimes.com)
131 points by sarthakjshetty 5 months ago | hide | past | web | 135 comments | favorite

Reading between the lines of the Verge piece, I got the impression that weird abusive behaviour aside, she just wasn't very good at managing her company. They seemed to have chronic supply problems that she didn't seem to have any idea how to fix beyond yelling at her customer outreach staff. And when her customer outreach people kept getting behind, she tried to con them into working extra till they started quitting or complaining to Verge, instead of just, like, hiring 3 more people

This was my read too, which is mostly why I'm completely incredulous that people actually defended her. She clearly is doing a poor job managing her supply chain, and ultimately giving her support staff the yeoman's task of preventing operational shortcomings from destroying the company's reputation with customers, while chronically understaffing a division that clearly needs to be twice as large as its clearly being used as a "hack" to compensate for other organizational deficiencies.

If your entire organization is riding on the backs of a bunch of over-worked, underpaid staff... hooo booy buckle up Verge stories are the least of your worries.

Sadly, this seems to be common with many startups in terms of treating the support + success team like garbage. Which is so short sighted because they tend to be the teams that many customers have their only interactions with at the company.

> They seemed to have chronic supply problems This is absurd as both Co-CEOs(Jen Rubio and Steph Korey) come from supply chain backgrounds, so they should at bare minimum get the supply chain right. Would never spend a dollar with them, treat your workers like humans, not trash.

I've worked with people like the one The Verge paints Korey to be. The fact that she quit and then came back points more to The Verge's reporting to be accurate - this kind of personality can usually never accept the mistakes they've made and just doubles down in the future in an attempt to prove they were right.

Oh but the article claims she's done some "soul searching", when in fact, I think they meant she's found all the souls she sucked the life out of.

why is coming back a failure to accept they made mistakes?

Looks like it’s more of a PR duck your head for a while until things cool down vs. external pressure and internal acceptance of bad behavior that led to them stepping down.

“The members of Away’s board say they feel as if they fell victim to management by Twitter mob.”

This statement speaks volumes about the efficacy of board governance.

It’s also just factually incorrect.

Her problems were created by the detailed investigative reporting of an establishment media outlet.

The issue raised by the reporting spoke directly to her abilities as a manager. It wasn’t a scandal about her dating life or standup comedy routines she did in college.

That kind of thing is precisely what the business press is supposed to do, and there’s absolutely nothing at all new about this dynamic.

It's very hard to define good leadership, or to scientifically measure how effective it is (one of the reasons C-suite pay doesn't seem to follow regular market forces). But - taking the board at its word - this is a perfect definition of bad leadership. Making your decision based on what you see as a "mob" - and then retracting and blaming the mob! Either you think the complaints on social media are accurate, or you don't. But this back-and-forth is the worst possible course.

> volumes about the efficacy of board governance

Not sure it does.

The Board could have gotten caught up in a mob, regained its senses, and started pulling on the reins again. Or blaming Twitter could be the messaging around what was really a compensation (or some other) negotiation.

There's nothing about this that indicates the board asserted itself at all. The plan to step down was presented to the board by the CEO who wanted to move to become Chairwoman of the board.

The part of the original story that upset me the most is how the people she abused were underpaid and overworked customer support staff.

An incredibly strong signal of how decent someone is is how well they treat people that have no ability to help them. Even a selfish asshole will be charming and kind to the rich and powerful: if you want to see their true colors look how their reports talk about them when they aren't around, or how they treat a waiter who messed up their order.

> Even a selfish asshole will be charming and kind to the rich and powerful

See Harvey Weinstein.

To quote Oscar from The Office:

Look, it doesn't take a genius to know that every organization thrives when it has two leaders. Go ahead, name a country that doesn't have two presidents. A boat that sets sail without two captains. Where would Catholicism be without the popes?

I'm confused, the backlash was after they already started the search in early 2019 (https://www.wsj.com/articles/online-luggage-startup-away-say...). I thought they said they wanted to install someone who had more experience before all of this due to their own internal investigation.

Translated, the founding CEO wanted to install someone that would “sell well” for IPO. Successful Lululemon exec story brings that.

They’re going back to that because it’s how they will get best valuation as shareholders. Not an ego play, a convert shares to more cash play.

If you like the cases and want an alternative, the Muji ones are probably better in a lot of ways, and Muji have shops.

I’ve been using the muji cases for years. My partner just got an Away case of equivalent size as a gift, and I can’t figure out why people would choose them over muji. In almost every way the muji cases feel better to use, and they seem much more durable.

The one attractive thing about the away cases is the lifetime warranty, but I don’t know how easy it is to submit a claim.

> The one attractive thing about the away cases is the lifetime warranty

lifetime warranty is worthless if the company goes out of business, too

Paging now defunct "lifetime warranty" backpack company Boreas Bags, whose founders rebranded to Alite Designs just to weasel their way out of their previous iteration's warranties.

they do almost zero advertising and their stores only exists in the New York, SF, LA, and Boston metro areas, plus one shop in Portland. The majority of Americans have never heard of Muji.

Away has even fewer stores!

>I can’t figure out why people would choose them over muji.

Most Americans don't know what the hell Muji is. They only exist in a few coastal cities.

I mean I love my Muji stationery and pens (0.7), and I always describe it as Japanese Ikea to people, and they get it. But they don't advertise.

They advertise on NYC subways

Curious, how are the wheels on the Muji luggage? The wheels on the Away cases are the best of any luggage I've owned.

The wheels are pretty fantastic on the Muji cases. IMO, they're equivalent to the wheels on the Away cases. They're not as nice as the wheels on my Rimowa case, but the difference is not worth the premium (given how cheap Muji is).

Plus you get a brake, a feature which should be standard on rolling luggage, but isn’t.

I’ll take that over a battery that I: have to remember to charge, can’t use unless traveling, and have to remove to gate check my carryon, any day.

For the frequent travelers out there, I backed this thing on Kickstarter and had really high expectations for it: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/netta/the-six-a-carry-o...

Just received it last month, and build quality seems excellent. And judging from the positive Kickstarter comments so far, I can't wait for my next trip. :)

It's quite a bit more expensive than the Away case, but the large back-wheel and push mechanism felt super innovative and provide a very tangible improvement to quality of life for steering the case around in streets compared to existing designs, whereas the Away case at the end of the day is just a regular old suitcase with slightly nicer materials (I own one but plan on selling it off soon if this one holds up in practical use).

I couldn't find any information on the unloaded weight of this thing - do you know what it is?

I've looked at lots of options for carry-on luggage, and most are heavy enough to significantly eat into the 7kg or 8kg allowed. Honestly, I can't imagine moving away from the simple backpack I used; it's light, and I can carry 8kg easily for any distance (covering laptop, Mac Air, and misc other items). By carrying everything, I can go anywhere I can walk, and don't have to worry about pushing / pulling some box on wheels around.

These kind of mega-expensive luggage 'solutions' mostly seem to be for people who like showing they can afford such things.

>the large back-wheel and push mechanism felt super innovative and provide a very tangible improvement to quality of life for steering the case around in streets compared to existing designs

I knew I'd seen it before - it's basically a laundry cart. Obviously different build quality but the innovative 60 degree handle and large back wheels? Laundry cart.

Haha I never noticed until now but you're totally right, the resemblance is uncanny: https://mobileimages.lowes.com/product/converted/728363/7283...

Looks interesting but super expensive

The journalists are going to continue to have a field day with this. She shows no signs of growth, and in fact seems to have doubled down on denial. The company turns a profit with a simple business model and a product people like, but the brand halo will only last so long, and this kind of dysfunction can only be catnip to a fast follower. There is only one way to play this, which is for the adult in the room who was hired to clean up this mess to defang her and give her a short leash, seek exit, and fast.

The alternative is that she runs the company into the ground on the backs of her employees and courts PR disaster after PR disaster. It's a dangerous game to play -- in this climate, bad PR is still PR. But she's going to be in the hot seat now, and one slip up that the court of public opinion doesn't like, and she's going to be back to square one.

"Come work for us. We're changing the world"

"By curing cancer or going to space?"

"Not exactly..."

On original verge article: "Update December 6th, 8:20PM ET: This story was updated to reflect that Erin Grau does not identify as a person of color."

I'm curious about the story of this update. Original reporting claimed Erin Grau identified as a person of color (near context of "“The stuff you said was hateful, even racist. You no longer have a job at this company.” Emily, who is a person of color, was shocked. “That was jarring — three white people telling me I was racist,” she says.")

Did Erin Grau previously identify as a person of color at time of reporting? Does she no longer identify as a person of color as a result of this article? (I saw her get a lot of ridicule online because she very much looks white.)

She disputes the reporting, but didn't say specifically what it was that they got wrong. The screenshots of slack messages were pretty clear evidence to me.

I’m sure she’s totally learned her lesson and will change her abhorrent behavior permanently.

From the article it seems that they are now disputing the reporting and blame Twitter for her having stepped down.

So from her perspective the lesson to learn here is to keep the company's dirty laundry out of the media. I suspect the culture will become even worse at Away, but more secretive. Monitoring people's Slack messages. Scolding people in places without a paper trail, etc.

A reminder of this article/HN discussion [1] where John Gruber speculated that the attacks on Korey published in The Verge may have been part of an internal power struggle.

I have no particular insights or opinions on the matter; I do think it's worthwhile context, given this development.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21749694

I don't see how that's possible considering the proof of Korey's unprofessional communications.

He makes it sound like some back room coup when in reality she maintained her executive chairwomen title, so his whole thesis made no sense.

Perhaps. But it seems to me that preventing an internal power struggle from leaking out into a disastrous press crisis is another part of her job description as CEO.

>The members of Away’s board say they feel as if they fell victim to management by Twitter mob.

Interesting times. Social media is dictating countries, and companies governance. Of course, before internet there was media (newspaper etc) which used to do that.

But in these times people or rather mobs have got that power - for better or worse.

  Social media is dictating countries, and companies governance
Or, existing power structures are ecstatic to have yet another fake enemy to assign blame to for their own failures.

>existing power structures

Like who?

Twitter is mob rule. Regardless of whether or not Twitter disrupts the Illuminati, it's not a great alternative.

This controversy wasn't started by Twitter, it came from good ole fashion investigative reporting. The fact that we are discussing the role of Twitter shows that the grandparent is right, it's a new fake enemy to put blame on and its working. We're taking their bait.

>This controversy wasn't started by Twitter, it came from good ole fashion investigative reporting

It went to Twitter. And I think 'investigative reporting' is far too generous of a term as it evokes images of good journalism. This was a click-bait hit piece detailing a bunch of nothing.

Ofc CEO sending messages at bad hours to workers and denying vacation times is nothing.

What a work culture.

Company boards

I thought the existing power structures would include the media conglomerates that launched this Twitter Mob on this company .. you know the investigative reporting of 'The Verge', owned by NBCUniversal ... this power structure?

For being supposedly fake, there's a lot of real people burning up an awful lot of their real time agitating on Twitter.

“Fake” as in it’s an excuse. Not as in not existing.

If one needs to terminate someone, and they catch some negative attention on Twitter, blaming Twitter for the termination would be both convenient and fake. The reason wasn’t actually Twitter; that’s just the messaging.

"Social media" make it seems like some separate entity, it's still public sentiment. You have also bought into the framing the company has used to make itself seem like the victim by referring to "mobs" having power, rather than a company and CEO facing backlash from the public finding out about its terrible culture behind the scenes, as it rightly should.

> "Social media" make it seems like some separate entity, it's still public sentiment.

If your target market is American teenage boys and some Qatari old men really, really hate you their feelings are public sentiment too but you shouldn’t care in the slightest. Likewise what journalists think should be irrelevant compared to what customers think.

It's often not "public sentiment", it's often a handful of nobodies on Twitter that the media deliberately seeks out to push a narrative. The worst part is that the narrative-pushing often isn't insidious, they just want page views.

> it's still public sentiment.

I think the point is that it isn't a 'public sentiment'. Public sentiment would imply some sort of representative sample. Twitter people engaging in Twitter mob behaviour is not representative. It's like calling the Campus students freakouts when some conservative speaker visit, as 'public sentiment'.

>You have also bought into the framing the company has used to make itself seem like the victim by referring to "mobs" having power,

That's exactly what it was. It wasn't a balanced view on this CEO or company culture. It wasn't even that bad. I remember reading the Verge article, and thinking "Meh". There was one circumstance when the team was asked to work New Years Day in return for getting a month off. Everyone would make that choice. But OK, Korey clear set high expectations and created a culture where working a high number of hours was encouraged - is that bad? "Meh". It's an interesting case study but a investigative report from the The Verge is overkill.

And this is another aspect to this story, this mob behaviour was triggered by 'The Verge', itself a billion-dollar conglomerate owned in part by NBCUniversal, another global media conglomorate. 'Public Sentiment' indeed.

> But in these times people or rather mobs have got that power - for better or worse.

Is this really true? It seems like social media has a relatively limited impact on companies/countries on any scale longer than a week. Most social media outrage seems to just result in an apology by the company and perhaps some weak action, and everybody forgets about it a few days later.

Remember when the whole internet collectively tried to stop the FCC from repealing net neutrality? Or Article 13? Or the constant complaints about demonetization of content on YouTube? Internet mobs never seem to get anything meaningful done.

Russia, FB and POTUS?

Whether or not FB meddling influenced the result of the US election is questionably uncertain at best, and regardless Russia isn't an internet mob.

Twitter Revolution:

- 2009 Moldova civil unrest, claiming that the elections, which saw the governing Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) win a majority of seats, were fraudulent

- 2009–2010 Iranian election protests, also known as Green Revolution and Facebook Revolution, following the 2009 Iranian presidential election

- 2010–2011 Tunisian revolution, also known as Jasmine Revolution and Wikileaks Revolution, in which the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ended after 23 years

- Egyptian Revolution of 2011, in which the regime of Hosni Mubarak was ended after 30 years Euromaidan Revolution in Ukraine, beginning in November 2013.


As far as I can tell those are all events that were taking place in the real world and were also organized on/protested on Twitter - rather than Twitter being the cause and/or sole location of them.

This is the story of a young founder who is scared and trying her best at an impossible task. And young employees who believed they were allowed to get the job they wanted at the company they wanted.

But that's not how the system works. You need to vote with your feet - you don't like it, leave and let them know you aren't going to put up with it. Without that, we're all just arguing about what's ok and what's not. Don't complain, vote!

Part of the problem with that approach is that the market won't sink bad companies unless it has information that they are bad.

Plenty of companies play the game of "hire employees, treat them like crap, when they leave hire new employees by misrepresenting what the company is like". The labor market is huge, and you can always find new employees that don't know your previous employees.

So you could argue "If you don't like what the company is doing, don't shop there!" But unless current/former employees speak out, the market (consumers, investors) won't necessarily know "what the company is doing" and won't penalize them.

In this case, employees spoke up, and a whole bunch of people who read the Verge (who are probably in the "luggage buying demographic") decided they didn't like what the company was doing and voiced their concerns stating they would no longer buy the company's product. The board fired the CEO, this apparently satisfied many customers, now they're walking it back and I guess we'll find out how the market feels about it.

But I don't see anything wrong with this approach as long as the reporting is well done (and in this case it was).

I think I disagree with that. The labor pool isn't unlimited and there's laws in place to protect workers. Reading this article as someone that's worked in banking it seems unfair to treat this company a different way that all others. We all still go to banks despite the horrible ways they treat their workers.

Ruling by mob means the treatment is unfair across companies. I think people should argue for laws that are broadly applicable when the market fail. And in this case I think the market (even like glassdoor, reviews, etc) would tank the company's ability to hire it it was not a place people wanted to work.

I have never heard of a company struggling to hire due to reputation. Low wages or lack of qualified workers, sure. Reputation? Never.

I suppose it's not a broadly discussed topic, but it's definitely a thing. HR or recruiting teams would speak best to it. But you can spot this pretty easily. A recent example is Uber. When you do a big lay off followed by accelerated hiring, it's signaling the end of a talent drought. You can't performance manage very aggressively in a period of crisis since it's really hard to hire. So the bar goes down. At some point you clean up, and bring the bar back up. Uber couldn't hire well at all for several years as they went through their culture struggles.

It's definitely less of a problem for lower skilled jobs. And that makes sense since the labour is a lot more replaceable. But it's also why unions are there to prevent abuse.

I won't pretend to claim the system works perfectly. My point is just that there are levers there already that work pretty well. And we should decide as a society how to play or add levers. Managing by mod is really a dictatorship run by the angriest twitter users. If that's who we want running the show - I think that should at least be put to a vote... I'm definitely against it.

Are you saying the workers need to vote with their feet? If so, I disagree. As an employee, I'd always want to try and affect change before leaving. Leaving is the last resort. Complaining is part of trying to affect change, and is one of the "let them know you aren't going to put up with it" step. You seem to be advocating for leaving first.

You're right on that. I'm more reacting to this story where the complaining is not try to change things, but an attempted take down of the company. I disagree with the anger and sense of having been wronged that's portrayed in the original article. You're not a victim if you can leave, that's totally ok to do. I would definitely agree a company is a long series of people affecting changes that hopefully make the whole better.

This seems incredibly cynical. She pretends to step down to try and do damage limitation, then when customers, investors and suppliers are surprised they are still dealing with her she decides, actually, the heat is off and she'll just cancel her stepping down. Notice how through all of that she's actually not really dealt with the problem in the first place - only the PR impact. Now having changed literally nothing, and not addressed the issue she's decided she can move on and wants to sue the reporters.

Oh and to really put the icing on the cake she gives a statement saying she's been doing some deep soul searching and reframed all of the issues as just

>“When I think back on ways I’ve phrased feedback, there have been times where the word choice isn’t as thoughtful as it should have been, or the way it was framed actually wasn’t as constructive as it could have been,” she said. “Those are not, in the eyes of our leadership and the eyes of our board, terminal, unsolvable problems.”

Well firstly, the eyes of 'our leadership' appear to be... guess who! And apparently, creating corporate policies to publicly humiliate employees and denying them private spaces to talk is a matter of how she "phrases feedback"? Pressuring workers to work extra outside of work hours and at anti-social hours? Badly phrased feedback. To me this just screams "I didn't do anything wrong but need to handle PR for the IPO".

It's pretty amazing what awful things executives can get away with. Though, truth be told...compared to stories about some of the CEOs in the valley, this seems pretty small potatoes.

I like how she didn't admit that some feedback wasn't thoughtful or constructive, just that it could have been more thoughtful or constructive. It's implicitly stating "I already was thoughtful and constructive".

I read into the details of this and I suggest that this person was assertive but not toxic. They have the stupid koolaid going, but not necessarily any worse than many places. I think the top line story is reasonable: this is not any kind of normal scenario for the CEO to get the boot.

One of my friends has an away bag and I don't really see the hype. If you're looking for a lower priced bag with a great warranty then Brigs and Riley's build quality is far better and they have a lifetime warranty.

If you want a well-built aluminum case then Tumi and Zero Haliburton are the way to go (sadly Rimowa went downhill after the LVMH acquisition).

Startup name breaks promise

“The internet” has short memory, but not that short. She should have waited at least half a year.

I don't think most people particularly care about this to be honest

oh I don't know. lots of people on flyertalk stating they cannot support a company with such toxic management.

these people are influencers

I am not surprised. She somehow was able to bleed her employees dry for business benefits. People at power love someone like that. Of course they're not gonna let her go so easily.

Seems like a lot of drama for 4-year old luggage company that has a couple dozen products, some accessories and a podcast. Yet they got 100 million in their last round of funding and have a "valuation" of 1.4 billion according to wikipedia.

What's wrong with just building a business that makes stuff, selling and marketing it, hiring people as needed, making a decent profit, and per-chance innovating? But giant globs of venture capital money for luggage, LUGGAGE?

It's for this reason I bookmark the 37signals blog section "Bootstrapped, Profitable and Proud" [0], which is a set of posts about small companies who are just out there selling stuff. No VCs, no term sheets. Just small business, like the ones we're told America is built on.

It honestly gets tiring reading about the latest "unicorn" company that's valued at a billion plus despite grossing nowhere near that and never making a profit.

[0]: https://basecamp.com/bootstrapped

Hmm, the list is a little strange, as it includes a few entrants that are shadows of their former selves. I can speak to one that I'm personally familiar with: A Small Orange is a hosting company that sold to a conglomerate and the entire staff was cycled out after the sale. Now it's merely a shell corporation with a website with some branding, the same as every other Endurance International Group brand. The infrastructure and whatnot is all EIG, and the staff is intermingled with the staff from dozens of other small-name web hosts, and not to mention that that whole industry has been bleeding money since the advent of AWS. I guess it was started as a small business, but it's not one that prevailed. The owner made some money when he sold it -- in 2010 or 2011. Now? It's barely a company at all.

Business is fluid, so I imagine some of those posts are going to be out of date. I'm reading them more to learn about how they started and what their basic business model was at the time of writing. Like I said, it's a respite from the breathless coverage of the latest food delivery app that raised a billion in their last round.

Thank you for this. I was just about to recommend A Small Orange to a friend out of years of habit... but now I'll rethink this.

But not every company can easily bootstrap. And of those that can, much of the time it's a lot faster if you take some money upfront.

Nothing wrong with either approach imo, but the ridiculous valuations are a separate and, yes, exhausting problem. I'm not sure why people even seek insane valuations - maybe VC push them into it or something? I don't know.

I'm not sure why people even seek insane valuations - maybe VC push them into it or something? I don't know.

Because the founders get to keep more ownership of their company. If I take an investment of $100 million at a $1 billion valuation I own 90%. If the valuation is only $500 million I only own 80%. Why the company needs such a huge investment is a fair question but the insane valuation makes sense.

> Because the founders get to keep more ownership of their company.

At first that would be the case, but as the valuation drops (and becomes more realistic) wouldn't the founder lose shares, and the VC would gain more control due to non diluting shares?

No. but the investors would remove the founder.

37signals is a broken clock that is right twice a day. It's blog is very effective content marketing for it's SMB basecamp product.

One of my favorite examples: https://signalvnoise.com/posts/2585-facebook-is-not-worth-33...

I think the real answer is the VC model works well for some cases, and bootstrapping is OK too! Both have their downside! Many VCs will tell you this directly. No need to get religious about it.

In 2010 this was a reasonable position. Predicting the current absurdity that is Facebook data collection and sales would have been quite the hot take in 2010.

I would just like to point out that Sikorsky, the company that makes the damn Black Hawk helicopter, was sold for $9 billion. These valuations are not rooted in reality.

I do agree that valuations are inflated.

Also, I think that the total addressable market for luggage vs. a Black Hawk are very different.

“Rotary and Mission Systems, which makes Sikorsky helicopters and ships, ended the year strong with quarterly net sales up 14 percent to $4.35 billion from $3.81 billion.“

Quarterly. That’s a lot of luggage. Also you can’t easily replicate a Blackhawk from the same factory and slap a badge on it.

Unsure of the margins, but there seems to be plenty of wiggle room, and contracts run into the 10s of billions for major buyers like Saudi Arabia.


Why Sikorsky is not worth a lot of money money Sales were up 14% year of year... which is meh compared to tech companies. In 2015 they made $51 Million for the entire year. so their margins are tiny. crappy business to be in - but consistent.


Sure, but a lot of these companies are not even profitable. The HOPE of massive profits seems to be worth more than the proof that a business can be in the black. And Sikorsky, honestly, could probably have higher margins, but they are in the business where billions disappear on boondoggles.

You're right, and the market for the Black Hawk is better.

I guarantee Away used some ridiculous number to cite their audience. Something like "The 500 TRILLION dollar GLOBAL travel market."

Totally right. Especially when one of your clients (US military) has a $693,058,000,000 budget.

Not sure how the valuation of a company that makes helicopters and sells them to governments is related to a company that makes luggage?

Apparently if you build a low-tech commodity product you can get a $multibillion valuation as long as you have a charismatic millennial for a CEO and an overly-excitable charismatic VC. I'll bet you could even do it by leasing buildings, chopping them up, remodeling them, and subleasing them as coworking spaces!

It's very easy to get a valuation, as this evergreen piece from Basecamp always elegantly shows [0]

[0] https://signalvnoise.com/posts/1941-press-release-37signals-...

The problem with that is you wouldn't get 100 million.

This is a merry-go-round of printed money and the game is to get yours before the ride stops.

Very well put. Governments are in a race to inflate their currencies, and the dollar being the global reserve makes it uniquely positioned to decrease the wealth of the entire world every time another dollar is printed. My only recommendation is to buy assets, but who knows which assets are in a bubble! Maybe it’s all of them.

They're a Direct To Consumer (DTC) Lifestyle brand.

If you sort of wave your hands and say "whatever" to that description what it means is "profit" compounded by "profit".

DTC cuts out all the middle retailers' profit points.

"Brand" lets them charge a premium for their product on an ongoing basis.

You can buy a very comparable piece of luggage off of AliExpress [1] for about half [2] of what Away is selling theirs for, which means that at volume Away is probably getting a 3x to 4x markup. The profit of branding.

If you're looking for something to compare Away to, look at Lululemon (revenues of $3.7 Billion in 2019). I'm sure they're nowhere near that currently, but the venture capital bet is that there's at least a 1/10 shot of them reaching that sort of level.

1 - https://www.aliexpress.com/item/4000472391335.html

2 - https://www.awaytravel.com/suitcases/bigger-carry-on/navy

I feel like it's a bad form to infer a markup based on the price of a lower quality dupe.

Like would you compare a Canada Goose jacket with it's dupe at Hollister and say they're "comparable"?



There's always going to be knock-offs, but perhaps it would be better to compare Away to, say, Travel-pro? [https://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-carry-on-luggage/]

It's not like Away is an artisanal product that's going to be used for decades. It's just half-decent luggage with a fresh look. It's OK as a product, but the aspirations of their leadership and investors is WAYYY oversized.

I'm sure they're quite nice jackets, but they're a flex. You're telling the world you can drop a grand on a jacket.

Nothing wrong with that, or enjoying a great jacket in the process. But it's clearly a signal of wealth.

Those jackets are 100% a flex, but they (and their competition like Arc'teryx, Moose Knuckles, etc.) aren't a flex in the typical middle-class way of overpaying for a middling product because it has a trendy design. They're a flex because you're telling the world that you're willing to drop $800-1200 on a coat so you can wear whatever you want underneath and don't have mess up your outfit with layers.

The point I was trying to make is that there's a significant value to the "brand" of Away that's independent from costs that went into making up the product.

Mentally adjust the cost that Away is paying per item up 20% if that makes sense to you, but the point is that this is a product with big margins that Away is pushing even higher as a result of their brand.

Like how an identical pair of sneakers can roll out of a factory but the one with a swoosh on the side is able to sell for 10x.

Away is not a traditional business in the way you are thinking. They are one of those digital-native, DTC Instagram brands that resells Chinese goods with great marketing. Their product happens to be bigger ticket and higher margin per unit than most of these types (which are often apparel), so it gets more attention.

There is too much cash in the economy and not enough places to park it.

Otherwise, this would just be another simple luggage company.

It’s also quite possible to raise money on non-VC terms. Say 80% of profit until recoup + 10% CAGR hurdle then 5% of profit. Away obviously takes some capital to get going which a founder may not have but this structure doesn’t enslave you to a unicorn valuation.

Even old-school manufacturers like Samsonite raise money, get acquired, get spun out, go public, and acquire competitors [0]. Many billions are involved. Why should business be boring?

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samsonite

PG's prediction inspired by this event: https://twitter.com/paulg/status/1217010274672304130

The abuses described in the Verge article [0] are painful to hear about. Just try and read the CEO's Slack screed about "teaching accountability" without sounding like a DreamWorks villain. Think about the hours those employees were forced to work, the time off they were deprived, the family trips and plans repeatedly disrupted with the slimmest of notice, if any. The Away management team comes across as manipulative and maximally exploitative at the expense of their employees' well-beings, topped off with a CEO intent on forcing her abysmal work-life balance and sleep schedule on the rest of her staff.

With that all laid out, Graham's flippant comment that companies can "safely ignore" backlash against such business practices strikes me as callous and out-of-touch, particularly given his role in the venture-funded system which fosters such conditions in the first place. Another dispatch from the world of rich guys that would have the rest of us slaving away in China's 9-9-6 model [1], interspersed in their feeds with reports of the little moments with family and friends that they'd rather we exchange for a few extra percentage points on their returns.

[0] https://www.theverge.com/2019/12/5/20995453/away-luggage-ceo...

[1] https://www.ft.com/content/42daca9e-facc-11e7-9bfc-052cbba03...

>Just try and read the CEO's Slack screed about "teaching accountability" without sounding like a DreamWorks villain...

I did. Let's not overstate it.

>The Away management team comes across as manipulative and maximally exploitative at the expense of their employees' well-beings, topped off with a CEO intent on forcing her abysmal work-life balance and sleep schedule on the rest of her staff.

This comes across the same way the Verge article does. Namely, it feels like you're just looking for things to be offended by. The specifics are minor and trivial and interesting enough as a case study but certainly not interesting enough as a national story about some great wrong-doing.

Here's a random excerpt:

"Employees say she swore during interviews, cackled at people’s jokes, and took new hires to lunch, telling stories about her own mistakes. Once, during an interview, a woman remarked that she was drawn to Away because she was a millennial and it was a millennial-friendly product. “I’m a millennial, too,” Korey said. Later, that same employee was told by her manager that Korey had referred to the team as a bunch of “millennial twats.”"

I'm not sure what relevance 'cackling' at jokes is (though it evokes sexist tropes) but outside of that, COME ON. That's just pilling on hoping something sticks because it's all a big pile of nothing.

There is also an anecdote about Korey shutting down a private slack channel because of toxic and racist messages and reprimanded the employees in question. The story backs this up by referencing messages that called out 'cis white men', but the article then spins it as: "“It just became really obvious that this happened because someone white and powerful got offended,” says the customer experience manager, Lindsey." ... yeah. I think I'm with Korey on this. She made the right move.

Why did you take random excerpts instead of looking for the more serious allegations, one of which the parent mentioned.

"The day before Valentine’s Day, Korey decided she was going to stop the team from taking any more time off. In a series of Slack messages that began at 3AM, she said, “I know this group is hungry for career development opportunities, and in an effort to support you in developing your skills, I am going to help you learn the career skill of accountability. To hold you accountable...no more [paid time off] or [work from home] requests will be considered from the 6 of you...I hope everyone in this group appreciates the thoughtfulness I’ve put into creating this career development opportunity and that you’re all excited to operate consistently with our core values.”"

>Why did you take random excerpts instead of looking for the more serious allegations, one of which the parent mentioned.

Conversely, why is The Verge pilling on with insignificant allegations?

I didn't ignore anything because there were no serious allegations AT ALL. All the allegations were in the same spirit. Yes, even the one you cited. I'm not defending Korey as a great manager. I'm just not seeing a national story here. The fact that what you cited is provided without context is also telling because the entire article is written with one anecdote after another - with a very loose narrative woven in.

And by the way, pto (not to be confused with vacation time) and wfh, are usually a privilege. Some places do not let you do either. What is this great harm that was done when these perks were denied that required national attention (again, not saying Korey is great manager, or Away was a great place to work - but far from terrible. Have you worked at, for example, a factory?)

Is there a non-paywalled version of [1] ?

Sorry, try Googling "Silicon Valley would be wise to follow China’s lead" and click through from there. FT seems to let you through if you have the right referrer.

Alternatively: https://theoutline.com/post/2996/michael-moritz-china-essay-...


Twitters relevancy to the wider world and your actual customers is extremely exaggerated simply because so many journalists rely on it to make their lives easier or are actively addicted to it.

End of the day it’s just a glorified Internet forum. Would you oust a CEO because 1000 Reddit users commented against them in a thread? Not likely but it’s about as relevant in the real world as a twitter outrage mob.

Not commenting on Away CEOs actions specifically. Just saying that hardly anyone has a twitter account. Hardly anyone with an account actually uses it and out of those who do use it most of the content is driven by a small group of actual addicts of the platform and shouldn’t really be taken as seriously as it is.

It’s not the real world, it’s a lens that magnifies a tiny and specific sliver of the world and gives it false credibility beyond what it actually has.

What do you think about people who leave reviews on websites like yelp, tripadvisor, capterra, etc?

Do you think they're also review writing addicts who shouldn't be taken seriously or do you think one should take what they write seriously while making a purchase decision?

PS - Not trying to compare deciding who to keep CEO vs. making a purchase. Genuinely want your opinion.

> What do you think about people who leave reviews on websites like yelp, tripadvisor, capterra, etc?

Those people are (former) customers. They gave you money and might do it again. Their opinions have real relevance. A journalist’s opinions only matter insofar as they are a customer or their writing changes the behavior of customers.

Edit: well, this is gathering downvotes. I really wonder what people are disagreeing with. Just like Twitter rage culture, you've condemned me/this message as "what a fucking idiot", sadly not even explaining your reasoning.

Original comment:

Reading the article it does seem she's remorseful about her behavior.

> Ms. Korey, at one point nearly breaking down in tears, said that the month since the article was published had been a tough lesson about management — and herself.

Hopefully she does learn from this and can change her behavior.

But the Twittersphere is fucking bullshit, any small deviation from their standards of perfection and you're the scum of the earth (e.g. Chris Rock's tweets from years ago) that has to be banished from society.

Then again, it seems they're selling luggage for the Instagram generation, where the USP is the lifestyle (it's fucking luggage, how sexy can you make it?). In that market the court of online public opinion sadly does matter.

> I really wonder what people are disagreeing with.

I think it's the use of brash language.

I had never heard of Away until I saw the Twitter thread. I assume that this is because it is a niche "luxury" brand that appeals mainly to a relatively small set of well-off younger buyers, which it targets via Internet channels like Twitter and other websites (such as the news organizations who wrote extensively about Away's woes.) Unfortunately for the Away company, the recent bad PR is also disproportionately going to transmitted to its potential customers via those same channels.

TL;DR maybe if this was ExxonMobil, some controversy on Twitter would be easy to shrug off. When you're a small Internet-focused company that's trying to sell a niche audience on your aspirational products, being savaged on Twitter and half the trendy Internet seems like terribly bad news.

TLDR: CEO says stupid shit to make a point and drive the team hard, Interwebs raise hell because some of the recipients were minorities, CEO feels the only way to defuse the situation is to apologize and resign, handing over to Eric Schmidt type adult supervisor who was already slated to come on board, then realizes that everyone thinks the public face of the company is exiting in disgrace and that sales and partnership meetings are going to be awkward, so stays on as co-CEO until adult supervisor is fully caught up and ready to do the IPO.

It was more the abusive work environment. She’s a good example of someone who shouldn’t be in charge of employees.

I guess he just couldn't stay Away

It's a she

Followup prediction - this year more major platforms will realise that there's no fixing the calls for increased moderation and policing and will switch back to not really doing any content policing at all.

Im glad this is happening ... for reasons aptly stated in this essay: https://eggonomy.com/blogs/news/ellsworth-toohey-award-for-z...

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