Away Luggage hits $1.4 billion valuation

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It is impossible for me to see how a bag company is worth a billion dollars.

I mean, it's a lightweight bag on wheels.

There is no panache, legacy, or style.

Sure it is Instagram friendly, affordable, and reliable, but a billion dollars?

Founded by former Warby Parker executives, Away follows a similar model to the eyewear company, selling luggage directly to the consumer at lower prices. Alternatively, in their own words, selling "first class luggage at a coach price."

For me, Away Luggage sounds more like a Chevy Blazer.

"As Penny-wise drivers might be impressed by the new Chevy Blazer's affordability. Don't be fooled. What you get for the base price is a hopelessly basic crossover." Words penned by Dan Neil, author of the "Rumble Seat" column which runs Saturdays in The Wall Street Journal, on the new Blazer's "style-forward, niche-filling two-row crossover that has been whipped up out of GM's box of commonality."


Sure the new Blazer has a "Camaro-inspired exterior," but Neil reports the vehicle's engine and amenities fall flat.

Neil closes the column with: "Underbaked and starved of value, the new Blazer is a reminder that GM the financial entity and GM the car-building enterprise don't have the same interests. GM is now enjoying stable returns, which Wall Street likes; but it's all on the back of its contraction of North American market share. If GM wanted to grow its business, it would plow more money into making products desirable."

Ouch again.

I fear Away Luggage is on the same path.

Wall Street appeal, but not enough aspirational appeal. An appeal that can move the brand to stratospheric heights.

I know Away will introduce more products and probably services to lessen my travel burden - stellar products like a branded neck pillow to achieve this unicorn status.

This choice to go mass market, this choice to be Brookstone, this choice to be better and not exceptional feels underwhelming.

Last week I went into a Tweet exchange with Web Smith (@web) on Away's valuation.

Mind you Web is a pure brand and marketing genius - here is his Twitter bio: Founder @2PMinc. Current advisor-investor. Former cofounding CMO: @MizzenandMain. Previously: @GearPatrol @RogueFitness @flosports.

Web knows more about building successful businesses than me, and his experience is sensational, but I think he might be off on Away.

During the exchange Web artfully replied: "In 1964, when Bowerman was 53, it was impossible for him to see how his student's waffle shoe company could be worth a billion dollars. The folks who've built brands get it."

And I hear him.

All entrepreneurs hear him and cheer this mindset.

But Away ain't Nike.

Shoes + athleisure + sports + culture + drama is a lot for a luggage company to develop.

Plus, there is no Michael Jordan equivalent for Away.

You can hire all the "living my best life" influencers you want and overwhelm paid media, but Away lacks a superstar that will change commerce and culture forever.

Back in 1987, I saw Jordan score 61 points against the Detroit Pistons at the Silverdome. Sixty-one points - it was an insane performance.

I have never forgotten it.

I have never forgotten that Jordan wears Nike.

Seeing someone check a bag in the overhead isn't the same thing as seeing a world-class athlete dominate other world-class athletes.

Seeing someone pull a bag through a train station isn't the same thing as sporting freshy trainers.

Seeing an advertisement with product features isn't the same thing as Mars Blackmon with his main man.

Honestly, I love the brand building process - it's magical - it's a process of art and science.

Plus, we will know in 20 years what happened.


Marc A. Ross is the founder of Caracal Global and specializes in political communications for global business working at the intersection of globalization, disruption, and politics.

COTD: China's mobile payment adoption

More than half a billion people in China will be paying with their phones in brick-and-mortar shops, cafes, and restaurants this year, according to the Statista Digital Market Outlook. That equals a penetration rate of more than 35 percent, the highest in the world. Yet, the overall annual transaction value per customer is higher in the US, the UK and France than in China. The average Chinese consumer is projected to spend around $1,100 with payment apps in 2019, compared to more than $2,400 in the UK and almost $3,000 in the U.S.


Brigadoon Radio: Episode 19: That's a Wrap: Brigadoon Sundance 2019

Recorded at the lounge inside the Robert Redford Center at Sundance Mountain Resort, Brendan Kownacki speaks with Marc Ross at the conclusion of Brigadoon Sundance 2019.

Marc is the founder of Brigadoon and specializes in communications for global business working at the intersection of globalization, disruption, and politics. 

Since 2013, Marc has curated and managed Brigadoon with a mission of creating a global network where entrepreneurs and thought leaders gather to discuss emerging issues shaping commerce and culture.

Brigadoon is an opt-in, word of mouth community of leaders looking to learn from others to create a network of leaders committed to public service, solving problems, and building businesses.

From salon dinners to excursions and multi-day retreats, Brigadoon organizes a number of powerpoint free, conversation focused events in distinctive settings that involve all participants and foster deeper connections.

Brigadoon Radio: Episode 18: US-China Trade Policy - Where is it Going?

Recorded at the lounge inside the Robert Redford Center at Sundance Mountain Resort, Dr. Mark Stellingworth speaks with Benjamin Shobert during Brigadoon Sundance 2019.

Ben is a 2x Brigadoon Sundance participant and for 2019 joined the main stage to lead a discussion on "Blaming China Won't Fix America's Economy."

Ben leads the strategy team at Microsoft's Artificial Intelligence and Research's (AI&R) Healthcare business unit. Before joining Microsoft, he was the founder and managing director of Rubicon Strategy Group, and a consulting firm focused on market access, government affairs, and regulatory analysis work in China and across Southeast Asia. 

He remains a senior associate at the National Bureau of Asian Research, a Seattle and Washington, DC, think tank.  In September 2018, his first book,  Blaming China:  It Might Feel Good, but It Won't Fix America's Economy, was published by Potomac.  


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"Humans now have to make more decisions in a single day than a caveman did in a lifetime." -- Dr. Aric Sigman, The Explosion of Choice: Tyranny or Freedom

The Explosion of Choice: Tyranny or Freedom report concludes that consumers are being overwhelmed by the number of product choices available to them in the typical supermarket.

The report's author and psychologist, Dr. Aric Sigman, told a UK newspaper, "I wanted to see whether Western assumptions regarding greater choice bringing greater happiness was true. They aren't."

Dr. Sigman's research noted that the average UK supermarket carried 87 different kinds of cereal, 83 shampoos, 68 shower gels, and 42 deodorants.

As consumers, we have gained more selection and lower prices, but we have also lost so much from the experience of shopping and consuming.

Most of it is all beige and borning.

Most of it is all unstimulating and unremarkable.

Even worse, many of us can't tell one store from another. We can't tell the difference between this soap or that soap. We can't tell the difference between value or cost. Frankly, many of us don't care.

However, for those that do care, never has there been a better time to introduce new products, new services, new ideas.

For those that do care, never has there been a better time execute in bold colors and perform in the phenomenal.

To introduce new products, new services, new ideas is a choice.

New products, new services, new ideas which look at a market, identify an unmet or poorly met need then matching a product or service to that need which produces a profit or sustainable funding.

Technology has reduced the barrier of entry, and you can now go directly to your target consumer.

Seth Godin points out, "You don't have to settle. It's a choice you get to make every day."

Every day. Seem like a lot of work. But it takes a lot of work to introduce new products, new services, new ideas.

It takes a lot of work not to settle.

You can improve the odds of success by choosing to form habits, prioritizing time, and setting goals.

Executing a habit checklist will get you there.

Getting you to the place where you are bringing a remarkable new product, new service, or new idea to the marketplace.

Something so remarkable the person who selects your good or service 'remarks' about the outcome.

A good or service that is more than merely being different.

You can bring forth something that people choose to talk about, regardless of what the other 87 different kinds of cereal, 83 shampoos, 68 shower gels, and 42 deodorants are offering in the supermarket.

"Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?" 

Famously this was what Steve Jobs said to Pepsi executive John Sculley to lure him to Apple.

Sculley had a choice.

You have a choice.

Sculley chose Apple.

Consider we spend about 80,000 hours of our life at work. 

Yet, the work that most of us commit our lives to isn't the kind of work that is actually remarkable. It's more sugar water and less world-changing.

I am not saying you need to run a multinational corporation, but there is something you can bring to the world that simply benefits your neighbors.

You have a choice to introduce a new product, new service, or new idea that moves your day from what I am doing to why I am doing it.

- Marc

Marc A. Ross is the founder of Cacacal Global and specializes in political communications for global business working at the intersection of globalization, disruption, and politics.