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."

Ouch.

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

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.

Marc Ross

Based in Washington, DC, I specialize in thought leader communications and global public policy for public affairs professionals working at the intersection of globalization, disruption, and politics.

Clients hire me to ghostwrite, engage influencer networks, manage media relations, produce events, audit their communications infrastructure, consult on hiring, provide issue briefs and news generating talking points, as well as manage end to end communications projects where I assume a role of project leader and general contractor.

I work independently but provided access to a substantial global network of collaborators with expertise in websites, graphic design, audio, video, polling, data analytics, and research.

Using the latest tactics of an American political campaign with expertise shaped by being a practitioner of global business communications, I help clients tell their story and build trusted relationships with all necessary stakeholders.

Successful communications are all about STOCK = strategy, tactics, organization, consistency, and know-how.

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