Never work for your dream brand. It'll kill you.
December 5, 2019 1:46 PM   Subscribe

 


I’ve never heard of this company, but how the hell did they make selling suitcases so... difficult?
posted by penguin pie at 1:57 PM on December 5, 2019 [20 favorites]


The article mentions the house where Korey grew up--you can see pictures here if you are curious. It is pretty amazing...
posted by Emera Gratia at 2:03 PM on December 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


but how the hell did they make selling suitcases so... difficult?

Because the leadership a) didn't understand manufacturing and b) thought that they could use yelling and screaming as a replacement for actually getting their customer support team the resources necessary.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:13 PM on December 5, 2019 [31 favorites]


Hah, literally just posted this, along with the Kotaku link that NoxAeternum added. Guess mine's getting taken down!
posted by Ragged Richard at 2:14 PM on December 5, 2019


Wow I'm having flashbacks to the last startup I worked for. But at least we didn't use Slack and the bosses were smart enough to only say this shit behind our backs.

The tirade of messages about a bad monogram should be embarrassing to any CEO. She looks out of touch and like she doesn't know the names of her employees or who is responsible for what - never a good look.
posted by muddgirl at 2:21 PM on December 5, 2019


Starting a startup is not a rational endeavor, so basically anyone in early executive leadership of a startup is guaranteed not to be motivated by rational desires. The number of malignant narcissists and sociopaths among startup founders is really distressingly high.

I've been a software engineer for 30+ years and I love small companies so I've been at a few startups. I've had 2 really pathological narcissists as bosses, one who was a Trump-style insane rich guy and one who was the kind who performatively cried at all-hands meetings and seemed to get off on firing people and "pivots". Both of them created completely toxic work environments which I was glad to quietly walk away from.

Lucky for me my current boss is what I think of as "minimally insane" to run a startup, his irrationality manifests as manic optimism and an unreasonable amount of trust that the technology team will just do the right thing.
posted by bgribble at 2:22 PM on December 5, 2019 [42 favorites]


It's just a fucking suitcase. The company founders brought the baggage.
posted by scruss at 2:23 PM on December 5, 2019 [56 favorites]


There's a common job-hunting piece of advice where your cover letter and interviews are meant for you to talk about why you believe in the company, what about its culture speaks to you, why that company in particular. Just "I need a job and I can do this one" is not good enough.

Given the sheer number of companies whose work culture is vastly opposed to their stated branding, though, I feel like that piece of advice has lost its usefulness. If anything, it's become a tool of exploitation.
posted by divabat at 2:24 PM on December 5, 2019 [28 favorites]


RE: Razer

UNIONIZE! THIS IS THE ONLY WAY TO HOLD THOSE AT THE TOP ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE ABUSES THEY COMMIT! BURN THE WHOLE INDUSTRY DOWN!

I say this as someone who fucking loves video games, but this shit has been going on for too long and if that means I don't have games for a few years while we reboot the entire system, fuck it, I'm down for that. No one should lose their mind, their lives, their sense of self-respect, their dignity, their job, their family, their loved ones over this shit. Too many fucking people are being hurt. Ugh.

Sometimes I really hate admitting to others that I'm someone who plays video games and supports the industry with my dollars. It's gross to know that I'm contributing in small ways to this bullshit. I try my best to pay attention to how the games I like are being made and which developers are unionized. I try to avoid certain games/companies but it's so fucked up. It's like a constantly losing battle.

Also, can we get crunch and videogames added to the tags list for posterity.
posted by Fizz at 2:26 PM on December 5, 2019 [25 favorites]


What's with Verge and it's font choice? Are they going for a look where all of their writing has been nearly erased and faded through time? Sorry to complain, it's just actually too much strain to read.
posted by GoblinHoney at 2:30 PM on December 5, 2019


I have a slightly different problem. Using uMatrix, I end up blocking most scripts/etc by default. In this case, the text was perfectly legible for me, but the first "fancy" word in a bunch of paragraphs is completely missing.
posted by tclark at 2:32 PM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


There's just so much that is sick in our culture. That Away CEO is obviously a spoiled person who uses work to manage her pathologies, just as someone who didn't grow up too rich might use shopping or over-eating. But there's also the constant mania for consumption, the idea that you need to have a "customer experience" and that everything should be on-demand, so if you have to wait a couple of days to hear back from a company, or can't get a non-essential purchase express-shipped to you, you somehow have a grievance.

But yeah, unions are what we need.

People famously say "oh if you have a union you can't fire someone who is incompetent or slow", and while that isn't actually true, it is true that with a union you have to make a pretty good case over time to fire such a person. But without a union, you have monsters like these trampling everyone. It's annoying if Joe in AR isn't very good at his job, but that's way less annoying than when the CEO is like "oh by the way don't expect to have a day off this quarter including weekends" and "you must be braindead, I should fire you" and so on.

In American culture we have this stupid idea that everything can be perfect and if it's not perfect you should trash it without any regard for the consequences. Public housing isn't perfect? Let's close it down! Where will the people go? Who knows, but that's better than having imperfect public housing. Some fraction of a percent of people commit benefits fraud? Let's get rid of benefits, anything is better than fraud! Unionized workplaces sometimes have problems? Well fuck unions then, better to have the CEO's boot on your neck. Obviously this idea is promoted cynically by the people at the top in order to get rid of benefits, unions, etc....but most of us who should know better just get right in line.
posted by Frowner at 2:35 PM on December 5, 2019 [128 favorites]


Also, the phrase "world class customer service experience" makes me want to vomit.
posted by Frowner at 2:39 PM on December 5, 2019 [44 favorites]


Given the emphasis on customer service stories in the Away article, I imagine that a lot of the sources for that article came from that department. To me, it seems like there are two main themes: 1) something goes wrong in the operations department but they don't tell the CS dept. so they have no idea what to tell customers, 2) the CS dept. being completely swamped and management making wild demands of them. Both of these seem like pretty basic examples of shitty management. In the first case, management should be figuring out what the breakdown was in the ops dept. and why they aren't keeping CS in the loop intead of just yelling at CS for things outside their control; in the second, they should just hire more CS representatives.
posted by mhum at 2:41 PM on December 5, 2019 [11 favorites]


This seems not dissimilar to customer service jobs I've had. I worked in CS for a textbook publishing company that has a huge "busy season" over the summer, when all of the schools across the country place orders for their books for the next year. Busy season grew from about July-September to April-November over the course of the 4 years I worked there because they decided to lay off 40% of the CSRs on the floor. I was working 70-80 hour weeks for 8 months out of the year. 3 hours OT on workdays, Saturdays were supposed to be 6 hours though they often made us work 12+ hours, and Sundays were allegedly optional but it was made clear they weren't.

If you had to pee when it wasn't your scheduled break, you got an IM from the boss asking where you were and a point. If you were 1 minute late, you got 2 points. We got training on how to speak to customers and got a point if we didn't refer to the customer by name at least 3 times in each call. If we said "bye" instead of "goodbye". If a call lasted too long. I think it was something ridiculously small like 12 points and you got written up, 20 and you were fired.

They didn't allow us to work from home. One VP would make us stay at work "until the work was done" on Saturdays, which was virtually impossible even if we had double the people. No vacations were allowed during busy season. More than a few people quit in a huff with no notice. We begged for more employees, and our direct managers agreed but upper management said no.

This stuff doesn't just happen at startups. The company I worked for was publicly traded, has been in business over 100 years, and had over 5,000 employees. It's just what customer service and other pink collar jobs are like.
posted by little king trashmouth at 2:48 PM on December 5, 2019 [47 favorites]


If you were 1 minute late, you got 2 points. We got training on how to speak to customers and got a point if we didn't refer to the customer by name at least 3 times in each call. If we said "bye" instead of "goodbye". If a call lasted too long. I think it was something ridiculously small like 12 points and you got written up, 20 and you were fired.

The fucked up thing is, as a customer these things stick out like a sore thumb when you're on a call to customer service, and make the entire experience robotic, uncomfortable and pointless. I would like to talk to someone who might be able to think through and solve my problem, not someone who's going to get fired if they don't say my name three times.
posted by Jimbob at 2:58 PM on December 5, 2019 [69 favorites]


So interesting. When I heard on Hollywood Handbook that one of the ads they did for Away was removed, that seemed like a weird thing (especially if the ad buyers were familiar with the way advertising is handled on the show). Then I listened to the HH ad that offended Away so much. Unlike most HH ads, this one didn't seem to contain any fiction (which is telling). The back-and-forth about requesting a specific color for the luggage (not to mention TFA here) suggests an especially petty and weird management culture.
posted by witchen at 3:00 PM on December 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


The idea was to expedite shipping on late orders and communicate to customers when they could expect to receive their bags. Lila’s report noted this was going “above and beyond.”

When Korey saw the plan, she was furious. “If we were just going above and beyond we could send them all 10 free suitcases,” she vented in Slack, in front of the entire company. “Or we could send them all 100 free suitcases, that would REALLY be above and beyond.”


It seems like the cause of a lot of our woes in American companies right now is trying to make a profit without spending any money first? No money for enough employees to do the work, no money for the employees you hired to actually get the work done, no money for the right computers & software, no nothing, just wringing a few unlucky individuals out until they have nothing left.
posted by bleep at 3:08 PM on December 5, 2019 [18 favorites]


Some of these quotes are insane:

"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.”"
posted by some chick at 3:15 PM on December 5, 2019 [19 favorites]


Also as I'm reading this I have to wonder why so many people had so many questions about 1 suitcase. And maybe the old fashioned model of manufacturers selling things to stores was not so bad.
posted by bleep at 3:15 PM on December 5, 2019 [15 favorites]


In December, Caroline was wrapping up work at 1AM when she saw a Slack message from Pasanen. “Okay everyone! Take a photo with your computer in bed when you get home. Here’s mine!” She was sitting in bed wearing a face mask, still working.

Sometimes I feel sad that I missed out on the whole "having a career" thing, but then I read something like this and am very glad to have skipped that all.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:17 PM on December 5, 2019 [30 favorites]


Also as I'm reading this I have to wonder why so many people had so many questions about 1 suitcase.

Since they're being shipped directly to the customer, I'm gonna guess a lot of the questions are basically "where's my suitcase?" or "when's my suitcase gonna ship?"
posted by mhum at 3:18 PM on December 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


It just seems like a terrible strategy overall to hire people and work them like machines do something machines are already pretty good at (What is the status of item x? is basically the one thing computers can do reliably). No way I would buy one of these things now. Sorry steph.
posted by bleep at 3:23 PM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


Come to my bakery. We will serve you good food in exchange for money.
posted by East14thTaco at 3:33 PM on December 5, 2019 [14 favorites]


"Come to my bakery. We will serve you good food in exchange for money."

But it doesn't *scale*.
posted by aleph at 3:51 PM on December 5, 2019 [20 favorites]


This is basically every company, now.

The things in America that are not pyramid schemes are cults.
posted by The Whelk at 3:51 PM on December 5, 2019 [40 favorites]


I had never heard of this company and I'm glad I have now so I can avoid them because they are AWFUL. Those poor people.
posted by kitten magic at 3:54 PM on December 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


My question is; who is actually manufacturing the suitcases? This article is all about the office workers. Imagine how the poor folks actually making these things are being treated?
posted by Jimbob at 3:58 PM on December 5, 2019 [22 favorites]


“ In my mind, it’s a trivial product but the brand is more than just luggage,” Avery says. ”
Well, there’s her first mistake.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:04 PM on December 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


I was interviewing for email marketing jobs this summer, and had a phone screen with Away. It didn't get to an in-person, and reading this makes me feel like I dodged a bullet.
posted by SansPoint at 4:05 PM on December 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


Ha, this brought back memories of many of the startups I worked at. It was like reading a book of my life. People wonder why I'm happy to work at a large and thoroughly boring company after that.

It seems like the cause of a lot of our woes in American companies right now is trying to make a profit without spending any money first? No money for enough employees to do the work, no money for the employees you hired to actually get the work done, no money for the right computers & software, no nothing, just wringing a few unlucky individuals out until they have nothing left.

Nobody believes me when I tell this story, but hand to God it's true. One of the startups I worked at went all the way with this and fired literally anyone that actually did work. All the CSRs, the tech support reps, the programmers. Everyone who did work, again. They kept the management layer and executives.

The thinking was: Labor was the biggest expense on the balance sheet, so if they got rid of all the people who actually did the work, they'd suddenly be massively profitable, someone would acquire them because they were a massively profitable startup, and all the executives would get rich.

If you see the flaw in this plan you're smarter than the executives, most of whom are still bouncing around from startup to startup to venture fund to startup today.

They were truly, genuinely shocked when their entire customer base collapsed. Who could've imagined that customers wanted help to answer emails, to help with technical problems, and that the sales guys were actually out making deals and getting new customers, and that the marketing folks were also getting new customers, and so on. Evidently they were so high on their own farts that they figured their visionary leadership was literally the reason the company had been (until that time) reasonably successful.

Anyway, they crashed and burned in a few months since they had no actual support staff, and all the managers and executives, like I said, more or less keep bouncing around between San Francisco and San Jose to this day. Truly, SV is a meritocracy.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:09 PM on December 5, 2019 [74 favorites]


most of whom are still bouncing around from startup to startup to venture fund to startup today.

This is the worst part of it, and I've dealt with my share as well. If only there was some way to tag these people with all the damage they leave in their wake...
posted by JoeZydeco at 4:15 PM on December 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


My question is; who is actually manufacturing the suitcases? This article is all about the office workers. Imagine how the poor folks actually making these things are being treated?

I imagine they're treated the same way workers are treated at any other Chinese manufacturing plant.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:16 PM on December 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


Come to my bakery. We will serve you good food in exchange for money.
posted by East14thTaco


Nah you can keep your baked tacos I'll just stick with normal sane euclidean tacos
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:17 PM on December 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


Nah you can keep your baked tacos I'll just stick with normal sane euclidean tacos

Just you wait, my friend. Just you wait.
posted by East14thTaco at 4:22 PM on December 5, 2019 [15 favorites]


In America, even the cults ARE pyramid schemes.
posted by spitbull at 4:34 PM on December 5, 2019 [13 favorites]


I wonder how much of this was influenced by Apple and Steve Jobs.

Apple does offer a world-class customer experience... but you pay for it. Their margins are high. Their products and support are designed around the customer experience. One of their primary differentiators is actually logistics.

Trying to offer the same customer experience but actually selling the same product as everyone else, but cheaper, won't work.
posted by meowzilla at 4:43 PM on December 5, 2019 [10 favorites]


This reminds me a lot of when someone explained "check kiting" to me. It all really depended on timing. And keeping all the balls in the air. A very weird form(s) of "fake it till you make it". The exit is always tricky.
posted by aleph at 5:14 PM on December 5, 2019


Apple does offer a world-class customer experience.'

Hahahahahaha. Unless you're an enterprise! Then Apple just cuts off all stock with no warning because a new model is available. A new model that your IT team has not had the time to verify works with any internal corporate software or is secure in any way! But fuck you, you can't get the old model for a while, oh no! Good luck with break/fix repairs and new hire onboarding while you try to get the new model in stock!

Oh, and if they happen to have delivered 1500+ machines with faulty potentially flammable batteries, start negotiating on getting those fixed or replaced!

FUCK APPLE TO DEATH! STEVE WAS AN ASSHOLE.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 5:26 PM on December 5, 2019 [36 favorites]


Holy shit, I was literally about to buy myself one of these bags for a trip in May of next year, since my old suitcase finally went to that great luggage carousel in the sky. I’m glad I read this. Fuck these asshole bosses sideways.
posted by holborne at 5:32 PM on December 5, 2019 [13 favorites]


The funny thing is that my family has had Apple computers since about 1990 and I fucking hate the "customer service experience" - the over-designed and focus-grouped stores, the deference from like fifty different sales staff any time you walk in, etc. I don't want someone to grovel at me. I want to pay a fair wage to a worker who is accorded some dignity and control over their working conditions, someone who can tell me off if I am horrible, someone who can arrange their work station to be comfortable for themselves. I want a fellow human to fix my computer, not a servant to fawn all over me.

That's why I hate "customer service". I have a union job. If I need something from a fellow union member elsewhere at my employer, I ask them and we interact like equals. That's what I like. People who are able to determine their own working conditions and who have a relationship of mutual respect with the customer. Groveling is oppressive to the worker and demeaning to the grovel-ee.
posted by Frowner at 5:42 PM on December 5, 2019 [79 favorites]


I'm sure there's many other worthy brands out there, but if you were thinking of getting an Away suitcase and are looking for an alternative, I've been using Muji suitcases (US link, much more choice in Japan) for a while now and they're solid. I have no idea whether the work culture is better, and even less idea of the working conditions of the people actually making the suitcases though.
posted by anzen-dai-ichi at 5:43 PM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


The result is a brand consumers love, a company culture people fear, and a cadre of former employees who feel burned out and coerced into silence.

pure Amazon.

That fucking New Years' Day slack message is something else with its wads of emo camaraderie and "you know me, I would never..." and "we can't afford to take time to train new people because we'd fall further behind."

hopefully Xandie gets some lingering smell on her but I doubt it.
posted by Sauce Trough at 5:52 PM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


Inc with the idiot take:

"A Scathing New Report Alleges Away Mistreats Its Employees. Here's Why Slack May Be to Blame"

Hey Inc, lemme tighten that up for you a bit. How's this?

"Fucking Sociopaths Treat People Like Garbage"
posted by Sauce Trough at 6:00 PM on December 5, 2019 [18 favorites]


I feel like what happened here is that everyone drew exactly the wrong conclusions from Warby Parker's success. The founders of this company worked at Warby Parker, and Warby Parker has made a lot of money by creating a hip online alternative to traditional glasses stores, so they and their investors decided that the lesson was that you can make a lot of money by creating hip online alternatives to boring traditional consumer products. What worked for glasses should work for luggage. But Warby Parker didn't succeed because it was hip, and it didn't succeed because it disrupted something stodgy and boring. It succeeded because the Luxotica monopoly means that the price of glasses is artificially inflated, since there's no real competition among brick and mortar stores, and it really is possible to make equally-good glasses for much less money. Warby Parker isn't a story about the new economy and disruption. It's actually a pretty old-school business story about a new company finding a way to sell a quality product for less money than the established industry giants, and it doesn't translate to other industries. There isn't a weird luggage monopoly, and there's no easy way to make and sell equally-good luggage for way less money than what's currently available. The whole thing is based on a faulty premise, because most industries don't have anything equivalent to the Luxotica monopoly. (Although give it a few more years of Amazon dominance and they might.)

So anyway, the whole business model was faulty, and the thing doesn't work. And management seems to be trying to cope with that by expecting the customer service team to both work themselves to death and perform miracles. And that's unspeakably awful, but it's a symptom, not the cause. Because the root cause here is that the entire business model is stupid, which honestly seems to be true of most VC-funded tech companies these days.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:02 PM on December 5, 2019 [83 favorites]


Oh god, Slack is not to blame. Dumb investors funding dumb businesses are to blame. Also dumb business owners being sociopaths.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:04 PM on December 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


One of the things that stood out to me in that story was that the staff aired their grievances in a private channel on the company's Slack account. I knew they were going to be discovered.

There is, fundamentally, no such thing as a private channel on Slack. The account owner *always* has access to all activity of *all* channels on their account. (Modulo the level of account. Slack stores all activity forever regardless of account level, up until the account holder takes action to delete it. Some account levels only provide limited activity history visibility but the account holder can always upgrade their account when they want to dig.)

This is why, the last time I worked for a company that used Slack for internal comms, a bunch of us maintained Skype accounts as an actual backchannel. That, ultimately, couldn't be totally concealed from our corporate overlords either, but the activity was a hell of a lot harder to audit and chat history would disappear after a few days rather than be permanently cached. The rare times somebody wanted to truly dish, they texted with their phones over the cell network.

ANY data that travels over your employer's network can be inspected by your employer. Do not trust it for anything you want to keep private, no matter how innocuous it is. When you are trapped in a truly shit workplace, knowing this can help you keep your job for as long as necessary for you to be able to leave on your own terms rather than theirs.
posted by at by at 6:11 PM on December 5, 2019 [49 favorites]


I should add this: This caveat is not exclusive to Slack. Any employer-provided communication system (chat, messaging, email, etc.) can be audited by the employer. In most work environments, any use of the network (up to and including guest wi-fi) is also monitored. That's a large part of why they're providing it to you and making you use it. If you bring your own tablet into the office to stream Youtube while you work, they know it.

Sometimes it's because industry regulations require it. Sometimes it's simply because the executives are control-freak bastards. Ultimately the reason has little to do with it; the upshot is that you should start with the assumption that you do not have electronic privacy at work, and only relax your guard to the extent you have positive proof you can.
posted by at by at 6:21 PM on December 5, 2019 [15 favorites]


I kinda sorta quit my (engineering consulting job) earlier this year at 48. Had a few bad weeks, realised I'd had enough, realised I had enough saved up that I could take it easy for a few months, maybe retool to something new, who knows?

Because of reasons, and guilt, I got talked back in, and have been ramping back up slowly...but reading this bullshit even though it does not map directly onto my historical work stressors just makes me want to breathe into a paper bag and lie down for a week, and incidentally tell my current employers to go screw a boot, I am CASHING OUT.
posted by hearthpig at 6:57 PM on December 5, 2019 [11 favorites]


Holy shit, I was literally about to buy myself one of these bags for a trip in May of next year

Not sure what your budget is, but if you don't need wheels, this bag is phenomenal. Waterproof. Lightweight. Upcycled. Distinct (every bag different). Durable as hell (and free replacement parts, including shipping, if something does break). Made by a company that I believe treats people right (I know two people at the head office). Fits in carry-on. Best travel purchase I've ever made (and I was coming from a Tom Bihn Aeronaugt).
posted by dobbs at 7:08 PM on December 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


Huh, I was looking at some of their stuff but chose a different brand, so I guess that feels good.

Also this article is further proof that I have the best browser extension ever, and it helps protect my mental health:
Once, during an interview, a woman remarked that she was drawn to Away because she was a snake person and it was a snake person-friendly product. “I’m a snake person, too,” Korey said. Later, that same employee was told by her manager that Korey had referred to the team as a bunch of “snake person twats.”
posted by Wretch729 at 7:38 PM on December 5, 2019 [24 favorites]


Living as I do in flyover country and working as I do in a stodgy field, I'm always astounded by these toxic work culture stories or the rampant sexual harrasment, the worse, the just general wtf stories i assume are designed as the elites are idiots stories so stay in your place stories for the masses. Then I read the comments to them and they're filled with non-surprised people with similar stories and I'm again floored. Why are you working g there? "Oh I need this job is not an explanation" cause we're talking young super employable professionals here. Maybe the characters involved don't know better worlds exist. Maybe. But I assure you super qualified but exploited characters in these situations that there's great opportunities in say Kansas City with zero bullshit and cheap groceries. Also I hear tons of cool fountains.
posted by ixipkcams at 7:57 PM on December 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


I had not heard of this company prior to this, and now I'm several different types of confused. Why do they exist? Why are they, at least apparently, popular? Why does anyone give them money? They don't seem to be doing anything particularly interesting or valuable, why are they a Big Deal (at least in some circles, seemingly, judging from the existence of this story)?

The boss is clearly a monster, but how did they reach the point where anyone gives a shit about them in the first place?

...I mean, there kinda needs to be a backgrounder or something to explain why anyone would give a flying fuck about working for Away, as opposed to (oh, I dunno), Samsonite, Eagle Creek, or whoever the hell else manufactures interchangeable luggage these days. The only thing Away seems to offer is a hard-sided bag that's identical to any of eighty-million no-name Chinese polycarbonate luggage manufacturers, except possibly the addition of decent zippers and wheels? That warrants being a famous brand? YKK zippers and Hinomoto wheels?

[also, having a "dream brand" pretty much automatically means you're not as smart as you think you are and maybe you should reevaluate your life choices]
posted by aramaic at 8:13 PM on December 5, 2019 [12 favorites]


The devil wears probably something more expensive than Prada. I worked for a state government during college to utilize the educational leave program. I had a boss like this...my take home pay was $1187 a month and she regularly did faked random badge checks because I had a 7-4 work schedule while she worked 8-5 and she wanted to make sure I was at my desk at 7 am. She had me crying and shaking while I was paying $3.45 a gallon for gas, trying to get an education and also working in a high stress environment with abused children. May anyone who creates this type of workplace eat a giant bowl of their loved ones tears for dinner every night. Oh wait...I bet they already do!!!
posted by lextex at 8:47 PM on December 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


This is really depressing. We have a couple Away suitcases and really love them. They are a quality product and have had great customer service. Most of the suitcases come with a charging battery. When the airlines all required batteries be removable Away sent out retro-kits for free after alerting us to the changes. Really sad to hear about the toxic culture.
posted by misterpatrick at 9:23 PM on December 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


The funny thing is that my family has had Apple computers since about 1990 and I fucking hate the "customer service experience"

Yeah. They make pretty good devices - or I mean it's up and down but they certainly have - but have you tried to get one fixed lately?
posted by atoxyl at 11:09 PM on December 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


It seems like the cause of a lot of our woes in American companies right now is trying to make a profit without spending any money first? No money for enough employees to do the work, no money for the employees you hired to actually get the work done, no money for the right computers & software, no nothing, just wringing a few unlucky individuals out until they have nothing left.

I like to think of it as, company higher-ups look at revenues and costs totally separately without realizing how intertwined they are.

At startups the revenues (or users) are thought of as a vague measure of success, of your brand and "movement," whether you're going to make it or not, as a way of keeping score. For a given level of revenues you can shuffle around anything below the top line: jobs, company structure, operations. The executives focus myopically on the growth of this number on one hand, and do the slashing and squeezing of anything below that top line.

While the revenues aren't really "tangible" to the executive, the costs sure are, and that's where we the workers draw their ire. Sales fluctuate up and down, over marketing campaigns, seasons, and so on. But the bills to keep the lights on and pay employees come in dutifully every 2 weeks. You the employee are to be managed and squeezed because you're that annoying thorn in the side on the mission to turn those Revenues into Profit. You're one of the few factors the executive can directly control in the rough and tumble hellish lottery called the startup world.

And sadly there's no Excel function to tie your employees' happiness, stability, corporate structure, work environment, culture, work tools, and so on to the golden Revenue number. These are factors to be adjusted, twisted up, and thrown against the wall to see what sticks. Swap out Web Designer A for Web Designer B, who cares! Buy second-rate tooling and infrastructure, because how would that impact sales anyway? Go ahead and check who's on Slack at midnight because what's the worst that could happen, the employee quits and you put a new butt in seat.
posted by hexaflexagon at 2:06 AM on December 6, 2019 [6 favorites]


This article should carry a 'SUPER ENORMOUS PSYCHO NARCISSIST BULLY FLAKE CONTROL FREAK PUMP-ACTION TRIGGER WARNING'.

Been there. Not Silicon Valley, not a startup, not a small company, not an owner (just a manager), and a long time ago, well before Slack or other social-media communication paradigms started inappropriately infiltrating the workplace. But I read this article and I could hear their voice again.

Their modi operandi included : moving an admin clerk into our office to report our conversations back to them; interposing themselves onto our lunch table every day, and diverting the conversation towards work; appearing in our office at precisely the designated end of working day time every day, and starting up a long and involved conversation about work; informing us 'nobody should talk about anything without first talking to ME'; responding to any question or criticism of the work or the workplace with 'well, YOU signed your contracts'; and finally there was the business trip, insisting on sharing a cab to the airport and during the 20-minute ride asking us three times if we had our passports; when we arrived we found we had the smallest and pokiest rooms available, while they had booked themselves into a suite - which they invited us to all come and marvel at; after the flight back, I hid in the airport toilet for 20 minutes in order to avoid them, and when I came out, there they were, asking me if I knew how to get home.

I still ask myself how they managed to pack so much into the 13 days I worked there.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 2:30 AM on December 6, 2019 [24 favorites]


What's a "dream brand"?
posted by eustatic at 2:46 AM on December 6, 2019 [10 favorites]


> ... there's great opportunities in say Kansas City with zero bullshit and cheap groceries.

I've spent almost all of my white-collar career working for various companies in the undistinguished parts of flyover country and can assure you that even in the most unglamorous of mediocre middle-tier office environments there is no shortage of psychotic little Napoleanic wannabes micromanaging their underlings into induced physical stress disorders. They lack only the upbringing, sense of entitlement and social connections to do so in the more fashionable, better-paying parts of the country.
posted by at by at 5:29 AM on December 6, 2019 [36 favorites]


I agree Slack doesn't cause this behavior, but absent Slack a good manager can do a lot more to shield their employees from a raging narcissist at the top. Of course good managers don't want to work for a raging narcissist for very long.
posted by muddgirl at 6:39 AM on December 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


Or, as in this case, the good managers get fired for trying to do their job properly.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:40 AM on December 6, 2019 [7 favorites]


at by: Hell, happens in the non-profit space, too. I was let go from a job I liked at an organization I believed in because my great boss left and was replaced by an asshole who simultaneously micromanaged me and gave me vague requests with no clarity as to what they wanted—and blamed me when I inevitably got it wrong.
posted by SansPoint at 6:51 AM on December 6, 2019 [7 favorites]


What's a "dream brand"?

besides a fantasy ritual scar that you inflict permanently upon your skin. That I understand.
posted by eustatic at 7:28 AM on December 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


I feel like what happened here is that everyone drew exactly the wrong conclusions from Warby Parker's success.

I worked for an excellent company when In Search of Excellence came out, and feel that a lot of people drew the wrong conclusions from it.
My company was so excited about this book that AFAICT, every employee was given a copy. In a few years, the company started the change from a company focused on excellence to a company trying to achieve 'industry standards'- i.e. lower pay, more hours. Now some of this was because of changing markets, and more of it was about new stockholder demands, but in my mind, people read the book and said "Company X is excellent and they have dress-down Fridays. Company Y is excellent and they have a ping-pong table.", and decided that the excellence came from the wardrobe and/or the activities reather than the other way around. That ISO 9000 gives you quality instead of just documenting it. It seemed like management was looking to Dilbert for advice without realizing it was satire.
Also, before the mid 80's, my company was seriously committed to management training, but that seemed to go the way of industry standards. I think that a very low percentage of humans are naturally good managers, and most if not all could benefit from some training. There is no easier way to destroy a company than bad managers, especially at the top. Shit flows downhill.
posted by MtDewd at 7:35 AM on December 6, 2019 [9 favorites]


Technology choice matters. The exclusionary lists and reindeer games that email can do are absolutely real. Many, many passive-aggressive behaviours are enabled with BCC:. However, radical openness isn't a good answer either.

People need backchannels and need restricted team/peer groups where they can feel safe to be honest with each other. The pantsing in public thing is all too real, and very much a bullying behaviour.

Transparency isn't even really a concern here. They're not a legal office or working in a bank or something. They're doing customer service for retail. Transparency and record-keeping isn't a paramount need for them. I'd want timeliness and flexibility, both of which Slack does do, as my priorities. But Korey didn't seem to value that. Transparency seems to me to be her way of saying micromangement.

Anyway, my takeaway from all that is that Korey had undersized her customer-service (and operations) teams and was hoping to get by simply by yelling at everyone. The Apple model is the right way to do a premium brand; high margins allows for more people to service their customer base, which gives a better experience. You can't do cheap costs and have luxury-brand customer experience. Or better put, you can only do it for the length of time it takes to burn out and drive away your employees. A company won't last for more than a few months this way.
posted by bonehead at 7:36 AM on December 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


I say this as a Latinx person who passes: there is no way that I would have been willing to be in that room in the first place, but I expect that Grau will now be getting more personal attacks over this than everybody else involved, and I think the framing of this by the article was extremely shitty. There are already people on Twitter making it clear that they think Grau's faking it based only on her photograph and that line of the article. Those of us who pass weren't the ones who decided on "POC" being the umbrella term, okay. This does not make it okay to treat it like having one person in management who only passes for white be sufficient diversity for making these sorts of decisions, but dear god, when I say that passing comes with its own problems, this is a great example.

On the other hand, I think the article weirdly oversells the idea that management had a problem with employees venting privately, and not that management had a problem with employees complaining about cis people or white people, which to me is a very different problem. I am left with a feeling that they really only were going to give slaps on the wrist for having the private channel, so why is that the focus, that it was private, not that people got fired for complaining about cis white people behaving like cis white people?
posted by Sequence at 7:57 AM on December 6, 2019 [6 favorites]


From the article: "Employees were not allowed to email each other [...]"

What the... How do they get any work done?
posted by Triplanetary at 8:57 AM on December 6, 2019


That's what the Slack was for. Basically, all work communication was out in the open, which sounds like a bit of a nightmare for several reasons.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:10 AM on December 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


What's a "dream brand"?

A symptom of illness.

Brands are memetic viruses, whose success depends upon the willing propagation of the host. People talk a lot about building up brand awareness, but there's not a lot of advice for how to exorcise brand awareness away.
posted by Construction Concern at 9:13 AM on December 6, 2019 [7 favorites]


Or better put, you can only do it for the length of time it takes to burn out and drive away your employees. A company won't last for more than a few months this way.

It is so damn frustrating to me when people downplay the robustness of sick systems. Amazon thrives. Scientology thrives while treating people worse than Away and offering them even less.
posted by Sauce Trough at 9:21 AM on December 6, 2019 [12 favorites]


all work communication was out in the open

Slack is just open-plan e-mail.
posted by scruss at 9:49 AM on December 6, 2019 [24 favorites]


Sauce Trough, from what I've been hearing, Scientology isn't thriving. Hubbard at least cared about building the organization, Miscavage is looting it.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 10:14 AM on December 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


customer experience associates
cast members
human resources

Who comes up with this euphemistic bullshit? Probably someone from McKinsey.
posted by JackFlash at 10:45 AM on December 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


Not to threadjack, but you know you've probably spent enough time in...certain subcultures when you see people discussing "Slack" and immediately think of something other than email systems.
posted by gtrwolf at 11:40 AM on December 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


Here’s the leaked memo in which Away tells employees not to fave The Verge’s investigation. By “memo,” they mean a Slack message naturally.
posted by zachlipton at 12:01 PM on December 6, 2019 [6 favorites]


“In my mind, it’s a trivial product but the brand is more than just luggage,” Avery says. “It’s about travel.” As the months went by and she got a closer glimpse at the growth and image-obsessed culture, however, she started to feel like the mission was just a smokescreen to get employees to work harder and longer.

How long is this weird cult delusional behavior going to go on?

These things don't exist in a vacuum. I see it as part of the same fabric as modern fan culture, cult like behavior in support of selling products. This is a system wide problem.
posted by bongo_x at 12:01 PM on December 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


Not to threadjack, but you know you've probably spent enough time in...certain subcultures when you see people discussing "Slack" and immediately think of something other than email systems.

Hell when Mrs Sauce asked me if I saw the Away article on metafilter I was stoked at first because I thought she was talking about the Voivod's awesome drummer / cover artist.

(Away's art is actually super on point for the experience of working at Away .. people trapped inside machines, growing into them, always screaming.)
posted by Sauce Trough at 12:19 PM on December 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


Here’s the leaked memo in which Away tells employees not to fave The Verge’s investigation.

Complete with an 'apology' which she manages to negate even before she starts :- "I can imagine how people felt reading those messages from the past"...
posted by Cardinal Fang at 1:05 PM on December 6, 2019


Yes if only she had some tool that archived all of her communications, so she could review and learn from them to become a better CEO...
posted by muddgirl at 1:22 PM on December 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


I worked for an excellent company when In Search of Excellence came out, and feel that a lot of people drew the wrong conclusions from it.

That book was assigned reading for me in college - 88 or 89. I don't remember what we learned from the book, but I'm pretty sure the vast majority of those companies are long gone.
posted by COD at 3:08 PM on December 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


not someone who's going to get fired if they don't say my name three times

Especially when they call me MRS. over and over. I can't even say "Mrs. **** is my mother" because my mom has a different last name.
posted by bendy at 4:58 PM on December 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


And now that I read that article I'm getting targeted ads for Away.
posted by bendy at 5:45 PM on December 6, 2019


And now that I read that article I'm getting targeted ads for Away.

Cool. It's a pain to have to deal with them, but at least it diverts their ad spend towards a null prospect.
posted by Sauce Trough at 6:29 PM on December 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


Slack is just open-plan e-mail.

Slack is what happens when IRC grows up and has a mortgage to pay.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:09 PM on December 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


As the holidays approached, the team had to work around the clock to keep up with customer demand. In December, Caroline was wrapping up work at 1AM when she saw a Slack message from Pasanen. “Okay everyone! Take a photo with your computer in bed when you get home. Here’s mine!” She was sitting in bed wearing a face mask, still working.

OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK? HOW ABOUT "FUCK NO?"

How is this not a massive HR and harassment violation, because the team is all women?

Sometimes I feel sad that I missed out on the whole "having a career" thing, but then I read something like this and am very glad to have skipped that all.

And this is sincerely how I try to be happy but broke as hell. When I read stories like this I'm just like "Well, I might not be able to afford some of the things I need, but at least I don't have PTSD working for some shitty cult of a startup business or brand."

Somewhere in an alternate timeline there's the shittier version of me that went all out in the marketing industry, a version that kept the overpaid office job at the major civil engineering firm that ended up getting swallowed by evil-as-anything Bechtel or some shit, instead of flaming out and diving head first into a bottle of vodka to cope with the fungible weaponized bullshit.

That version of me is likely working on an anti-climate change marketing campaign secretly funded by oil companies or something evil like that, because that's where that particular job and career path was leading me.
posted by loquacious at 8:48 PM on December 6, 2019 [7 favorites]


Slack is what happens when IRC grows up and has a mortgage to pay.

Slack is IRC's dad dancing at Christmas.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 12:57 AM on December 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


When you're in a hole, the smart thing to do is to stop digging.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 1:02 AM on December 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


Doesn't #1 work for Slack?
posted by dobbs at 11:44 AM on December 7, 2019


But did they get their month of vacation in exchange for 9 hours on New Years?
posted by valeries at 4:10 AM on December 8, 2019


If they did, I'm sure it came with a steaming pile of guilt and emotional manipulation about not embodying the company's values of self-negation in the name of serving the all-important CEO customers. The public shaming that came with is just a bonus.
posted by j.r at 12:35 PM on December 8, 2019


Sauce Trough, from what I've been hearing, Scientology isn't thriving .. miscavage is looting it.

what do you think Scientology is for?
posted by Sauce Trough at 1:48 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


little king trashmouth, I worked a TechSupport Call Center like that. Woke up 1 snowy morning to enough snow that it would make me late. The 45 minute drive would be an hour and a half or so. Maybe they'd issue a points waiver because Snow, no way of knowing. I had a few points, getting more meant an extremely tiresome scolding from my young, sexist, ageist, gung-ho team leader. I said Fuck Your Points, called in to say Nope, I'm done, and went back to sleep. It's the modern version of the production line. I once heard a senior manager wonder why turnover was so high.

Pretty much the moment the center reached their 5 year commitment from their big, fat tax breaks and other incentives, most jobs were moved offshore.
posted by theora55 at 3:43 PM on December 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


WSJ: Online Luggage Startup Away Says CEO Is Stepping Down
Away, an online seller of luggage that investors valued at $1.4 billion earlier this year, said Chief Executive Officer Steph Korey is stepping down from the post.
Ms. Korey will become executive chairman of the New York City-based startup. Stuart Haselden, formerly chief operating officer at Lululemon Athletica Inc., will succeed her as CEO, according to the company. Away co-founder Jen Rubio will remain president and chief brand officer.
posted by rewil at 2:48 PM on December 9, 2019


The Verge: Away replaces CEO Steph Korey after Verge investigation

Korey publicly apologized for her behavior a day after the story broke, saying she was “appalled” to see how she’d spoken to employees. “I am sincerely sorry for what I said and how I said it,” she added in a statement to CNBC. “It was wrong, plain and simple.”

Employees voiced skepticism that the executive would actually change. “It’s not like this was the first time she’s needed reprimanding for her management and conduct,” one former worker told The Verge in a follow-up article that published on December 6th. “She knows exactly who she’s hurt, and to just issue a ho-hum blanket apology now to the public, feels like it was done just to save face and slow down order returns that are coming in. It’s not right.”
posted by Umami Dearest at 7:57 PM on December 9, 2019


Some more about the Away CEO swap from John Gruber.
But one of the strangest things was that while it was ostensibly a story about the company, the actual story felt almost entirely like a hit on Korey, personally. No other executive’s Slack messages were quoted as evidence of the perceived cultural problems.
posted by SansPoint at 8:13 AM on December 10, 2019


Given that Gruber made this comment:
All six sources were anonymous former employees (and, coincidentally or not, women).
- I'd be happy to dismiss him as a misogynistic crank, but his argument frankly doesn't hold up. No company wants to go through what Away is going through, because pinning the blame on the person who was already on their way out the door doesn't actually work. It's clear that they were planning on cleaning up Korey's mess quietly (hence why they were in the process of hiring the guy who righted Lululemon's ship), which is likely why the women went to The Verge - they didn't want to see the company's abusive culture swept under the rug.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:02 AM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


The buried lede of all these stories about really awful startup cultures is that capitalism is working just as it is intended - by reinventing itself to seem like a force for good on the outside while retaliating without mercy internally whenever workers organize to counteract the inclinations of those at the top hoarding all of the benefits. I am not at all surprised that management was so threatened by employees communicating privately with one another - this is straight-out of every anti-union organization handbook.
posted by mostly vowels at 11:05 AM on December 10, 2019 [4 favorites]


The satirical but connected VC Starter Kit shared anonymous opinions from VCs, journalists, and founders/operators. It's a pretty interesting and revealing look at how people in this field think when they can be anonymous.
posted by Ouverture at 3:46 PM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


Follow-up from Recode showing that Steph Korey was already, slowly being forced out.
But multiple sources tell Recode that while new CEO Stuart Haselden had indeed planned to join Away before The Verge piece was published, he was not meant to immediately helm the CEO role; instead, he would join the company as Away’s chief operating officer, or COO, reporting to Korey, and would later move into the top spot if all went according to plan.

Under that original plan, Haselden would eventually replace Korey as CEO — perhaps as early as mid-2020 — after he got to know the business better. It was also meant to allow Korey time to get comfortable with the transition, according to a person familiar with the plan.
posted by SansPoint at 12:09 PM on December 11, 2019


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