Web Summit – Serena Williams: “Travel is tennis, and tennis is travel”


Serena Williams: “ This is the first time that the whole world is going through the same problem at the same time. We can lean on the fact that everyone is in a space now where it’s not the most comfortable, but try to find happy moments in between those. One happy moment has been spending a lot more time at home, because I’ve been travelling for as long as I can remember; literally before I was even a teenager. It’s really cool to be able to be in one place. I never knew how much I enjoyed that. ”

  • Tennis legend Serena Williams and Away co-founder and president Jen Rubio talked about the collaboration that Williams has done with Away. The star athlete’s next luggage collection with Away is set for release in January. “ Travel is tennis, and tennis is travel,” Williams said, which made the pairing a natural fit.
  • With travel pretty much out of the question for 2020, Williams said she’s found that she likes being in one place for once and being able to spend time with family, including her young daughter, Olympia.
  • Rubio said that, with the pandemic, Away found itself needing to take a position on travel. “ It doesn’t mean that just because we’re a company built around travel that we should be encouraging it. In fact, we actually stopped everything and took a long hard look, [asking ourselves] ‘If we’re talking to our customers what should we be saying?’ Obviously we love travel as much – or more than – anyone, but we feel with our audience, we had a real responsibility there.”
  • Speaking at 100,000-attendee online conference Web Summit, Williams and Rubio are part of a lineup that includes European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

Few people travel more than tennis great Serena Williams, so collaborating with travel startup Away on luggage collections was “the perfect piece to a puzzle in the Serena brand,” Williams said.

“I couldn’t think of something that was more authentic and fit someone like me in a better way,” she said of the pairing. “To play tennis is to travel.”

Williams and Jen Rubio, co-founder and president of Away, were interviewed by Glamour editor-in-chief Samantha Barry during 100,000-attendee online conference Web Summit.

The two female entrepreneurs talked about their first meeting to discuss a partnership possibility. Williams’ daughter Olympia was newly born and the tennis star said she was having “a mess of a day,” which resulted in her showing up more than two hours late. She apologised and explained how hectic life was, and it’s been a successful match since then.

Rubio said it’s hard to know how hands-on a celebrity collaborator will be, but Williams – who is a successful designer in her own right, and a startup investor – “was on a whole other level.”

“She came to us with her own mood boards, and her love for fashion and design came through in a way that it hasn’t with other partnerships,” Rubio said.

Williams said that, in working with the Away design team, she wanted red to be the dominant color because it would stand out against the sea of black suitcases, and embody her fierce, bold spirit.

“I love bold colors. I have a bold personality; I do bold things,” she said. ” And what better color to travel with than one of the most bold colours that you can think of?”

When asked about the challenges of this year, in which travel has largely been grounded, Rubio said the pandemic has been tough for any business, but being at “the intersection of travel and retail is pretty much the worst place to be.”

Especially in the beginning of the global pandemic, Rubio said it was important for Away – even though it’s a company built around travel – to take a position of discouraging people from traveling.

“I think it’s irresponsible for anyone in the travel industry to be encouraging travel at this time,” she said. “But if you have an open conversation with your community and your customers, you can weather this.”

Early on in the pandemic, Away actually saw that – without trips on the horizon – its customers employed creative use cases for suitcases as standing desks or as workout apparatus, which was “really fun to see”. And now the company is noticing an uptick in road trips, customers temporarily moving to places with more space in which to quarantine, and an increase in pet carrier sales as people adopt pets at high rates.

Williams, talking about not being able to travel to the degree that she usually does, said she tries to find small happy moments and that she’s savouring time at home with family.

“One happy moment has been spending a lot more time at home, because I’ve been travelling for as long as I can remember; literally before I was even a teenager. It’s really cool to be able to be in one place. I never knew how much I enjoyed that,” she said. “These are moments that I’ll never get back, so for me just looking for as many positives as I can find in this year in particular has been really important.”

About Serena Williams

Serena Williams’ remarkable tennis achievements, combined with her off-court successes in fashion, philanthropy and business, make her one of the most recognisable icons in the world, and a powerful voice for women and mothers.

About Jen Rubio

Jen is the co-founder and president of Away, a global brand that’s working to transform the entire travel experience. Under her leadership, Away has been named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies.

About Web Summit

In the words of Inc. Magazine, “Web Summit is the largest technology conference in the world”. Forbes says Web Summit is “the best tech conference on the planet”, Bloomberg calls it “Davos for geeks”, Politico “the Olympics of tech”, and the Guardian “Glastonbury for geeks”.

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