Executive Briefing

Away, ‘toxic culture’ stories, and Slack

In the cancel-culture era, do customers care if the boss is demanding?

Away founders Jen Rubio and Steph Korey
Away founders Jen Rubio and Steph Korey / Masha Maltsava for Away

Away, the fast-growing direct-to-consumer luggage startup, has mostly managed to avoid controversy in its four years of existence. Not this week: The Verge’s Zoe Schiffer posted a feature story at 11am ET Thursday morning — “Emotional Baggage” — about the company’s supposed “toxic work environment,” which has been making the rounds all day.

The piece relies mostly on anecdotes from pseudonymous and anonymous former employees and “leaked” screenshots from Slack, the workplace chat app, where co-founder and CEO Steph Korey was seen reprimanding employees, and generally being demanding, in public.

It is hardly the worst thing I’ve read this week, and those screenshots could have just as easily come from many ambitious, growth-focused, high-standards CEOs. But it’s not a good look, especially for a company where a large portion of its success can be attributed to its clean, smart, “premium economy” brand.

In this post:

  • Why takedown stories about loosely defined “toxic culture” happen — including journalists’ incentives, and work culture trends — and will likely happen more.
  • Why Slack is potentially a real liability, despite being a useful communication tool.
  • My assessment whether this will hurt Away, and why companies like Away are particularly sensitive to stories like these.

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Dan Frommer

Hi, I’m Dan Frommer and this is The New Consumer, a publication about how and why people spend their time and money.

I’m a longtime tech and business journalist, and I’m excited to focus my attention on how technology continues to profoundly change how things are created, experienced, bought, and sold. The New Consumer is supported entirely by your membership — join now to receive my reporting, analysis, and commentary directly in your inbox, via my twice-weekly, member-exclusive newsletter. Thanks in advance.

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