“Welcome to my crib, MTV” smiles Ruben Keferstein bashfully – as he opens the door to the balolo office – a brightly lit, 2-store building located just 30 minutes south of Cologne, Germany.
We visit Ruben at balolo’s headquarters in a converted castle to chat about his decision to open another office in Cologne. When talking about balolo, one gets the enthusiastic vibes that come from Ruben – humble, yet confident.
A tall ROXY picture hangs on the wall as one enters the building – white walls, wooden floors, high cealings and balolo products all around. Everywhere you turn, something catches your eye; a vintage coke machine stands tall in one corner of the room, a fossball table awaits on the other, balolo memorabilia is displayed throughout the entire office, definitely an enviable space.
A successful entrepreneur that has a talent for design, market analysis AND brings passion to every single product doesn’t always happen. With an eye for style, iron discipline and good jokes, Ruben made a name for himself and balolo, capturing a clean and fine aesthetic. These are products that are intended to be loved.
What is the story of balolo?
I started balolo end of 2012. I was 21 years old and I was sure I wanted to start a company but I was waiting for the right moment and the right project and that’s when in the middle of my Business Administration studies at the university, I had the idea of putting a piece of wood on my phone because I thought it would make my phone standout. And I’ve always been a handyman, building whatever I could get my hands on, whether it was with my father or just me, I love building things. So one day, I decided to put the wood cover I made on my phone and my friends really liked it! And kept asking where I got it from. That’s when I decided to start my own company. After working a couple of summer jobs, I was able to buy my first CNC machine. At the beginning, I had no idea how it worked, but I started to read a couple of forums and that is how I learned how to handle the CNC properly. It wasn’t hard at all; rather challenging but it was fun and a good learning experience. Then I had my good friend Simon help me out with the company and he has been by my side ever since.
How does it feel to be a young entrepreneur and manage a team of 8 people?
It’s a lot of fun! We are all very close and this is very important to me. Being an entrepreneur gives me freedom although I stay pretty busy. And like I had previously said, my team are like my family, so sometimes I don’t feel like I need to “manage” them since we all communicate really well. Of course there are some difficulties and it is challenging but this is what’s expected from my job and I am fortunate to have such a wonderful team work with me.
You’re really lucky with the location of the new office. The office space in Cologne is smaller than the one in Hennef, where balolo first got started. Whose idea was to move the office to Cologne?
My idea! And everybody hated it (laughs) Our office in Hennef is a huge space, it’s 300 square meters, high ceilings, nice interior, beautiful large garden, even a jacuzzi! However, it’s in Hennef and the commute is a bit of a killer. I’ve been living in Cologne for 7 years and I could never give up the city. The office is in a very central area, close to one of the universities, so lots of students walking around, cafes, restaurants and the Rheinauhafen is just walking distance from our office so as soon as the space became available, I jumped at the opportunity and leased it. And this is also very funny, but we received more job applications, once we posted new job abs for the Cologne office.
I really like the pictures of the team members hanging on the wall. It makes the office space very distinctive. How did you choose the team?
We had so many applicants, it made the interview process very tough and competitive. The team members in the Cologne office are all new and I felt this was necessary. There were two main ingredients when building our new Cologne team: Personality and professional skills. I’ve had the experience of hiring people with no previous experience and that was very time consuming, or people that were unmotivated or indifferent, you name it. At the same time, our current employees really stood out to me, both professionally and personality wise.
What sets balolo’s products apart from other wood products?
Our products aren’t just covers. The manufacturing process, customer support, design and personal supervision is something that makes us stand out. We process every balolo cover and make it to perfection. The ambition to make unique and special pieces for our customers is what we have committed ourselves since we founded the company. Additionally, our products are handcrafted in Germany and our customers value that as well.
In your website bio, you mentioned you are trying to grow the spiciest chili. How’s that going?
Yes! I already tried this a couple of years ago, spiciness is rated by Scoville and back then the spiciest chilli was 1million Scoville, now it’s 2million Scoville. Currently I’m waiting for August to kick in so I can taste my Carolina Reaper, a beautiful 10 centimeter long fruit, I’m very excited!
For any young entrepreneurs out there that are trying to get their business started, do you have any words of advice?
I’ve always thought of advice as a definite answer on how one should do something. But let me put it this way: if I could talk to 15-year-old me, I would tell him: start as early as you can. Be brave, take risks and most importantly, believe in yourself because there will be times and moments when things will get hard or nothing will go your way but patience and endurance will ease the arduous times. Another important thing is to surround yourself with inspiring people. People that motivate you to do better and be better each and every single day of your life.
What are your plans for the future? Where do you see balolo in 5 years?
Wow, this is a tough one but, I would like to continue building a lifestyle brand within the Startfabrik corporation. Right now my goal is to create a strong team to maintain our company’s strength and hope to inspire them by sharing new ways of thinking and working and that way visualize a new “future balolo” Let’s see what comes our way while remaining ambitous. This is only the beginning.
Ruben, thank you so much for everything! We admire our sincerity and passion for what you do. Stay tuned for more of our upcoming series and don't forget to sign up to our Newsletter.