May 18, 2018 7 min read

balolo memorabilia

“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.

Best friends - Simon & Ruben
How did you meet Simon?
Simon and I have been friends for over 10 years now. We met when we were riding our bikes to the soccer field. Man, he had such a nice bike. I went up to him and we became friends instantly.

How did you find the first office and grow as a team?
I was very lucky, my parents were very supportive of my idea and they gave me a small room in their office building so I could work on balolo. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure if my business was going to grow, I wasn’t sure where to start but with the help of my friends and family I was able to get started very quickly. And we were all students back then, so we studied by day and worked until late at night. Then our business quadrupled and that’s when I knew I needed to hire my first talented and young employees, who quickly became family.
    You guys work with wood, a material that requires a lot of technique. However, you don’t have a carpentry background. What piqued your interest in working with wood?
    Wood is very tricky, but also very unique and special, the properties aren’t comparable to any other material. And I also think creativity and dedication are very important when working with wood. I asked my friends who are very well acquainted with wood and they helped me grow a love for it. Once I studied the different types of woods, I was able to pick out the best and the ones that align to balolo. Among the countless hardwoods, the American walnut is exceptional and best seller.

      CNC machineCNC machine

      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.
      New team members 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.Simon oiling the wood

      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.
      Jennifer's sweet note to Simon

        When you are not in the office, how might you spend your day?
        Ride my bike along the Rhine. If I didn’t have to work today, I would take my bike and book and just chill. I’m currently reading “Predictably Irrational”.
          Where would you take a friend who is in Cologne for the first time?
          Most definitely our office. I love our office! And then the tourist spots, Dom, Rheinauhafen, and for a party night, Odonien.

          How did you get where you are? Luck or hard work?
          A little bit of both. I was fortunate to have a great support system that always backed me up when I needed help. Being enthusiastic and patient about the things I wanted to accomplish is also important to help you achieve what you believe in.
            How do you see yourself, as CEO, entrepreneur or simply Ruben?
            I’m not concerned with titles but I would say Ruben, but Ruben is an entrepreneur, just more relaxed. In other words, me, with lots of ideas I want to make reality, doing my own thing, learning by doing.
            Proud and happy - balolo's CEO & Founder, Ruben

              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.