Just in time for tailgate season, a new product has arrived at the University of Michigan’s campus: the Bois. The Bois is a luxury bottle-opening wallet — founders Ken Kernen and Philip Ruffini call it the first of its kind.

Business students Kernen, a sophomore, and Ruffini, a junior, met through the Delta Upsilon fraternity but have become better friends through their shared interests in e-commerce businesses and enrollment in Ross School of Business.

“Whenever I have a question, he is able to provide some feedback,” Kernen said of Ruffini. “We will shoot each other messages and they’ll either be about minimum order quantity or just a fun conversation immediately. There is no barrier or hesitation to have any conversation with him.”

In June of 2017, Kernen received a phone call from Ruffini in regard to the popularity of project-funding site Kickstarter and asked Kernen as to what he thought about pursuing something within the Kickstarter marketplace. Kickstarter is a crowdfunding site that provides a platform for entrepreneurs to gauge interest and demand for their products. Sellers choose a monetary goal and a time frame in which they plan on raising those funds — if they do not succeed, they do not make any money.

“He’s a very entrepreneurial guy, and is able to recognize opportunity very easily,” Kernen said. The two decided to begin working together to create a product.

“The first week was just ideas, ideas, ideas,” Kernen said about the events following the phone call. “We were thinking about doing wallets, some sort of wallet. And then we were like, ‘It would be cool if it had a bottle opener on it.’”

In week two, the decision about what materials to use began.

“Originally the wallet was going to be made out of cork instead of leather,” Kernen said. “But then, I surveyed about 40 of my close friends, and the feedback was overwhelming; I think 37 people chose the leather.”

By the end of week three, Ruffini had contacted suppliers and confirmed the product design.

“Philip took care of the whole process that was contacting these suppliers,” Kernen said. “He was very good with the negotiation process. He took care of a lot of the logistics. I chose to focus on marketing.”

Kernen explained throughout the process of creating the Bois, the Business School community had been so supportive and willing to help.

“It is a very supportive group of individuals,” Kernen said. “They wanted to be kept updated, wanted to know when the launch was, wondered if they could be ambassadors. It is a competitive atmosphere at Ross, but I think that it is absolutely the right amount of competition.”

The launch of the Bois took place on Kickstarter.com on Aug. 28.

The Bois launch currently has 40 backers, has raised $2,548 out of their $7,000 goal and has 16 days left to go.

“I would say half (of the backers) were our friends and family, but the other half were students — not necessarily at the University of Michigan,” Kerner said.

For a month prior to the launch, Kerner focused on social media campaigns to boost publicity.

“Our target demographic from what we found from receiving a surprising number of Instagram direct messages was that the typical male in college is very interested in the Bois wallet,” he said.

The wallet itself comes in brown and black leather and has six slots for cards, two pockets for coins, one large pocket for cash and has an RFID blocker. The supplier that Kernen and Ruffini use hand-crafts these luxury wallets in China.

Attaching a bottle opener to the side of the wallet was the game changer for this product, and co-founder Kerner doesn’t plan on stopping at just wallets.

“We were thinking either bottle-opening watches or bottle-opening glasses,” Kernen said. “We think that those would be the next step.”

In the coming week, Kernen and Ruffini are looking forward to meeting with advisers from the Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies to talk about ways to improve the product through applying for grants and scholarships.

“They have some very cool staff members there who look to support entrepreneurship ventures so we are going to meet with them and strategize with them,” Kernen said. “We’ll be applying for the Dare to Dream scholarship, which we would directly invest in more marketing for product.”

Kernen talked of risk-taking and the value that can come out of it.

“I can’t tell you how important this is, but Philip and I feel that the success of this campaign comes from learning as much as possible and taking risks,” he said. “The campaign could fail; a lot of things could go wrong, but Philip and I decided to focus on what could go right. We are in college. It is an absolutely amazing time to take risks.”

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