A True Keyper: One Student Entrepreneur’s Success Story
When most students think back to their freshman years at Penn State, they remember East Halls, newfound independence, and unforgettable nights out with friends.
However, when Ezra Gershanok, now a junior at Penn State, reflects on his freshman year, he thinks about something different. Gershanok recalls seeing his friends leave their dorm rooms unlocked to avoid losing their keys, an observation that would change the trajectory of his time in Happy Valley.
Gershanok decided to invent the Keyper, a silicone phone wallet that holds a student ID, credit cards, and a room key.
The Keyper story began one night when Gershanok was watching Shark Tank and thinking about how each entrepreneur got started by solving a problem.
He realized that the reason his friends kept leaving their doors unlocked was because they didn’t have a consistent place to put their room key. Since students keep their phones with them at all times, Gershanok thought the perfect place to hold a key would be on the back of a phone case. That night, he began sketching ideas for how his new invention should look.
“I thought to myself, how could that be the solution?” Gershanok said. “Why even have a key if you’re going to keep leaving your room unlocked? There has to be a better way.”
Gershanok knew he couldn’t embark on this business venture alone, so the following year he talked to his friend-turned-business partner Jacob Halbert, a student at Michigan, and the pair began searching for a contractor to manufacture their product. After finding a producer willing to take on their idea, Gershanok and Halbert dropped $800 on a design for the Keyper and patiently waited for their prototypes to be shipped to State College.
Today, the Keyper is currently being sold in the Penn State Bookstore, Family Clothesline, and on its own website. The cases go for $6.99.
Selling online has been a game-changer for Gershanok. Early on, he found that parents were more interested in the device than students.
“Parents are more than happy to spend $6.99 on a product that would prevent their children from spending $65 to replace a lost key,” Gershanok said.
Seeing students using his product, Gershanok said, is a rewarding feeling, and he loves that he has created a product that people will actually use.
Keyper’s growth, Gershanok said, is a result of his effective partnership with Halbert.
“Our skills complement each other extremely well,” Gershanok said. “Running this business is kind of like pushing a huge rock up a hill. There’s times when I can keep pushing and when I can’t he steps in and he can keep pushing. I think it is the best partnership I have ever had.”
Being a college student and trying to establish yourself in the business world is no easy task.
Gershanok often faces rejection from buyers from stores when trying to pitch his product, and he’s currently 3,600 miles from headquarters studying abroad in London. He said that he’s found the time difference to be beneficial to his work schedule since he has time to prepare his work, send out emails, and finish schoolwork all before his American colleagues have gotten out of bed in the morning.
Even as a Liberal Arts major, Gershanok is grateful for the classes he’s taken at Penn State for providing him with a strong foundation to begin his business with. However, running a business has taught him priceless information that he couldn’t have learned anywhere else.
“When running a business, you’ll be presented with challenges that you’ve never been prepared for and you just have to try to figure it out. That is what’s so great about running a business — it’s so open ended,” he said. “You can take it any direction you want and I don’t think any class can prepare you for that.”
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