In an as-told-to essay for College Game Plan, Matt Czarnecki, co-creator of Verb, a caffeinated energy bar, reveals what he learned navigating the business development process as a student.
The CEO: Matt Czarnecki
School: Yale University class of 2018
From: Lexington, Massachusetts
My dorm room pitch
I’ve always been a health nut, and about a year and a half ago at a coffee shop on Yale’s campus, I bought a coffee and a granola bar and paid over $6. I asked myself, why can’t I pull this out of my backpack, and why isn’t there a more convenient and less expensive way to get healthy energy?
I pitched the idea of a maximally convenient way to get caffeine plus food to an entrepreneurial incubator, Yale Launch, that I had started on campus. Two of my co-founders, Andre Monteiro and Bennett Byerley joined me from the founding class of the incubator, and we got to work in campus kitchens. Isaac Morrier, who was our last co-founder and just graduated, joined the team in September.
We worked night shifts 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. in a local kitchen, hand-making energy bars with caffeine in them and sold them to students. Our friends told their friends and it spread to the point where we couldn’t keep up with the demand from students on Yale’s campus.
That’s when we realized we were on to something.
How we grew
We raised some funding from Kevin Ryan, who’s a Yale alum and started Business Insider, to make Verb at scale.
This past winter we did a deep dive into brands. Isaac, our CMO, did some long-form interviews with our customers. We set out to create something like a Red Bull; you’d have this product before a big exam or a hard workout, but when he interviewed our best customers, we learned they were having Verb every single day. So we really designed the brand and packaging and even taste of the bar around this idea of something that’s good for you every day.
We officially launched a new product in April and sold 10,000 bars in our first 30 days.
We did 127 recipes before getting to the one we had now. None of us has any food experience, though I worked at a food startup in Boston. It’s just been getting our hands dirty in the kitchen and learning — that’s what we are all about as a company.
How it works
We all eat two Verb bars a day, sometimes three. The four of us are also very into fitness, so we make time for maybe 30-60 minutes a day to work out. That’s how we did a lot of our testing.
We started by experimenting with all sorts of caffeine sources: guarana, guayusa, maca, green tea caffeine, coffee beans. Green tea was the best way to deliver long-lasting energy. I’m a biochemist by trade, and green tea has high levels of antioxidants and L-theanine, a plant-based amino acid that helps to prolong the caffeine release and prevents a crash.
Time spent on Verb: 9-10 hours
Time spent studying: 2-3 hours
Time spent sleeping: 7 hours
My advice for other CEOs
You will have a lot of people try to tell you what to do. And it’s easy at the beginning to think that they have the right answer. But the fact of the matter is that in entrepreneurship, there is no right answer. It’s not an exam, and we've learned as a team to listen to advice from others but decisions come from us. We’ve made some great decisions and some terrible ones, but we’ve learnt to trust ourselves, make those decisions and move on.