Matt Czarnecki, Bennett Byerley and André Monteiro met as undergrads at Yale University. After failing to find a satisfying energy bar, they came up with the idea to make their own.
That turned into a startup, which in June moved to Austin to expand from online sales into retail stores. We caught up with Byerley to talk about the company and the move to Austin. Below is an edited transcript of the conversation.
How did you get the idea?
Late one night while studying for a test in college, Matt walked into a coffee shop to grab a coffee and a granola bar. He waited 15 minutes, spent $6, and left feeling jittery and unsatisfied — and his grade on the test showed it. He wondered: “Why isn’t there a healthy and easy way to get energy that actually makes me feel good?” André and I then teamed up with Matt to try to make something that did just that.
We started by making caffeinated energy bars in dorm room kitchens in the spring of 2016. Some of these bars tasted pretty bad, but after 127 recipes, we made something truly delicious. As more people heard about Verb, we rented a local bakery in the hours after it closed to make Verb Bars until the wee hours of the morning.
In those early days, people on campus just texted us when they wanted Verb Bars, and we’d run to our dorm rooms, pack 12 bars into a box, and hand-deliver them before our next class.
Now, we’re bringing Verb to the world.
How do you describe your products?
We make 90-calorie energy bars that each contain as much caffeine as a shot of espresso. But the caffeine comes from organic green tea for longer-lasting, jitter-free energy. They are vegan and gluten-free, and they come in three flavors: Maple Blueberry, Simply Cocoa, and Salted Peanut Butter.
Once you order on our website verbenergy.com, you get to join Verb Flex to be able to text the three of us at 415-915-VERB (that’s 8372) to manage your orders. We’ve absolutely loved this aspect of our business, as many folks text us encouragement, send us dog pictures, and tell us funny stories.
André, our CTO, built a CRM (customer relationship management system) from scratch to make this possible. Instead of making a rigid subscription model like a lot of other online food companies, we made Verb Flex: each month, you receive a text from us to see if you want the same order as last month or if you’d like to change anything, pause, or skip a month. And you can do all of this over text.
You moved Verb to Austin in June and are expanding operations here. Why did you choose Austin?
We wanted to bring Verb to a community that was health-conscious and hard-working, yet likes to have fun and isn’t too serious. In Austin, we’ve found a welcoming, diverse community that is very active and engaged in a wide variety of activities, and a bustling entrepreneurial scene. We are so thankful for how encouraging, supportive, and kind people have been to us.
Verb is mainly sold online, but we’ve launched in a few local Austin stores as our first retail test. We are currently sold in Bee Grocery, Thom’s Market, Mozart’s, Fresh Plus, River City Market and Rabbit Food Grocery.
How are you funded?
This past winter, we raised a seed round of just under $1 million from a syndicate of venture capital firms and angel investors.
What are your expansion plans?
We plan to expand our retail presence in Austin, and we have a team of students at the University of Texas who are going to help us introduce Verb to the college students. We are also expanding rapidly online.
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