Last spring, Matt Czarnecki ’18, Bennett Byerley ’19 and André Monteiro ’18 started VERB—a caffeinated energy bar company that uses organic green tea extract to provide the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee. Shortly thereafter they added Isaac Morrier ’17, and today the startup is on track to expand beyond Yale by 2017 with a brand-new website and an official campus launch yesterday. Starting a business is an immense commitment and it entails large financial and legal responsibility. Why did these three students take the path less travelled? What are some challenges student entrepreneurs face? Yale Entrepreneurship Magazine sat down with VERB’s Matt Czarnecki to learn more.
Czarnecki confessed that he did not plan for entrepreneurship to feature in his Yale journey. “When I first started Yale, I had zero interest.” However, he began to realize his passion for innovation after late-night conversations with his friend and his brother. He realized that he loves brainstorming ideas and began writing these ideas in his daily journal.
Before long, he was at the Yale Entrepreneurship Institute (YE)I’s Office Hours consulting with the mentors there about ideas he came up with on his own. Czarnecki stressed that coming up with a viable idea takes time and multiple attempts. He initially worked on very diverse ideas. For instance, in his freshman year, he worked on TriviaAlarm, a trivia-based alarm clock app.
It was only until the end of his sophomore fall semester that the idea for the caffeinated energy bar materialized. As part of Yale Launch, an entrepreneurial club that creates business solutions to real-life problems, he and his team pitched the idea for the bar and a panel of judges from YEI and Center for Engineering Innovation and Design selected his idea as one of the top two ideas.
Breaking into the F&B Industry
The team’s choice of industry is bold given that they would have to deal with food safety regulations and compete with the hundreds of competitors already in the market. There is also an issue of scalability. Big banks will be unable to finance their operations because profit margins are small and it takes time and resources to mass-produce the products.
While Czarnecki acknowledged these challenges, he voiced his belief that the team can teach themselves to do anything. The team can make up for their lack of expertise via consulting experts like food scientists and YEI’s lawyers. “What it really comes down to is coming up with the recipe, getting consumer feedback and then improving the product continually.”
He emphasized that the team had to put in considerable time to develop the recipe. “The final recipe we have changed a lot since we first started.”
Advice for Yalies interested in Entrepreneurship
When asked when is a good time to start a business, Czarnecki said “You have to be willing to put your earnings, time and energy on the line for something you believe in.” He also encouraged Yalies to start a business while in college because ‘now is the time to be risky, when you don’t have to pay for an apartment and family.’
For Yalies afraid of sacrificing other passions for entrepreneurship, Czarnecki said “Entrepreneurship is a multidisciplinary field! You can combine all your interests into one business!”
He rounded up the interview by sharing that starting his own business is “the most challenging but the most rewarding activity” he has done at Yale.
VERB bars are currently being sold via their website. A box of 10 currently costs $19.99, and there are subscription packages available for monthly deliveries of 10 or 20 bars.