I’m pleased to introduce Bennett Byerley, co-founder of Verb Energy Co., which manufactures caffeinated energy bar that is a tastier, healthier, and cheaper alternative to coffee plus granola. Bennett is currently a senior at Yale University majoring in Ethics, Politics and Economics, and you can find below the story of Verb, Bennett’s advice to aspiring college entrepreneurs, and more!
Can you tell us a little bit about Verb’s development over the years?
I started Verb the second semester of my freshman year where Matt Czarnecki, my co-founder, asked us to join Verb. He pitched it to André Monteiro and me, and we started making them in our own dorm kitchens. We contacted local bakeries and started selling them there, and then got funding to manufacture them at scale, and we’ve been growing direct-to-consumer online ever since. Now we’re based in Boston, and I commute between here and Boston and that’s where I’ll be going next year.
How does the idea for Verb first come to be?
Matt originally had the idea after he walked up to a coffee shop having paid too much for coffee and a granola bar. He thought there has to be a better way to get healthy caffeine to people who want to consume it all the time. He wanted them to be healthy, tasty and convenient, so we started to make them in the kitchen to see whether we can get a healthier product ourselves.
When is the moment that you realized that Verb is something you want to pursue full-time?
There wasn’t an exact moment. Entrepreneurship is inherently risky and it can fail whenever, so around every corner, we found that there is a chance that things fail and we were just going to keep trying for it and take each step as it comes. I think last summer is the time when I really saw it being a full-time job, just because we had raised our seed money, and we had enough funding to make it through. I thought we were ready.
What do you think is unique about Verb energy? How does it fit into the existing market?
Right now there is no energy product that combines taste, health, convenience, and energy effect like Verb does. On top of that, we have a very convenient and enjoyable customer experience. All of our customers order and manage their subscriptions over text messages, so we engage with our customers a lot and have great conversations with our customers over texts, which is very convenient for them. This is what we envision to be the next age of commerce, with more conversational commerce. These factors combined are our main competitive advantages.
More about our text message platform: André built a CRM which allows us to handle messages from customers. He built it from scratch, as he had a computer science background. The customers can order a sample package online, and we send a message to them whenever their subscription is coming up. It does take some time to manage all the data from the messages but we’ll figure out how to scale it.
At the beginning of Verb’s growth, how did you publicize yourselves?
A lot of word of mouth. Initially, we just took the bars to our friends on campus and started the word there. We tried to work as hard as we can to introduce our product to as many people as possible. Eventually, we have grown to put advertising material on social media, through influencers, and paid social media ads. Later we have some billboards on trash cans in Boston and got some press articles written about us. It can build momentum as you continue to publicize yourself, but at the beginning, it’s really hard to put your name out there and it takes quite a while. Still, if you create a strong community, you can really leverage that. We had a group of customers that really loved our product and believed in what we are doing, so they told their friends and brought them into the community and we really fostered the sense of being in the Verb family and being on the Verb team. That definitely added to the momentum.
What aspects of Verb do you want to improve in the future?
Almost everything. Going forward, our media goal is to keep going online in a sustainable way, and to make sure that we are building an excellent customer experience and people love the time at Verb. On top of that, we hope to expand into retail, and that’s going to take a lot of effort on our part. But we are excited about it.
Do you expect to expand the company and hire more people for the retail development?
Absolutely. We’ve been fortunate enough to work with a lot of wonderful people over the time with Verb. We’ve hired sets of interns here at Yale, in University of Texas in Austin, Boston University, and a couple of other places. We are working with a lot of freelancers now, and we have a group that handles our retail strategies, and also our wonderful designers and strategists, a variety of people. We are anticipating to bring on more people to work full-time.
What would you recommend to people pursuing entrepreneurship on campus?
There is no better way to learn than to get started. You really have to give it a shot. You have to seek out other people’s advice, and follow that advice. I think one piece of important advice for us is to focus on the team more than anything else. A lot of investors will tell you that they will rather invest in an A team with a B idea rather than a B team with an A idea. And that’s really important to remember to make sure that the people you’re working with are selfless and willing to work together, and are in it for the right reasons and for the team, that you can stay on the same page and have conflicts and learn from the conflicts. I’ve been fortunate enough to have two fantastic co-founders. We became really good friends, not just co-founders, that’s been the key to Verb’s success.
Bigger things about entrepreneurship are your speed to learn and get feedback and incorporate them to what you’re learning, and your ability to remain consistent and not give up. Entrepreneurship is about how you respond to failure, and not just how you achieve success. Once you’ve got that skill, I think you can really achieve a lot of things in general.
Do you have any book recommendations?
Scott Belsky has some really good books on entrepreneurship, one is Making Ideas Happen and the other is Messy Middle. For PR and marketing, Ryan Holliday has two good books, Growth Hacker Marketing is one, and Trust Me I’m Lying is a good one on PR. Beyond that, I think reading some good biographies on entrepreneurs is beneficial, like The Everything Store on Jeff Bezos, etc. Reading pieces and paying attention to news and podcasts are also great ways to learn.