Back in 2016, Matt Czarnecki, then a sophomore at Yale University, found himself exhausted after studying for an exam one night. He needed a caffeine boost and his only option was a coffee shop, where he reluctantly handed over $6 for a coffee and some granola.
He asked himself: Why isn't there a simpler, healthier, cheaper alternative?
Czarnecki tossed some ideas around with his classmates Bennett Byerley and André Monteiro and, that semester, the students started experimenting with caffeinated energy bar recipes in their dorm kitchen.
The project took a lot of trial and error. Some of the original bars, which they made using a food processor and simple ingredients like oats, agave and peanut butter, "were pretty awful," Byerley tells CNBC Make It. "None of us had really any hands-on experience making food products. Matt had the best understanding of ingredients from his scientific background."
After 10 months and 127 failed recipes, by late 2016, they had a product that left them satisfied.
The co-founders decided to call the energy bites Verb bars. "We wanted a name that would convey energy to people," says Byerley.
Until August 2016, the undergrads refined their recipe and made bars from their dorm kitchen, but they needed more space. They contacted a local bakery half a mile from campus and struck a deal with the owners, Byerley says: "We would go in after our day ended and after the bakery closed, around 7 or 8 o'clock, and then we would stay and work until 2 or 3 in the morning."
Shortly after moving into the bakery, they started selling the bars to students around campus for $2 each. "We were testing price points all the time, so it changed a bunch," says Byerley. Today, they sell for less: $18 for a 12-pack, or $1.50 each.
Friends and friends of friends would text in their orders, "and we would go back to our dorm rooms and run a box of Verb bars to wherever they were on campus. We delivered them at all hours of the day, whenever we could."