In this episode, we talk with Verb Energy co-founder and CTO André Monteiro about launching a startup in college, building a text-based platform to humanize the ordering process, turning customer conversations into a successful relaunch and more!
About André Monteiro:
André is the co-founder and CTO of Verb Energy. He’s a NY-based entrepreneur that leads the tech team at Verb Energy, one of the fastest growing food and beverage brands in the country. André and his team have built a suite of internal tools like a CRM and workflow orchestrator that enable their team to personalize and manage an SMS-based customer journey at scale.
About Verb Energy:
At Verb, our mission is to energize all humans everywhere. We believe there is nothing more powerful than human energy, and that when a person feels their best, they can do amazing things. We started Verb to make people feel incredible by delivering energy in a healthy, convenient, and delightful way, and now we are one of the fastest growing food and beverage brands in the country. We make delicious energy products that we sell uniquely through text message and online.
Brian Sierakowski: Welcome to Founder Chats by Baremetrics, where we chat with founders and hear about how they started and grew their business. This week, I talked with André Monteiro, cofounder and CTO of Verb Energy.
In this episode, through immense technical difficulties on my side, we talk about André’s story of prototyping a physical product, and much more.
Hey, André. Welcome to founder chats. How are you?
André Monteiro: Good. Thanks so much for having me.
Brian Sierakowski: My pleasure, of course. I want to get right into it because I think we’ll have a lot to talk about today. If you wouldn’t mind, this is sort of always the starting question: Could you tell me when did you get started on your entrepreneurial journey? When did that first happen?
André Monteiro: So we started working on Verb when I was in college and I didn’t really have much of an entrepreneurial journey before then. I kind of fell into it a little bit and it really has been just a big snowball that has kept rolling and growing ever since we kind of got started, but I’m happy to kind of jump in at any point throughout that journey, depending on what you think is the most interesting.
Brian Sierakowski: Interesting. That’s awesome. In college, was there any sort of indication that you were starting a company or was this something that happened by accident?
André Monteiro: It was a little bit of both. When we were first getting started, it was really Matt, my co-founder/roommate at the time/still roommate today, his idea was to kind of combine caffeine and food and it sounded interesting and it sounded cool.
There was some element to it that was related to starting a business, but it wasn’t anything super, super serious, at least not in my mind at the time. And we really kind of just started making energy bars in the dorm room kitchen. For me, it was really just kind of this desire to do something outside of school.
I was not really super, super into any of the extracurriculars that were kind of on campus. Nothing that really appealed to me. And just the idea of getting into the kitchen and doing something with my hands was fun. I like working with my hands. I like building things. This was a very different form of doing that, where we were kind of hand-making energy bars and then hand packing them and carrying them around campus and packing them in our dorm room.
That was just always really fun to me. It just kind of kept growing from there.
Brian Sierakowski: That’s awesome. Tell me if you wouldn’t mind, like zoom in a little bit here, your friend/roommate/co-founder Matt comes to you and says, Hey, I have this crazy idea. What are the next immediate steps that you walk through?
André Monteiro: So Matt came to me and Bennett, our other co-founder with the idea. The first step was really validating the idea. I think we kind of just chatted about it. I had recently discovered caffeine for the first time, I became addicted to mochas from a coffee shop on our campus. Literally, the prior semester. I really, really enjoyed them when I was having them and really, really hated the crash that was hours in the making after.
I think that the idea just kind of made sense to me at the beginning and it made sense to Bennett at the beginning too, who had a very, very different personal energy story. He was addicted to diet Cokes and would drink, I’m not going to disclose the number he wouldn’t drink per day, it was quite high.
The idea just kind of made sense to both of us. The real next step was just figuring out, okay, where do we go from here? We weren’t set on bars at the beginning. We just knew that in some capacity we wanted to put caffeine in something that would kind of provide some nutritional benefit that would have calories to it and feel like a better bang for your buck than going to a coffee shop and getting a coffee and a granola bar.
What that entailed at the beginning was really just getting into a kitchen, doing some very, very cursory, Google searches and Googling: How do you make an energy bar and how do you make granola?
How do you make a cake? Just sourcing ingredients and figuring out what kind of caffeine we wanted to use and doing all kinds of research on that. From there, it was really just a matter of starting to put ingredients together, making recipes, a lot of them were pretty gross at the beginning.
127 recipes is what we like to say was until the first Ver bar was actually made. And when we made that one, we tried it and we’re like, Hey, wait, this is actually pretty good. It definitely helped that at the time they were like loaded with chocolate chips and were not super healthy, but we definitely felt like we were onto something.
I think from there, the next step was really just giving it to our friends and seeing if they actually like them. And they did those, that recipe was kind of the first one that we were actually giving to other people. They were like, wait, these are actually pretty good. Can I have a box of these? And from there, that’s kind of where the snowball started I would say, just giving it to friends and having them text us a day or two days or three days later and just saying, Hey, can I buy a box of those bars? From there it didn’t really feel like we were off to the races or anything, but it was kind of cool actually getting sales for the first time.
I think the real moment where we thought. Okay, this is actually something we should spend more time doing was when strangers started texting us, just acquaintances of our friends would try a bar that they had purchased and reach out to us and ask for our numbers and say, Hey, I heard you’re the Verb guys, can I, can I get a box of bars?
And when that happened, it was kind of, okay, now we have to figure out some intersection of supply and demand. We need to figure out how many bars we need to make to sell to these people that are texting us and to do that, we need to figure out, okay, how many hours do we need to spend in this dorm room kitchen?
It was basically this, this kitchen in the basement that we would rent. And you weren’t supposed to be in there all day. You’re supposed to reserve it for basically like an hour at a time. We quickly outgrew that the facility like there wasn’t really meant for making things at scale, but the next step for us was finding a local bakery that would let us use the bakery after hours.
We would go in there starting around nine o’clock at night and basically just make Verb bars in there, bigger machines, bigger mixers, et cetera, until like three in the morning, basically. And we would do that a couple of times a week and make them kind of in bulk, pack them, and bring them back to our dorm room.
From there, we just tried to sell through over the next few days until we got back from the kitchen. And that was really kind of how we got started. And eventually demand kind of got to the point where we couldn’t keep hand making them anymore. And thankfully, we were able to get a little bit of funding to get our very first production run made.
For that production run, it was really just a lot of searching and figuring out what is the smallest production run that we can make that we would be able to afford. We found a small co-manufacturer that would basically be able to allow us to make a pretty small run. We got that done, and eventually the very first Verb bar was made on a real production.
Brian Sierakowski: Nice. That is so fascinating. How long did it take you from the first incarnation that maybe wasn’t that tasty to you actually got to that, that first version that you’re like, wow. Okay. This actually it’s actually tastes pretty good.
André Monteiro: Yeah, that was probably, I would say a few weeks, maybe not even. When we finally got to the right recipe, we kind of knew it.
We definitely felt that we were getting in the right direction. In terms of getting from that first recipe to actually generating meaningful sales, that was a bit longer. We probably got into the kitchen for the first time in January or February of 2016. I think we basically were, at the very beginning, not really, or maybe not even in the kitchen and at the beginning of that year, but really kind of ideating and figuring out what we actually wanted to make.
Once we got into the kitchen, I remember that the first verb bar that we actually decided to give out to people, which probably would have been that first real good recipe- I think that was, I remember being around finals period of that semester, which probably would have been, I don’t know, around April or may.
So it was a few months until we were ready to start giving them to people that weren’t just our friends. Once we did that, I remember we were so excited about this, but we basically camped out outside of a library and just handed out free bars to people. I remember we were so thrilled that we gave out like 200 free bars in an hour.
We thought that that was some big, like point of traction that we give out a free product. But then we all kind of went our separate ways for the summer. We didn’t really have enough to be working on for that summer. We all worked at different internships and kind of did different things and just coincidentally, Matt, Ben, and I all actually went to different countries.
I was in Brazil living with my family and working there. Matt was doing some science-y research thing in Norway or something. Bennett was working, I think, in China. And we kind of all didn’t really forget about Verb, but definitely was not a big priority for us for that summer. But then once we got back on campus in the fall of 2016, that was kind of where we were like, is this, is this real? Are we going to actually put into this?
And we kind of just hit the ground running and decided to really go all in. We were full-time students obviously, and this was the thing we were deciding to commit to, was going to take up quite a bit of time. We just kind of remembered from that spring, really, really enjoying working together in the kitchen and decided why not just keep trying. And from there, that fall was kind of when we first started seeing meaningful sales of going into the bakery and selling them on campus. It was definitely a multi-month process in terms of starting something and then not actually seeing any real results. Even when we were selling them on campus, the results were quite small, but I think any traction at that point is especially when you’re so invested in it and so personal to you, it feels very meaningful and you just kind of keep pushing through it.
Brian Sierakowski: Yeah, it’s an interesting lesson in being able to celebrate successes along the way, because like, yeah, certainly giving 200 things away for free is like, you know, maybe not like the the cover Techcrunch material, but like, You know, you, they at least like carried it with them long enough to get out of your vision before throwing it away. And you know, like, you know, like selling like one bar is like, I dunno. I think it’s very easy to kind of do the comparison thing, but at the same time, you did all the hard work of figuring out the recipes. I’m sure you went through a lot of recipes. Do you happen to remember what the worst recipe was?
André Monteiro: The one that I will remember forever is we accidentally, somehow made it like a green spongecake. The caffeine, I think that one was, I don’t know if it was green tea at the time for that one, or if it was yerbabate or something, but we accidentally made a green spongecake. We put it in the oven and something in it rose like a cake and we definitely did not mean for that to happen. It tasted pretty gnarly, but definitely a lesson to be learned in there somewhere.
Brian Sierakowski: You made some new creature came into being in that particular restaurant. Maybe we can like, like rewind a little bit. So when you’re going through college, what are you studying?
Or like, what was the kind of trajectory that you were on prior to this kind of crazy idea coming into your life?
André Monteiro: Yeah, I think I’ll talk a little bit about all three of us, because I think Matt and Bennett’s journeys are a little bit more interesting. For me, I never really knew what I wanted to do. I was never really the kind of person that planned things out. I very much kind of am the type of person that goes with the flow. I think a little bit more now I’m able to see further into the future and figure out how to chart a path towards something. But especially back then, I wasn’t really feeling very passionate about any specific path that I’d seen other people take. I didn’t really know anyone or didn’t really have any specific role models to kind of look at as people that had done entrepreneurship in any capacity. I think probably for me, the biggest influence in my life, my dad is an engineer. And I think that has always been a little bit of an influence on me.
And I definitely think I have a lot of engineering related ways of thinking that I really appreciate, and that I think are still with me today. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to major in, got to school kind of took classes all over the place, ended up settling into computer science as my major, but didn’t really love just the idea of doing computer science by itself. I think I was always kind of taking classes in other disciplines, whether it was a Shakespeare class or a history class. And I think having both sides of my brain working at all times is very important to me. I think that’s also important to the way that I work at Verb. But yeah, that’s a little bit about my background.
Matt was going to be a doctor. He was pre-med. He fulfilled all of his pre-med requirements. But ended up doing this, which I’m very grateful that he did. And I think he’s also very glad that he switched too. Bennett was an ethics, politics and economics major. So also nothing to do with anything related to Verb. Funnily enough, I think my major actually ended up being the most relevant to what we ended up doing because there is such a big tech angle to what we do at Verb. But I think just at the time that didn’t really exist and it was really just us hand-making energy bars and selling them, so it was kind of cool that the three of us were coming at the problem from such different backgrounds and such different disciplines and just very different ways that we thought.
I think that has always just held very true. It’s just the way that we compliment each other in terms of the way that we think is a great reason why we work together. But yeah, it’s just kind of funny that none of us had any background related to this and we kind of decided to just jump into it.
Brian Sierakowski: It’s like the doctor and the economist and the computer science major walking into a bar… an energy bar! Yikes. Um, okay. So, wow. That’s really cool. And it kind of sounds this way, but you wear your co-founders sort of a little bit more on a track to like, I mean, certainly if you are going to study to become a doctor like that kind of seems like Matt was like, kind of like on that track to like their life was heading in that way.
André Monteiro: Yeah, they were definitely both on tracks, much more than I was. I think Matt was definitely on the med school track. Bennett was probably on the law school track in some capacity, but yeah, I think when an opportunity presents itself and you’re enjoying working on a problem and you’re seeing results, t’s hard not to kind of imagine what this different path could take you to, you know?
I’m very glad that the opportunity presented itself and that we kind of really just jumped in head first and just kind of went for it because I can not imagine Matt in med school now, which is such a funny, funny thought.
Brian Sierakowski: Yeah, that’s awesome. My next question was just around… you kind of made it seem like you had a lot of early success, but in my listening, it sounds like you hit a lot of walls, too. So I was just sort of curious of what was the mentality like as you were going through the process and making sometimes really crazy recipes. Like what was that process like to kind of keep pushing forward and trying different things out?
André Monteiro: I think even more than that, we definitely have had ups and downs throughout the entire journey of Verb, but that initial kind of testing phase didn’t really feel like we were pushing through walls per se. It was more just trying different things and seeing what stuck, I would say that the first time we encountered failure in just a more tangible sense of it. As I mentioned, we eventually got a little bit of funding to get our first production run done and the first Verb bars that we sold out of real packaging and a real production facility we received in April of 2017.
So we got that production run made earlier that year and received the bars I think literally on April 1st or the last day of March, whatever it ended up being. We kind of set this goal for ourselves to sell out of all 10,000 bars in that first month. That was the first time we had really kind of decided to set some sort of target or set a goal and really, really shoot for it.
We basically worked backwards from the number 10,000 and had a big spreadsheet where we were logging all of our sales and logging all hypothetical sales where we were kind of basically saying, if we can get these two things to come through this week, here’s where we’ll be.
This was kind of the master spreadsheet for that month. We actually ended up hitting our target. We sold through all 10,000 in that first month actually came down to the last day of the month. And when the final order rolled through, there was quite a bit of celebration. We were super, super excited.
And we used that momentum to apply to a few different programs for that summer. We had been accepted into an accelerator to stay in New Haven for the summer. When we kind of hit that mark of selling through all 10,000 bars, we reached back out to another accelerator that we were still waiting to hear back from, but it kind of seemed like we weren’t going to get it. Maybe it wasn’t the best fit. Maybe we didn’t have enough traction. And when we kind of told them that we had had this crazy month, they asked us to go up and interview with them. They had an office in Boston. I ended up not going because of some school thing, but Bennett and Matt went and by all accounts crushed the interview.
We got accepted to go out to Palo Alto for the summer and work out of their office while we kind of figure out what the next steps were for Verb. That summer was kind of the first time that we had really gone full, full time on it. We, over the course of that semester, had definitely been putting in a ton of hours, but we were still full-time students. That summer was the first time that we were just fully devoted to Verb. It was a ton of fun, but we were a little bit unsure of where the next steps were because after that first month we launched online and were going to try to figure out how to grow on the e-commerce side, because we’d really been a few online sales, but really the vast majority of our sales were in-person on campus. Very, very organic.
For the first time, we were suddenly tasked with trying to figure something else out. And we tried a bunch of different things. We put up a website, kind of crafted the website and tried to tell a story on there. Bennett, I remember went door to door to every single store, bike, shop, bike race in Palo Alto, and didn’t see a ton of attraction there.
And that was super, super hard. At the same time, Matt, our CEO is basically trying to fundraise really for the first time because we’d raised a small amount of money, but it was definitely a bit of a chance encounter and a whole lot of luck and a good product at the right time that really carried that small amount of money. So this was the first time he was really reaching out to institutional investors, having real hard conversations about our business model, about our numbers and I don’t know how he dealt with it. It was a lot of rejection. It was a lot of nos. It was over a hundred people, I think in the end that he reached out to. And on one hand, could you count the number of people that were interested?
And that was a super, super hard thing to watch him go through and to feel on my side a little bit helpless because I wasn’t really sure how I could help and how I could contribute. He’s come a long way since then. And it’s been super cool seeing him grow as a leader and as a CEO and as someone who’s really good at fundraising since then. He definitely learned a lot from those challenges. And I think we all learned from that summer. I think the real hard part was trying to figure out what the next steps were going to be for Verb and as we kind of worked on it that summer, it wasn’t blowing up immediately. I think that the biggest lesson was just even when things aren’t going perfectly, just constantly, constantly iterating and trying something else until something actually sticks is really kind of the best advice that I think I could give to us back then, like, I don’t think we did anything wrong.
I don’t think there is anything different back then that would’ve worked better. I think it was really just a matter of us learning those lessons of learning, what it means to fail and learning that doesn’t really matter and that you just kind of have to keep adapting and trying new things until something does stack.
But yeah, we basically wrapped up that summer and hadn’t seen a ton of growth online and basically it’s thought or decided that a campus launch strategy when we got back to school would be the way that we would grow, because we’d seen so much traction with college students and that was our market. That was how we were going to grow. We would basically roll out the same model to a bunch of other campuses. Campus launch strategies are very, very hard. Very few companies do them well or at all. And that was also a pretty hard lesson, getting back to school and trying this and seeing it be a little bit of a hard process to manage. Managing salespeople at other campuses was very challenging.
That didn’t really feel like it was the right strategy either. The thing that really kind of was the saving grace was that we did have a product that people did seem to love. And there emerged this new customer segment that skewed slightly older. They were skewing more female than we initially thought they would.
They wanted a slightly different product from our conversations with them. And from there, we decided to take that feedback from our customers and reformulate the product and build a brand that spoke to them in a different way. Alongside that, we also had this insight to kind of go back to our roots in how we were delivering a customer experience to people and wanting to have those one-on-one connections with customers that we’d had when we were first starting when we were just on campus, texting people.
That was kind of when we decided, okay, how are we going to relaunch this product and this brand, and build out this text commerce platform that we kind of have this idea for.
From there, it was really just putting in months of work and raising a little bit more money, kind of on this vision of what we were kind of seeing as the future of Verb. Thankfully people were interested and they saw the energy that we had for it. And we got enough money to kind of rebrand the product.
We came up with two new flavors and we reformulated it. Alongside that, I started working on this text commerce platform, the initial iteration of what would later become the entire Verb technology stack. And we worked on that for the next few months while were getting some sales of the original product, but definitely not growing the way that we wanted to. It was really just kind of powering through for those months and just hoping and banking on this thing that we were building, that it would work. We launched the Verb that you see today to the world in may of 2018, right as Matt and I were graduating.
Thankfully since then, it’s been a ton of growth and a lot of hard work and a lot of late nights, but kind of being able to recognize that the customers that really loved our product wanted something different and being okay with that and being capable of listening to other people’s feedback and changing, I think is really kind of what saved at the end of the day.
Brian Sierakowski: That’s really cool. And what a tumultuous chapter you went through there, especially starting with hitting your goal of selling those first 10,000 bars. Like that’s that sounds like, that sounds like a lot of bars, like, did it, did that feel like a monumental task at the time that feels like a huge stretch goal?
Or were you guys pretty confident?
André Monteiro: No, no. It was definitely a huge stretch at the time we kind of pulled the number out of nowhere and said, well, not out of nowhere. It was the size of the production run. And we were just like, we’re gonna sell through all of it. Let’s just try it. Like, why not? At the beginning, the first few days we got a bunch of sales and then it kind of faltered. And we were like, okay, how are we going to keep this up? Every single day, we were basically doing the math with the remaining numbers of bars that had yet to be sold and the remaining number of days in the month is basically like how many bars per day do we need to sell to hit this target?
And just the way that we were pacing, the number of bars per day kept going up and up, that’s very, very daunting and it seems impossible to overcome. We basically just started thinking bigger and started thinking about bigger and bigger sales and thinking about how you can move more product in individual sales, whether it was talking to sports teams or talking to clubs and pitching multiple people at once with an email blast, whatever it was.
I think that really was kind of what prompted us to start thinking bigger. We’ve always just kind of had that mentality since then.
Brian Sierakowski: That’s great. And these were all like direct sales, like you were saying, you didn’t get on the idea of the e-commerce side until after your experience in Palo Alto.
This was all just someone on your team going out and speaking with either an individual or a group, or maybe even sounds like you were just setting up a table somewhere. And you know, this was just selling directly to the people who wanted to buy the bars.
André Monteiro: Yeah, we would set up tables. Very often we would just camp out and we have a square reader. And I don’t know if we’re supposed to say this, but we would take Venmo also before Venmo for businesses was a thing- don’t sue us (laughs). But yeah, it was really very, very scrappy. I think we’ve always kind of had that mentality because we have been there. We were the people camping out at a table and doing it.
There’s no such thing as a task that is too scrappy for us, which I think is also a very good mentality to have.
Brian Sierakowski: That’s awesome. And then you went from what sounds like a huge wave of momentum and it sounds like, in a major way you hit that wall where you’re like, okay, we’re in this, we’re in this foreign land, the foreign land of Palo Alto. And I imagine it was just like a completely different climate, completely different clientele. You know, certainly not conducive in the same way of being in the collegiate world where people are kind of just like out and you can talk to them if you’re sort of, not necessarily a case just with Palo Alto, but you’re always in the spot of like, okay, well now everybody I talked to I’m like interrupting from doing something.
What was that like? You sort of already covered that it sucked and it didn’t didn’t feel good, but what was that sort of initial round like? It seems like every time you guys have hit a wall, you’ve tried to figure out, okay, well, what are the variables that we can change here to kind of get around it?
Like, what did you kind of follow a similar process here of like, okay, like we’re not getting the reception that we want. Like, let’s try to just like, do some different stuff and see what happens.
André Monteiro: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think the challenging thing from that summer was not constant rejection. I think it was a weird tension where everyone that we talked to was pretty nice and pretty friendly and thought it was a cool idea and thought we were young entrepreneurs trying to start something and were kind of like, yeah, go get ’em. That was great, it was helpful, but it wasn’t really translating into sales the way that we needed it to.
I think that was the hard part to wrap our heads around where we weren’t really getting specific feedback. And I think that is kind of the hardest part about the entire journey of starting something, is that no one’s going to tell you what the answers are and no one’s going to tell you, depending on what you’re doing, nobody’s going to tell you, Hey, here’s where this is wrong. Here’s what you need to change.
We were getting good responses to what giving to people, we were getting good responses to the product, but people just weren’t either placing orders online or they weren’t calling us back to place an order for their store. There just wasn’t actually the follow through. And that was the hard part to wrestle with because it left us feeling a little bit directionless in terms of what we could do to make it better, if that makes sense.
I think that was our first big reckoning with that in the journey of a startup, is that no, one’s going to tell you what the answers are and you kind of just have to keep trying until you figure it out. And that is kind of demoralizing, especially the first time that it happens. And I’m also sure it’s very demoralizing if it keeps happening.
But I think we kind of just accepted that as part of what this journey would look like and just kept trying different things and not getting discouraged by it. I think that mentality of just kind of constantly iterating and constantly just being willing to adapt is why we’re still here.
Brian Sierakowski: The interesting thing that you said there André… feels like a non observation, but I think that’s like the tricky part about failing is that there’s no feedback. Like you said, you were having these conversations, talking to stores, talking individuals, but they just weren’t placing that order. And it’s really frustrating because it gives you nothing to go on versus when you’re successful, in sort of in the phase after that you have people that are interested in the product and they’re willing to engage with you, but they just wanted a slightly different product.
It’s just interesting to consider, you know? I took a long way to say, failing is bad and succeeding is good, but it’s just kind of like a nuance of like, well, you have to make kind of radical changes it seems in order to actually find that success eventually.
I guess I’m kind of curious if like you went through this relatively rough patch and you said, okay, well, let’s, let’s come back and let’s kind of maybe almost like get back to your roots.
Was that, is that kind of how it felt like when you decided to do the college launch, you know, the college expansion strategy?
André Monteiro: Yeah. It definitely felt a little bit more familiar and comfortable and it felt kind of like we would be replicating the thing that had worked previously. And I think that was even harder to accept when it didn’t go right because it’s very easy to try something new and maybe it doesn’t stick and maybe it doesn’t work and you kind of just shrug it off and you say, oh, that wasn’t the right thing to do. But when something worked well in the past, And isn’t working well now that kind of becomes a little bit more of a reflection on your execution, I think.
And I think that was a little bit hard for us to wrestle with, but I think we were very cognizant of the fact that it wouldn’t be an easy task. I think we were very capable of recognizing that there was this different path that Verb needed to be on and that kind of entailed listening to our customers and just hearing what needed to be better about the product.
I think the insight that we had about the brand and how it needed to change to suit a modern consumer, and the way that we wanted to communicate with customers was kind of just many, many different things kind of coming together to culminate in the new verb that– I’m just very glad they kind of were insights that happened at the same time.
Brian Sierakowski: Yeah. Could you give some examples around there of like what sort of feedback were you getting and how did you process those into the actual changes that you made?
André Monteiro: Yeah, so the bar originally was quite a bit bigger. The packaging was very, very different. It was very brown and earthy and kind of conveyed “natural” in a more classic way.
And the product had twice as many calories, twice as much sugar, a hundred milligrams of caffeine. And from what we were hearing from people, a lot of them actually liked having less than the whole bar. They would kind of break it into pieces and eat chunks at a time and they wanted something with less sugar.
And for us, what that meant was we had the wrong product. We realized that we kind of made what was the standard energy bar and just filled it with caffeine rather than kind of seeing the issues that existed in energy bars as they existed, where people didn’t want that many calories, or they didn’t want that much sugar and they didn’t want something to fill them up that much.
They just wanted a light snack and a quick boost. And I think being able to recognize that and create kind of the new Verb where fewer calories, less sugar, and. 65 milligrams of caffeine as opposed to a hundred, just made more sense to our customers. And when we kind of pitched them on this new product, they all seemed to be really into the idea.
That basically just got us back into the kitchen, which felt really cool because that was where we’d started. And it felt like a cool way to solve the problem that we were having, which was: let’s kind of go back to the drawing board. Let’s reset. Let’s reformulate this product just like we’d done before. Try to come out with something better.
I think we definitely did that, which was really, really great to kind of see, see that work paying off like that.
Brian Sierakowski: Was there anything in particular you were doing to get that feedback or were people just like, literally telling you like, Hey, this has way too much sugar in it. Were they pretty vocal about those sorts of things?
André Monteiro: Yeah. So we definitely were asking customers for feedback and we were getting texts from the people that knew us. I think that was also one of the big reasons why we wanted to kind of scale out that texting model was because when we were first on campus and even when we got back to campus and were selling the new, proper selling that version of, of the verb bar, people would text us and tell us what they thought.
Being able to have that customer insight coming through constantly, I think, is something that is so, so invaluable and you can’t really get through any other channels. So I think being able to have those one-on-one relationships with customers and give them an avenue into the company and make them feel like they’re contributing to something by being able to communicate, but also kind of delivering on this better customer experience is something that I think is very, very unique about texts and that I think we do better than I think any other company out there.
Brian Sierakowski: That’s awesome. What sort of questions were you asking to get that feedback?
André Monteiro: We were really just trying to understand how people use the product. We were trying to understand use cases. We were trying to understand when in the day they like to have it.
We tried to understand whether they were replacing coffee or replacing other energy bars or replacing other products entirely. If this was a completely new habit that they were forming, really just trying to see the holistic picture. I think that’s also been something that we’ve always prioritized is not really taking data points as one-off responses to questions, but really trying to understand the entirety of how someone engages with Verb and engages with our product.
I think asking people to just walk through their journeys with us, we’ll get the insights that you need. And I think just being able to hear people’s stories and pull out threads and turn those narratives into actual insights is super, super helpful. I think as we’ve scaled, we’ve definitely transitioned to more targeted questions and asking for very specific pieces of feedback.
I think that’s also super, super helpful, but I think when you’re first starting out, it’s hard to decide which questions are the most important to ask, if that makes sense. You’re such a young company you really need, I think, to understand the entirety of, of how consumers are engaging with you and it’s hard to do that without kind of backing people into a corner with questions. I think it’s just much better to let people kind of ramble and give you all of their thoughts completely unfiltered.
Brian Sierakowski: Yeah. That makes perfect sense. So if there’s a product out there and they don’t have that wealth of knowledge, like what would your recommendation be as far as like, what is that?
Or if we’re going to put some constraints, Like, what would you recommend that first question be so that they ask their customers to then take them down the path of figuring out, you know, what are the more specific questions.
André Monteiro: I would honestly just get on the phone with people. Like people love giving their input on everything.
You see it all over the internet. People are not shy about sharing. Right. And I think, especially when it’s your earliest customers, those people are going to be the ones that are most passionate about your product. And especially if you come to them, kind of human to human, and really just ask for feedback and ask how you can get better, most people are willing to engage with you.
If some people aren’t, I just say don’t get discouraged by that because there are so many people out there throughout Verbs journey that have been willing to help us. When we offer to hop on the phone with customers, it also makes them feel seen and feel heard.
I think that’s also super important to just recognize that it’s very much a two-way street where it’s not just companies and customers as just faceless entities, engaging with each other. Like we’re all real people. I think when you remember that, it becomes much easier to kind of solicit that feedback and really just say, Hey, how can I get better?
How can our company be better? I think customers really appreciate feeling like they have a voice. And I think giving them that voice will just really open them up. Yeah. I think if you’re really looking for a specific question to ask, I think really just starting with what you like about the product will get people to open up and also just asking you what the biggest pain points are like when people are working with something and they get frustrated, they think about it.
I think just giving them the opportunity to voice those frustrations and give you that insight will always result in some actionable thing that you can work on.
Brian Sierakowski: Yeah, that’s a great point. I totally love the idea of starting with Hey, what do you like about the product?
Because I do think that we frequently turn to what feedback do you have? What advice do you have? Like what needs to be fixed as a thought process of those questions. But if you don’t know anything about why people are even getting to your product, like it’s actually probably more useful for you to know, like What was it about this thing that you like so much? Why did you decide to spend your money on it? Or why did you come back for a box after you bought a bar?
It seems like focusing on the positive is maybe something we haven’t really been taught, but that seems like a great place to start to understand.
That’s why I’m sure you hear those stories of like, well, you know, I was, I liked to work out in the morning and I would drink a cup of coffee, but that would upset my stomach. So, you know, so much better for me to grab a bar instead or whatever, you know, hypothetically, and then you’d be like, okay, cool.
Interesting. Well, maybe we should, maybe we should lean into that. If you’ve heard that story a couple of times in a row or whatever the case might be, that’s really interesting.
So you came back and it sounds like through revisiting and through a couple of iterations, the college launch strategy has worked out for you. What are the next steps after that?
And does that bring us up to current day or kind of, you know, what are the other steps that you’ve sort of followed through?
André Monteiro: So the college launch strategy actually did not work. At all, we tried it out for a few months and it just wasn’t really generating the sales that we needed it to. But once we recognized that and accepted that and decided to start looking for alternatives, we, like I mentioned, rebranded, reformulated the product and started building out the text commerce component.
And when we launched in may of 2018, from there, that’s when we actually started working on Verb full full-time, we’d been basically working full-time in addition to being full-time students for that last year that we were in school, but now we were kind of in the real world trying to keep growing this company.
That was one we really needed to figure out. Okay. How do you actually start growing a business meaningfully? Since that month of May 2018 that we launched, we thankfully have kept going and kept growing quite considerably. And I think it’s really just been kind of constant iteration, constant improvement and trying new things, and something will work for a while and then eventually you see diminishing returns and that’s when you kind of have to reevaluate and readjust and break through that next ceiling of growth and just keep going.
Over the last few years, I think the biggest milestones have really just been nailing down an acquisition model that works across multiple channels with multiple different offerings. Building out the team has been one of the most rewarding and hardest parts.
We basically got back to campus, weren’t really seeing a ton of traction, were able to rebrand, reformulate the product and build out this text commerce platform and kind of relaunched the Verb that you see today in May of 2018.
I think the kind of biggest thing since then has really just been building out the team and working on product development. Building up the team is very, very hard. I think managing people is something that we had not done before. I think we’ve definitely learned a ton and have kind of grown a ton as leaders and as managers, but that’s definitely been kind of the next big frontier of Verb: trying to build an organization that can last and building an organization that has real values. And that has ways that we operate and making sure that we’re creating an experience for our employees that is a really, really great one and that they can kind of show up to work and feel excited both by the company and the brand, but also be in a place where they feel seen and heard as employees and always kind of having that be front and center when we’re thinking about team building.
And then on the product development front, I think really just wanting to fulfill this high-level vision of creating a better energy option for people and helping people feel energized day in and day out with better products. I think we’ve really just been thinking about what a portfolio of energy products looks like that can really let people energize with Verb every step of the way.
So a lot more to come on that over the next year or so. We just launched our first new product earlier this year, it’s an energizing drink mix. It’s delicious, basically an energizing way to get a refreshing beverage. It has five grams of collagen in it. We’re still trying to figure out the exact way that we want to position that product, but having that has definitely been a first big step into a bigger energy platform, so excited to kind of see where that keeps going over the next year.
Brian Sierakowski: It sounds like based on your entire story, I don’t see you guys resting on your laurels at any point or stopping from innovating and kind of making sure that the products are exactly right. So it’s super exciting to sort of watch and see the next thing you launch and what else is out there for you.
I’m sure you’ll come up with ideas that nobody else is thinking about.
I feel like at this point, if anybody in the audience is interested, I’m sure there are a bunch of people that are interested in learning more about the company and the products. Maybe either to join the team, or maybe they’re just thinking about their own energy problems, where can we find the products, where can we buy it? Like, what’s the, what’s your recommendation for people getting started if they’ve never heard of you before?
André Monteiro: Totally. Yeah, you can check us out at verb, energy.co. Just feel free to go to our website.
There is plenty of information on how to order there. Also, if anyone has any questions or has feedback, feel free to shoot me an email. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy to hear any thoughts about the product, about the brand. Also happy to give any advice to anyone else. Who’s looking to start something and doesn’t really know where to get
Brian Sierakowski: Awesome. Andre. Thanks so much for your time. Thank you for working with me through my endless technology issues. Super excited. I haven’t had the product yet, but you know, I’m feeling a little bit low energy right now. So I think I’m going to, I’m going to place an order right after this. So I’m excited to give it a try and then, yeah.
Thanks again so much for your time. I really appreciate you being on the show.
That was our conversation with André Monteiro, co-founder and CTO of Verb Energy. If you’re looking for a delicious, healthy way to get an energy boost, you know where to go: Verbenergy.co.
If it’s business analytics and growth tools you’re looking for check us out at baremetrics.com. We hope you enjoyed this episode and invite you to check out our other Founder Chats, and if you’re able to share with a friend or leave review, that goes along. Thanks for listening.