What is ModBars?
ModBars is a granola bar company that tailors their products to meet dietary restrictions and wants such as nut free, gluten free and vegan bars. They have a wide selection of amazing tasting bars in flavors such as chocolate, vanilla crunchy, cinnamon, trail mix, and even a dessert bar!
"We offer the premium features and ingredients of expensive brands, but at a more affordable price. Additionally, in comparison to companies such as “a man climbing the edge of a mountain bar”™ and “a really friendly bar”™, ModBars contain higher amounts of protein and fiber, and lower amounts of sugar."
Meet the Founders
Startup Shell had the opportunity to sit down with CEO Jeff Su and CMO Wyatt Talcott. Jeff Su is a senior double major in finance and supply chain at the University of Maryland. Wyatt Talcott is a junior marketing major also at the University of Maryland.
How did the founders meet?
Wyatt and Jeff have known each other since elementary school, but all 5 of the founders of ModBars met in middle school. 4 out of the 5 founders were on the school's swim team when they got together to create ModBars.
How did you come up with the idea?
Co-Founder and CEO Jeff Su was a high school senior and swim athlete at Walt Whitman in Bethesda, MD. As an athlete, Jeff consumed protein bars as a way to alleviate hunger from practice and give him more energy. However, he kept running into a problem due to a severe tree nut allergy. The problem Jeff faced was that around 80% of the snack bar industry contains nuts! This made his choices limited and difficult to find. On the other side, the bars that Jeff could eat, tasted awful. To fix this problem, Jeff proposed to his friends Nate, Wyatt, Joseph, and Max that they make a bar he could eat; a bar that didn't contain nuts and tasted better than anything else on the market. This began the start of ModBars, LLC.
Explain some of ModBars' process of going from an idea to a business?
After deciding to form ModBars, the group went to work in their home kitchens. With their limited cooking skills, the founders tried all kinds of wacky flavor combinations to see what worked and if the bar would stick together. ModBars began a long revision process where they tested their bar batches on close friends and family until they were ready to release their bar to the public. This step was filled with unknowns supported by breakthroughs and reassurance from their family and friends.
When ModBars finally created a working prototype, they brought their homemade bars to school where they mass distributed to school faculty and peers. The group spent most of their days skipping class to hand out their bars and get feedback. Then they went back to the kitchen to apply those revisions. Their passion for ModBars took precedence over everything else.
In one instance, the group brought the prototype to a swim meet for their teammates. The prototype was only saran wrapped together and did not look necessarily like a safe choice. Despite its appearance, after trying the bar, one of the swimmers kept coming back for more. That swimmer expressed to ModBars that they had a good product on their hands and the group ran with it.
From there, the ModBars team primarily focused on pricing their new product. They made a calculator on Google Sheets to help factor in costs and determine a good price point for their bar. In addition, they also began to develop their product line by making other flavored bars.
Within the first year, right after obtaining their LLC, ModBars was able to break even!
How did you obtain your first customer? What did it feel like?
During the prototype distribution phase, Jeff and Wyatt were taking an Engineering Design and Development class offered at their high school. They had routinely brought in their prototype to get feedback. When they decided it was time to start selling them, rather than giving them out, the first customer came from that class. Wyatt exclaimed that it was very exciting and a great feeling to get their first customer after putting in so much time and effort.
What were some obstacles you had to face as a venture?
ModBars has overcome many obstacles throughout the creation of their business. In particular, the biggest hurdle that ModBars had to face occurred a year ago when they moved into a new kitchen. Jeff explained that after the last commercial kitchen they used closed down, they were forced to find a new space to produce their bars. Upon moving in, around 80% of their equipment was stolen or lost. This was a huge setback for the business because they no longer had the money to make their product, especially after making a huge investment in moving kitchens. Despite this issue, ModBars was able to overcome this problem and they are now "stronger than ever".
How has COVID-19 affected the growth of your business?
ModBars has been making serious moves even during the pandemic. When America went into lockdown, ModBars had to completely pull out of their kitchen and reassess how they were going to make money. In the past, they relied on in-person sales by going around selling their product like Girl Scout cookies. To adapt, ModBars switched gears to focus on the back-end of their business by cleaning up their website for online purchases and trying to make shipping prices as low as possible. Ever since then, ModBars has brought in significantly more orders, the majority of them being online orders. In fact, ModBars doubled their revenue in 2020 alone from their 2017-2019 total revenue!
What is your overall goal with ModBars?
The founders' next step is to put ModBars in concessions and stores once COVID-19 is no longer in the picture. The ModBars crew also is very serious about their long term goals for the business. The founders love that they have the creative freedom to come up with interesting bars with fun flavors and names. They hope to turn ModBars into a real company where the founders can work for it full time and fulfill their passions. Eventually, they hope to make the business national brand and be featured in major food chains.
Do you have any advice for people trying to start their own businesses?
Wyatt advises to “just do it, just start it. Obviously you have to plan, but don’t get caught up waiting for the right opportunity”. He explained that for ModBars, once they got the idea, although they were just in high school they just ran with it.
Jeff responded, "don't be afraid to make mistakes" and explained that people tend to underestimate their own abilities. He stated that a lot of people have good skills and ideas for startups, but they talk themselves out of it. He advises to not be scared to take a leap of faith.
Why did you join Startup Shell?
When ModBars competed as semi-finalists in UMD's Pitch Dingman Competition, they were approached by their competitors, all members of Startup Shell. The Shell members had never heard of them before and asked if they were a part of any entrepreneurship clubs on campus. After the founders explained that they had been doing everything on their own, the competitors recruited them for Startup Shell. They explained that Startup Shell would be a mutually beneficial place where they get/give expert advice and be a part of a community of entrepreneurs. The ModBars group saw this as a great opportunity to grow their network, have some help along their journey, and be able to give back to all the people that helped them. Since joining Startup Shell, they have gotten amazing advice from our Executive Sheller Alex and are grateful for the support they have been given.
ModBars is working hard to create products that their customers will love and they are nearly ready to release two new bars! The first is a sweet and spicy bar called "Terrapin Tracks". The second, rightfully labelled "The King", is inspired by Elvis Presley containing banana chips and a peanut butter flavor.
Interested in learning more about what goes into a ModBar? Want to buy your first shipment of amazingly healthy ModBars? Awaiting the arrival of Terrapin Tracks and The King? Check out their website!
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