All About Matt Schnarr, Co-Founder of AWAKE (Caffeinated) Chocolate

If you’re in dire need of caffeine, but dislike the bitter taste of coffee and overly processed energy drinks, AWAKE Chocolate will become your best friend this semester. Masterminded by Matt Schnarr and his partners, AWAKE was founded in Canada in 2012. The company won the reality show Dragon's Den (the Canadian version of Shark Tank), and it has been becoming popular on college campuses all over North America. Read on to find out more about his business journey and how you can also set yourself up for success.


Name: Matt Schnarr

Education: Wilfrid Laurier University, Communication Studies and Business

Hometown: Toronto, Ontario



HC NYU: Many college students are undecided about what they want to major in or what industry they want to go into. Were you always interested in business?

MS: I was definitely always interested in starting a business. My father is a successful entrepreneur (in a completely unrelated industry), so I guess I was hardwired to want to do it myself as well. My partners Adam and Dan also shared a similar passion for entrepreneurship.


HC NYU: Was it difficult or intimidating to go into the food industry given that you had no experience before with food production and cooking? How did you go about experimenting and creating the chocolate?

MS: For sure it was intimidating! Our aspirations were to create a North American success story. There is no way to do that without taking some major risks along the way. Myself and my partners all had at least a decade of experience in the food industry focused on sales and finance. None of us had ever worked specifically in chocolate or had much exposure to production or creating our own innovation. We started with the insight that people need energy, but most energy products don't taste particularly good. We understood from our Internet research that it would be a very daunting task to create a caffeinated product that was not bitter and tasted delicious. One previous attempt by Snickers apparently resulted in 90 minutes worth of aftertaste! We began with a ton of Google research on different solutions to the problem. Different flavors, masking agents, various types of chocolate, many different types of caffeine. With some fortune, we created some great tasting prototypes during our first day in the kitchen. The magic then was to find a way to replicate the kitchen tests for millions of bars. For us, the innovation process is never done; we are always looking for ways to improve the product and benefit our faithful fans.


HC NYU: What did you learn in college that was most helpful to you now in terms of both business and personal aspects?

MS: Our bulls-eye consumer is the college student. I guess I learned what life as a student is like. The days are long, balancing social life, work, studying, and extracurriculars. Understanding what life was like for us as students helps us better understand what our consumers might need as well. College was also a great opportunity to meet friends and learn academic skills that we apply every day in building a strong business.


HC NYU: What advice would you give to college students who are looking to get ahead in the business industry, or who have already created startups but are struggling with its success?

MS: Good questions! Number one, I believe that at least 50% of what you learn in college happens outside of the classroom (extracurriculars, leadership, making friends, etc). Two, we set out to solve the problem of good tasting energy; anyone wanting to start a business should understand what problem they are uniquely trying to solve.  

HC NYU: How did your team become a contestant on Dragon's Den? How did you prepare your sales pitch, and what was the most valuable thing you learned from being on the show?

MS: In preparation for starting AWAKE, we met with probably one hundred potential investors. During the process, word somehow made its way to the producers of the show, who reached out to us to suggest that we apply. So, we did and we were selected to make a pitch in the Den. This process of pitching to the one hundred or so possible investors really perfected our pitch. We had heard just about every possible question, we had strong responses, and we knew which one of us would answer each question. One thing that we did to prepare for the show was prioritize our objectives for going on the show. For us, it was: 1) Get televised, 2) good reception to the product, and 3) raise money. If we had good reception to the product but it wasn't televised, for example, no one would have ever seen the pitch, and it would have been an opportunity lost. In terms of what we learned, for me, it was actually gained after the show. David Chilton, the Dragon we partnered with, is a great role model and extremely humble person. He is always there to help us and he cares way more about us as individuals than ever seeing a profit from his investment. At least that is what he tells us!

HC NYU: What was the biggest challenge you faced in the process of creating AWAKE? How did you overcome it?

MS: Wow, there were so many! Creating a great tasting product, raising money to start the business, managing cashflow ongoing, and building awareness with our target market on a tight budget. Raising money was especially tough in the beginning because we were asking people to buy into an idea that had never been done well before and to believe in our ability to be successful in an uber-competitive chocolate and caffeinated products market. We overcame this by being persistent, perfecting our pitch, and with a ton of help from family and friends who showed belief in us.  


HC NYU: What is next for the company?

MS: We continue to look for ways to improve on our products, like becoming gluten-free and removing all artificial ingredients and GMOs. We also look for other delicious ways to keep college students AWAKE. Last year, we launched granola bars, and there are definitely other opportunities out there. We have recruited a great team of campus ambassadors, like our excellent one at NYU, to help us spread the word. We have learned that when our college student target market tries AWAKE, they love it and consume lots of it!


HC NYU: Any funny experiences you've had on your journey with AWAKE?

MS: Nevil, our CHO (Chief Hooting Owl), is the source of tons of fun. My favorite was watching him crowd surf at many a frosh week party!

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Images from Matt Schnarr and AWAKE Chocolate Website