Shane Heath of ‘MUD\WTR’: “Building a company is an infinite game”

Be 100% 70% of the time. Building a company is an infinite game. All too often we get caught up in arbitrary deadlines which causes people to think small and burn out on small relentless tasks. Being rested is when the ideas that change the business can be cultivated. We strive to empower our employees […]

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Be 100% 70% of the time. Building a company is an infinite game. All too often we get caught up in arbitrary deadlines which causes people to think small and burn out on small relentless tasks. Being rested is when the ideas that change the business can be cultivated. We strive to empower our employees to have the capacity to see those ideas that may increase the business 10x by buying and tracking sleep through Oura rings, tracking stress levels through 15five, giving every other Friday off, and enforcing no meeting Wednesdays.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shane Heath, Founder and CEO of MUD\WTR.

Shane is the Founder and CEO of MUD\WTR, a company that creates products and experiences to optimize one’s mind, body and ritual. Their flagship product is an elixir consisting of masala chai, cacao, turmeric, cinnamon, sea salt and four mushrooms: chaga, reishi, lion’s mane and cordyceps. With 1/7th the caffeine of coffee, when combined you get energy, focus and immune benefits without the jitters, crash and dependency.

Outside of MUD\WTR, Shane Heath is also a fine artist creating large scale paintings using a variety of mediums including acrylics, spray paint, charcoal and pastels. Shane’s work focuses on form and figure with compositions discussing consciousness, fame and storytelling, with shows in Santa Cruz, San Diego, Goa (India) and Los Angeles. Shane’s sought-after talents have also extended to music festivals throughout the year where he paints live and in recently displayed work at Google’s curated artwalk, where he was honored to paint Ed Moses, one of the organization’s founders. Shane is currently focused on developing a series that gives a voice to homelessness in the Venice Beach, California area. Prior to starting MUD\WTR, Shane was working as a designer for 6 years, with experience ranging from agencies, enterprise and co-founding two tech companies of his own, where he developed a toolset that included UI/UX, branding and a good amount of front-end code skills. In 2016 he quit his job as lead designer at a successful startup in Silicon Valley to be an Artist in Residence in Goa, India, and it was during this time that he fell in love with the black tea and spice blended beverage, Chai, the drink that would eventually evolve into MUD\WTR. Always testing himself physically, Shane is a purple belt in Jiu-Jitsu, loves to climb, drop into a hot yoga class, train Crossfit and does a couple triathlons every year. A lifelong student of spirituality and his own psyche, Shane is a huge advocate for rituals and practices like meditation, breathwork, fasting and nutrition, even weaving them in to the company culture at the MUD\WTR headquarters. He’s passionate about asking questions, testing taboos and is a public supporter of the research being done by MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) through which they are having remarkable results in the treatment of mental disorders through the therapeutic use of psychedelics. Shane currently resides in Venice Beach, CA.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I grew up in a creative surf town called Santa Cruz. My dad was a builder, so I was always around tools, architectural plans, and plenty of things to create with. From an early age I knew I wanted to be an artist (I have a “when I grow up I want to be…” paper from 3rd grade) but I also was an entrepreneur; starting a car detail business when I was 12 and started creating a clothing line at 16. My mom, a computer science major and IT for one of the biggest mushroom companies in the US., familiarized me with computers (and mushrooms) at a young age so I ended up going to school at SDSU to study both art and design.

In college I lost a close friend. The grieving process led me to Ayurveda, yoga, jiu jitsu and generally searching for who I was and what life was all about. I began to take inventory of what I believed, who I hung out with, and what I wanted to pursue in life. After spending most of my adulthood with, at times, crippling anxiety and depression, I felt comfortable stepping into my own self. I took this curiosity and jumped straight into the tech world upon graduation. I co-founded two companies and spent years bouncing around Silicon Valley working for various companies and learning from some awesome people.

While in Silicon Valley, I built a strong addiction to caffeine. Everyone was doing it, and it was sold to me as a performance enhancer. Something that would allow me to do more and do it faster. Despite living an active and healthy life outside of the office, I was drinking 3–5 cups of coffee a day. I was painting a lot and I think sitting in front of a canvas for hours at a time gave me an intimate perspective of my mental health. I noticed that my anxiety and depression was coming back and coming back strong. Coffee had to go.

I began to realize that what I really liked about coffee had more to do with the ritual than the beverage. I began to wonder what my morning ritual could be if it could be a vessel for more than caffeine. I explored various herbs, types of coffee, and it was either too much or too bland. In 2015 I got invited to do an artist-in-residence in Goa India and took a leave of absence from work and left North America for the first time in my life. After living in India for 6 months, I fell in love with masala chai. With a dynamic flavor profile, less caffeine, more benefits and strong cultural context, it was easy for me to forget about the one-dimensional nature of coffee. Traveling gives you perspective, allowing you to cross pollinate ways of being that suits the real you — not who your parents, teachers, friends or culture tells you to be.

When I got back from this trip, I moved to Los Angeles. I was really into Joe Dispenza’s work on meditation, visualization and manifestation. I started to explore myself through plant medicine work. I also began looking at my morning ritual as a way to improve my performance and so I began researching and adding in compounds that had a benefit profile that matched my lifestyle. Lion’s mane for focus, chaga and reishi for immune support, cordyceps for physical performance, turmeric for anti-inflammation, cinnamon to help with glucose response and some cacao for mood, energy and to round out the flavor profile.

With no business intentions, I would add all these powders to my mug every morning and go about my day. I felt amazing. Focused but not anxious. Energetic but not jittery. I felt more endurance and less sore and was sleeping again. I’d take this drink with me to music festivals, the office, the gym and people would ask me “what are you drinking?” I’d tell them, “It’s mud.”

It became obvious to me that despite 90% of the population drinking caffeine daily, most people wanted to drink less, give up the afternoon cup or quit altogether. In May of 2018, after a night out enhanced by a small amount of psilocybin I woke up with this overwhelming vision and energy to share this drink with the world. I grabbed my laptop, designed a brand, packaging, and put up a website. It felt fluid because I was tapping into everything I’d learned thus far in life. As though my interests in health and wellness, my pursuits in art and design, and my experience starting 2 other companies all were preparing me for this venture. I posted a few stock photos to Instagram saying “I wasn’t mad at coffee, just disappointed. So, I made something better.” Orders started coming in.

In my kitchen and art studio, I began figuring out how to make the product at scale. 3 months later and I had friends coming over to fulfill orders while I went to work. This cycle continued until 6 months from launch I was selling over 6 figures in monthly revenue, had amazing testimonials and growth that was nearly impossible to keep up with. Paul DeJoe, a former CEO and Co-founder I worked with, wrote his first angel check telling me to “quit my job tomorrow.” I left, brought Paul on as co-founder and COO and together we’ve been building this company ever since.

What started as something I drank to pursue my purpose and passion, ultimately became just that.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

In the beginning it was really scrappy. My dad taught me what it means to work hard and working in the startup world taught me how to do a lot with a little. I didn’t have any money to invest and I knew if I was going to give this a go, I had to go all in. From the day I launched the website I knew I wanted to beat my metrics every single month so that I could go out and raise money to allow me to do it full time.

This meant I was launching the company in my art studio and home kitchen. I was working full time for a tech startup and just started mixing products late into the night, hiring friends to come box up orders while I worked, and I’d come pick up bags of boxes on my lunch break to bring to the post office and head back to work to do the process again. It was a wild first 8 months, but it got us where we wanted to go. We quickly moved to a commercial kitchen with the intention to lock in a co-packer, but it took a while to find one that fit our requirements for packaging and ingredient quality. So, from November 2018 until June 2019 I’d be mixing products in a commercial kitchen a few times a week until the wee hours of the morning.

Our product is a blend of powders so inherently it is a messy product to create. The commercial kitchen hated us because we’d create a cloud of spices which would disperse through the building. Soon we “upgraded” and bought a legit camping tent. To make our product, I would construct a legitimate camping tent and put the commercial mixer inside to contain the product. I have countless photos and hilarious memories from this time. It felt like hurdles not many would jump, but we were having the time of our lives.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Outside of MUD\WTR, I’m also a fine artist (@somanypossibilities) and am working on a new series called VOICES. VOICES is an auditory, visual, and artistic exploration of culture’s nooks and crannies. I sit down with homeless people, record their story like a podcast and take their photo. I then paint their portrait, film the process and overlay the audio of their story on top of the video of their portrait coming to life. Giving a voice to the unheard is something that inspires me deeply. I think the homeless community can teach us a lot about the flaws in modern civilization that result in loneliness, poor family dynamics, scarcity, substance abuse, and mental health issues. Here’s my most recent interview with a man named L:

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

Humans are naturally creative and the majority of work is not. In addition, people want to feel like they have a purpose. People want to feel pride in their work. The combination of monotonous jobs within these large companies with very little transparency around the impact one is making leads to a very empty existence. To top it off, most are forced to sacrifice the majority of their life with little feeling of purpose or creativity inside a building with bright fluorescent lights, sterile cubicles, and strict adherence to clocking in and out. This leaves the majority of the US workforce unhappily orienting their lives to build someone else’s dream in an environment that leaves them unhealthy, stressed out, and old with the most precious resource taken from them: time.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

If people are unhappy and uninspired people aren’t productive. They will do the bare minimum and slowly burn out doing it. This leads to a lack of creative inflections, which eventually will hinder the products or services ability to evolve and maintain quality. Ultimately an unhappy workforce will lead to a dying company that won’t have the resources to make the workforce happy. It’s a vicious circle and its why company culture is so important.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

1. Constantly communicate values. Every all hands meeting we host a 30-minute discussion on an article, podcast, or video that ties into our values.

2. Have everyone write user manuals. User manuals incorporate personality tests and a written description of known and unknown traits to inform their colleagues the best way to work with them.

3. Be 100% 70% of the time. Building a company is an infinite game. All too often we get caught up in arbitrary deadlines which causes people to think small and burn out on small relentless tasks. Being rested is when the ideas that change the business can be cultivated. We strive to empower our employees to have the capacity to see those ideas that may increase the business 10x by buying and tracking sleep through Oura rings, tracking stress levels through 15five, giving every other Friday off, and enforcing no meeting Wednesdays.

4. Focus on the physical. All too often people in the startup world forget the body. They end up pale, out of shape, and have a lack of sun and healthy food. We give every employee 200 dollars per month to spend on a membership of their choice that helps them stay in shape. Everyone on the team sets a fitness goal every quarter, if they hit it, they get 500 dollars. Sleep is a superpower and we buy everyone an Oura ring when they join because what you measure improves.

5. Build the company that allows you to live the life you want — not the other way around. Too many companies get caught up in postponing life for after a big exit or inflection point. They sacrifice their youth, their vitality, and the potential life changing experiences for office life. We let people work remotely where they thrive, and we travel in person every few months to amazing locations.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture.” What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

I believe that below your thoughts, feelings, ideas, and stories sits as an intelligence. It’s the same intelligence that guides us to breathe in and out. It’s the same intelligence that queues our heart to beat among so many things in our autonomic nervous system. You see this intelligence throughout nature, in the geometry of plants, the programmed intelligence of insects and animals, and in the cycles of weather. I think we all have the ability to tap into that, and from that place we can find our purpose, from purpose we have intuition, and from intuition we know where to go and how to get there. Breathwork, meditation, plant medicine, diet and physical activity allow me to tap into this with more consistency.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I lead by example. I am constantly looking for processes. I’m an explorer.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My dad built all the homes I lived in growing up. I was always around building materials and was constantly witnessing ideas in the head turn into plans on paper and eventually physical walls that I would live in. He was primarily a builder by understanding every aspect of the home building process. This cross functional mastery was what I eventually pursued in the design world. I learned how to code front end, I learned about marketing, finance, business, retention, and customer support. More than inspiring me to create, he taught me what it means to work hard. I’d say my biggest superpower is my work ethic and I attribute that to him.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

With the business I’m very proud to be donating to MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. When the center for thoughts and feelings (the mind) is in poor health, it creates a cascade of tragic outcomes and society pays the price. MAPS is an organization that develops medical, legal, and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful uses of psychedelics. Working within the maze of regulations, MAPS is doing it right and helping a range of people from veterans suffering from PTSD to high school teachers with depression. They’re healing the mind, not just the symptoms, something that despite their pretty colors and profit margins, mainstream pharmaceuticals haven’t been able to do.

In my personal life, because I am running my own business, I have the freedom to not make art for money. I honestly create what feels most important to me. Sometimes that can be a portrait of a homeless person, others, an abstract combination of colors I was compelled to express. Either way, I feel free to create what resonates with me most and am grateful to be making art from this place. The new series I’m working on with homeless people is something I hope leaves the world in a better place than I found it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” Mark Twain

This quote resonates strongly with the mission and values of MUD\WTR. I want to stay curious and always understand the “why” behind the things that I do. I don’t want to do things just because everyone else is doing it. I want to have intention and through MUD\WTR we encourage this level of conscious decision making on a cultural level.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Breathwork has been a transformative and accessible tool for my personal mental development and healing. If you are interested in looking into it, I highly recommend checking out the book Breath, researching Wim Hof, or taking one of our breathwork classes taught by Chris Keener.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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