Shane is the Founder & CEO of MUD/WTR, an a mushroom-based coffee alternative.
Briefly introduce us to MUD/WTR and your journey to founding the company.
My background is in design. I was leading the design team for an early stage tech startup in Palo Alto, living in San Francisco, training jiu jitsu, painting and working a ton. I bought into the dream that coffee would help me do more and do it faster. It was readily available, and everyone was doing it but after building a tolerance that lead to 3+ cups a day I started to notice negative side effects.
Being an artist, spending hours in front of a canvas, I feel like I’m especially aware of my mental state, specifically, how my mental state contributes to creativity. I had experienced depression and anxiety for most of my adult life, but at this point, it was getting out of control. I wasn’t sleeping, I was jittery, not creative and I felt that things were causing more stress than they needed to. In short, my coffee addiction was hindering my performance both in the office and outside of it.
I ended up taking a leave of absence from work and moved to India for 6 months to work on an art project. I came back with a new perspective and was empowered to take inventory of habits, beliefs, friends, and aspirations: inviting in the new, letting go of the old. I’m big on morning rituals and routine, and having quit coffee in exchange for masala chai I started to wonder: if I’m going to drink something every morning before pursuing my passions, why not make it more than a vessel for caffeine? I started 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. My anxiety was gone, I was sleeping again, I felt creative and my life just felt more even keel. After traveling and working remotely for 2 years I ended up joining a startup in Venice, CA and began going to an office full of coffee addicts every day. Colleagues would keep asking ‘wtf is in your mug?’ I would tell them ‘mud.’ I noticed that though nearly everyone drank coffee, there were a lot of people who wanted to wean off their afternoon cup, drink less or give it up all together. It was obvious to me that there wasn’t anything out there like this and that if even a small percentage of coffee addicts wanted something better, this would be something that could improve the lives of millions of people.
So in May of 2018 I built the brand and put up a website and the rest is history.
How do you see the concept of wellness permeating into what consumers drink, eat and buy?
I think it’s kind of funny that ‘wellness’ is even a thing. It feels like if you don’t have depression, anxiety, obesity, cancer, heart disease, allergies, or auto-immune disorders, you are some lucky phenomenon. Being unwell has become the default so now the concept of being healthy is progressive and something people sell and buy.
Of course, it’s a good thing but I think a common misperception is that being healthy is high maintenance. Really being well is more about the things we ‘don’t’ do than the things we do. It’s less time on your phone. It’s less alcohol. It’s less sugar. It’s less processed foods. It’s less stress. Luckily there are products, content, practices and wisdom permeating throughout society to help counteract some of the things that we have a hard time avoiding. Wellness is just getting back to baseline but sadly compared to our current baseline, that looks like superpowers.
What marketing channels do you believe are great for connecting with consumers?
I always think of brands as people. If patagonia was a person, what would they wear, do, how would they talk? I can kind of see that. I can feel what that could be like, you know? So, if you’re trying to build an authentic brand, Instagram is by far the best channel to personify who you are, what you stand for, and how you do it. Replying to comments is where you can express the nuances of your personality. We prioritize being real over professional and I think it surprises people (and sometimes pissed people off) but if you’re worried about being liked by all, you’ll be loved by none.
What KPIs or metrics do you prioritize?
Retention is really all that matters. We don’t sell luxury cars, so reordering is what eventually determines a customer’s lifetime value. We are trying to build an amazing experience that makes you feel like you are a part of something that brings you value beyond the mug. We try to track the effectiveness of content, community, and personable interactions through its impact on churn and average revenue per user. From there, you can back into your customer acquisition costs and margins to determine LTV:CAC which can direct how and when you scale.
What do you think is the most important part of a business to get right first?
“Why?” I love Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with why.’ Why are you building what you are building? I think it’s particularly important with a food and beverage startup because it’s hard. If it’s hard, it’s going to get harder. There were months where I was driving to a commercial kitchen at midnight with hundreds of pounds of different powders to mix for a few days of inventory. Dead tired, mopping up the mess I made at 4:00am thinking about the meetings I had the next day, and laughing at the insanity of my life. It was terrible but I loved it and felt like it was all part of my contribution to leaving the world better than I found it. There were many points along the way that someone would have quit or slowed down, but we kept moving forward.
“Why are you building what you are building?“
What is MUD/WTR’s superpower?
Work ethic. My Co-founder is an ex-pro hockey player who went on to start 3 companies. He’s scrappy as hell. My dad is a contractor and instilled in me a work ethic from a very early age. If I didn’t want to do something, he would tell me ‘someone else will.’ Work ethic is something we all have in our control and it’s the ultimate edge.
If you could drink MUD/WTR (living or dead) with one person, who would it be and why?
Alan Watts. He’s my favorite teacher I never had. To be honest, I’ve sipped mud listening to his lectures many times so in a sense, I feel like I’ve done this but his wisdom and delivery resonate with me in a way that is different from most.
Six months from now, what is going to be your biggest challenge?
Probably managing people and process. For the first 18 months, MUD\WTR was three full time employees. Me, a COO and a customer support agent. We all were doing way too much and in a way it was more similar to whack-a-mole than a proper business. Work ethic combined with experience and skillset led us all to be maxed out and not rely on process to get things done. We’ve evolved so much in the subsequent year where we now have seven full time employees, regular meetings, and a budding process around almost everything we do, but it still has a ways to go. Six Months from now we will have 2-4 new team members and will likely be shipping out close to 100k orders every month, which will lead to many new challenges with people and process management.
If you could join the crew from Inception and implant one fact or idea about into the minds of consumers, what would it be?
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain
I think it’s important to stay curious and to regularly question our beliefs and the general status quo that culture prescribes to us. This isn’t to simply zig or zag for the sake of it, but rather to put in principles to preserve your own freedom of thought.
What is a memento from your childhood that you still keep and how does it serve you?
Childhood reminds me of dirt, saw dust, nails, and the beach. My dad built all the homes I lived in growing up. I’d see architectural plans on paper become physical spaces I’d eventually sleep in and I think being immersed in that process had a huge impact on me. Reflecting on my career, I’ve unconsciously tried to build a multifaceted toolset. From art to design to coding to writing to business, like my dad, I wanted to know how it all worked. With MUD\WTR, it was the convergence of that, everything I’ve ever learned and been passionate about, from nutrition to design, web development, and entrepreneurship all coming together in a way that I felt I was uniquely positioned to get it off the ground.
What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever done?
If you’re not weird, you’re weird. In college was when I really started beating to my own drum I lived on the beach in San Diego and had some amazing friends. We partied a lot, surfed, did that whole beach life college thing. But, it wasn’t fulfilling and a few circumstances led me to start trying to figure out who I really was. I started meditating, trying (unsuccessfully) to brew my own kombucha, doing yoga, jiu jitsu. I remember senior year living with some of my best friends in a house on mission bay. My roommates were on a completely different path than me at the time and I remember it was Cinco de Mayo and we dressed up as a mariachi band and they were all pounding keystone lights and I was doing this ayurvedic cleanse, basically eating bark and drinking these strange herbs. It felt weird at the time but I’ve come to realize that one person’s weird is another’s bland.
What is the best gift that you have ever received and why?
Work ethic. I don’t feel especially gifted at anything. I really had to work hard to learn how to do the things that I’m competent at today. I attribute that to my dad teaching me the importance of working hard. More importantly, being an example of what it looks like to work hard. T o this day he works harder than anyone I know. On the weekends, he’s building things at the house, cleaning up the yard, planting things. He doesn’t stop. When I want to, I think about him and I find I have a lot more in the tank.
What is your creative outlet and how does it help you channel a flow state?
I paint, you can find my work at @somanypossibilities. Painting is like a meditation for me but I also do a lot of things to get myself in a good intuitive place to paint. So, it’s both an outlet but also something that incentivizes me to keep a clear headspace. As my business grows, control begins to become decentralized. In the early days, I could have an idea and it would be live a few hours later with customers interacting with it. Now, there’s more people involved and we have a process to ensure we are all working in harmony. Painting gives me freedom to be a kid again. I don’t have to answer to anyone, I get to do what I want, when I want, and how I want. That is medicine to me.
What is one daily ritual that you cannot live without?
I have a hard time not exercising every day… but meditation would be number 1. My mind controls how I perceive everything so It’s important that I have a relationship with my thoughts, my spirit, my purpose and my intentions. I do that through a regular meditation practice that can be as simple as sitting up in my bed or as in depth as chanting mantras.
What is the last:
TV show you binged?
The Leftovers (HBO). CRAZY show.
Movie you watched?
The Outpost. Pretty brutal depiction of war.
Song you listened to?
Nicolas Jaar Live at Sonar Lab on Soundcloud. I’ve been bumping this so much lately.
Podcast you listened to?
Tim Ferriss with Naval Ravikant.
Book you read?
I recently finished Shoedog. I’m currently reading Becoming Supernatural.
Up Next: Ross Mackay, Co-founder of Daring