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  MUDWTR Founder Shane Heath
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MUD\WTR Founder's Story

How Shane Heath is redefining mental health and coffee culture norms

My struggles with anxiety and depression started when I was a teenager. I can’t pinpoint exactly where it came from. I had a pretty normal childhood, growing up in Santa Cruz, California with my younger sister. I went surfing with my friends and my dad took me to jiu-jitsu class. 

But when I lost a college friend to suicide, it was a wake-up call. I had to get serious about taking better care of my mental health. I realized I needed to build a relationship with my mind because honestly, as tough as it is to say, I was kind of afraid if I didn't, I would end up in a similar spot.

How Did MUD\WTR Start?

By the time I was working as a designer at tech start-ups in my 20s, I was living what I thought was a healthy lifestyle. In college, I was introduced to some healthy habits. So I was doing a lot of yoga and meditating, I was eating really well and experimenting with Ayurvedic diets. I was tending to my mind like a farmer tends to his field. And I was expressing myself as a painter, doing a lot of live painting at festivals and loving that. 

But despite all of this progress I’d made, my anxiety was on the rise again and my sleep was a mess. My mood was all over the place. My ability to handle stress was lowering, and that was harming my creativity—I’m a fine artist, so that was really impacting my ability to create. And I thought I was doing all the right things. I was working a really exciting job, but of course, I was also pounding tons of caffeine. 

And, you know, caffeine's interesting because if you do some research,  you’ll see that there are some amazing benefits. It helps your heart, helps your brain, it helps everything. And so I just thought it was good for me. The more I drank it, the more I could do and the faster I could do it.

But no one talks about the downsides. I felt anxious at work. Then at home. Then before bed. I wasn’t sleeping well. I was probably drinking five or six cups of coffee or some caffeinated beverage a day—upwards of one thousand milligrams of caffeine a day. 

Of course, I was feeling this way, and I felt just kind of fed up. I realized I needed to do something different. This was not working for me. And at the time, around 2009, it was very different than it is today. People weren’t as open about talking about how they were feeling, especially men.

From Burned Out Employee to MUD\WTR CEO

I quit my job when I got an art residency in Goa, India, and the experience of looking at my life from the outside—from a distance and from another perspective—changed everything. 

For starters, I fell in love with chai and turmeric. I also realized that the sleep-when-you’re-dead lifestyle that I’d bought into in the startup hustle culture was incompatible with my physical and mental health. I had been drinking tons of coffee, like everyone else I knew, and this over-consumption of coffee was contributing to my burnout. 

I loved the ritual of coffee, but I wanted my morning routine to be more than just a vessel for high doses of caffeine. So, I decided to make something better. I started mixing cacao, masala chai, adaptogenic mushrooms and spices, and found that it gave me the energy boost I needed without any of the downsides of coffee. 

My mom has worked in the mushroom space since before I was born. She still works for one of the biggest mushroom growers in North America. So I grew up around mushrooms and started reading about the benefits of functional mushrooms. Like lion’s mane for focus, cordyceps for energy and reishi for immunity. 

At the time, I was adding them to decaf coffee. Because I thought I’d been dealt a bad hand of cards when it came to caffeine—that I was the only one who couldn’t cope with it. Come to find out, I have what’s called the “caffeine gene,” or the CYP1A2 variant, which means I metabolize caffeine more slowly and am more impacted by it.

MUD\WTR’s Mission to Create Healthy Minds Through Healthy Habits

Turns out, I wasn’t so different. I brought my concoction to work, when painting, to jiu-jitsu training, and everyone around me was asking what was in my mug and if I could make them some too. They told me that they wanted to cut back on coffee, or swap out their afternoon cup so they could sleep better, or quit coffee altogether. I realized I wanted to share this product that had helped me so much with others. 

So, in May of 2018, I launched MUD\WTR to help people rethink their relationship with coffee. Our flagship blend, :rise Cacao, did just that—and we’ve sold more 130 million servings. And we’ve continued to grow since then. We created more blends that support how you rise in the morning, reset in the afternoon and rest in the evening. 

But we’re about so much more than what we put in our mugs. Even though that’s why I started the company—to sell a beverage—from day one our purpose has always been to help improve mental well-being. Because that’s what it did for me. That’s so much more important to me than asking people to try drinking my mushroom coffee alternative. 

Our products are in many ways like a lead domino or a Trojan horse. We’re inviting you to try one new thing. Whether you continue to drink that one new thing or not, it can empower you to try out other new things. Those other things might be the things that help you.

That’s why our mission is to create healthy minds through healthy habits. That’s why we share our favorite healthy habits through the content we create, that’s why we donate monthly to mental health organizations, and that’s why our number one focus as an employer is to protect employee well-being. 

How MUD\WTR Has Grown Over the Past Five Years

We’ve been at this for more than five years now, and while we’ve been successful as a direct-to-consumer, online brand, it’s time to grow. To fulfill our mission, we need to make it as easy as possible for people to access healthy habits. 

So we’ve stepped out into the physical world, and our :rise Cacao and :rise Matcha blends are now available in more than 500 Target stores nationwide and we’ll be in more than 1,000 by the end of the year. 

We also opened our first cafe, MUD\WTR :gather in Santa Monica, Calif. It’s a space where you can not only taste our products but also touch, hear and feel what our brand and community are all about. Consider it our invitation to be present and curious about healthy habits together, in person. Join us for classes—meditation, breathwork, mindful movement—that we believe enhance our well-being. 

We also expanded internationally, into Canada and the UK, and plan to continue bringing MUD\WTR to new international markets in the coming years.

MUD\WTR’s Founder Glimpses the Future  

The early days at MUD\WTR were wild. It was exciting and also full of constant challenges. When I started the company, I worked full-time, was in debt and had no experience building a team or a company. I was mixing up the product and packaging it all out of my Venice, Calif. apartment, advertising on social media and via word of mouth—all while still working my day job so I could pay rent. I ran to the post office to ship orders during my lunch breaks and stayed up until the wee hours making the product. 

We generated seven figures in revenue that year. That fall, I secured my first investment and quit my job to focus on MUDWTR full-time. Each step, from conceptualizing MUDWTR in my kitchen to building a company that has reached millions, has required a leap of faith. 

And curiosity. It started because I was curious about my body and my mind. I was curious about how I found energy. And I’m still curious and I’m still learning. And I’m sharing what I’m learning, and the rest of the MUD\WTR team members are sharing what they’re learning. And our hope is that you also feel curious—about what you believe, what you put in your body, what you put in your mind. Because the possibilities are endless.

If you or someone you know is looking for support, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a hotline for people in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. You can call 988 to speak with a trained listener. Visit 988lifeline.org for crisis chat services and for more information.

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