I like to tell people that I’m an investor now but that’s not really the case. I wrote one check in my life and I wrote it from a savings account I had for a down payment on a house. When I met Shane, it was because I hired him as a contractor at our previous company. I met him on a Skype call and checked out his Instagram account as part of due diligence. I knew the culture fit was there when I saw him and his friends dressed as Geishas and the Bee Gees on a couple of different occasions. So far so good. Culture is king. I gave him an initial task to mockup an interface that was humbling a few designers before him as well as myself (more of a testament to my inability to simplify than anything else). I thought two weeks was enough time. Two hours later I got a version back from Shane that I was sure he stole online. There was just no way someone could go that fast and be that good at such a complex task.
Not long after Shane joined the team, we re-branded under his lead and made him a co-founder. He was raising the bar across the company and we all felt we had to show him how much we appreciated him. The only thing we couldn’t get behind was his massive hydroflask that he sipped from all day. He kept telling me I had to try it but his version of what he was drinking at the time was intentionally not trying to win any awards. It had a floating chunk of bark in it that I later learned was a mushroom bark called Chaga. I watched him make it a few times and he made it clear it was for performance and not for aesthetics. He called it “Mud”. Once again he nailed the branding but I was cool with my 5–7 cups of coffee per day and told him there was no “f’n way I was trying that”. I could see the chip on his shoulder growing from my stance.
Sadly our company wasn’t on the trajectory we thought it could reach. We needed jobs… that paid real money. The saddest part of it was that we all loved working together and couldn’t do that anymore.
One random day in May, Shane texted me that he messed with the formula for mud, added some additional benefits, optimized for taste, and aesthetics. He also built a website and threw an Instagram account together for it. As expected, the site was beautiful and the brand was spot on (the site, by the way, was built on Squarespace. We get raving compliments all the time for those that think you need to spend a lot of money on a firm or a completely customized site). I was so excited he had something going on his own that I didn’t really care what the product was. I knew it was gonna be special. After some feedback, it seemed like we were texting each other 2–300 times per day. I started to get really excited about the prospects of working with Shane again on something but at the same time, was battling quite a bit of anxiety and depression. Trying to keep a company going that wasn’t working without a paycheck for 18 months is a lot. At the same time, I had some intense personal challenges happening. So much so that I started on some anxiety medication.
This would have been the third time I was prescribed medication but the first time I went through with taking it. I definitely had an aversion to it from stigma and from feeling like I could outwork any challenge. These are not advisable stances for many reasons. Medication has worked wonders for so many people and the stigma of it needs to be eradicated with each opportunity we have to do so. The medication did help me. I started to feel better after only a few days. I became a student. I was constantly researching anxiety, depression and medication, I saw that notable psychologists were recommending that sleep and routine should take priority to combat anxiety and depression. Not having sleep and routine in place makes it difficult to treat anxiety and depression in any way.
Through all of this, I was working with Shane more and more and embarrassingly enough doing so from coffee shops where I’d fuel up in the morning and throughout the day. I was occasionally flying to LA to help him from pop up cafes to dropping off hundreds of orders of mud at the post office. It felt weird, off-brand and disingenuous to have a coffee in my hand during these times especially without giving Mud its fair shake at becoming apart of my routine.
It took two f’n days of drinking Mud with no coffee and I could not go back. I’ve had one coffee in the last 6 months. I drank it at 10 AM and couldn’t fall asleep that night. I have never been able to sleep soundly. If you can relate, you know it’s hell. I often joke that if I could have one superhero power it would be to be able to fall asleep whenever I wanted. Since kicking coffee I’ve been having the most peaceful, incredible sleep and waking up feeling rested. I’m also much less of an asshole which is cool. I had the idea that maybe I didn’t really need meds if I was able to sleep and didn’t feel like a perpetual state of crashing from coffee. I stopped taking my meds (again not advisable — definitely talk to a doctor about this type of thing) and waited a full 30 days before I told Shane I was off medication and I had he and mud to mostly thank.
Shane would often call me on his lunch break and at night to open up about the challenges of running your own startup. It’s hell sometimes and I had been there before. I was happy to be there for him as so many people had been there for me. A friend in those times to talk with is indescribably therapeutic. It helps more than you could know. There did come a point though when my advice was more of an ultimatum. It was early September and after the website launched in May, we saw revenue doubling each month. Shane was personally funding inventory, packaging, software costs for the company while trying to pay down a credit card and rent. He reached capacity and I saw his creativity being stifled by overhead, admin and too many context switches. I knew unless he had a six-month cushion not to worry about rent and bills he would not be able to get mud to the next stage. If he missed this window it would haunt him forever. Without any hesitation, and for what others might call crazy, it felt like I made one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. I told him that if he didn’t take a check from me I couldn’t help him anymore. He didn’t go for it but I wired the money anyway.
Seven months later and I/WE couldn’t be happier. The testimonials of people telling us that they are dreaming again, having less anxiety, and not feeling like imminent doom is on their doorstep has been the best return I could have ever expected. Thanks for being a part of this with us and helping this dirty little thing we call mud help so many people. Please reach out if we can help return the favor in any way.
by Paul DeJoe, Chief Operations Officer at MUD\WTR