We weren’t mad at coffee, just disappointed
I loved my morning ritual. I started mud because coffee wasn’t worthy of being a part of mine. I’m a designer with experience ranging from agency,...
I loved my morning ritual. I started mud because coffee wasn’t worthy of being a part of mine.
I’m a designer with experience ranging from agency, fortune 500 to startups (including 3 of my own.) Challenging myself makes me happy, and Jiu-jitsu, crossfit, hot yoga, and the occasional triathlon or SUP race are some of my methods to my madness. My nights are typically spent painting, where it’s grown from a hobby to a side career (@somanypossibilities). On paper, this restless combination makes me the ideal target for a coffee addiction. And 4 years ago, it got me. I was sold the dream that coffee would help me do more and do it better. I noticed my stress levels rise, my sleep quality drop resulting in this vicious cycle of being tired, being amped, being anxious and needing more espresso to maintain a baseline level of awakeness.
It’s a tough habit to kick, coffee is hip and everyone’s doing it. In the US, consumption has grown to 3.2 cups per day. Ambitious and active lives are inherently stress-inducing. Drinking hundreds of milligrams of caffeine every day seemed not only unnecessary but detrimental. I wasn’t mad at coffee, just disappointed. So I went off to make something better.
I got invited to do an artist-in-residence in Goa, India and took a sabbatical from office-life. I lived there for 6 months painting, surfing and drinking chai. On every street corner, you’ll find a bearded man working the various pots and kettles of the golden brown brew. There are no to-go cups. No grande, venti, or talls. No barista competitions. Just a piping hot blend of cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, pepper, cloves and other spices poured into a small glass for you to enjoy in his presence. I became a regular.
I came home from 8 months abroad with the intention to create something that I could drink every morning. I wanted something that wasn’t just for energy, but that benefitted mind, body and soul. Using Blue Lotus Masala Chai as a base, I began experimenting with various compounds that grabbed my attention. Turmeric was added to fight off inflammation, and it paired amazingly with the chai, which has black pepper and complimentary spices. I was intrigued by cacao for the flavor but found it to have properties that enhance mood and alertness. I had been doing intermittent fasting and added cinnamon to help with cravings during my non-feeding window. But mud wasn’t mud until I found out about mushrooms.
Lion’s mane was the first mushroom that appealed to me. I was drawn by its capacity to enhance cognitive function and restoration. I added cordyceps for its physical performance benefits and found that chaga and reishi had amazing evidence to support healthy immunity and vitality. When combined, I had a drink that… looked dirty. It was brown with chunks of chaga floating in it, but I loved the shit out of it.
I would take a mug of it with me everywhere I went.
Friends, training partners and colleagues would ask me “What the fuck is that?”
“Mud,” I would reply.
They would subsequently laugh, grimace and ask to try it.
They would be pleasantly surprised.
Fast forward 2 years and I noticed benefits in my mental, physical, and emotional capacity. I was getting less sore after workouts. I could eat less and do more work — often times better and faster. I slept better and felt more resilient. It felt like mud was what coffee always aspired to be.
On Friday May 12th a friend and I put a small dose of psilocybin (don’t try this at home… Or, just be safe haha) into mud (before it was mud) before heading to an event. It was a fun night, nothing heroic however the next day I woke up with a striking realization that the benefits of mud would appeal to the masses. It wasn’t just a thought, it was almost like a vision. Fiercely inspired, I spent the day designing the brand, packaging and building the website. Once designed, I ordered labels, jars, ingredients and boxes online and launched the brand two days later along with an instagram post.
Orders started coming in.
I didn’t have an official recipe so I spent hours taste testing until I had the proportions down (we still use the same suppliers and formula I would make for myself.) I didn’t have a mixer so the first 100 orders I literally shook up in a large mason jar. I didn’t have money, so I got a credit card, got a couple grand from a painting I sold, and miraculously an app that I had designed previously got acquired.
My day’s started to get very busy. I would wake up early and go to CrossFit, come home, shower and load up my car with boxes I had put together the night before then head to work. On my lunch break, I would head to the post office to manually input orders at the kiosk one-by-one. Go back to work until 6 and come home to mix and fulfil orders from that day. I was drinking a lot of mud.
My parents bought me a label printer for my birthday (thanks Mom, thanks Dad) and I reinvested some profits into a mixer and marketing efforts. With slogans like “F*ck your coffee,” “Support your local sunrise” and “Chai believe I can fly” our product was being picked up by influencers and shared across social media like fire. We were resonating to a wide range of people from wellness professionals to yoga moms, crossfitters to coders. I was personally reaching out to every customer (up until number 300 or so) and I think it’s now obvious. More people than I thought were sceptical about their addiction to coffee, to say the least. The problem was: tea is boring. The benefits of tea have always been there, but there hasn’t been a brand that spoke to modern culture. We are here to bridge that gap.
Four months after launch I was shipping out thousands of orders a month. My art studio got converted into a fulfilment center. Friends were coming over while I was at work to make boxes, kit them, and put labels on. Outside of my full-time, I was keeping up with customer support, inventory, marketing, business and legal things. One day a week I would go into a commercial kitchen and mix up huge (at the time) batches of the stuff and then would try to keep the house relatively clean so my roommates wouldn’t kill me. Yeah, I had roommates during this… Love ya Harrison & Sarah haha.
By September I had scaled it to a point where I was experiencing that kind of growth you dream of. We were making great revenue with amazing reviews but I was reinvesting everything back into bigger purchase orders, I had no money left in savings, I had a maxed out credit card and was working 16 hour days. It warranted full-time efforts but there wasn’t quite enough profit to support a relatively reliable income.
If I left my job to work on it full time, I might not have been able to pay rent. But, if I didn’t work on it full time, I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with demand. F*ck.
I remember a pivotal phone call with Paul DeJoe who up until this point was an advisor helping me with topics ranging from accounting and legal advice to straight up therapy. The call started out in the therapy genre as I was having a full meltdown due to severe lack of sleep and a to-do list that was ridiculous.
Not long into my rant, he stopped me and said: “I’m writing you a $25K check and you’re quitting your job or I’m not helping you anymore.”
Paul isn’t an investor. In fact, this was his first check and it came from money he was saving for a house. He’s one of the best entrepreneurs and friends you could ever meet. He sent a text a couple days after this that said, “check the account”. I got a little emotional. It’s important to have people in your life that push you to live on your edge. Paul, you are that for me. Thank you man.
I quit my job and the two of us went out to raise capital to build the company. He’s now my right-hand man as COO.
We scaled the business to six figures in revenue that month (month 7) and got product endorsements from people like Kelly Slater, Melissa Hartwig and Luke Rockhold. Shortly after we closed $1 Million in funding through friends, angels, and VC funds* full of experience spanning from successful founders, owners of NBA teams to investors in companies like Lyft, Snap, Spacex.
*Zach Coelius (Industry Ventures), Able Partners, M13 and 25 Madison.
In November moved into an office equipped with a meditation room, small gym, and a posse team of hilarious and driven people that hustle for us. MUD\WTR HQ is located at 4700 W Jefferson where we are opening up the first coffee-less cafe in Los Angeles. The cafe will feature our current chai product as well as future blends like matcha, golden milk and CBD infusions. And about our cafe… it’s free/donation-based. All of our donations from the cafe (and a percent of each month’s revenue) go to MAPS (read more about that here.)
If you want to meet me, our tribe or try out our goods — stop by. We’d love to meet you.
We open the cafe on 1.19 at 8 am, see you there.
Started from the mud now we here.