I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Shane Heath of
This is his story, as told through my perspective as an expert as a business leader, but also someone genuinely keeping an open mind and listening to a very unique and boldly compelling perspective.
Early on, Shane Heath the founder of MUD\WTR realized that he needed something different in his life. Disappointed by society’s almost zombie-like way of being in our search for energy. He was addicted, and like most others never even questioned it.
But then almost like an awakening, an overwhelming awareness of how he was doing, feeling both mentally and physically, and what he was ingesting occurred.
Like when a young Bruce Wayne met his future adversary in the alley with the words, “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight.” his future life mission became abundantly clear.
So almost like a mad scientist arming himself with research and a variety of ingredients proven to help the mind, he developed a muddy concoction now known as MUD\WTR. He came almost out of nowhere with a strong angle that nobody else was taking. He went up against the momentum around how people were finding energy, now with MUD\WTR following the trajectory of his story.
When he came to market with the, "F#! your coffee angle", it really drew a clear line in the sand and differentiated the message of his company and the small group of superhero-like characters he put together in their newfound battle against caffeine.
For all the civilians out there struggling with caffeine sensitivity, sleep deprivation, anxiety, and the myriad of issues associated with the mindless ingesting of caffeine, there was now a hero. All of a sudden it felt like MUD\WTR was speaking to that problem and providing a solution where a lot of other companies weren't.
“A lot of other companies were seeing coffee and the caffeine market as this really big potential industry and way to make money. If you really break down the caffeine industry, they're basically making money off people's reliance on a substance that they use to offset sleep deprivation. But that substance ironically causes sleep deprivation. So as you can imagine, it makes a really nice profitable business cycle.” - Heath.
A lot of industries are built on that cycle, and when MUD\WTR came to market they flipped that on its head and pointed a finger at it. People seemed to really resonate with that, both the message and also how MUD\WTR went about putting their controversial leader out in front.
“Our biggest challenge is probably the status quo, it's our biggest competitor, it's not any other person or any other company it's the current cultural momentum around this sort of unconscious and unquestioned reliance on caffeine and that's a tough thing to go up against. Caffeine is a drug but for the most part in our country, it's being disguised as a drink.
And as such, you lose that respect that you normally have for all drugs, which is dose. The dose is a huge part of the ingestion of most other drugs. It’s actually what determines if a drug is going to be harmful or helpful. But in terms of caffeine people are just blindly consuming the stuff, you don't really know how much is in your coffee or cups of coffee.
Most energy drinks aren't labeled. And so people are drinking unknown doses of caffeine and companies are profiting off that addiction. But at the same time, that whole economy is also viewing our customer base because it's sort of perpetuating and creating the problem that we're looking to solve.
It's a big obstacle, but also the opportunity that we're pursuing at the same time.
If you break down coffee, the active ingredient in coffee is caffeine, right? If you simulated a culture that didn't have the actual drink of coffee but was just reliant on the equivalent of caffeine pills. Every cup of coffee is the equivalent of two caffeine pills from your local pharmacy.
This would look a lot different culturally if people were lining up outside of Starbucks to go and get a couple of caffeine pills or wearing shirts that say. "But first caffeine pills", it's because it's packaged in a drink it’s cool. That has fueled its normalization.
But without that whole packaging, would it be as normal? I don't hear a lot of people openly brag about, taking caffeine pills but taking a drink full of caffeine is completely different and culturally accepted."
It's pretty easy for anyone who has ever had a mosquito bite to understand just how much power something small can have. For Heath, the entire movement of MUD\WTR started with an itch, not a physical itch per se but a strong need to solve a problem for himself.
When a lot of businesses start, It's common for people to look around and try to replicate other people's success. They see someone else's idea, go to a whiteboard and map out the opportunity.
There is nothing wrong with this, however, there is certainly something to be said about authenticity and how it can equip you with the strength and determination that will be needed on your entrepreneurial journey.
When you do that, your product is going to be inherently differentiated. But also the founders of the company are going to be much more equipped with the determination that's needed to get over the inevitable hurdles. It's extremely difficult to launch a company, but the ones that I'm a big fan of, succeed because the founders were so determined that they didn't really see the hardships and struggles, as anything other than something they needed to do to get to where they were going.
Really finding what you're passionate about, oftentimes, solving a problem for yourself that other people haven't done yet, can be the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of an entrepreneur. Instead of creating a business around a whiteboard opportunity, start authentically, customers are much more astute these days and this passion is noticed and rewarded.
See that it's not just an opportunity but rather that it’s something that's really coming from the heart. Have a mission that is bigger than the line on your income statement. Patagonia's mission wasn't to make apparel but to save the planet and they used their products as it means of achieving that. Similarly, in the case of MUD\WTR, the mission is to protect the mind. It's pretty cool when a company can inspire people to think bigger.
The drink itself is simply a mixture of various mushrooms and other ingredients, but articles have been written whereby Heath has been accused of promoting psychedelics drug use in the office.
Let me start by saying it's rather clear that they are not against psychedelics. It's written into the materials they send to all customers, (as part of a lengthy booklet about everything from routine, to sleep, to breathing exercises. That said upon reading the article to which I refer I questioned even putting this one together.
However, this opened up further conversations with Heath. It is apparent to me that he stands true to his mission of protecting the mind. He clearly stated in his fight against caffeine that dose was a major issue and the ultimate difference between a drug being helpful and harmful. So his answer, when asked about the article to me, was very sincere.
“The article made it seem like I was encouraging the team to take psychedelics. No. If the team is interested in taking psychedelics, specifically microdosing at work, I'm not going to fire them. We will actually provide helpful information on how to do so in a safe way.”
His answer does play to MUD\WTR’s support of Psychedelics in the sense of being in the middle of a mental health epidemic.
“We believe in standing for a bold solution. That’s why we donate to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).”
Well, to me it's simple, Heath, like the Dark Knight, is not superman, the perfect guy looking to do right by everyone, he is out there taking bold stands on big issues and MUD\WTR has become a means for him to do this.
Some may resonate with his message, others may not, but the truth is, he has built one of America’s Fastest growing businesses based on taking bold stands and solving a problem. Insights that if taken with a grain of salt literally could allow other future entrepreneurs to do the same and make impacting and lasting change in the world at the same time.
After all, we are now training machines to hallucinate for a better understanding of how the mind works, as well as for the advancement of translation technology, how could a mission of protecting the mind be anything but an honorable one.
“Enjoy your breath. Breath works and is a big part of my day. My life. Obviously, we all need to breathe but I think it's a really interesting thing to really delve into because it both happens automatically, but it's also one that you can take control over, just taking a simple breath. The breath-hold shows you that you can gain some sort of control of your autonomic nervous system.
I think that fundamental idea is something that can be deeply explored and ultimately that impacts how you show up in the world and how you face, uncertainty, discomfort, and stressful situations. All of those things can be enhanced or optimized through control and enjoyment of the breath.”