- Shane Heath is the founder of Mud/Wtr, a beverage brand he launched in 2018.
- Heath wants to avoid perpetuating startup hustle culture and instead invests in employee well-being.
- He incorporates mental and physical wellness rituals into his routine and his company’s culture.
This as-told-to essay is based on an interview with Shane Heath, the 35-year-old founder of Mud/Watr, a beverage brand he launched in 2018 after he quit drinking coffee. The company sells coffee alternatives and other drink powders that are made with organic ingredients; the products cost between $20 and $40.
In a time when many large companies are calling employees back to the office, Heath leads a 32-person remote team. Aside from quarterly in-person meetings, his employees can choose where they work best, whether that’s from home or the company’s Santa Monica office. He also offers them perks to manage their health and rest.
Mud/Wtr declined to provide its annual revenue, though a representative said the company sold 1.4 million units in 2022. Additionally, it had about 443,000 customers who purchased single products or subscriptions in the past 12 months. The company booked more than $16 million in revenue in 2020 and projected it would reach $60 million the following year, Inc. magazine reported.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
My caffeine addiction inspired me to build a brand
After I graduated college, I worked in tech for six years. I was addicted to caffeine and surprised that everyone around me was also drinking tons of caffeine.
When I created my own drink to replace coffee, everybody asked me what I was drinking. They were experiencing jitters and anxiety and wanted to quit or reduce their caffeine intake. That was the “aha” moment for me. It wasn’t a business opportunity, it was an opportunity to shift culture.
In May 2018, I ordered some jars and labels. I made the website and brand, starting with the message, “I’m not mad at coffee, I’m just disappointed.” I went on to say I made something better and began sharing that story.
You can make a high-performing company culture without following the hustle model
Hustle culture was probably rooted in data, but this isn’t a sprint. I’m looking at long-term results.
The cost of losing an employee is extremely high, so we invest a lot in our team and our benefits policy, more than most startups. It looks expensive on the surface, but it’s kind of like eating healthy food: When you factor in the medical bills and not performing at your highest level, the true costs of unhealthy eating are probably higher.
I’m not saying to swing the pendulum all the way to the other side. I think balance is key. It’s a lot of work to build a company. We’re building our culture and philosophy in the way that a professional sports team might take care of their athletes.
There are going to be times throughout the year when you’re exhausted and you still have to show up and compete at the highest level, but in exchange for doing so, we take care of you.
Our whole company takes every other Friday off. We give everybody an Oura ring when they join the company. We connect every employee to a doctor to get blood work, cortisol tests, and advice on what they should do to improve their diet and sleep.
When we hire a new employee, we welcome them to the company through a 45-minute breath-work experience. Some of the most powerful moments I can recall at the company were after those breath-work ceremonies.
If you take care of your team, keep them motivated, keep them well-slept but also have challenging and ambitious goals, you’re going to hit those goals more over time.
My daily routine includes a cold plunge and hyperbaric chamber
I treat myself like a professional athlete. For many years, I’ve had a ton of rituals that help me feel good and help me handle stress better.
It all starts with sleep. I’ve been tracking my sleep for the past five years. I have an Eight Sleep mattress that lets me set the temperature. A cold room has been helping a lot. I typically go to bed and wake up at the same time.
When I wake up, I exercise and follow that up with a sauna and cold plunge, which I have at my home. The cold plunge temperature is around 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
At the office, we have a hyperbaric chamber, so after lunch, I’ll get in the hyperbaric chamber for around 45 minutes. I do what’s called non-sleep deep rest, which is like a yoga nidra meditation practice.
Then, before bed, I’ll do a mantra and some breath work with my wife. We recently had a kid, and it’s made having a routine more difficult but way more necessary.