For Atlanta-based entrepreneur Jordan Stevens, his startup mudstack is more than just a professional passion.
The name and concept behind the startup pay homage to Stevens’ professor and mentor, Marty Altman, who Stevens described as a “straight-up doppelganger of Ron Swanson” and with a full collection of Hawaiian t-shirts and a “mustache groomed by the gods.”
Altman was also an Interactive Design and Game Development Professor at SCAD’s Atlanta campus who was instrumental in creating the technical art pipeline for some of Disney’s most iconic animated movies.
“I didn’t really fit into any of the molds the university had for students,” Stevens told Hypepotamus. “Marty took me under his wing, taught me everything I know, and gave me the confidence to be the pseudo artist/engineer I am today. His stories and anecdotes about busted workflows and pipelines, saving Disney millions of dollars only to be treated to a lunch and a glass of scotch as a thank you, and simulating martian soil dynamics for NASA will stay with me forever….Marty would always end the lesson with a single question: “Clear as mud? Okay? See you next class”.
That “clear as mud” feeling is something that digital art teams experience during both the creation and collaboration portions of a project. Instead of navigating complicated folder hierarchies and file naming conventions, Stevens launched mudstack as a way for digitals artists and game studios to manage key assets.
The team says the early version of mudstack is focused on digital asset management, version control, and collaboration tools for game and design studios of all sizes.
Early users of the platform are independent artists and indie studios, with larger customers from the studio, visual effects, and animation world in the pipeline.
“The sudden shift to remote work has not spared game studios who’ve historically been very against this model,” co-founder and designer Nachiket Kumar told Hypepotamus. “A lot of people have realized that they really do enjoy not commuting and seeing their families more. But there are challenges when it comes to things like getting timely feedback on work, so we’re working to fix those aspects in order to save studios days of wasted work and tons of money.”
Stevens met Kumar while they both worked at Atlanta-based startup Concora (formerly SmartBIM).
“When [Stevens] finally decided to get more serious about mudstack, I let him know I’d be interested in working on it with him. Our complementary skill sets and solid working relationship allows us to effectively divide up tasks and keep moving forward,” said Nachi. “In fact, much of our early team comprises folks we’ve worked with before and have convinced to come work with us again! Ironically, our first hire, Mark VanderBoom, was our manager at our previous startup. That he agreed to come work with us must say something — we’re just not sure what!”
Mudstack’s focus on collaboration extends into its search for the right investors. “We knew these investors were the right fit because they had 0 ego and were already positioning what would be good for the founding team, the company, and lastly themselves,” said Stevens.
“When the time came to start proactively passing on VCs, instead of the other way around, I knew we were in good shape. We passed on some killer VCs, and some killer VCs passed on us. We built lots of great relationships all around, and I wouldn’t change anything about the process. At the end of the day, you can either take a metric ton of cash or pick a partner that is going to support you through thick and thin without driving you crazy. Getting both is really hard, but we landed right in the middle.”
The team raised a pre-seed round in February and recently closed a $2.2 million seed round from Atlanta’s Overline Ventures, Hyperplane Venture Capital, and Forum.
“Sean and Michael with Overline are class acts with great experience. Forum was a great experience as an accelerator, and the team there is so supportive and the best sound boards for ideas and advice,” Stevens added.
The team has been focused on the onboarding experience for the platform — users now have in-app tutorials as well as a free trial option. Internally, mudstack has four new employees joining the team in October and said they are hopeful to add more by the end of the year.
While the team, the platform, and the overall world of digital art continue to evolve , mudstack’s clarity of mission keeps the founders focused.
“mudstack was a dream Marty and I shared. Marty passed away the year after I graduated after a long painful struggle with cancer. I’ll never forget his mustache shaking with laughter or quivering with contempt at some poor soul who couldn’t pay attention and asked the same question he just finished answering. Everything in life is about as clear as mud, but Marty did his best to make the opaque transparent. mudstack is for Marty. mudstack is the tech stack for artists and developers that need transparency and a solid pipeline to build their success upon.”