As a development economist with interests that are a little outside the norm, I spend a lot of my day thinking about how to measure unmeasurable things. How prevalent is a certain belief? And how does it affect people’s behavior? Can one violent event, or experience, be objectively seen as worse or more violent than another? And if so, what determines that violence—scope, tenor, frequency? How do we fix it?

So, when Anda told me he wanted to start thinking more about impact and measurement at Al Mokha, I jumped up and down with glee. From the moment he and I first talked development and coffee in Cambridge almost a year ago, I’d been questioning, "cool, but how do you measure that?"

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In Part I, Anda wrote about the perils of trying to be a salesperson / academic, and how that duality plays out in the business: investors want to see sales growth whereas economists (me!) want to see real, measureable change in things like poverty levels, in coffee production, in anything we can quantify with data.

So we're working towards that. In this post, Part 2, I introduce myself and in parts III- V we tackle some tough questions.

Well, who am I? If you're here frequently you know Anda and you've heard mention of some of his advisors (as he spins tales of sinking all his time into a startup). I'm the nerdy PhD obsessed with data and development. I have a doctoral degree in economics. I spend most of my time reading and writing papers on violence against women and children and female labor force participation. I spend a lot of time thinking about very economist-y things like incentives.

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Two years ago, I founded a two-pronged enterprise with goals to be a successful coffee retailer and an entity that used our economic engine for the benefit of the people of Yemen. We call ourselves Al Mokha, Public Benefit Corp. and we source and market Yemen's World’s First Coffee™.

It has taken me two years to wrap my head around Al Mokha’s identity. Was I a coffee company? A development organization for a third world country? The reality is we are both, a startup with two faces; just like the Roman god Janus.

Let me illuminate.

We have two customers. The first is you, the consumer, and our product is our World’s First Coffee™. Our second customer is implied, and that’s the people of Yemen. If you turn our World’s First Coffee™ inside out, our product is life changing jobs. And here we can disappear down an academic rabbit hole.

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Ambassador Mubarak learning about Al Mokha

Ambassador Mubarak, Yemen's top diplomat to DC, sampling Al Mokha coffee.

A few years ago I read a fascinating study of poverty and decision fatigue in India. In the study researchers offered poor and wealthy buyers name-brand soap at a steep discount. The wealthy buyers made the purchase without second thought. It was a great deal. The poor buyers, however, agonized over the decision. The name-brand soap was truly a good deal but the soap still exceeded the price of generic. For those poor buyers the deal became a conundrum of brand-name prestige against money for food. The decision was tiring. But not only that, it left less energy for other decisions. Aha! Decision fatigue.

I shortly applied this decision lens to my own behavior. I observed how navigating life with little income was tiring. Every decision takes energy. Take the bus or walk or take a cab. Purchase name brand OJ on sale for $2.50 or store brand OJ slightly cheaper at $2.29? Should I buy a subscription to the Economist? These conundrums may appear petty but I began to realize their cost. Lack of resources meant less time and energy for bigger decisions.

Or consider another angle, habits of Mark Zuckerberg. He wears a grey t-shirt all the time. You know why? Such a shortcut frees energy for other pursuits. He can focus on running a company rather than sartorial decisions.

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Anda Greeney laughingTwo years ago I had $500 and an idea to change the world. Today I have a $5000 hole, the website and branding you're looking at now, and the same idea to change the world. Speaking to my younger sister in regards to my progress, she said, "previously there was nothing and now there is something. That's pretty cool. I'll send your web address to my friends." In her casual comment, she hit on two remarkable aspects of entrepreneurship: 

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In 2007 my classmates and I almost bought a cow in Tanzania. We were Americans studying Public Policy in Sweden and had just finished reading The End of Poverty. The essential premise is if only governments spent more money on foreign aid, poverty could be cured in our day. This blew me away. And in typical American bravado, I said, "let's fund-raise". I put $100 in the pot and my classmates and professor another $730. Read More