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I think a lot of impact-minded people should seriously consider working at early-stage startups - particularly in low-middle income countries.

I’m an American currently working at an early-stage startup in Kenya, so thought I would write up:

  • How I got this job
  • How I think about the impact of my work[1]
  • What my day to day job is like
  • My advice for people thinking of working at a startup
  • What would make me decide to stay or leave my company

 I’m aiming to be concise, so sound off in the comments if there’s anything you’d like me to expand on in more detail.

Context: I work as a growth lead at a company called Kapu Africa, a startup based in Kenya reducing the cost of living for Kenyans by offering cheap direct-to-consumer sales of every-day purchased items, with next day delivery[2]

How I got this job

  • After undergrad I worked in consulting for 2.5 years (BCG) - first in Chicago and then in Nairobi Kenya
  • I decided I had learned enough from BCG, and that the best way for me to contribute to global development was to work at a startup. I’ve written here and here about that decision-making process
  • My coworkers at BCG Nairobi put me in touch with a bunch of people working in various startups in Nairobi as well as elsewhere in Africa. Over the course of 15 or so conversations, I got a sense for what kinds of companies and roles were interesting to me vs. which weren’t
  • I was very lucky in that most of the companies I was talking to were looking for someone with my background. I never had any formal interviews. I was able to have an attitude of “I’m looking for a job where I can have a lot of impact, and if I find that job I will definitely get that job.” 
  • Kapu was actually in stealth mode when I joined it, so the only way I found out about it was because a former colleague worked there
  • I had like 3 conversations with different people from Kapu, decided it was the best shot at impact I had (see next section), and so went with it!

How I think about the impact of my work

  • I had decided on global poverty as what I wanted to work on in the near-term. Besides the obvious direct benefits, solving global poverty means also unleashing the potential of talented people (who happen to be very poor right now) who can help us solve humanity’s other problems
  • Economic development seems like the best way to lift people out of extreme poverty
  • I think Kapu is particularly good in terms of impact on a few metrics[3]:
    • Direct impact: Our core business is making goods cheaper for end consumers - targeting poor Kenyans. Our goal is to provide $1B in savings to customers. I view providing real savings on everyday purchases as quite similar to unconditional cash transfers in terms of impact
    • My personal potential to give a lot: If our company does super well and gets a high valuation, I’ll make a lot of money I can then give away
    • Driving economic development via:
      • Low-medium skill job creation
      • High-skill job creation potentially setting up our existing team to go start great companies later[4]
      • Increasing the visibility of Kenya as a destination for international investment capital (that is primarily profit seeking as opposed to impact-seeking capital of which Kenya has a lot now)
      • Contributing to building up the business ecosystem in Kenya by doing business with our partner companies (e.g., suppliers, logistics companies) 
    • It will help me develop skills (directly driving impact, knowing how a business works from a 360 perspective, and focusing on moving fast) that will be valuable later in my career in the business or nonprofit world[5][6]

So what is my job actually like?

  • At its core my responsibility is:
    • Have a strong hypothesis about what we need to grow our number of customers by 10x
    • Test that hypothesis by doing data analysis, visiting and talking to customers, and doing small tests and seeing if they have impact
    • After we find something that works, create the playbook for it and hand it off to the relevant team (sales ,operations, supply, etc.)
  • In terms of day to day activities, here’s roughly how I spend my time:
    • 20%: Doing data analysis in google sheets or Metabase
    • 20%: Doing various operational tasks that fall to me because they don’t really fit on anyone else’s plate. For example, calculating commissions for the sales team and sending it out, sending out mass text messages with promotions, designing fliers that will pop up in our app to give information on how our agents earn commissions
    • 15%: writing / reading Notion documents related to things we are testing, changes to our playbook, new product features, communicating our value proposition, etc.
    • 15%: testing / debugging new product features in our app
    • 15%: going on delivery runs, walking in the market to talk to our agents and customers
    • 15%: In meetings with my teammates related to all of the above
  • For more granular look, here is what I will be doing this week:
    • Monday: In the office. Will do a bit of analysis and then write-up of results from a customer recruitment event that we did on Friday evening. Then in the afternoon will have meetings to discuss our performance last week, and aligning on specific actions that we think will get us to our end of quarter goals
    • Tuesday: In the field visiting some of our agents who did well last week to see if I can learn anything about what we should scale up to more agents. Then make the plan to scale that up
    • Wednesday: In the field implementing something with our sales team that we aligned on in the Monday meeting
    • Thursday: At our warehouse with our customer care team improving our rules about how customers send us digital payments
    • Friday: At warehouse paying commissions to our agents and wrapping up other admin or analysis from the week

My advice to people thinking about working in a startup as a career path

  • It’s hard to quantifiably compare the impact of working at a startup contributing to economic development to working on existential risk policy. I find it easier to think about cause prioritization on its own, and then making a decision about if entrepreneurship/policy/nonprofit work/ etc. is best within the constraints of the cause area I’ve picked
  • If you care about global poverty and think you’d enjoy a startup environment, then try to join a startup in a low/middle-income country! For the reasons I shared above, I think this is a quite effective way to contribute to economic development
  • Focus on a company where you’ll get strong mentorship, especially early in your career.  The level of mentorship you get varies hugely between startups. I’ve heard from friends who joined early-stage or started their own companies that get quite little mentorship. I have benefited a lot from my bosses who have 10+ years experience in e-commerce. This seems super valuable early on in my career
  • It’s valuable to go to a company that is early and moving quickly. You will learn way more, and be forced to be effective. This was the best advice I got when I was deciding what company to join

What would make me decide to leave Kapu?

As a lot of people have noted, it’s very very hard to compare impact across cause areas. The thing I am least sure about in all my thinking is “should I be working on extreme poverty or on AI safety?”.

If I take for granted that the cause area I want to work on is extreme poverty, I think working at Kapu makes a ton of sense for me based on direct impact, potential to earn to give later, contributing to economic development, and building my own skills.

I would stop working at Kapu if some combination of these things happen:

  • I become convinced that I can have a higher impact by working on AI safety (I am learning more about my potential to contribute to the space)
  • Kapu looks like it won’t have as successful a trajectory as I now hope it will have, which means the impact from Kapu will be much lower 
  • If - after continuing to learn how to build a company’s growth levers in the next 6 months - I feel like the further skills I learn won’t be super generalizable

If you are interested in the above and think it would be useful to talk to me, just drop me a message! Happy to talk over chat or call with anyone interested in this kind of work.

Thanks to Career Conversations week for giving me the impetus to finally finish and post this, and to Cecil Abungu for helpful comments on an earlier draft.  

  1. ^

    I’m partially writing this to force myself to re-evaluate my own thinking - so would appreciate any challenges on the parts about impact!

  2. ^
  3. ^

    Most of this expected impact lies in the long tail. If we become a unicorn ($1B+ valuation) then there’s tons of direct impact, job creation, and money that I’ll earn that I can then give away. 

    This is especially true on the “attraction of investment capital to Kenya” point. Kenya has not had any unicorn startups, and VC tends to pile into a sector when they see a major success there.

  4. ^

    Look at how many people have started companies coming out of Paypal, or coming out of Jumia in Kenya

  5. ^

    I’m not extremely confident in how this stacks up to counterfactual options, but I know I am learning a lot

  6. ^

    More speculative - how did I compare the benefits of working at Kapu to other potential jobs?

    - vs. a Nonprofit working in global development:

    --On direct impact, I can directly compare the benefits provided by any nonprofit to the benefits provided by Kapu, (since our benefit is directly providing savings - it may not be so easy with other startups). I have not done this directly with many nonprofits, but my sense is there aren’t any effective nonprofits that have the potential to provide the equivalent of $1B in cash transfers (This is Kapu’s goal for how much savings we want to create over the company’s lifetime, and I view I view “not having to spend $1” as equivalent improvement to “being given $1 for free”. For reference GiveDirectly has given $400M so far)

    --Nonprofits wouldn’t have the same benefits in terms of sustainable economic development and potential to give. I imagine that the skill development I would get at most nonprofits would be significantly less, for the type of building for impact I want to get good at

    - vs. Earning to give: I did a back of envelope impact calculation and think that my current work is likely higher impact than earning to give. I also just am not that interested in the main ETG-type jobs at this point in my career

    I think starting an effective nonprofit would be the most likely way to have more impact on global poverty than I do at Kapu. I am thinking of doing this sometime in the future, but for now think the skills I am getting here would help me a lot with this career path





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So great to see this man thanks heaps. Have loved your efforts to engage the African EA community and obvious passion for those struggling.

I really liked this comment.

"If our company does super well and gets a high valuation, I’ll make a lot of money I can then give away"

I also think your expected value impact might be worth having a go at. I think (with enormous error of course). I think we can meaningfully try to quantify most potential impact. For you it might be something like.

Probability of company success x my contribution x potential company impact + probability of company unicorning x money I could give away if successful etc.

I'm interested and surprised that there are a bunch of Kenyan startups like this which have this much money going into them. An 8 million dollar seed funding round is insane.

I'm also interested in the other startups you looked at. Maybe I'll message you about that separately.

It would hurt me just a little to see someone with your background, passion and skills go into AI safety work, but obviously we should all do whatever we think will do the most good :D :D :D.

One small thing, I agree money saved might be comparable to cash transfers (have considered similar for our OneDay health), but assuming that is true I'm not sure that cash transfers in big cities like Nairobi, to people like your customers who im assuming must be rich enough to have smartphones would have close to a comparable impact to transfers to the remote rural poor. What do you reckon?

Curious to see how you consider AI safety vs extreme poverty to arrive at a reaction to not want the OP to leave Kapu! To hear your perspective might help OP with their own framework (and also myself) when considering which cause area to work in

Hey Jia thanks, apologies for the confusion it was mostly just a wee joke to be honest. I'm a near termist development guy who works in Uganda so I like seeing people working on interesting development work like Luke is doing.

Don't get me wrong if you or anyone else thinks that AI safety might be the best career path for you then I encourage you to go for it!

Thanks a lot! I also always love seeing your perspective on the forum as someone else in East Africa.

I actually did a back of the enveleope calculation like that (several months after joining Kapu  - so I definitely had an incenteive to rationalize my own choice) and ended up with something like "this looks better than working at an impactful US company, and comprable to earning to give but I am really excited by the work here and not at all by earning to give so I have rationalized my decision to work here".  Happy to DM on some of the startups I was less impressed with too.

On funding, Kapu had good timing in that 2021 was a big year for startups in Africa generally. Investors excited by the success of companies like Wave and Jumia (which has gone downhill a bit since), a lot of hype from impact investors about Africa having untapped potential. This year has been a lot harder, like everywhere.

The other top two "finalists" in terms of companies I looked at were Farmworks and Powergen. Powergen I ended up downgrading based on deciding that working at an earlier-stage, faster-moving company was important to me. And Farmworks is a company I have a lot of admiration for - I was just a bit more excited by Kapu (again, a big factor being the sense when I joined Kapu that it had tons of momentum and was going to go fast).

It's a good point - on average our customers are richer than rural poor so direct comparison to givedirectly isn't quite fair. shooting from the hip though I don't think the impact of giving a dollar to a poor Nairobian is much less than half of the impact of giving a dollar to a poor person in a village (note: probably about half of our customers actually don't have smartphones - you can order without one). And I think there are strong systemic benefits from that dollar coming from an economically sustainable business rather than from donations. 

So good man nice to hear. Love the "shooting from the hip" always a big fan of that ;). 

Also I agree instinctively with this and am keen to hear more "And I think there are strong systemic benefits from that dollar coming from an economically sustainable business rather than from donations.", but not at all sure of the extent of it or why this might be. OneDay Health centers all run basically as close-to-self-sustaining small  businesses, and apart from the sustainability and scalability potential of an economically, I feel there might be other systemic benefits too, but find it hard to put my finger on it

What do you think those systemic benefits might be?

I too am finding it hard to articulate. Maybe it's just captured in the impact I talked about in the original post about creating jobs, helping the startup ecosystem, giving me money I can then donate, etc. So I shouldn't pretend that in addition to all that there is some other nebulous "benefit of a company vs nonprofit" just to increase the warm fuzzies I feel.

But there's also a mathematical sense in which a shilling saved (the way Kapu has impact) is better than a shilling earned.

  • Imagine someone makes and eans exactly 500 shillings per day. You can either cut their cost of living to 250, or give them 250.
  • It's better to cut their costs to 250. That way now they earn 200% of their cost or living! If instead you give them 250, they only have 150% of their cost or living

The other benefit compared to giving cash is you avoid the sense of unfairness from people who don't get given money. I think the new documentary in Givedirectly - Free Money - illustrates this downside well (though I don't share the overall tone of the documentary which I feel is unnecessarily down on GiveDirectly).

I also have an intuition that it just feels better psychologically for a person to save a shilling vs to be given a shilling for free at random. Maybe mistaken.

I find it almost hard to read about other people's jobs because I feel so incompetent.

Thanks for writing this though. Sounds like hard and interesting work. I particularly liked just hearing what you do. Sounds like those playbooks you create are probably really valuable. 

Have you ever had EA non-profits ask about your growth advice?

And on a more technical question, do you feel good about growing. When I'm building products I often feel it's too soon to push to people. I wonder if that feeling ever stops.

Wow, that means a lot because sometimes I feel quite unthoughtful and uncurious when I read your excellent tweets!

Haven't had any EA non-profits ask me about that. I still don't have that much experience (only 1.5 years) in the grand scheme of things but would me more than happy to try to help anyone who thinks they could benefit from talking to me.

Overall I've become a lot more brave since working here. Just saying "look I'm 60% sure this will work, but we need to make a decision rather than waiting on this for 2 more weeks so let's just go." It doesn't always work, but oftentimes acting and then learning and iterating if needed is better than waiting for the perfect decision. I'm lucky that my company environment is really good for that sort of approach - our CEO talks a lot about how we need to "be brave" and "be thoughtful but impatient"

Hey! This sounds super fun, I'd be happy to talk about maybe joining or maybe you have recommendations for similar orgs that I might want to look at



  • marketplaces are close to my heart. I live in Israel, and when we got reasonable Amazon deliveries (within "only" 1-2 weeks), this improved things here so much imo. Also we have a lame taxi app which is still so-much-better than nothing (it does have ratings!). Each such thing helps so much (it's a topic I could talk a lot about) - and we're a 1st world country! I can't even imagine what's going on in Kenya, but I can feel (without trusting statistics) that it would be significant
  • I love that you're talking to your users! So neglected!


My own skillset is mainly around software, and specifically I think I'm better at early stages of startups than at growth stages (which I've never done), I don't really know how well I'd fit here but I'm at least curious. Here's my CV.


Also, if you don't publish jobs on the 80k job board then I recommend you do. It's the hub that many people (including me [1] [2]) refer EA devs to - to find an impactful job. Sometimes very senior people (which are almost unhirable) look for jobs there, I think it might be an amazing way for you to find very-capable (and also probably very-good-culture-fit) people to join.



Thanks for posting this! It also reminded me I know someone else doing a similarish job, maybe they'll write something for career week too :)

Hi Yonatan, thank you so much for the super kind words! I had not thought at all about posting on the 80k hours board - I will talk with our HR person about if she thinks that makes sense. I'd love to talk with you - I'll DM you

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