July 7, 2017

Building The Perfect Cup of Coffee

by StartUp

Background show artwork for StartUp

The Story
Mokhtar Alkhanshali is trying to produce the perfect cup of coffee. And he’s trying to do it with beans grown in the midst of an active war zone in Yemen. Despite those challenges, his company’s first batch earned rave reviews, and sold for $16 a cup at one of the fanciest coffee chains around. But can he turn that early success into a profitable business, or will the challenges of trying to achieve perfection using a supply chain that starts halfway around the world do his young company in?   

The Facts
Mark Phillips wrote and performed our theme song. Additional music by Pulse, “1, 2, 3”, Golden Gram, Keen Collective, Jupyter, and the legendary, Bobby Lord David Herman & Andrew Dunn mixed this episode. 

Where to Listen


ALVIN MELATHE: How much did you pay for the cup of coffee you’re drinking?
AMALYA SCHWARTZ: This is the bougiest most expensive coffee that I am willing to buy. This one was $5.17.

LISA CHOW: Recently producer Alvin Melathe went to a coffee shop in Brooklyn, to find out what’s the most people would be willing to pay for a cup of coffee. A lot of people put their limit at around 5 dollars. It is New York. But last summer, a high end coffee chain called Blue Bottle sold a cup that makes 5 bucks seem like a steal.

ALVIN: Can you imagine paying like $16 cup of coffee?

AMALYA: A 6 dollar?

ALVIN: $16.

AMALYA: Holy [bleep]. A $16 cup of coffee? That's like a cheeseburger at a really fancy restaurant and fries and maybe an appetizer. I don't think could do 16. I don't think it could do it.

ALVIN: What do you think a $16 cup of coffee would taste like?

AMALYA: It better taste like caviar. Gold! It better look like gold.

LISA: Can you talk to me about the price? I mean, so $16 a cup.

JAMES FREEMAN: It’s really really expensive.

LISA: Yes.


LISA: James Freeman is the founder of Blue Bottle. He started his company in the Bay area, and with the help of a lot of VC money, he’s been opening up new stores around the country.

LISA: So when you guys priced it to be 16 dollars a cup. What were you thinking?

JAMES: What were you thinking? That’s what a lot of people on the internet wanted to know. From my perspective, I don’t care how much it is as long as people think it was worth it.

LISA: And people did. The 16-dollar-a-cup coffee sold out in less than two months. It didn’t look like gold or taste like caviar … but James says it’s one of the best coffees he’s ever tasted.

JAMES: It was really just a transcendent coffee. It just had a beautiful brightness. Plump without being portly. It’s it’s like you’ve been given a gift.
LISA: From Gimlet Media, I'm Lisa Chow. This is Startup. James Freeman doesn’t think about coffee the way most people do. He talks about it kind of like some people talk about wine. This is the world of specialty coffee … super high end coffee where stuff like where the coffee is grown, what elevation it’s grown at, how the coffee cherries are picked, dried, and stored … all of those details matter. And this is the fastest growing part of the U.S. coffee market. In the last 15 years, it’s tripled in size … to more than 25 billion dollars. Making a super-high-end specialty coffee requires precision engineering ... and that 16-dollar cup was virtually perfect. Which is surprising, because it came from a place where precision is really hard to achieve: an active war zone in the Middle East. The company that made this Gucci of coffees is an early-stage startup called Port of Mokha. How did its founder pull it off? And can he do it again?
LISA: The first time I met Mokhtar Alkhanshali, he was wearing a tailored suit and wingtip shoes. He'd traveled to New York for a meeting at the United Nations. Before that, he was in Egypt and San Francisco, and he was about to head to London -- all to talk about his hot new coffee company. But only four years ago, Mokhtar didn’t know much about coffee. Back in 2013, he was just a 20-something, struggling to finish community college.

MOKHTAR ALKHANSHALI: I felt really stuck. And I wasn’t reaching my full potential. And in my heart, I really wanted to do something big with my life.

LISA: Mokhtar was taking classes, but also working odd jobs to support his parents and siblings. He’d grown up in San Francisco, the oldest of seven kids. His father was a bus driver, his mother, a stay-at-home mom, and the nine of them lived in a one bedroom apartment in the Tenderloin. It was crowded. And Mokhtar would sometimes get sent to spend time in Yemen with his grandparents -- a year in middle school, another in high school. Like many people in Yemen, his grandparents grew coffee, and Mokhtar remembers helping his grandmother pick coffee cherries as a kid. But he didn't drink it much ... the only coffee he'd had was bad diner coffee in the U.S., which he thought tasted like burnt popcorn. But one day, when he was in college, feeling stuck, he walked into a cafe and bought a cup of specialty coffee from Ethiopia.

MOKHTAR: And I tasted it. And I said this is amazing it tasted like blueberries very tea-like it was $5 which I thought was expensive for a coffee at the time. $5 for the cup but once I tasted it I was like this is absolutely worth it.

LISA: And that cup was a revelation. Suddenly Mokhtar saw his family roots in coffee in a new way. He started asking coffee people about Yemeni coffee, and he heard the same thing from all of them.

MOKHTAR: The best cup of coffee I had was from Yemen like 10 years ago 5 years ago.

LISA: They talked about it with an almost religious fervor. Like it was the Holy Grail of coffee. But they also said it had all kinds of problems. It was hard to get. The quality was inconsistent.And it had weird defects. The only way to produce reliably great coffee from Yemen was to be there, overseeing production.

MOKHTAR: And the issue for them was they just couldn't go to Yemen. It was dangerous, the language barrier. There was no infrastructure for them to go to. And me being from Yemen and being from here I thought I could fill that gap and be that bridge.

LISA: And if he did, Mokhtar thought maybe this could be the way to do something big with his life. He could help thousands of farmers back home—farmers like his grandparents—make a better living for themselves.So Mokhtar quit school and moved to Yemen in 2013 to figure out how to produce the perfect cup of coffee. He got advice from experienced coffee buyers, farmers and other experts. And for two years, he traveled all over Yemen. He went to remote villages, high up in the mountains, places where he’d sometimes have to travel on foot. And he studied every part of the process … the harvesting, drying, storing … even the transporting… and right away he started seeing the problems he’d heard about.
MOKHTAR: One time I had a coffee come in and I tasted it and it tastes like gasoline and it had a particular smell, diesel actually. And so I went outside, and said can I see the car that you brought, and it was this big flatbed truck that they had it in. And as soon as it turned on a big puff of diesel smoke came from the back of it right into the flat bed where the coffee was stored.

LISA: Mokhtar started working with farmers to tweak their process. Told them not to let truck exhaust near the coffee. Banned smoking, since it could make the beans taste like cigarettes. And suggested they store the coffee in a cool dry place, on wooden pallets, not on the ground. But the biggest thing Mokhtar did: he asked them to pick only ripe red cherries. Coffee beans come from coffee cherries, and the riper these cherries are when picked from the trees, the better the coffee is. But handpicking only the ripest cherries is incredibly time consuming, so Mokhtar paid farmers a lot more to do this. He paid them so much more that farmers who were planting other crops, like khat -- a strong stimulant that’s popular in Yemen -- started replanting their fields with coffee for Mokhtar. By 2015, Mokhtar had what he believed was Yemen's very best coffee, and he was ready to put it to the test back home in the United States.There was one obvious place to start: Seattle, Washington.

MOKHTAR: There was a big coffee conference. And it's like the Coffee Olympics. Over 100 countries attend. And so my goal was I was going to have a marketing event at that conference so I had told these farmers you guys worry on quality and producing great coffees. I'll figure out how to sell those coffees.

LISA: Mokhtar was all ready to go, and then, two days before he was scheduled to leave...

NEWS ANCHOR: In Yemen’s capital, devastating airstrikes from Saudi Arabia. A new offensive to drive out Iranian-backed rebels who seized control of the capital and key military sites.

LISA: Yemen had been sliding into civil war for months, between the government and Houthi rebels, and now Saudi Arabia and a coalition of neighboring countries had jumped in to back the government.Mokhtar was sleeping when the airstrikes started.

MOKHTAR: I woke up. And I heard these explosions going around and I went outside and I saw like it looked like laser beams. It was these anti-aircraft machine guns. The blast was so strong that some of the metal on the door was bent inwards.I was terrified. I just stayed in a corner and and waited it out.

LISA: Nearly 20 people died that night. Mokhtar needed to get out, not only for his own safety … but also because he had to get to that coffee conference in Seattle. But the airports had been bombed or closed, and when Mokhtar asked the State department for help, they said the U.S. wasn’t evacuating its citizens.

MOKHTAR: It was a feeling of being abandoned by your own government and not knowing what to do. Because other countries were taking out people. China and russia were taking out 100s of people out a week. India and Pakistan. I knew it was really bad when one day i saw a headline that said Somalia is now evacuating its citizens out of Yemen.

LISA: Mokhtar heard that some countries were taking their people out through a port called Aden, so he threw his coffee samples in a car -- two suitcases with about 30 pounds of coffee in each -- and drove there hoping to catch one of the ships. But the situation in Aden was intense. Militia groups were fighting in the streets. And not long after Mokhtar got there, he was captured and held by a militia group. It was traumatic...and Mokhtar doesn't like to talk about it. After several days his friends negotiated his release, and Mokhtar made his way to another port ... Port of Mokha ... where he'd been told a boat was waiting to take him and his coffee across the Red Sea to the Horn of Africa. But when he got there, the only boat ready to leave was tiny. Like scary tiny.

MOKHTAR: It was a little dinghy, small 18-16 feet, with a single 40 horsepower Yamaha motor, which means if it goes in the water and it dies for whatever reason you can’t move anymore, you’re stuck in this ocean.

MOKHTAR: I had never thought about like death but I saw the water and saw the boat, and i was like, i need to text my family just in case, i wanted them to know how i felt.

LISA: Do you remember what you said specifically?

MOKHTAR: Just that i loved them, and that to forgive me for anything that i’ve done in the past and things like that. And then, I got on the boat.
LISA: The trip took hours. But Mokhtar made it, and he got on a plane to head back home to the U.S.

ARUN RATH: This week we learned of a harrowing story about getting stuck in the middle of a civil war and a truly great escape. Mokhtar Alkanshali is a Yemeni-American from California...

MOKHTAR: In my Uber on the way to the conference center in Seattle. I hear myself on NPR and that Uber driver. He was like man this guy is really amazing. He's helping these farmers in his work. But he's he's crazy though for him to do that you know. And I'm like yeah he's nuts.

LISA: Mokhtar’s coffee was a hit at the conference … and it attracted the attention of Blue Bottle, that fancy coffee chain. They asked him to bring some over so they could try it.

MOKHTAR: It was the first time a roaster had tried our coffee and I was already really nervous about that. And so when I showed up I noticed there are a lot of coffees on the table and I was a little confused. And then I realized they had other coffees.

LISA: Blue Bottle had brought in some other coffees they were also considering buying.

MOKHTAR: These were amazing coffees too. And so in my head I’m like, ok great. There’s no way I'm going to do well. Mine's like the underdog. No one's heard of it.

LISA: Eventually the buyers from Blue Bottle … some of the most discerning buyers in the business … started tasting the different coffees, tasting them blind … meaning they didn’t know which coffee belonged to which seller.

MOKHTAR: People were have their notes out and saying, this coffee started really amazing but then it fell apart at the end. this coffee was too wine-y or tarty. This coffee had a wood taste to it, very baggy old kind of crop. Then they were like, this coffee was absolutely amazing. It was a fruit bomb of flavors, a bouquet of flowers. It had a sweet lingering taste to it. Papaya, mangosteen, and I’m like oh my goodness. And at the end of all that, then they reveal which coffee was which. It was my coffee.

LISA: Across the industry, coffee is rated from 0 to 100 based on things like aroma, acidity, and flavor. Specialty coffee rates above 80. Mokhtar’s coffees rate in the 90s. The buyer at Blue Bottle asked Mokhtar how much of this coffee he had. He said about a half a ton. Blue Bottle wanted to buy all of it.

MOKHTAR: I walked out and I just like I got really emotional. I just stopped and tried to take it in. Wow I actually have something that’s good. All this work all this thing that happened like me risking my life and the farmers and I can I can actually you know fulfill my commitment to them It was like to know that you have something that’s great and then to hear people tell you that and then tell you they want to buy it like it's like they wanted me they really want me.

LISA: Just a couple of weeks earlier, Mokhtar had been on a tiny boat in the Red Sea, fearing he might die ... and now he was about to sell a half a ton of coffee to one of the fanciest coffee chains in the U.S. He sold that first batch for more than 50 dollars a pound… which became Blue Bottle’s 16 dollar cup.

MOKHTAR: I didn’t know my coffee was going to be 16 dollars per cup. Actually, I was really shocked. I was actually shocked.

LISA: What did you think about the price you were paying Mokhtar?

JAMES: I thought it was so expensive

LISA: James Freeman, Blue Bottle’s founder, says he was willing to pay that price because Mokhtar’s coffee was just THAT good. And on top of that, it was rare, and had an amazing story behind it. All of those things were about to lead to a huge opportunity for Mokhtar. One day he was at a cafe, with a friend, talking about his company.

MOKHTAR: A girl joined the conversation and said, you’re pretty cool you should give a talk at my job. And I’m like where do you work at, and she’s like I work at this venture capital firm, and I thought she said Founding Fathers. I don’t know anything about the VC world, so I told Ibrahim, and he’s like, I never heard of them. Ahmad Ibrahim was brought on to be Port of Mokha's COO and CFO after the Blue Bottle deal. And he remembers Mokhtar telling him about this encounter at the cafe.

AHMAD IBRAHIM: So, he’s like hey, i met this girl, She works at a VC called founding fathers. And i was like oh, i haven’t heard of them, but that is a really great name for a VC. And then there’s an email intro, and I was like Oh, founders fund, are you kidding me.

MOKHTAR: He was like bro, this is huge.

LISA: Founders’ Fund is Peter Thiel’s fund … which has invested in massive tech companies like Facebook, Spotify, and Airbnb.

CYAN BANISTER: I invested in Port of Mokha without even tasting the coffee.

LISA: That’s Cyan Banister, a partner at Founders Fund. She knew the specialty coffee market was blowing up … and she thinks more and more people will start treating specialty coffee like expensive wine -- something to savour.

CYAN: You know when you go to a fine restaurant it should be on the menu. When you have a special event it should be something that you serve. You know when you have like a wedding dinner and you get the crappy cup of coffee at the end, why does it have to be that way. You get the good champagne and the crappy coffee.

LISA: Cyan gave Mokhtar and Ibrahim a quarter million dollars, and they raised another million from other investors.

CYAN: Is this a multibillion dollar opportunity? I don't know but if it ends up being a $250 million to $500 million opportunity I think that's incredible. I think he has he has a chance.

LISA: So now Mokhtar has investment from big time VCs, and it was sending him back to Yemen … a country in the middle of a civil war … to build a half a billion dollar company. After the break ... Mokhtar finds out just how hard it is to do that.
++++++++++++++++ BREAK ++++++++++++++++

LISA: Welcome back to Startup. So before the break, Mokhtar had created one of the highest-quality specialty coffees on the market and landed more than a million dollars in VC funding. And then he headed back to Yemen. Where things are still incredibly unstable, and there are all kind of challenges for a small business like Mokhtar’s. Getting money in and out of the country is difficult, because the central bank keeps moving. Plus flights are sporadic, and visas are really hard to get.

TAPE: Mokthar speaks to one of his managers.

LISA: Because travel is so hard, Mokhtar works mostly out of Oakland, California, which means he wakes up everyday at 3 am to talk to his managers. And because Mokhtar can't always inspect the coffee in-person, Ibrahim says they both end up texting with the managers throughout the day.

IBRAHIM: Like for example they’ll send a picture of dried coffee cherries and they're very black which is great. But then we'll be like well does it glisten in the sun like does it does it have a sheen or does it like you can't tell that from a picture for example. And so they'll they'll take a video and then they'll shine a light over it you'll see how the light reflects off of things like that. You have to improvise. But obviously these things would just be like a non-issue, non… it wouldn’t even be a thing if you were just there.

LISA: Late last year, the guys had their second shipment ready to go: four tons, which was a lot bigger than their first shipment. And they gathered together to test it ... basically to see if it was as good as their first batch... the now-famous 16-dollar-a-cup batch that brought those big VCs on board. Ibrahim says he was feeling the pressure.

IBRAHIM: We didn’t want to be a one hit wonder. It was very important that we got this next shipment out, that it increased in quantity and quality.

LISA: To test the new batch, they set out 12 cups of coffee, each one grown in a different region and by different farmers. Some cups represented a small amount of the four-ton shipment, others a large amount. And the guys tasted the coffees blind to assess their quality.

MOKHTAR: We got there and all the cups were set out. And before we even tasted it, I smelled it. I smelled something weird.

LISA: And when Mokhtar tasted the cup on the corner of the table ...

MOKHTAR: It was harsh, had a bad lingering aftertaste, um, flavorless, you know, not sweet, and like there was clearly something wrong with this coffee. Like this coffee needs cream and sugar.

LISA: Ibrahim could also taste that something was off… in that corner cup and a second one, as well.

IBRAHIM: You start thinking about which coffees they could be. But you still don’t know, but that’s what’s racing through my head. I wonder which coffees those are. And in the back back of your mind, you’re hoping, they’re not the big ones and we do the reveal, and we both cried that day.

LISA: Those two cups … they were the big ones.
MOKHTAR: My stomach turned, 85 percent of our volume for the shipment, over 3 tons was from that one region. Those two cups.

LISA: The bulk of their shipment fell short of the high standard they were going for. Mokhtar and Ibrahim scrapped most of it. They sold it off in the local market in Yemen, at a loss of a quarter of a million dollars.

MOKHTAR: I’m like, can I still do this project. It basically destroyed this house of cards i built. And so for me, it was going back to the drawing board and going back to every single step of the process. Where did we mess up at. What point did the coffee get ruined. And why did that happen?

LISA: Mokhtar needed to figure it out, and fast. He had a vision for his business: pay farmers a premium to grow super specialty coffee, command high prices from buyers and generate big returns for investors. If the coffee quality wasn’t there, the whole thing would fall apart.

MOKHTAR: I checked everything. I asked about where it was from, how it was bagged, how it was stored, who. Every little part of it.

LISA: Nothing seemed weird or out of whack. But then he noticed something strange about the moisture levels on those two coffees compared to all the others he’d produced.

MOKHTAR: Every single bag of coffee from those two regions was really low. And so I knew that that was the reason.

LISA: Mokhtar knew that a coffee's moisture level was important … but it was only in this moment that he realized just how important it is...if the moisture tips too much in one direction, fungus can grow … too much in the other and a coffee can lose its flavor.

IBRAHIM: There are multiple opportunities for the coffee to lose moisture. Was it during drying? Was it during storage? and so the takeaway was like we need to control all of that.

LISA: So Mokhtar and Ibrahim rebuilt their process: They stopped having farmers dry the coffee cherries themselves, and started drying them in their own facilities. They also invested in special storage bags to retain the coffee’s moisture. And they doubled the number of quality-control tastings they do, so they catch problems earlier. About a month ago, I met Mokhtar and Ibrahim in a warehouse in Oakland. We stood around a high wooden table where cups and wide tasting spoons were laid out.

MOKHTAR: So this is the last tasting we do before coffees are shipped out. They’re really in the bags, ready to go.

LISA: It’s been about six months since Mokhtar and his team tasted that second coffee shipment, and realized something had gone terribly wrong. Now they’re getting ready to test their THIRD shipment …

MOKHTAR: I’m nervous because they’ve gone through the whole process. We’ve been filtering out all these negative coffees and these are like the cream of the crop.

LISA: He wants Port of Mokha to prove again that it can produce one of the world’s best coffees.
The company has upped production since the last shipment. These samples are from 10 tons of coffee ready to be shipped from Yemen… more than double what they produced last time. Mokhtar starts to grind the coffee. He, Ibrahim and another taster will sample 11 coffees, each representing a different portion of the batch, just like last time. Mokhtar and Ibrahim pour the hot water and let the coffee brew for several minutes … and then they start slurping up the coffees with spoons.

MOKHTAR: The more your mother would disapprove the better. You have to slurp very aggressively so like the coffee can be in all parts of your tongue, and you can taste everything from aftertaste, to flavor, to acidity levels, mouthfeel.

LISA: They move around the table quickly … slurping, jotting down notes, and keeping straight faces so they don’t influence one another. They taste each coffee several times, to see how it changes as it cools. I keep looking for some reaction, some sign of whether the coffee is good, great … terrible? I don’t see any. Finally, Mokhtar asks the other testers what they think, starting with their least favorite.

MOKHTAR: Lowest for you?

IBRAHIM: Tie between 8 and 9.

MOKHTAR: 8 was mine. Harshness at it at the end, at some point I tasted like a cigarette.

MOKHTAR: Ok what about highs.

NASSIM: Number 1 was my number 1.

MOKHTAR: Absolutely. Number 1, even when I smelled it, as it cooled. Mango, papaya. Sweet sweet lingering aftertaste.

LISA: It’s time for the reveal … Do they have a lot of that coffee they all think is the best?

MOKHTAR: Do you know which one was number one?

IBRAHIM: Yeah, it’s like our biggest coffee.

LISA: The best coffee of the tasting … makes up the biggest portion of this shipment. It’s a success. There are no high fives, no big celebration, but the guys look happy. I take a slurp of my own … of this number 1 coffee. I’m having a hard time tasting the fruit flavors Mokhtar’s talking about.

LISA: I guess I taste some fruit in it. I’m trying to think is it mango. Do you taste mango?

LISA: I turn to the other tester, a guy named Nasseam Elkarra.

NASSIM: I don’t taste mango but it’s definitely fruity. The next question is is it tropical, stone fruit...

LISA: This conversation all sounds so serious… And it is serious, the guys have a lot of money on the line, but Mokhtar and the others can still laugh at all the crazy ways people describe these high end coffees.

MOKHTAR: The first time i went to these tastings, it was pretty intense. Someone said pink starbursts, someone said baby carrots. One guy—I still remember him till today—he said this coffee it’s too passive aggressive for me. That was the best one.

LISA: Ibrahim chimes in.

IBRAHIM: part of me is like, did someone really say that? And then mokhtar did a presentation one time, and this barista walks up to him and says I can’t believe you remembered my flavor descriptor.

LISA: Now you guys are all certified coffee tasters, but do you think the average person would be able to taste that. That difference.

MOKHTAR: Absolutely. I think so we all have the same amount of same taste buds same thing we're just able to identify them more. When people hear about you know our caffeine in what the next couple 16 that's one cup of coffee and they have it. I give you an example. one guy came in to the Rockefeller Center in New York and I was there and he goes he was six for a cup of coffee that's expensive, I wanna try it out. And then the barista’s like Sir I'm sorry. It's $16. he was. That's ridiculous. It's outrageous. He was from brooklyn. Why would someone pay $16 a cup of coffee, that’s ridiculous. And then he kind of felt he felt embarrassed because now everyone’s looking at him, so he’s like ok, oh ok, i know what’s going on in the country, what they’re going through right now in Yemen. So I’ll buy it to support them. So he buys it, and I find out he makes an effort to go back after work. And he apologizes to the barista, and says, this is the best cup of coffee I ever had.

LISA: Because of Ramadan, the tasting started late ... after Mokhtar and the others finished fasting. So now it's close to midnight. Mokhtar is clearly relieved the tasting went well.

MOKHTAR: I can go home and sleep you know and now I feel like a huge weight. You can say a 10 ton the weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I feel like much more confidence. I've done this thing. You know I scaled the production and the quality. Both are really amazing. So. You can say that I’m emotional but in a different way than the last shipment.

LISA: Mokhtar’s third shipment arrives in the U.S. next month. He’s sent samples to buyers, and so far, he says he’s getting good feedback. Next year, the plan is to increase production from 10 tons to 40 tons. Then 150 tons the year after that. But to get there ... and to reach the half billion dollar valuation that Port of Mokha's investors talk about ... a lot more of us will have to get excited about the idea of spending 16 dollars on a cup of coffee.

LISA: StartUp is hosted by me, Lisa Chow. The show is produced by Bruce Wallace, Luke Malone, Simone Polanen, Emanuele Berry, and Amy Standen. Our senior producer is Molly Messick. We are edited by Caitlin Kenney and Pat Walters. Production assistance and fact checking by Alvin Melathe. Special thanks to Hebah Fisher and Sherina Ong.

The idea for this story came from an episode of Kerning Cultures, a Middle East podcast telling stories from the region. Their episodes can be found at kerningcultures.com. That’s kerning with a “K”.

Mark Phillips wrote and performed our theme song. Build Buildings wrote and performed our special ad music. For full music credits, visit our website.

Andrew Dunn and David Herman mixed the episode. You can follow us on Twitter @podcaststartup. Also this is our last episode for the season. In the meantime there’s a new podcast from Gimlet that we think you’ll like. It’s called Mogul, and it tells the story of hip hop through one man’s life. Chris Lighty… an executive who worked with stars like Missy Elliot, 50 Cent and Mariah Carey. When the show starts, Chris is a young hustler, carrying crates for the legendary DJ Red Alert:

DJ RED ALERT: “I sensed something about Chris from his character. You know, about how he come across with a business sense. And when him and I talk I listen to his lingo. And when I listen to his lingo, I’m like, “This guy’s got something here, more than you’d expect.”

LISA: To find out how Chris Lighty made it to the top, and what went wrong once he got there, search for Mogul on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen. That’s it for Season 5 of Startup. We’ll see you soon.

Clarification: The episode stated that Port of Mokha lost a quarter of a million dollars, selling off most of its second shipment in the local Yemen market. That figure included overhead.