Life often involves tough tradeoffs. I love running marathons but I’m less happy about the body soreness and longer recovery cycles as I age. I’m excited about every investment Foundry Group makes, but I know not all of them are going to pan out. Entrepreneurs talk about “changing the world”, but the companies that emerge often ring hollow against this backdrop. And, when confronted with a for-profit company that has a strong social mission, many founders and investors struggle with the profit motive.
Sometimes, life gives you an easy decision. Investing in Boundless Immigration was one of those. We originally invested a small amount in Boundless’ seed round in 2017 and just led a $7.8 million Series A financing. This is a case where there isn’t a tradeoff between making a profit and making an impact.
Boundless Immigration aspires to be the leading brand around legal immigration in the United States. They take an incredibly time-consuming and expensive process – immigrating to the U.S. and securing a marriage green card or naturalization – and make it easy and available for anyone who wants to legally immigrate. Boundless’ CEO and founder, Xiao Wang, immigrated to the U.S. as a child, and vividly remember his parents paying five months of rent to afford immigration attorneys and filing fees.
Boundless saves applicants time and money by automating a process that used to involve immigration attorneys filling out endlessly redundant forms. Everybody I talk to who has gone through the immigration process is stunned when they hear Boundless provides an end-to-end service for 20% of what most people currently pay for immigration services.
Every year 2.5 million families apply for immigration services in the U.S and there are about nine million people eligible to apply for naturalization. Boundless has put together a talented and diverse team (a majority has an immigrant background) resulting in a company with unique perspectives and empathy for anyone who wants to immigrate to the U.S.
Current dynamics around technology companies, especially around privacy, has people discussing the challenge that making a profit may require moral compromise. In this case, the opposite is happening, as I think it’s a moral imperative to help improve legal immigration. In the U.S., legal immigration is a foundational activity that keeps America fresh and helps our country maintain its edge on a global stage. As an American, I want anyone who wants to build a life for themselves, contribute to U.S. society, and make this a stronger country to be able to become a U.S. citizen.
This an emotional issue for me. One set of my Jewish grandparents were first-generation Americans. If America hadn’t been there for them, they might have perished in concentration camps during WWII. Another Jewish grandparent fled Russia in the 1910s. If America hadn’t been here for him, he would have also likely been annihilated.
If there were no America, there would be no me. If America made immigrating as difficult then as it does now, I might not exist. My grandparents fleeing a shtetl didn’t have vast sums of money lying around to spend on lawyers and fees, but were welcomed into this country. They, their children, and their grandchildren have all worked hard their entire lives to be productive and contributing members of American society. I like to think America is better for us having called this country our home.
I’m not shy about my opinions on immigration. And I’m not the only partner at Foundry Group who feels this way, as my partner Jason Mendelson testified in front of the House of Representatives in 2013 when he was on the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) board about the importance of legal immigration to the U.S. innovation economy.
Life is full of difficult decisions. The last two years haven’t been easy for those of us who believe immigrants help make America great. It’s nice to have an easy decision like investing in Boundless – to make a profit, but also to remind everyone that we’re a nation of immigrants, and proud of that fact.
I’m so sick of how – as a country – our authorities treat people as though they are criminals. A month ago a successful Boston entrepreneur who has been incredibly engaged in the Boston startup community was thrown in jail for three days after a CPB agent decided she didn’t have a valid visa (she did have a valid visa, and she was from that extremely dangerous country of Canada.)
A few days ago, Laurie Voss, a co-founder of a company we are investors in was detained for three hours at the board because he stated his job was “software developer” instead of “web developer”. He had recently gotten his green card and went on to describe the harrowing experience he endured, along with the unceremonious release a few hours later.
While I’m happy that USCIS continues to try to education its workforce as well as entrepreneurs via programs like A New Front Door for Immigrant Entrepreneurs, the words at the top and the actions in the field are completely disconnected. I hear a story about it almost daily and I’m now having someone I’m directly connected to or involved with impacted at least a month. It seems to be getting worse, not better, which just sucks.
If you care about this issue, I once again refer you to to Vivek Wadhwa’s excellent book called The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent. Tom Friedman has also written a number of really clear OpEds on this topic in the past year or so. With all the talk about innovation, entrepreneurship, and the need for job creators in the US, our immigration policies are directly at odds with the concepts our politicians are telling us are critical for our economy to grow.
The conversation in Washington DC has shifted back to “Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” I’ve now had several people I know in the White House tell me this is the new immigration priority as in “let’s fix the whole problem with comprehensive immigration reform” over the next four years. In the last week, I’ve heard from several that “there’s no way we are going to be able to get anything done on immigration reform anytime soon because of all the fiscal crisis issues and partisanship in Congress.”
Awesome. We continue to be functioning in a delusional context. The Democrats think they have magic political power because of the results of the election and the Republicans are focused more than ever on not letting the Democrats “win.” And President George W. Bush, who I disagree with on so many things, recently asserted that immigration reform is needed to boost the economy and specifically said, “”Not only do immigrants help build our economy, they help invigorate our soul.”
While the entire situation is ridiculous, I’m continually upset by the way entrepreneurs like Laurie Voss are treated by CBP and USCIS. I’ve asked for apologies before and I’ll ask for them again. CBP / USCIS, or someone in the White House – please call Laurie and apologize to him. Then figure out the real root cause of the behavioral problem. And start respecting immigrants, not treating every one like a bad guy until you confirm they aren’t.
On that same day the White House announced A New Front Door for Immigrant Entrepreneurs President Obama said that he was not supportive of the STEM Jobs Act of 2012. Infuriating.
I’ve been working on making it easy for foreign entrepreneurs to get a visa to start a company in the US since September 2009 when I wrote the post The Founders Visa Movement. This morphed into the Startup Visa Movement and I’ve written extensively about it over the past three years on my blog in the Startup Visa category. While some progress has been made through administrative changes at the USCIS and better education of USCIS and CBP about what an entrepreneur is, we are still falling extraordinarily short of where we could – and should be.
With every success (I got an email from an entrepreneur yesterday who I helped who had just gotten a green card) there is a nightmare, such as the well-known and well-loved Boston entrepreneur who was actually stopped at the border at Logan Airport a few weeks ago, told by CBP that she was lying about her visa, and tossed in jail for several days. A mad scramble among some of the Boston startup community leaders, led by Katie Rae at TechStars, resulted in this entrepreneur “only” being jailed for a few days. Jailed! President Obama should call her personally and apologize and give her a green card on the spot.
Vivek Wadhwa wrote a great summary of the recent decision of President Obama not to support the STEM Jobs Act of 2012 in his Forbes article Why Immigration Reform is Destined to be Another Obamacare. It’s more of the “all or nothing” strategy around immigration I’ve been hearing from the White House since 2009. Obama is a strong proponent of immigration reform, but he wants comprehensive immigration reform, rather than incrementally improving things. There are so many easy fixes that are non-partisan, such as the STEM Jobs Act, and it’s crazy that there isn’t a leadership focus on fixing the straightforward ones now, especially those that impact job creation, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
I’m extremely bummed out by President Obama’s position on this. Several months ago I had a conversation with one of my friends in the White House who implored me to support the STEM Jobs Act and was enthusiastic about the idea of little wins on this front. Clearly his perspective diverged from the broader White House strategy, which I fear will result in nothing done on this front.
In addition to Vivek Wadhwa’s recent article, he’s written an excellent book called The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent. I’ll be writing a longer post about it shortly but if this is a topic that you care about his book is a critical one to read.
For all the foreign entrepreneurs who can’t get appropriate visas to start their companies in the US, and to all of the amazing foreign entrepreneurs who put up with our idiocy and nonsense as they continue to struggle through the US immigration process, deal with visa hell, and get accused of lying by CBP, I humbly apologize to you. It’s embarrassing, and stupid, that as a country, especially one built on the the premise of “liberty and justice for all”, can’t get our act together on this front.
At the MIT Celebration of 50 Years of Entrepreneurship in November, I heard a number of fantastic lines that have stuck with me. One of them was from Noubar Afeyan.
“Entrepreneurship is intellectual immigration.”
As I sat in an audience of about 200 extremely accomplished MIT graduates spanning over 50 years, I thought to myself “he just fucking nailed it.”
I’m a huge fan and supporter of immigration, especially around entrepreneurship. If you look at the landscape of success entrepreneurs in the United States you see a remarkable number of first and second generation immigrants. We can argue about immigration policy all day long (and plenty in DC do, mostly to insure that nothing actually gets accomplished) but the historical statistics around immigration and entrepreneurship in the US are undeniable.
Noubar talked about immigration being “going someplace outside of your comfort zone.” Every first generation immigrant I’ve ever met has talked about immigrating to the US as something akin to this. Many entrepreneurs I’ve met have articulated a similar emotion around their experience leaving whatever they were doing to start a new company.
My whole life has been built around the idea of intellectual immigration. I’m constantly exploring new things, getting out of my comfort zone, and moving toward new “things.” As part of this, I’m moving away from (emigrating away) from old, established things.
I read the announcement today that Canada has just launched a Start-Up Visa Program. By doing so, they are saying to the world “welcome immigrant entrepreneurs – please come start your business in Canada.” It’s brilliant, well executed, and modeled after the Startup Visa movement that a number of us have been trying to get started in the US since 2009.
I continue to be really discouraged by the US government activity around the Startup Visa movement, and more specifically around immigration reform as it applies to entrepreneurs. After trying for the past three years to get something passed, nothing has happened beyond administrative changes to the existing laws. While in some cases this has improved the interpretation of the rules, we are still totally missing the boat here in the US. CBP and USCIS continue to implement the rules inconsistently, resulting in regular outrageous situations including tossing entrepreneurs with existing valid visas in jail when they enter the US and banning other entrepreneurs from coming into the country as a result of misinterpretation by CBP of how things should work. I hear at least one horrifying story a week, try to help when I can, but mostly am just embarrassed and ashamed of our US policies around this.
While Canada is plowing forward making it easy for immigrant entrepreneurs to move to Canada and start companies, the US efforts are now entirely focused on “comprehensive immigration reform.” The first bills for this are supposed to start appearing in a few months and I expect we’ll see similar dynamics that we saw around Obamacare. Endless political machinations, an ever expanding set of bills that cover all kinds of things in addition to immigration reform, and a complex set of tradeoffs that have unintended consequences that no one can understand.
On top of this, I’ve heard from a number of political insider friends that “the vote math doesn’t work.” I’ve learned that this means it is an incredible uphill battle to get anything passed, and the compromise that is going to happen to get certain people in Congress to support the bills means that the “tradeoffs and compromises” (which the more cynical among us – including me – means “the political bribes they need to agree to vote a certain way”)are going to be extensive.
In the mean time, Canada is shouting from the rooftops about the benefits of the Start-Up Visa program.
- The Start-up Visa Program will enable immigrant entrepreneurs to launch innovative companies that will create jobs in Canada, and eventually, compete globally.
- The Program will provide entrepreneurs with valuable assistance in navigating the Canadian business environment which can sometimes prove challenging for newcomers.
- The Program will provide private sector firms with access to a broader range of entrepreneurs, including the best and the brightest minds from around the world.
Since I believe entrepreneurs should be able to start their companies anywhere in the world they’d like, I applaud the Canadian government for taking action here. And I encourage any immigrant entrepreneur considering moving to the US to also consider moving to Canada given this new program.
Dear Mr. Friends In Washington: Pay attention. We continue to be less competitive because of our intransigence around immigration, especially with regard to being entrepreneurs. Canada is showing real leadership. Why not just emulate them?
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I’ve been involved in and advocating for legal immigration since 2010, when, with a half dozen other VCs and entrepreneurs, I co-created the Startup Visa initiative. Since then, I’ve been involved in many immigration-related activities, including the Global EIR program, a docu-drama called For Here or To Go, and direct involvement in helping many immigrants to the US get their visas and green cards.
When PSL started ideating on Boundless, I was lucky to be at the PSL office and participate in one of the extended sessions. I introduced them to Doug Rand, who I’d worked with during the Obama administration on several things, including Startup America and the USCIS EIR program. Shortly after, I met Xiao Wang, the entrepreneur PSL recruited to be the founding CEO of Boundless.
Working with Xiao and the team he’s built has been incredibly rewarding. In early 2017, the US government posture toward immigration took a strong negative turn, and from that point forward, Boundless faced massive headwinds at every turn. Rather than complain or fold up shop like several of their early competitors did, Boundless focused on a long-term vision of being the best possible resource for legal immigration into the US. As a result, their business grew with extremely high customer satisfaction while navigating the endless changes and stresses coming from the US government around immigration.
Last summer, Boundless acquired RapidVisa and significantly expanded its business and types of visas that it could support. Whenever a company acquires a similar-sized business, tough choices ensue as the two companies are integrated. The teams at Boundless and RapidVisa made these choices deliberately and thoughtfully, setting Boundless up for growth from a more meaningful base.
With the new Biden administration, the US government’s posture on immigration has shifted again. As a result, Xiao now finds himself as the CEO of the largest company in its category, with huge tailwinds after navigating and surviving four years of headwinds. I’m excited to be part of the next phase of Boundless’s journey.
Fred Wilson, Joanne Wilson, Amy, and I are doing our second Monthly Match. This one is in support of the National Immigration Law Center. We will be matching $20,000 of contributions that our respective communities make to NILC.
Any level of contribution is super helpful. Since we are matching 1:1, each dollar you contribute gets NILC another dollar.
The four of us did this on an impulse last month after the Executive Order on Immigration hit. We were all extremely upset about the executive order and decided to do something about it. We ended up raising over $120,000 for the ACLU over the weekend during a period where the ACLU got a lot of visibility for making the first major move against the executive order and ended up raising over $24m.
As a result, we’ve decided to do a Monthly Match fundraiser (where the four of us match $20,000 in donations) for a different organization that supports the rights of minorities who we feel are at risk under our current administration. We’ve committed to do this for a year and expect this will evolve as things unfold over the course of the year.
The National Immigration Law Center was established in 1978 and is dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of low-income immigrants. Their mission is clear.
At NILC, we believe that all people who live in the U.S.—regardless of their race, gender, immigration and/or economic status—should have the opportunity to achieve their full potential. Over the years, we’ve been at the forefront of many of the country’s greatest challenges when it comes to immigration issues, and play a major leadership role in addressing the real-life impact of polices that affect the ability of low-income immigrants to prosper and thrive.
If this is important to you, please join in on our Monthly Match and make a contribution to NILC. To make sure we see it, follow the directions below:
- Go to our monthly match page and hit the donate button and give whatever you feel like giving (min is $10).
- After you complete the donation, TWEET your donation out on the post donation page. That will register it for our match.
- If you don’t use Twitter, you can forward your email receipt. The instructions will be on the post donation page. We would vastly prefer you tweet it out.
For those of you who are part of our community and support this effort, feel good that you are taking a specific action today to support the rights of all immigrants in America.
As an investor, I’m always looking for the next great American company. Who will create tomorrow’s Twitter, Facebook, or Google?
Today it is just as likely to be someone born in Beijing or Jaipur as it is to be someone from Boston or Boulder. In 2016, you no longer have to be in Silicon Valley to launch a successful startup. Colorado is home to many.
However, national borders do still matter and our current immigration system unfortunately isn’t designed to allow anyone looking to create the next Fitbit the ability to easily do so in America. As a result, we lose out to other countries as non-US founders start their ventures to countries like Canada, Chile, or Singapore instead of the US, often because it’s impossible for them to get appropriate visas to create their companies while living in the US.
That’s why I’m spreading the word about the Partnership for a New American Economy’s Reason for Reform campaign, which calls on business leaders, entrepreneurs, students, and others from across the US to tell Congress why America needs immigration reform by recording a short video clip from their cell phones or computers, giving their “reason for reform.”
Coinciding with the launch of this campaign, Partnership for a New American Economy has marked today as a National Day of Action and is holding events in all 50 states and in Washington, DC to call attention to the economic contributions of immigrants in America. The day will also include the release of new state-specific research. You can check out your state’s report here.
Immigrants have historically been an entrepreneurial bunch. Today, immigrants represent more than 10 percent of Colorado’s entrepreneurs. In 2014, their businesses contributed more than $560 million in revenue to Colorado’s economy. Of the nine Colorado-based companies that appear on the Fortune 500 list, a third of them were founded by immigrants or their children. These three firms alone provide 53,000 jobs and generate more than $20 billion in revenue each year.
Providing sufficient staffing for these companies is another hurdle. Today in Colorado, there are 15 unfilled jobs for every one unemployed STEM worker. While we should certainly be investing in our own STEM education, we should take advantage of the thousands of international students who come here to study and are ready to fill these gaps immediately upon graduation. A new Colorado report released today by the Partnership for a New American Economy (PNAE) calculates that 27.5 percent of all students earning STEM-related PhDs in Colorado are from other countries. Many of these students want to stay to further the research they started in their programs and build companies from their findings. Almost 1,000 jobs could be created for American workers if even half of the 740 graduate students on temporary visas in Colorado were allowed to stay upon completion of their programs.
America’s future as the global leader in innovation remains in the balance until our immigration system is fixed. A large portion of a reform package should focus on updating our system to better reflect the business landscape and market realities of the 21st Century.
Two big proposals from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick today. First, he’s proposing to ban non-competition agreements. He’s also proposing an incredibly clever and innovative approach to immigration reform applicable only to Massachusetts.
I lived in the Boston-area for twelve years (Cambridge for four years and Boston for eight years. ) Even though I often say that was 11 years and 364 days too many for my “non-big city, non-east coast” personality, Boston still has a sweet spot in my heart. I had an amazing (and often excruciating) experience at MIT which was foundational to my personality, thought process, and character. I started and sold my first company there (first office – 875 Main Street, Cambridge; last office 1 Liberty Square, Boston). Techstars Boston was the first geographic expansion for Techstars. I’m not a sports fan but I always root for the Red Sox. I think I have more close friends in the VC business in Boston than in the Bay Area. Two of my closest friends – Will Herman and Warren Katz – both live there. And I know my way around downtown Boston – even after the Big Dig – better than any other downtown in the world.
The Massachusetts non-competition situation has always been stupid. In 2009, my partners and I at Foundry Group joined a coalition of VCs to try to eliminate non-competition agreements in MA. It’s awesome to see Governor Patrick take action on it since it’s one of the major inhibitors of the MA entrepreneurial scene.
The immigration report proposal is even more fascinating. It’s a great example of creative and innovation public-private policy at the state level to encourage and enhance entrepreneurship. Jeff Bussgang from Flybridge explains it succinctly in his post so I’ll just repeat it here.
“The idea is a simple one: create a private-public partnership to allow international entrepreneurs to come to Boston and be exempt from the restrictive H-1B visa cap. How is it possible to do this? The US Citizenship and Immigration Services Department (USCIS) has a provision that allows universities to have an exemption to the H-1B visa cap. Governor Deval Patrick announced today that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will work in partnership with UMass to sponsor international entrepreneurs to be exempt from that cap, funding the program with state money to kick start what we anticipate will be a wave of private sector support.”
Brilliant. As our federal government continues to struggle to make any real progress on immigration reform, I love to see it happening at the state level. In addition to being good for innovation, it’s the kind of thing that dramatically differentiates states from one another on a policy, business, and innovation dimension that actually matters and likely has significant long term positive economic impacts on the region.
Governor Patrick – kudos to you. Governor Hickenlooper – I encourage you to roll out exactly the same thing in the State of Colorado. I know exactly the people at CU who would be happy to lead this, as would I. And since one of our Senators (Michael Bennet) is leading the immigration reform effort in the US Senate and our other Senator (Udall) has been a strong supporter of the Startup Visa and immigration report from the first discussion about it in 2009, I expect you already know your broad constituents support it.
Oh – and to my friends in NY who have been helping on the immigration reform front, let’s crank this up in NY also! Why should MA have all the fun?
With the immigration debate in Washington heating up, Americans across the country recognize that we need smart and practical solutions to help reform our country’s broken immigration system.
Our immigration laws haven’t been significantly updated in almost 50 years, while other countries are implementing immigration programs to lure entrepreneurs, innovators, skilled workers, and other valuable potential employees. Meanwhile, our system still works to support a Cold War economy in the 21st century. It’s an outdated and outmoded system that is as frustrating as it is ineffective.
That’s why this past February I joined with the Partnership for a New American Economy to join the March for Innovation, one of the largest virtual marches on Washington to promote smart immigration reform that will keep us competitive and help our economy grow. Run by the Partnership – a coalition of more than 500 mayors and CEOs led by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg – the March will unite these same leaders and the greater public in pushing for economically-smart, pro-tech, pro-entrepreneur immigration reform, including:
- Visas for entrepreneurs
- Access to high-skilled workers when and where they are needed through H-1B visas and green cards
- Green cards for the advanced degree graduates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) we are training in our universities
And we need your help! As we saw last year, virtual marches like the online protest against SOPA and PIPA can make a real difference in Washington. However, SOPA and PIPA worked because the campaign went viral. With your support, we can make the March for Innovation even more effective.
This call to action starts today and will culminate with a Thunderclap when legislation is introduced in May. We invite you to join us:
Start by sharing a tweet or Facebook post at marchforinnovation.com
- If you have a story to tell, share it with the March for Innovation team at the same site
- Join the Thunderclap (which will flood Twitter on the day of the March for Innovation) and follow the March on Facebook and Twitter
- Use your company homepage to drive traffic to marchforinnovation.com with their widget atmarchforinnovation.com/get_
- Email the March at email@example.com and tell them how you think you can help the effort.
I encourage you to get involved and get active on this issue. Our competitiveness on the world stage may depend on it.