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Mar 26 2019

A Boundless Decision

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.

Apr 11 2014

Massachusetts Has An Innovative Approach To Immigration Reform

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?

Apr 12 2013

Help Support Immigration Reform In The US

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_widget
  • Email the March at info@marchforinnovation.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.

Jan 8 2013

US Immigration Fails Entrepreneurs Again

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.

Jan 4 2017

Entrepreneurship Is Intellectual Immigration

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.

Ponder that.

Feb 24 2017

Monthly Match: National Immigration Law Center #NILCMatch

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.

We’ve made it easy to contribute – simply go to this page on Crowdrise.

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:

  1. Go to our monthly match page and hit the donate button and give whatever you feel like giving (min is $10).
  2. After you complete the donation, TWEET your donation out on the post donation page. That will register it for our match.
  3. 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.

Dec 5 2012

Startup Visa – One Step Forward, One Step Back

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.

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Mar 2 2013

Why Am I Forbidden From Using My iPhone In US Immigration Areas?

No Phones Allowed HereI’m in the Little Rock airport on my way home. After having an abysmal travel day yesterday that started off at 5:30am with me being detained By U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the Toronto airport, I finally got to Little Rock around 4pm, made it to the Startup Arkansas event around 5:30pm, and did two hours of open office hours, a Startup Communities talk, and general Q&A. When I got back to my hotel room around 10:30pm  and crawled into bed after hanging around with the entrepreneurs at a great after party, the crappy US CBP experience had been washed off of me. I had a great evening, and, like entrepreneurs everywhere, the people I got to hang out with in Arkansas are optimistic, fun, excited about what they are doing, and building the future. And they like beer, which I needed after a very long day.

I had two separate bad dreams last night about being detained. The first was a strange, complex one that is now fuzzy in my head, but happened in a futuristic, very dark setting. The second is still fresh – I was with Dick Costolo (Twitter CEO) somewhere in San Francisco and we were detained by military people who put us in a room, took away our iPhones because they were afraid Dick would start a revolution since he controlled Twitter, and made us sit silently back to back. I woke up before that dream resolved.

When I woke up from my second dream, I realized I was wondering why you are forbidden from using your iPhone in US Immigration areas. I notice this all the time when I enter the US – you go through a door into where the giant immigration room is and you are bombarded with the universal “no phone” sign. Then, when you break this rule and tweet a photo of the “no phone” sign, one of the CBP people inevitably comes over to you and tells you that you can’t use your phone there.

Yesterday, after I ended up in what I have been told is called the “secondary” room, I quickly sent Amy and Kelly an email telling them where I was. I then tweeted that I had been detained by CBP. This took about 30 seconds, at which point one of the CBP agents very aggressively told me that I couldn’t use my phone in this room.

I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask why, nor do I think it would have been particularly helpful. I’m sure the formal reason is something like “you are on government property and we get to set the rules on what you do” and then there is – if pushed – some separate justification about security. But I’ve used my iPhone when I was in the White House, I’ve taken a photos of Obama with it, I check in on FourSquare at various government buildings, and I have spent many mindless minutes waiting on a line for some government service somewhere using my iPhone. And some very creative people have videoed their own experience with CPB and DHS agents doing ridiculous things, making absurd statements, and demonstrating what happens when they don’t understand civil liberties and our constitution as well as the people they are trying to question.

Why am I forbidden from using it in an Immigration facility? Are they afraid of people videoing what they are doing? Are they worried that I’ll rally a twitter mob to break me out of the secondary detention area. Or are they just enjoying exercising their ability to eliminate my ability to communicate with the outside world?

I’m clearly still riled up about yesterday, although I’m mostly just sad about it. It’s horrifying to me how, as a government, we treat non-US citizens who are legally in this country. It’s also disgusting to me how difficult we make it for people to come into this country and startup businesses, which ironically is the foundation on which much of this country has been built. And now that I had a very direct and minor taste of it, I’m sad that we’ve let things get to this point.

Apr 5 2007

I Don’t Understand Our US Immigration Policy

Reuters had an article out today titled US reaches visa cap, skilled workers out of luckAs someone who is constantly trying to recruit great software developers for companies I’m an investor in, this is an insane situation.

The US Immigration Service apparently “reached its annual quota for visa applications in one day.”  The article summarizes the situation:

“The Citizenship and Immigration Services received a record of more than 150,000 applications for the H-1B visa on Monday, nearly double the number of visas it can grant for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2007. Individuals cannot apply for the visa. The employer must apply or submit a petition on the worker’s behalf. The visa is good for up to six years. The government will grant 65,000 visas to those who hold the equivalent of an undergraduate degree and possess the technical expertise in a specialized field, such as engineering and computer programming. Another 20,000 visas will go to people with advanced academic degrees who have technical expertise.”

There is just no reason why there should be a quota on this type of H-1B visa.  I don’t want to delve into the more generic immigration policy issue, but we are talking about highly educated employees in a segment that is seriously supply constrained, especially if you believe anything about demand over the next 10 years.  One of the main reasons I’ve been as involved as I have been in the National Center for Women & Information Technology is because I believe that we don’t have enough qualified software developers in the US and one way to solve for this is to get more women interested.  

It certainly doesn’t help when the government artificially constrains the supply of H-1B visa, especially from people that are already employed.  Maybe a few of our presidential candidates gearing up for a 2008 run will understand this issue.

May 22 2013

Patent and Immigration Reform Activities

h1b in canadaTwo of the public policy things I care about are patent reform and immigration reform. I believe our patent system – especially with regard to software and business method patents – is completely and totally broken. And our immigration system – especially concerning immigrant entrepreneurs – is an embarrassment.

There is suddenly a lot of focus and attention on both of these issues. That’s good, and I’m hopeful that it will result in some meaningful positive changes. It pains me to see other countries – such as Canada, the UK, and New Zealand – be more progressive, open, and forward thinking around entrepreneurship and innovation than the US. There are days when I’m discouraged by our political system, but as I’ve gotten older and spent more time with it the past few years, I’m getting to a zen state of not being discouraged, but rather accepting the reality of the process and just being consistent and clear about what I think is important and how to fix it.

On the patent front, Twitter recently finalized a powerful approach – the Innovator’s Patent Agreement (the IPA). With this, they’ve agreed – as a company – to only use their patents defensively. I think this is extraordinary leadership on Twitter’s part. Our government and the USPTO is not moving aggressively to fix a problem that is now stifling innovation in the software industry, so leaders in the software industry can, and should, take matters into the own hands. As Fred Wilson describes in his post today, the IPA is an incredibly clever and forward looking approach. I’m proud of my friends at Twitter for providing this leadership and I encourage entrepreneurs and investors to understand the IPA and consider applying it to their patent approached.

On the immigration reform front, today is the second to last day of the March for Innovation. Go to the March for Innovation page to tell your Senators how important this issue is and read what a bunch of tech leaders are saying on the Mashable March for Innovation page. If you want just my thoughts, you can go read them at Broken Innovation Shutters Innovation.