#StartupsEverywhere: Seattle, WA

#StartupsEverywhere Profile: Xiao Wang, CEO and Co-Founder, Boundless

This profile is part of #StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country. This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.


Innovating Immigration

Nearly two out of every three small business buyers are immigrants. In 2016, immigrants helped found more than half of the U.S.'s startup companies valued at more than a billion dollars. Yet more and more, the immigration process in the United States continues to be confusing, challenging, and complicated. Xiao Wang, the co-founder and CEO of Boundless, is working to solve this problem through the use of technology. As Boundless helps with the family immigration process, policy is still needed to facilitate entrepreneurs to build companies in America. 

Tell me about you. What’s your background? Why did you start Boundless?

In 1989, my parents and I gave up everything to immigrate to the U.S. from China. Beyond trying to make it in a new country, with its language, customs, and career challenges, we also had to get through the U.S. immigration system. We ended up paying a lawyer nearly five months of rent to complete our green card application because it was so high stakes and we didn’t know if we were doing it right. And sadly, the only things that have changed in the three decades since are that the process has gotten more complicated and the lawyer fees have gone up.

Currently, families are caught between two confusing and potentially tragic options. They can, if financially possible, spend thousands of dollars on a lawyer, with little idea of quality. Or, they can try and do it themselves, spending weeks or months trying to painfully research what to do, with little confirmation if they’re doing it right.

That’s why I created Boundless Immigration, to provide access to all families the tools, information, and support previously only available to those who could afford high-priced attorneys. Boundless helps families identify what they are eligible for, completes the right forms accurately, and provides proactive updates through the entire process, all for a fraction of the price of a lawyer. I will never forget the stories or gratitude we’ve heard from the thousands of customers we’ve helped so far, some of whom were rejected multiple times by the government previously, others who are now finally able to live where they want to live or work where they want to work. My family was lucky—we were able to get our green cards and eventually citizenship. With Boundless we can help families from all walks of life affordably and legally achieve the same.

Why did you get started in Seattle? What makes Seattle an ideal place to start a company?

After moving around a bit my family ended up settling outside of Seattle and falling in love with the region's combination of natural beauty and innovative spirit. There is no other major city in the U.S. that is within a couple of hours from such breathtaking mountains, forests, and water.

But what truly makes Seattle a great place to start a company is the people. Seattle combines a world-class technical university (University of Washington), established tech giants (Microsoft, Amazon, Zillow) that serve as great training grounds, and a lower cost-of-living than the Bay Area. With major technology companies like Facebook, Google, and Baidu building technical offices in Seattle over the past few years, there will be an ever-growing population of people excited to create new products and make the world a better place.

What’s the most exciting or important development that has happened to the Seattle ecosystem in the last year?

Growth of Seattle's companies in public markets. Amazon's market cap hit $900 billion, Microsoft's stock has risen by over 50 percent, Redfin, Docusign, and Smartsheet all IPO'ed. The incredible growth of world-class companies has created two dynamics that will have significant, positive long-term effects for the local startup ecosystem.

First, there is a significant group of people who are now financially secure enough to take risks and start new companies. Second, there are now more local capital and resources that will be helping fund those new entrepreneurs. Pioneer Square Labs and Flying Fish are two new venture funds from the past year, joined by an ever-growing collection of angels. I am confident that Seattle will become an increasingly vibrant hub for new ideas.

Are there specific public policies or government initiatives that have enabled startup growth in Seattle?

The city and state's regressive $0 income tax policy has meaningfully helped startups recruit talent at lower salaries. The region's investment in light rail and bus lines have also made the downtown region more accessible for employees (we have nearly 20 employees and no one drives to work). What I love about this area is how the entire ecosystem works together to help startups get off the ground: government entities like the City of Seattle's Startup Seattle initiative to provide guidance, nonprofits such as the Washington Technology Industry Association to provide HR services, and tech-focused media such as Geekwire to provide exposure.

This growth and support is not all positive. One of the largest challenges facing Seattle over the next five years is how to integrate this influx of technology workers into the broader social fabric. Transportation, affordable housing, and social services were never designed for the current level of growth. Significant changes will need to happen quickly for Seattle to avoid increasing income inequality, housing shortages, and displacement, and the tech/startup community has a responsibility in pushing these initiatives.

How involved are your government representatives in the Seattle startup space?

They have been very interested in fostering the kind of environment where startups can be successful. Representatives at all levels from Congress to city executives have cared about issues confronting new companies in Seattle and have involved our voices in their decision-making.

I know you have experience advocating for policy changes - especially as it relates to immigration. Can you tell more about that? Have you been successful in advocating for changes?

Our mission at Boundless is to empower families to navigate the immigration system more affordably, quickly, and confidently. We see our role as a complement to advocacy—Congress isn't likely to change our immigration laws in the near term, so we're doing everything we can as a technology company to make the system more transparent and less intimidating, in the here and now. Examples include explaining the differences in processing times across zip codes, changes affecting student visas, the wait times published by the government.

What advice do you have for startups trying to engage with policymakers?

It's always best to have a thoughtful, focused ask! What policy levers does this person actually control or influence? Are you asking for something that they can actually deliver—and if so, can you make a compelling case that it's in their best interest to deliver it? More messages make it less likely they will remember what you said.

From a policy perspective, do you have any wishlist items for the startup ecosystem?

I am personally very vested in the future of America. I still strongly believe that there is no better place to achieve your dreams. But recent government policy has been making it less likely talent from around the world will want to build the next great company in the U.S. For example, Department of Homeland Security is planning to eliminate the International Entrepreneur Rule, which provided qualified founders the ability to legally stay in the country. I have many friends stuck at large companies while they wait the years until their receive their green cards before they are able to start their own companies. Facilitating entrepreneurs to build companies in America should be encouraged at the policy level.