Investing in Technology that Improves the Immigrant Experience

This month we focus attention on the topic of technology that improves the immigration experience.

Climate change, conflict, economic imbalances, and entrepreneurial opportunities continue to drive
patterns of increased migration to the world’s most developed countries.  Simultaneously, private market  solutions that improve the immigration process can lead to more vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems and  better social outcomes. According to Kauffman Foundation’s research, immigrants are twice as likely to be entrepreneurs as native-born citizens and an impressive 40% of Fortune 500 companies were immigrant-   founded.

To that effect we interviewed the inspiring Xiao Wang CEO and Co-Founder of Boundless, a company
focused on empowering every family to navigate the immigration system more confidently, rapidly, and
affordably. Boundless recently closed a $25M Series B round to scale the business and expand its offering.

Read on to learn more about how Boundless is leading the charge with immigration tech and their

    1. Tell us your “why” for starting Boundless? I had always known that immigration was hard. My parents spent almost five months of rent money on our green card applications when we first came to the U.S., but it was as if the challenging nature of immigration was a rite of passage.
      What inspired me to start Boundless was asking the question “why.” After talking with hundreds of families, lawyers, policy, and government officials, I realized that immigration is hard because of an information gap. At the time, there were only two groups of people who understood the immigration system: the federal government and immigration attorneys, both groups that benefit from the status quo. With my background, I knew that this problem is precisely the kind that technology and data can solve so well — democratizing services that were previously only accessible to those who could afford an attorney.
    2. What is your mission? Our mission is to empower every family to navigate the immigration system more confidently, rapidly, and affordably.
    3. What is the business model? How do you monetize success? We save applicants time and money by automating a process that generally involves immigration attorneys filling out endlessly redundant forms. We offer a flat-fee service that digitizes the hundreds of papers involved in an immigration application — then matches applicants to an approved immigration lawyer working with Boundless as a partner.
    4. Do you measure your impact and if so what outcomes do you measure? Yes! See below.
    5. Tracking outcomes – what do you track and for how long post immigration application approval? We track the number of applications processed and immigrants served, then track their status for future applications, e.g. (2 years after receiving a conditional green card, families will need to apply for a permanent, 10-year green card. One year after that, they can apply for naturalization to become a U.S. citizen.) To date, we’ve helped 70,000 customers with their visa and citizenship applications. The green card process is typically 12-16 months overall, though it depends on the complexity of the application. What’s more, backlogs and delays increased meaningfully during COVID.
    6. How do your outcomes compare to the benchmarks (ie: 99.7% approval vs. no intervention or a similar one)? Applications filled out through Boundless have an approval rate north of 99.7%. The denial rate for family-based green cards is 15%, so customers have a 99.7% chance of success with us compared to the national average of 85%.
    7. Commitment to scaling – can you describe some of the obstacles and opportunities? Historically, everyone worked in an office, Monday through Friday. The office was the centralized hub where all work occurred. Now, we’re embracing the idea that work can happen where people are most effective and the office is becoming more of a place where people can gather to collaborate and work on projects together. We are still in the process
      of learning what remote and hybrid work looks like for us at Boundless, but for now, it offers a meaningful opportunity to hire talent from around the country, and the world, in a way we couldn’t before. It’s been a tremendous journey establishing this new model for our business – we’ve learned how to foster relationships when people have never met in person, how to become leaders at a time when no one is at their best, and how to embrace a diversity of opinions in a way and scale that we haven’t done before.
    8. What other social problems do you foresee your product solving in the future? Now that we have an administration that is pro-immigration and the world is starting to slowly open up, we can help millions of families reunite with loved ones and live their lives where they want. Moreover, we have enough scale to not only help people live better lives when they come to this country but to help them thrive. I’m beyond excited to be the partner many of these immigrant families have never had as they go through this critical part of their life journey.
    9. What does long-term success for you mean? What will the company and world look like in 2030 if you succeed at your impact goals? Long-term success means we’ve transformed an industry that has been broken for generations. It also means Boundless becomes synonymous with immigration, in an industry that has never had a default brand, but that through Boundless families can live the life they want, with their loved ones, in the location they want. In other words, we are helping millions of families not only immigrate (getting from one place to another) but also thrive in their new life. I used to remember going to the library every year growing up with my dad to look up the latest tax laws and forms to complete his income taxes. Now, it’s become ubiquitous to use technology to file taxes. We intend to become that and more for immigration.
    10. What other tech leaders or companies do you admire that are also working in the space? Matt Oppenheimer at Remitly (digital remittances) is someone I deeply admire for his leadership. Other startup leaders using technology to make the world a better place include Jimmy Chen at Propel (digital food stamps), Misha Esipov at NovaCredit (credit scores for immigrants) and Tony Huang at Possible Finance (overturning the payday loan industry).
    11. Do your current investors “value” the impact of your business? Yes, they value the holistic impact of what we’re trying to do. However, I don’t want to give the impression that we somehow have a lower “bar” just because we’re meaningfully helping people. For Boundless (and our investors) to be successful we need to show that “doing good” can be just as large and profitable as any other business.
    12. Any impact investors on your cap table? (ie: Emerson Collective) Emerson Collective. And a couple of others who would prefer to remain anonymous.
    13. Did you find their approach to investing (questions, type of diligence) similar to the traditional investors? Yes and no. In Emerson Collective’s case, they have a deep understanding of our subject area (immigration) and so didn’t need to ask as many questions about the space. For their business diligence, nothing is meaningfully different — we still need to show scalable growth with solid unit economics. Just like us, Emerson isn’t targeting below-market returns. We need to be able to show that immigration can be a venture-scale business.
    14. Any areas of immigration tech that you think should be urgently addressed by investors through investing and/or divesting from certain industries/models, etc.?  I still think there’s a large barrier between immigrants and financial literacy. While there’s a gap there for non-immigrants as well, for those coming from a different culture, background, and language, the ability to make the right financial decisions early can prevent mishaps and complications down the road.
    15. Biden vs. Trump: How has the new administration made your job easier or harder, and what major setbacks do you still see ahead? Four years ago, someone should have told me not to start an immigration company, and yet we’ve persevered against all odds. We’ve been able to overcome the many moments on a Friday night when a tweet would unravel our company goals and months of plans, responsively pivoting to support our immigrant families.The Trump administration implemented more than 400 anti-immigration policies in four short years. I’ll never forget when the Public Charge Rule was put into place, and it instantly doubled the size and complexity of the applications for our families. Our team had to scramble multiple times as it was caught up in the court system. The Rule was in place, and then rescinded, and then in place only in certain jurisdictions, and not in place in certain jurisdictions, etc. The level of flexibility we had to employ just to ensure our applications were correct was an incredible feat of perseverance for our team. Though this year has posed its own challenges with embassy closures, policies from the previous administration, and pandemic-related backlogs, we’re optimistic to now have a pro-immigration administration.
    16. How as business leaders and investors can we be an ally to general immigrant populations in our day-to-day, as well as those under duress such as the Asian community post-COVID?  Asian leaders have to fight their urge, built over generations, to stay silent. People across their organizations are looking to them to set the tone, even though it may feel incredibly uncomfortable to speak out about social issues (I know it did for me!). We’ve been taught to always keep our heads down and work harder and to never complain or talk about feelings. But the only way that this situation can change is if leaders can swallow that simmering shame and express their vulnerability to their organization. Only by them opening up about how this has affected them and their community will others feel safe to come forward as well. Non-Asian leaders have to fight their urge, born out of our current polarizing zeitgeist, to compare the current anti-Asian violence with discrimination and injustice faced by other marginalized groups. They should also avoid asking the most senior Asian member of their team to represent every Asian voice and speak up. A better approach would be to acknowledge what has happened, why it’s wrong, share resources, and provide space for folks to share their feelings if they want. Every article about what’s happening has an obligatory lesson explaining the long history of anti-Asian discrimination in America. Let’s hope that in the future that lesson is no longer necessary.

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