When Boundless Immigration CEO Xiao Wang’s parents immigrated to the the U.S. from their native Nanjing, China, Xiao had to be left behind with relatives. At age three, he joined his parents, both of whom had studied at Arizona State University. To reunite, the family had paid about five months of rent on attorneys, then poured much of their savings into the hands of a fixer to guide them through the high-stakes naturalization process.
“My whole life, I’ve taken it for granted that immigration is supposed to be hard,” says Wang. “It becomes almost like a competition among other immigrants of who has the most ridiculous experience… that’s just something that we viewed as a rite of passage to come to America.”
Now the cofounder of Boundless, a Seattle-based startup, Wang is looking to help others at scale. The basic premise: software may be eating the world, but not so much in immigration, where the razor-thin margin for error and lack of transparency means that millions still depend on referrals to “mahogany-lined offices and people in suits and ties.”
Founded in 2017 by Wang, Doug Rand and Serdar Sutay, Boundless Immigration says it’s helped 70,000 customers with their visa and citizenship applications to date. (All but 10,000 of those come through a company Boundless acquired in September, RapidVisa; Wang says the two combined also 10,000 people in the past 12 months.)
The company has significant venture capital backing, too: Boundless is announcing it’s raised $25 million in a Series B funding round led by Foundry Group, with Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective and Yahoo billionaire Jerry Yang’s AME Cloud Ventures joining alongside existing investors Forefront Ventures, Industry Ventures, Pioneer Square Labs, Trilogy Equity Partners and Two Sigma Ventures.
“I’m not interested in building a company that helps a handful of people,” says Wang, who hopes to increase Boundless’ customers served by a factor of ten in the next several years, while using the funding to triple headcount from 130 to close to 400.
Boundless works by offering a flat-fee service that digitizes the hundreds of papers involved in an immigration application — today focused on marriage-based green cards and other citizenship inquiries — then matching applicants to an approved immigration lawyer working with Boundless as a partner. Today, the service only covers applications to the U.S., but Boundless aims to add more countries over time, as well as support for more languages. Applications filled out through Boundless have an approval rate north of 99.7%, according to Wang.
Wang graduated from Stanford University with a B.A. and master’s degree and from Harvard Business School in 2014. Along the way, he worked stints at McKinsey, New York City’s Department of Education, in private equity and then most recently at Amazon, where he served as a senior product manager for more than two years in Seattle. It was there, working nights and weekends and interviewing “hundreds” of families, officials and lawyers, that Wang was inspired to launch Boundless.
For cofounders he turned to Rand, now a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, worked in the White House under the Obama administration as Assistant Director for Entrepreneurship; he was president of Boundless until 2019 and is now an advisor to the company. Turkey-born Sutay, Boundless’ CTO, previously led engineers at startup Chef for close to five years and previously was an engineer at Microsoft.
The Trump administration was not easy for Boundless, with executive orders limiting visas from certain countries and, during the pandemic, suspending the issuance of any new green cards at all. Boundless spent some of those years sharing research and engaging in advocacy to demonstrate the economic, not to mention moral, arguments for legal immigration. The startup estimated that Trump’s policies created a backlog of more than 350,000 green card applications.
And while the startup now faces a friendlier administration to immigration policy under President Joe Biden, its greatest challenge remains convincing people to trust technology as an answer to a problem that has afflicted generations of immigrants, Wang says. Boundless is a for-profit business, too, meaning it hopes to make a lot of money from all its efforts. But Wang says that for-profit status was the only way to build a large company quickly in the space, raising corresponding millions from investors looking for a return; Boundless can then partner with non-profits, he adds.
In 2018, Boundless’s founders helped organize an open letter from a range of private sector leaders including the founders of Postmates Shutterstock, Warby Parker opposing a “public charge rule” that looked to block immigrants who the government determined might require public assistance after entering the U.S. The rule, which increased the complexity of applications, was “very good for us as a business,” Wang says; the startup still was vocal in its opposition.
“It was just a really bad policy for America,” he says. “Those hard moments actually drive questions like, ‘hey, what do you stand for as a company?’”
Wang’s ambitions for Boundless are outsized to match the startup’s name. Recently a father himself, he hopes the company can serve as more of a long-term partner for client families, not just guiding them through different phases of immigration over the years, but helping connect them to services and fellow immigrants as more of a hub for their “immigrant life journey.”
The startup faces plenty of rivals in that goal — not to mention political forces it can’t control. Wang isn’t cowed by the odds. “We want to be that single destination for all immigrants around the world,” he says.
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