(TNS) -- In 1989, when he was just 3 years old, Xiao Wang boarded a plane in China, bound for the U.S. He was traveling to rejoin his parents, who had immigrated to Arizona.
Their sole focus “was how soon we could get reunited as a family,” Wang said this week from his office in Seattle’s Pioneer Square.
His parents paid the equivalent of five months’ rent for a lawyer to help the family get legal permanent residency visas, often referred to as green cards. The expense was worth it to them, because the stakes were so high, Wang said, and his parents didn’t want to risk getting anything wrong in the confusing web of government forms.
Wang has now started a company — Boundless — to help U.S. immigrants apply for visas to bring their families into the country, at less than the cost of a lawyer. Boundless is focusing on spousal visas first, something any U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident can apply for.
The startup, the fourth spinout of Seattle studio Pioneer Square Labs, is building a website that walks people through the often complicated process of applying for visas. Boundless collects information online from applicants and uses technology to fill out the forms for them, offering advice and support along the way.
Wang — who previously worked for Amazon and helped launch the Amazon Go cashier-less convenience store — and his two co-founders have spent the better part of this year interviewing more than a hundred immigrants and found some common themes: People want to find out if they are eligible to apply for certain visas, and they want help completing the forms.
The lowest moment for an applicant often comes right after mailing the application packet, Wang said.
The Boundless team refers to it as the “pit of despair,” the moment when the envelope has left your hands and you are left wondering if everything in it is complete and correct.
Boundless aims to take away some of that stress. Its website puts all information about spousal visas in one place, and it tracks applications after they are submitted, sending applicants regular alerts about how their applications are progressing through the system.
“The idea is that we can help people through something very stressful and get them success very quickly,” Wang said.
Anxiety around immigration issues has certainly increased under the Trump administration, Wang said. But those concerns weren’t what sparked Boundless — instead it was what the founders saw as a complicated, confusing process that could be simplified through technology.
“Starting a new life is hard enough as is,” Wang said. “The extra amount of complexity is heartbreaking.”
The startup helps legal immigrants navigate the federal system, and the technology will be updated with any relevant policy changes.
The six-person Boundless team — including an immigration lawyer, a paralegal and engineers and designers — has personal experience on how anxiety-ridden the process can be. Five have immigrated to the U.S. — from India, China, Mozambique, Canada and Turkey — and one later applied for a spousal visa to bring her husband to the U.S.
The sixth team member, co-founder Doug Rand, worked on various immigration reforms when he served as assistant director for entrepreneurship for the Obama administration.
About 43 million immigrants live in the U.S., and 8 million immigration applications are submitted each year. Boundless eventually wants to expand its technology to help applicants with a broad range of visas, including green cards and even the citizenship process.
“While we are starting with spousal visas and family immigration, our vision is to eventually provide information and tools to help everyone navigate the legal immigration process,” he said.
The startup also learned early on that technology alone isn’t enough, said chief technology officer and co-founder Serdar Sutay.
Boundless will employ people to help applicants with questions on the process or use of its website, and recommend outside legal help for legal strategy questions.
That personal touch is important. Sutay had help to navigate the process when he immigrated from Turkey at age 22 to work at Microsoft. He remembers sitting at tables, poring over complex regulations and forms with lawyers from Microsoft and later at Chef when he took at job at the Seattle tech company. It’s often too confusing to go through it alone, he said.
Boundless is now piloting its software with a small group of early customers and plans to roll it out more broadly this summer. Boundless is pricing its service at less than $500 to complete an application.
Pioneer Square Labs, a studio that launched in 2016 to create ideas for companies and spin out startups, came up with the idea for Boundless during an idea brainstorm late last year, said Labs co-founder Greg Gottesman.
“When you talk to some of the real stars of our technology community, a lot of them are immigrants,” he said. “They share stories of real difficulty trying to navigate the process.”
Pioneer Square Labs often develops ideas within its core staff and brings in entrepreneurs to start the company. In this case, Wang, Sutay and Rand came on board to start Boundless early this year.
Since its founding in 2015, Pioneer Square Labs has spun out sales-tax automation company LumaTax, homebuying-technology company JetClosing, advertisement tech company Ad Lightning and now Boundless.
Boundless raised its first funding round from investors, led by Trilogy Equity Partners with participation from Foundry Group, Founders’ Co-op and Two Sigma Ventures. The company will use the $3.5?million to continue developing its technology and expand its team.
©2017 The Seattle Times Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.