Editor’s note: This is part of a series profiling six of the Seattle region’s “Uncommon Thinkers”: inventors, scientists, technologists and entrepreneurs transforming industries and driving positive change in the world. They will be recognized at the GeekWire Gala on Dec. 6. Uncommon Thinkers is presented in partnership with Greater Seattle Partners.
Startup founders are compelled for a variety of reasons to launch a new company and develop a product or service that they believe will make a difference in people’s lives.
When Xiao Wang helped start Boundless to simplify the immigration process, he approached it with the lived experience of being an immigrant himself who moved with his parents from China to the United States at age 3.
Wang’s parents spent months of rent money on immigration attorneys. He watched them struggle through the green card process, and he saw various employers take advantage of his father.
For 30 years, Wang just assumed it was all a rite of passage, and if you want to come to America, you suffer through that gauntlet.
Asked by someone in 2016 why immigration is so hard, Wang took the question down a rabbit hole. Working as a product manager at Amazon at the time, he spent nights and weekends and vacation time talking to hundreds of families, government officials, policy makers, and attorneys. Immigration became a problem he wanted to help solve.
“If you learn too much about a problem and you really understand the need and the gap and the pain that it’s causing people, you get to a point where you can’t not do something about it,” Wang said. “Especially when the problem is close to home.”
Wang, who earned advanced degrees from Stanford and Harvard Business School before jumping into leadership roles in tech, co-founded Boundless as CEO, alongside Doug Rand and Serdar Sutay. The Seattle-based company’s technology streamlines how immigrants get in touch with lawyers and file applications for spousal visas and U.S. citizenship.
In 2017, Boundless spun out of Pioneer Square Labs and today it has helped more than 100,000 families through the immigration process in the U.S. With a 99.9% visa approval rate, Boundless has helped more families than any single provider.
“This is exactly the type of problem that technology and data is meant to solve,” Wang said. “In an era where technology is used too often to address trivial problems, here’s an opportunity to transform the lives of millions of people who are stuck in purgatory.”
Greg Gottesman, managing director at Seattle-based Pioneer Square Labs, said founder-product fit is important when it comes to startups. Wang has an innate understanding of the problem and empathy for the customers Boundless is serving, he said.
“For Xiao, Boundless isn’t an interesting project he’s working on or a job he goes to during the week. Making the lives of immigrants better is his singular mission,” Gottesman said. “When you care as deeply about a problem as Xiao does about serving immigrants, you come up with novel, outside-the-box solutions because you have to.”
He also credits Wang’s grit and relentlessness to his time as a world-class marathoner.
“Xiao doesn’t give up, ever,” Gottesman said. “He pushes himself hard for as long as it takes to achieve the goal in front of him. When you combine that with his intelligence and strong moral compass, it’s an unbeatable combination.”
Erika Kay has been at Boundless for 6 1/2 years and is now the startup’s director of sales. They call Wang an Uncommon Thinker because of his “default yes” attitude.
“When faced with adversity within the company or for customers, Xiao’s first response is, ‘Yes, we can overcome this,’ or ‘Yes, we can help every one of these people,’” Kay said, citing urgent crises for immigrants such as the Public Charge Rule and proposed hikes in government fees for certain immigration applications.
Outside of Boundless, Wang is an advocate for civic leadership and art in Seattle, serving a variety of organizations including Leadership Tomorrow, the Better Business Bureau Northwest Advisory Board, the Stanford Club of Washington, United Way of King County, the Seattle Art Museum, and Seattle Repertory Theater.
He said it may sound like a common refrain from a startup CEO, but after almost seven years, Wang believes he and Boundless are just getting started.
“In this startup journey, there are amazing highs, there are incredible lows,” Wang said. “Even on the worst days you have to have something that keeps you going. For us, we say, ‘I reunited 12 families today’ or ‘I helped three people find their dream job.’
“There’s something at the end of this that makes it worthwhile and that people are counting on you for,” he said. “The idea of throwing in the towel never even enters your mind because it’s an obligation to everyone else that you succeed.”
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