“The best engineer I have ever worked with is stuck at his current job, working on something that he doesn’t enjoy, waiting for the day his green card comes arrives in the mail”
The prevailing wisdom for creating a successful startup is to find a big problem in a huge market and put together an amazing team to crack it. I did that, and the American immigration system sabotaged me.
About a year ago I unexpectedly found a big problem after an unpleasant experience with the IRS. I realized that the way Americans planned for and filed their taxes every year was completely broken. Most people wait until March or April to even think about filing their taxes, and when they finally do, most have no idea what is going to happen. What’s worse is that by waiting until the last minute, all the levers that they have at their disposal to actually lower taxes (like selling loser stocks) are no longer available. I started GoodApril to solve this problem by giving Americans a real-time view of their tax situation so that at any point of the year they know where they stand with the IRS and get personalized recommendations on how to reduce their tax bill.
But to achieve that vision I knew I needed to put together an all-star team. The idea would require a substantial technical effort, and while I am an engineer, I knew I needed to find an engineer much better than me to guide and personally nurture the development our product. It didn’t take me long to figure out who I wanted to work with: Rafael (name changed), the best engineer that I had worked with in my career.
I pitched Rafael the idea, and he immediately just “got it.” The pain of tax surprises and missed savings that I described to him was a pain he too had experienced. He agreed to jump on board, but warned me about his H-1B visa status. I did a little research and figured that as long we were able to raise money, GoodApril would be able to sponsor his H1-B, so we got to work.
We worked hard for three months on nights and weekends to build our first prototype, recruit others to join the team, and prepare ourselves to leave our jobs. We knew we had something compelling, so it was time to incorporate and raise some money to make this really happen.
But then the bomb dropped. Rafael’s employer had screwed up his green card application – he was going to have to re-start the process, losing nearly a year of forward progress. Over several weeks, and after discussions with an immigration lawyer and other entrepreneurs who had gone through a similar experience, we recognized how bleak his prospects were. With his H1-B visa nearly about to expire, it meant that to switch sponsors he would risk deportation. As much as he had invested in GoodApril, as much as he wanted to see us succeed, he wouldn’t be able to join as a Co-Founder. Basically, my co-founder was a slave to his current employer as long as they kept messing up his green card application.
This whole experience has made me become more active in immigration policy reform. I am a huge proponent of the Startup Visa Act because it gives these super-smart and motivated immigrants the opportunity to work on big ideas that will improve the lives of everyone. Instead, my former co-founder, the best engineer I have ever worked with, is stuck at his current job, working on something that he doesn’t enjoy, waiting for the day his green card comes arrives in the mail.
In the meantime, GoodApril has made great progress. We are a part of the TechStars Boulder accelerator program, and recently launched our first product, a tool that identifies actions you can take to pay less in taxes by analyzing your tax return. We’re proud of it, but I know moving forward we would be a better company, if Rafael was still part of the team.
Benny Joseph is the CEO and Co-Founder at GoodApril, an SVB client.
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