Why the Founders Visa could suck

If you have been following blogs of people associated with the technology and entrepreneurship industry (yes, entrepreneurship is also an industry) with any level of intent, you MUST have heard of the Founders Visa movement. Predictably, the ‘grassroots’ effort has been gaining a lot of momentum thanks to Twitter.

The premise is that if you’re a budding entrepreneur with viable investment money on hand, you should be able to freely come to the US as a nonimmigrant to start your business. Hitherto, the only ways to come to the US without having been born here have been through a buffet of non-immigrant visas or being able to secure work in the country. The latter has always been classified as a dual-intent visa that allows you to also apply for permanent residency through employment based green cards. Notice the importance of intent. If you’re a student and you give the guy at the consulate the impression that you’re going to find a job after graduating, there are grounds to reject your non-immigrant visa.

This becomes an important issue to consider when you realize that MOST of the successful companies in the US were started by people who first came to the US on these student or other non-immigrant visas. Statistically, most successful startups are also conceptualized and governed by people in their late 20s or early 30s. Also, quite a few, if not all, entrepreneurs work for a while IN THE USA before they think, ‘Hmmm, I should start a business doing this’.

MISTAKE 1: Emphasis on intent

Now, once you’re in the USA, you complete your education from one of the top schools in the world. Even though you hardly have any American students in your Algorithms class, you are optimistic, and you get that degree. But wait, you get one more just because you love being in school. And here you are, one of the brightest people around, have a potential career, have a strong head on your shoulders, are optimistic, etc. What next? You apply for a job! Yey, right? No. Because…you’re now a potential immigrant, are suddenly a bad guy because you’re trying to reduce wages, and worst of all, you aren’t American. You are in line for a work permit.

MISTAKE 2: Treating international graduates like first time immigrants

But, before you get a work permit, you have to be worthy enough for a company to spend more than $3k on lawyer and application fees for you. On top of that, thanks to the xenophobia and immigration backlash, they have to contend with the fact that the other employees might link your getting hired to their kin losing jobs. I know it’s ass backwards, but bear with me. In the quest to get a work permit, who wins? Half of that $3k figure is actually lawyer costs. In a country where the insurance company makes more than the doctor this doesn’t surprise me one bit. Compare this to Canada, where just like healthcare, you don’t need a middleman to file your paperwork.

MISTAKE 3: Making it hard to actually get a visa

Now you have a visa, a job, and are making some money. You’re being a good non-citizen – paying more taxes than citizens (you can never avail a lot of benefits reserved for citizens), contributing to the society, making kind donations for the needy, obeying the civic laws, etc. Then, you realize that you’re actually good at what you do, and there’s a lot of sense in starting a business. Well, welcome to America! You can start a business but you cannot work for it! We like passive investment, but you cannot do anything more than putting in money. Which means, you’d have to have a full time job, worry about keeping it, all the while as you struggle to start your company and make it profitable. You have a choice – move to Canada or Chile while you’re still young or live the American H1B dream.

MISTAKE 4: Wanting the best but doing nothing to keep them here

So you eschew the idea of starting a new enterprise until you are a legal permanent residence and don’t have to worry about being employed all the time. Well, there’s an app…err I mean paperwork for that. And, if you are a citizen of China or India, you are looking at almost 6-7 years of patiently waiting before getting anything back out of that paperwork and large amounts of attorney fees. Depending on when you file for your permanent residency, you could all but forget about marrying that girl you knew back home, because she could marry you but not come back with you. Splendid.

MISTAKE 5: Making timely legal immigration some sort of a pipe dream

Once you get that ever so elusive green card, you’re fed up, tired, old, and the torture you faced has made you an immigrant hater yourself. Then, there’s the added pressure of hearing about all those successful peers that went home when there was time and made big bucks. So, what do you do with that green card? Well, you use it to help your retired parents spend the rest of their life with you here in America where you nearly got everything you wanted when you wanted.

There was a time when people actually went through all this effort, because frankly, there was no better place to work than in America. Things have changed A LOT since then. There’s a mass exodus of young non-immigrants from the US to other countries. These people came here, got educated, loved working hard, met great people, but they don’t want to toil away for a piece of paper that still wouldn’t release them from the xenophobia that they so wanted to overcome.

So, where does the Founders Visa fit in? Some say it should be an entirely new visa that looks at you as a capable entrepreneur, gives you a few years to prove it, and requires some amount of backing by established investors. If you fail, you leave the country.

Are you fricking serious? I am sure that’s so enticing.

Some argue that it should be an extension of the EB5 permanent residency category. The category that lets you come to the US, no holds barred, for a mere amount of $1,000,000 ($500,000 through a rural investment). That’s really it. Invest that amount of money and you’re guaranteed a happy retirement in the United States of America! All it takes is 2 months of paperwork and lawyer fees. Splendid again.

You know why the Founders Visa proposal sucks?

IT IS STILL A VISA AT THE END OF THE DAY

You are not inviting any talented people to the country by making such an entry conditional on their being successful. Are you serious? Do you ever go out during the day? Do you have a social life? How do you explain the pressure on these entrepreneurs who have to compete with undocumented immigrants (who, by the way have it way way easier)?

How many entrepreneurs would come to the US just to take a risk when Canada would simply look at their education and give them a permanent resident status? Do you think they would leave their families behind?

More importantly – How do you define success?

The Founders Visa suffers from all the mistakes mentioned above. Congratulations, you didn’t provide any solution.

IT IS STILL A VISA

Addendum: I realized later that my post might come across as starting off with the mistakes in the new proposal. That is not true. The main reason I list the problems with the current policies is that I believe they should be addressed before we start baking a second layer of our cake. Also, I believe that if the intent of the visa is to attract people who have never been to the US before, the facts that it is still a temporary permit and that it banks heavily on the beneficiary being successful are also the flaws of the proposal.

If the intent is to keep the bright people from leaving, then the mistakes listed need to be addressed. There’s just too much hard work involved in being successful, and the headache of worrying about a stable US presence just makes the proposal not worth it.

Dad’s Interview on BBC World

My dad’s very brief interview on the competency of the State owned BSNL in the face of increasing competition from newer private telecom operators was featured on BBC World’s weekly ‘India Business Report’ program.

Fast forward to the 40 second marker for the actual interview.

Of course, since it was meant to be only a segment in the 30 minute program, the entire half an hour long interview could not be included, but was used as a build-up for the story.

Next goal – Me on CNN Business!

Age and Competition

It’s not uncommon to run into a blog belonging to a very young software whizz these days and just not being amazed at how kids these days are able to get up to speed with what took us ages. Of course, this sort of generational gap is always going to exist. As we advance our knowledge of science and technology, the baseline for mere awareness is only going to keep rising. For example, a few decades ago, calculus was an advanced topic, but now it is a staple ingredient in the Mathematics curriculum of an average middle school student.

The point of this post is to mull over how age and experience really play a role in how you look at these things. For example, I saw this site today. It belongs to a passionate 18 year old open source software developer who is most probably a college student. From a technical standpoint, he is definitely more than qualified to do the jobs of some very experienced people I have met. He is on the cutting edge of his technical spectrum, so to speak. When I was growing up and in college, I was like that, too. I used to work on websites as a hobby, write interesting C programs in my summers, and just generally mess around with a lot of software code. With the rise of the Internet, though, it has become all too easy, and sometimes expected of you, to showcase your passion and talent for the rest of the world. This is an example of the raised threshold/baseline I mentioned earlier. So, is the kid exceptional? In comparison to some other peers in college, sure, but being on the cutting edge and passionate is expected from you. When you are grown up, this is how you look at it.

When you’re 18 years old, you just want to do things because they’re fun, and not because you realize that being passionate is ultimately going to help your overall perception of your future career. Youngsters these days have this wonderful opportunity to be taken seriously, to be able to start open source projects that have the potential to be used by a lot of people, to be able to contribute in the same vein as other more experienced people, thanks to the Internet. So, for someone like me, while it was considered exceptional to just be passionate about programming languages or writing hobby programs, I think the bar has been raised quite a bit in the last two decades.

So, do you compete with these youngsters? Feel threatened? No.

These are just signs that the technology landscape is changing so quickly, and that is very good. What we could do, though, is align our passion with theirs and create synergies that would ultimately advance future technologies.

The Apple Hype Machine™

Today, Apple introduced the next version of the iPhone, labeled ‘iPhone 3G’. As always, the fanboys were intrepidly forecasting the new set of features and capabilities that this new gadget would include. For the most part, they got what they wanted, and coming from Apple, I think it is a good deal.

A list of what’s ‘new’ – 3G support, cheaper, built in assisted GPS.

Every other new feature is a software feature that would be provided free of cost to the people who already bought the first version a year ago. I am currently beta testing the new firmware, and it is a step up, definitely.

What amazes me though, is the blind trust some people have for Apple. Steve Jobs compared the browser on the iPhone with browsers on phones that were at least 2 years old. He completely side-stepped the modern browsers on Windows Mobile, or even BlackBerry devices. For the intelligent consumer, it doesn’t mean a thing, but for the average dumb/brainwashed consumer, Jobs’ word is gospel. The Safari browser on the iPhone is NOT at all the fastest mobile browser.

Another example – as is the case with all things Apple, there were rumors floating around just before the keynote about the new model having various features like MMS (which has been a staple feature of all phones since the early 2000’s), video conferencing, higher resolution camera, better Bluetooth support, etc. But, ultimately, nothing of that sort came even close to being announced. People are happy, nonetheless, or rather the fanboys are.

On top of this ludicrousness, ATT thought it would be a good time to bump the rate of the data plan from $20 a month to $30 a month. This makes an entry level plan for the iPhone cost approximately $70 a month before taxes. And I thought that communications was getting cheaper everyday.

I love Apple’s products just because they tend to be minimalist, but I have a major grudge against their false, unethical, inaccurate marketing. I also abhor fanboys who have every possible justification for skipped basic functionality.

That said, I am going to create an interesting app one day for the iPhone 🙂

Google Summer of Code

I have nothing but praise for Google’s Summer of Code initiative. This has been going on for a few years now. Basically, Google supports various open source projects by giving them a miniscule financial assistance, but paid developers for about two months in the summer. Everyone benefits. The mentors get project recognition and talent; the students get a well paid ($4500 currently) summer job and Google’s seal of approval for their skills.

I wish something like this existed when I was a financially struggling graduate student at a time when the economy was near its worst in the not-so-distant past. That would have saved me from slaving for unappreciative educators in the university system who take pride in misguiding their students with fake promises of an assistantship in the next semester. I could have used those summers, instead, to do what I love doing – write code, and get paid doing it.

Check out this year’s wonderful projects at Google Code.

नमस्ते !

अभी अभी पता चला कि OSX में हिन्दी में लिखना कितना अासान है। यह पूरी एन्ट्री मेरे साधारण कीबोर्ड के द्वारा लिखी गयी है।

इतना अासान होगा कभी सोचा न था!

– सौरभ

The best thing about startups…

…is the enormous amount of freedom for creativity. I am currently somewhat involved with a third startup since I graduated from school, and every time I get together with other contributors, it reminds me of how ideas and personal conviction are the keys to doing great things.

This startup is definitely going to be big!

2008 is here

The year 2008 is here, finally. Even though a lot of significant things happened in 2007, here’s how I would remember it:

1. India got her first female President.
2. Television got some really great new shows.
3. The US still tried to force-feed its way of life and governance to countries worldwide, only at the cost of national pride, credibility, and the economy.
4. Lots of school shootings, including one in India.
5. The resurgence of Apple Inc. as a dominant force in the computing industry.
6. The year of the iPhone. (This needed special mention)
7. India got some leeway from the insurgency efforts of neighboring Pakistan, who was busy trying to clean its own mess.
8. The job market actually improved a lot.
9. USCIS messed up and people got their GCs in record time for a month.
10. The year it started being really cool to be an Indian.

And then:

1. The year I changed my attitude towards people and ideas.
2. The year I realized I could do anything I wanted.
3. The year that actually made me a whole lot wiser.
4. The year I got rid of the mildew on my friends list.
5. The year I added a tame 19,000 miles to my car’s odometer.

I am sure there’s more I could think of, but this is all my sleep-deprived-shindig-stricken mind could come up with this early Tuesday morning.

Have a Wonderful New Year ’08 !

Local Information – Microsoft: 1 Google: 0

Background: Google runs a mapping service that’s available for mobile devices, as well as in the form of an application for the iPhone. Microsoft’s subsidiary TELLME Networks runs a similar service, only with more features available on their free 411 service.

So, last week, I was in downtown Washington DC for business, and decided to get a hotel room for the night. Someone suggested the ‘Renaissance’. I quickly keyed in the hotel name and location on my iPhone and Google presented me with the address and the phone number. Only problem was that the phone number appeared to have been changed since the last time Google updated their directory. I figured that calling Google’s free 411 service would have the same results, and so decided to call 1-800-555-TELL, which is a Microsoft subsidiary company. The process was something like this:

TELLME: Welcome to TELLME
ME: Business
TELLME: What city and State
ME: Washington DC
TELLME: Business name
ME: Renaissance Washington DC
TELLME: Street or Intersection, or say I am not sure
ME: 9th Street
TELLME: (Address and phone number). Say ‘Text me the info’ to have it sent to your phone.
ME: Text me the info.

As simple as that! The speech recognition was impeccable, even though I was standing on a busy downtown street with a lot of hoo-ha as expected. I was very impressed.