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The Org nabs $8.5M led by Founders Fund to build a global database of company org charts

By Ingrid Lunden

LinkedIn has cornered the market when it comes to putting your own professional profile online and using it to network for jobs, industry connections and professional development. But when it comes to looking at a chart of the people, and specifically the leadership teams, who make up organizations more holistically, the Microsoft-owned network comes up a little short: you can search by company names, but chances are that you get a list of people based on their connectivity to you, and otherwise in no particular order (including people who may no longer even be at the company). And pointedly, there is little in the way of verification to prove that someone who claims to be working for a company really is.

Now, a startup called The Org is hoping to take on LinkedIn and address that gap with an ambitious idea: to build a database (currently free to use) of organizational charts for every leading company, and potentially any company in the world, and then add on features after that, such as job advertising, for example organizations looking to hire people where there are obvious gaps in their org charts.

With 16,000 companies profiled so far on its platform, a total of 50,000 companies in its database and around 100,000 visitors per month, The Org is announcing $11 million in funding: a Series A of $8.5 million, and a previously unannounced seed round of $2.5 million.

Led by Founders Fund, the Series A also includes participation from Sequoia and Balderton, along with a number of angels. Sequoia is actually a repeat investor: it also led The Org’s $2.5 million seed round, which also had Founders Fund, Kevin Hartz, Elad Gil, Ryan Petersen, and SV Angel in it. Keith Rabois, who is now a partner at Founders Fund but once held the role of VP of business and corporate development at LinkedIn, is also joining the startup’s board of directors.

Co-headquartered in New York and Copenhagen, Denmark, The Org was co-founded by Christian Wylonis (CEO) and Andreas Jarbøl, partly inspired by a piece in online tech publication The Information, which provided an org chart for the top people at Airbnb (currently numbering 90 entries).

“This article went crazy viral,” Wylonis said in an interview. “I would understand why someone would be interested in this outside of Airbnb, but it turned out that people inside the company were fascinated by it, too. I started to think, when you take something like an org chart and made it publicly facing, I think it just becomes interesting.”

So The Org set out to build a bigger business based on the concept.

For now, The Org is aimed at two distinct markets: those outside the company who might most typically be interested in who is working where and doing what — for example, recruiters, those in human resources departments who are using the data to model their own organizational charts, or salespeople; and those inside the company (or again, outside) who are simply interested in seeing who does what.

The Org is aiming to have 100,000 org charts on its platform by the end of the year, with the longer-term goal being to cover 1 million. For now, the focus is on adding companies in the US before expanding to other markets.

But while the idea of building org charts for many companies sounds easy enough, there is also a reason why it hasn’t been done yet: it’s not nearly as simple as it looks. That is one reason why even trying to surmount this issue is of interest to top VCs — particularly those who have worked in startups and fast-growing tech companies themselves.

“Today, information about teams is unstructured, scattered, and unverified, making it hard for employees and recruiters to understand organizational structures,” said Roelof Botha, partner at Sequoia Capital, in a statement.

“Organizational charts were the secret weapon to forging partnerships during my 20 years as an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley and Europe. Yet, they are a carefully guarded secret, which have to be painstakingly put together by hand,” said Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen, general partner at Balderton Capital, in a statement. “The Org is surfacing this critical information, improving efficiency from the sales floor to the boardroom.”

“Up-to-date org charts can be useful for everything from recruiting to sales, but they are difficult and time consuming to piece together,” added Rabois in a statement. “The Org is making this valuable information easily accessible in a way we were never able to do at LinkedIn.”

The approach that The Org is taking to building these profiles so far has been a collaborative one. While The Org itself might establish some company names and seed and update them with information from publicly available sources, that approach leaves a lot of gaps.

This is where a crowdsourced, wiki-style approach comes in. As with other company-based networking services such as Slack, users from a particular company can use their work email addresses to sign into that organization’s profile, and from there they can add or modify entries as you might enter data in a wiki — the idea being that multiple people getting involved in the edits helps keep the company’s org chart more accurate.

While The Org’s idea holds a lot of promise and seems to fill a hole that other companies like LinkedIn — or, from another direction, Glassdoor — do not address in their own profiling of companies, I can see some challenges, too, that it might encounter as it grows.

Platforms that provide insights into a company landscape, such as LinkedIn or Glassdoor, are ultimately banked more around individuals and their own representations. That means that by their nature these platforms may not ever provide complete pictures of businesses themselves, just slices of it. The Org, on the other hand, starts from the point of view of presenting the company itself, which means that the resulting gaps that arise might be more apparent if they never get filled in, making The Org potentially less useful as a tool.

Similarly, if these charts are truly often closely guarded by companies (something I don’t doubt is true, since they could pose poaching risks, or copycats in the form of companies attempting to build org structures based on what their more successful competitors are doing), I could see how some companies might start to approach The Org with requests to remove their profiles and corresponding charts.

Wylonis said that “99%” of companies so far have been okay with what The Org is building. “The way that we see it is that transparency is of interest to the people who work there,” he said. “I think that everyone should strive for that. Why block it? The world is changing and if the only way to keep your talent is by hiding your org chart you have other problems at your company.”

He added that so far The Org has not had any official requests, “but we have had informal enquiries about how we get our information. And some companies email us about changes. And when an individual person gets in touch and says, ‘I don’t want to be here,’ we delete that. But it’s only happened a handful of times.” It’s not clear whether that proportion stays the same, or goes up or down, as The Org grows.

In the meantime, the other big question that The Org will grapple with is just how granular should it go?

“I hope that one day we can have an updated and complete org chart for every business, but that might prove difficult,” Wylonis said. Indeed, that could mean mapping out 1 million people at Walmart, for example. “For the biggest companies, it may be that it works to map out the top 500, with the top 30-40 for smaller companies. And people can always go in and make corrections to expand those if they want.”

Shutterstock founder and CEO Jon Oringer steps down after 16 years

By Danny Crichton

It’s an end of an era — and you might just want to snap a photo of it, and just maybe upload it for others to purchase

Jon Oringer, who founded New York City-based Shutterstock in 2003, announced today that he would be stepping away from his duties as CEO at the photo sharing and commerce company, effective in April. He will move on to be Executive Chairman of the board, and says in a letter posted this morning that he intends “to continue to be involved in the strategy and direction of the business including yearly planning, regular off-sites, M&A, capital allocation, and other large initiatives.”

Shutterstock, a publicly-traded company that debuted on NYSE in October of 2012, has grown prodigiously from its humble origins as a startup. The company today has a market cap of just under $1.5 billion, and has seen reasonable revenue growth over the past few years, expanding from just shy of $500 million in 2016 to $623 million in 2018. The company has been profitable, posting a full-year net income of $31 million in 2018, according to Yahoo Finance.

In his letter this morning, Oringer says that his proudest accomplishment though was disbursing more than $1 billion in earnings to freelance photographers and other creatives through the platform since its founding.

The timing of the announcement coincided with Shutterstock’s Q4 and 2018 financial results yesterday, which were a mixed bag. Overall revenue increased by 4% compared to a year ago, but net income sank 63%, and net income per share also declined by nearly 22%.

Those middling results were in line with the company’s trajectory over the past few years. The company’s market cap peaked in early 2014 at nearly $3.5 billion but has since hovered between $1 billion and $2 billion since 2015. Oringer says in his letter that he is the largest shareholder today in the company.

In addition to the company’s somewhat lackluster financial results, Shutterstock has also gotten into hot water recently over its censorship of search results in China. Sam Biddle at The Intercept showed in November last year that the company plowed over internal employee concerns in its pursuit of additional revenues from the Middle Kingdom.

Challenges around censorship, representation, and ultimately business fundamentals like revenue growth and profit will be on the mind of Stan Pavlovsky, who has moved up through a number of roles at the company and will assume the CEO title upon Oringer’s departure.

Dear Sophie: My H-1B was renewed, but I’m getting laid off

By Walter Thompson
Sophie Alcorn Contributor
Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

“Dear Sophie” is a collaborative forum hosted by Extra Crunch and curated by Sophie Alcorn, who is certified as a specialist attorney in immigration and nationality law by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization. Sophie is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law, the fastest-growing immigration law firm in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.”

Extra Crunch subscribers enjoy full access to “Dear Sophie” — use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie: I’m a software developer at a large company. I just found out that I’m getting laid off and my last day of employment will be in 30 days. I have an H-1B visa that just got renewed, so it’s valid for almost three more years.

I need to stay in the United States because my wife has her own H-1B and a great job that she loves, we have a U.S. citizen baby and we bought a house last year. I’m starting to look for jobs. What should I do from an immigration standpoint?

— Nervous in New Haven

Dear Nervous: First of all, congratulations on turning over a new leaf in your career ;) — I know it can feel scary, but you’re now open to new possibilities for your professional and personal development. I’ve spoken to a lot of people in your situation and have noticed that these sorts of situations usually turn out for the best.

You’re already doing the best thing you can do: looking for another job. You’ll have a 60-day grace period after your last day at work in which you can remain in the U.S. without working. If you can get another job in that time, you’re all set — just make sure your new company knows that they need to file a new petition before the final day of your grace period.

Layoffs hit Flexport, another SoftBank-backed startup worth $3.2B

By Josh Constine

Fearing weak fundraising options in the wake of the WeWork implosion, late-stage startups are tightening their belts. The latest is another Softbank-funded company, joining Zume Pizza (80 percent of staff laid off), Wag (80 percent),  Fair (40%), Getaround (25 percent), Rappi (6 percent), and Oyo (5 percent) that have all cut staff to slow their burn rate and reduce their funding needs. Now freight forwarding startup Flexport is laying off 3 percent of its global staff.

“We’re restructuring some parts of our organization to move faster and with greater clarity and purpose. With that came the difficult decision to part ways with around 50 employees” a Flexport spokesperson tells TechCrunch after we asked today if it had seen layoffs like its peers.

Flexport CEO Ryan Petersen

Flexport had raised a $1 billion Series D led by SoftBank at a $3.2 billion valuation a year ago, bringing it to $1.3 billion in funding. The company helps move shipping containers full of goods between manufacturers and retailers using digital tools unlike its old-school competitors.

“We underinvested in areas that help us serve clients efficiently, and we over-invested in scaling our existing process when we actually needed to be agile and adaptable to best serve our clients, especially in a year of unprecedented volatility in global trade,” the spokesperson explained.

Flexport still had a record year, working with 10,000 clients to finance and transport goods. The shipping industry is so huge that it’s still only the seventh largest freight forwarder on its top Trans-Pacific Eastbound leg. The massive headroom for growth plus its use of software to coordinate supply chains and optimize routing is what attracted SoftBank.

Flexport Dashboard

The Flexboard Platform dashboard offers maps, notifications, task lists, and chat for Flexport clients and their factory suppliers.

But many late-stage startups are worried about where they’ll get their next round after taking huge sums of cash from SoftBank at tall valuations. As of November, SoftBank had only managed to raise about $2 billion for its Vision Fund 2 despite plans for a total of $108 billion, Bloomberg reported. LPs were partially spooked by SoftBank’s reckless investment in WeWork. Further layoffs at its portfolio companies could further stoke concerns about entrusting it with more cash.

Unless growth-stage startups can cobble together enough institutional investors to build big rounds, or other huge capital sources like sovereign wealth funds materialize for them, these startups might not be able to raise enough to keep rapidly burning. Those that can’t reach profitability or find an exit may face down-rounds that can come with onerous terms, trigger talent exodus death spirals, or just not provide enough money.

Flexport has managed to escape with just 3 percent layoffs for now. Being proactive about cuts to reach sustainability may be smarter than gambling that one’s business or the funding climate with suddenly improve. But while other SoftBank startups had to spend tons to edge out direct competitors or make up for weak on-demand service margins, Flexport at least has a tried and true business where incumbents have been asleep at the wheel.

Europe risks squandering its global advantage in deep tech innovation

By Walter Thompson
Miles Kirby Contributor
Miles is the managing director of AV8 Ventures and is based in London. He is focused on investments at Seed and Series A.

It’s a somewhat crude yardstick by which to measure innovation in deep tech, and the result perhaps reflects historic bias as much as it does actual leadership in innovation — but Europe leads every other continental region when it comes to the number of Nobel laureates it has produced in chemistry, medicine and physics.

These three categories are most closely associated with what we class as deep tech — startups that don’t merely apply a technology layer or wrapper to an existing product, service or business model, but rather push forward ideas based on substantial, R&D-intensive and IP-protected, scientific advances and high-tech engineering innovation.

These advances — and the startups turning them into businesses — often originate from university research teams. On this front, Europe also leads the way as home to the two top-ranked universities in the world for quality of research, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Another European institution, ETH Zurich, rounds out the top 10.

However, if you instead rank universities around the world by the amount of venture capital investment secured by startups founded by their graduates, the top of the table takes on a distinctly American flavor, with Stanford (fourth in the research quality ranking) taking top spot ahead of eight other U.S. universities in the top 10 (including several that do not feature in the top 10 of the research quality ranking). Tel Aviv University is the sole European (depending on your definition) representative in the top 10 ranked by funding for spin-outs.

Dear Sophie: I live in Europe but want to move my startup to the US

By Walter Thompson
Sophie Alcorn Contributor
Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

“Dear Sophie” is a collaborative forum hosted by Extra Crunch and curated by Sophie Alcorn, who is certified as a specialist attorney in immigration and nationality law by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization. Sophie is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law, the fastest-growing immigration law firm in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.”

Extra Crunch subscribers enjoy full access to “Dear Sophie” — use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie: I live in Germany, but I am a Hungarian citizen. I’m worried that I won’t qualify for an O-1A visa because I’m definitely not famous or a genius. I want to move my startup to America so we can access investors and the North American market. Because I am Hungarian and not German, I don’t qualify for an E-2 investor visa. Is there any way I can pull off moving to the States and growing my company over the next two to three years? 

— Hopeful in Hamburg

Dear Hopeful: You are not alone! If your dream is to move to the United States, you can definitely make it happen through your existing company in Germany. It’s going to take some basic planning and then a little bit of time to lay the groundwork. I’ll walk you through the basic requirements so that you can get an idea of what’s ahead of you, but if you need individual specific legal advice, you should ask an attorney. For now, I hope this helps.

The first thing the United States government will want to see is that you have a registered company here. It could be any type of company, even an LLC in California. However, startup investors usually prefer a Delaware C corporation. If you don’t yet have a company registered in Germany because you are very early stage, then you could also consider having the Delaware corporation be the parent company of any future legal entities in Europe. Talk to a corporate attorney about the right choice for you.

From the immigration perspective, all of this is necessary because of the main requirements of the L-1A visa for intracompany transferees. These requirements demand that a U.S. and foreign company have a qualifying relationship for an employee transfer, such as a parent/subsidiary, a branch or an affiliation.

DigitalOcean is laying off staff, sources say 30-50 affected

By Ingrid Lunden

After appointing a new CEO and CFO last summer, cloud infrastructure provider DigitalOcean is embarking on a wider reorganisation: the startup has announced a round of layoffs, with potentially between 30 and 50 people affected.

DigitalOcean has confirmed the news with the following statement:

“DigitalOcean recently announced a restructuring to better align its teams to its go-forward growth strategy. As part of this restructuring, some roles were, unfortunately, eliminated. DigitalOcean continues to be a high-growth business with $275M in [annual recurring revenues] and more than 500,000 customers globally. Under this new organizational structure, we are positioned to accelerate profitable growth by continuing to serve developers and entrepreneurs around the world.”

Before the confirmation was sent to us this morning, a number of footprints began to emerge last night, when the layoffs first hit, with people on Twitter talking about it, some announcing that they are looking for new opportunities, and some offering help to those impacted. Inbound tips that we received estimate the cuts at between 30 and 50 people. With around 500 employees (an estimate on PitchBook) that would work out to up to 10% of staff affected.

It’s not clear what is going on here — we’ll update as and when we hear more — but when Yancey Spruill and Bill Sorenson were respectively appointed CEO and CFO in July 2019 (Spruill replacing someone who was only in the role for a year), the incoming CEO put out a short statement that, in hindsight, hinted at a refocus of the business in the near future.

“My aspiration is for us to continue to provide everything you love about DO now, but to also enhance our offerings in a way that is meaningful, strategic and most helpful for you over time,” he said at the time.

The company provides a range of cloud infrastructure services to developers, including scalable compute services (“Droplets” in DigitalOcean terminology), managed Kubernetes clusters, object storage, managed database services, Cloud Firewalls, Load Balancers and more, with 12 datacenters globally. It says it works with more than 1 million developers across 195 countries. It’s also been expanding the services that it offers to developers, including more enhancements in its managed database services, and a free hosting option for continuous code testing in partnership with GitLab.

All the same, as my colleague Frederic pointed out when DigitalOcean appointed its latest CEO, while developers have generally been happy with the company, it isn’t as hyped as it once was, and is a smallish player nowadays.

And in an area of business where economies of scale are essential for making good margins on a business, it competes against some of the biggest leviathans in tech: Google (and its Google Cloud Platform), Amazon (which as AWS) and Microsoft (with Azure). That could mean that DigitalOcean is either trimming down as it talks investors for a new round; or to better conserve cash as it sizes up how best to compete against these bigger, deep-pocketed players; or perhaps to start thinking about another kind of exit.

In that context, it’s notable that the company not only appointed a new CFO last summer, but also a CEO with prior CFO experience. It’s been a while since DigitalOcean has raised capital. According to PitchBook, DigitalOcean last raised money in 2017, an undisclosed amount from Mighty Capital, Glean Capital, Viaduct Ventures, Black River Ventures, Hanaco Venture Capital, Torch Capital and EG Capital Advisors. Before that, it took out $130 million in debt, in 2016. Altogether it has raised $198 million and its last valuation was from a round in 2015, $683 million.

We’ll update this post as we learn more. Best wishes to those affected by the news.

Pinterest’s diversity report is missing some key data

By Megan Rose Dickey

Pinterest today released its latest diversity report, showing slight gains in representation of underrepresented minorities while also hitting its three hiring goals.

The company has long been recognized as an industry leader when it comes to promoting diversity and inclusion. It was one of the first tech companies to publicly release diversity data, and in 2015, became the first to set concrete hiring goals.

In its report today, Pinterest said it beat all of its hiring goals, which focus on female engineers and engineers from underrepresented groups, as well as business and product employees from underrepresented groups. Women now make up 25% of the company’s engineering team and underrepresented folks comprise 10% of the overall company— but while making progress across its three hiring goals, there was little change in overall representation of underrepresented minorities year over year.

Refocusing on relocation, Jobbatical launches new offices in Spain and Germany

By Danny Crichton

I’ve been following Estonia-headquartered Jobbatical and its founder, Karoli Hindriks, for years. Part of the vanguard of startups working on infrastructure for digital nomads, the startup has been building the base platform to help global job seekers hire and fire their governments.

As Jobbatical has worked with more and more companies and governments though, it has learned that the friction here is not just finding employment globally for talented individuals, but rather the actual process of applying for immigration and work permits, ranging from forms that must be filed in person to the hours of labor it can take to fill out an application.

“What started to happen was that the relocation part… became something that the clients came back to us and said, ‘Can you do relocation for everyone and not just those coming through Jobbatical?’” Hindriks explained.

Last year, Jobbatical began to refocus its platform on powering relocation for workers at companies, and now its new strategy is coming into focus with the launch of the company’s new offices in Spain and Germany, announced on stage earlier today at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

In the process, the company hopes to not just make the immigration process easier — but also much faster.

“How much time are government officials doing dummy work?” Hindriks asked. “30-40% of the consulate’s time is spent on answering the question of ‘what is the status of my visa?’”

The problem is that feedback in the immigration system is not available to all the players involved. Immigration process agents at companies who handle their workers’ visas have to constantly search around to make sure they are moving each of their cases forward. Managers have no idea when their workers may move, while employees are kept in the dark about their current status, inducing anxiety.

Hindriks’ vision is to help each of these three sides use a “TurboTax for immigration” to streamline the process. Jobbatical now can handle immigration applications in Estonia, Germany, and Spain and hopes to add Finland early next year.

But the more ambitious vision is ultimately to help governments drive their processes faster. Similar to how, say, the U.S. tax agency the Internal Revenue Service offers eFiling, Hindriks sees a future where Jobbatical can help facilitate immigration filings and massively speed up the efficiency of governments around these processes by allowing workers to directly submit applications to the government. She is working with two countries today to create exactly these sorts of digital submission systems.

It’s a space that has heated up in recent years as immigration continues to flow across the world. Boundless, for instance, helps individuals apply for U.S. green cards. Jobbatical is focused on the B2B market, focused on companies with global workforces.

Despite the deep debate in many countries over immigration, the reality is that every country has skills deficits that can be helped with smart and efficient immigration. Jobbatical is one company that may make the system more fair and relaxing for stressed workers looking to build their international careers.

Introducing ‘Dear Sophie,’ an advice column for US-bound immigrant employees

By Walter Thompson

Extra Crunch is excited to announce the launch of “Dear Sophie,” an advice column with answers for all your questions on attracting, hiring and retaining immigrant employees — and more.

Dear Sophie is a collaborative forum hosted by Extra Crunch and curated by Sophie Alcorn, who is certified as a specialist attorney in immigration and nationality law by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization. Sophie is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law, the fastest-growing immigration law firm in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.”


Dear Reader,

As I pack my bags to speak at TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin this week, I’m happy to announce the first edition of my new column, Dear Sophie. I’m excited to answer your questions about U.S. immigration!

And, If you’re in the area, I invite you to join me at Disrupt Berlin 2019. You can use promo code ALCORN for discounted admission and meet me in person for a free consultation with CrunchMatch, or attend one of my two sessions: 

Hope to see you there,

Sophie


Dear Sophie: I’m scared: I feel like I should really be in Silicon Valley to grow my company, but everything I read about immigration makes it sound so hard. Is my dream possible? — Dreaming in Dresden

Dear Dreaming: Yes, coming to the U.S. to build a startup is absolutely possible. In fact, I see founders like you do it all the time. Your dream is valid and definitely worth pursuing.

The first piece of advice I’d give you is to be careful about which news sources you trust! You might not be getting the whole story. While dramatic changes are taking place in the United States, we still have a functioning immigration system that allows people to come live and work here — people just like you. 

The second piece of advice I have is to research the many visa and green card options that can allow you to come to the United States and grow your company (you can read about them on my blog). You’ll find that some visas grant you the ability to work for the short-term or the long-term (potentially), and some allow you to visit and see what things are like here. 

With these visas, you can find a co-founder and build the early stage of your company, establish a U.S. branch of your existing business, seek venture capital and so much more. 

The third piece of advice I have is to really clarify why you want to come to America — that way, you can be strategic about achieving your goals. You might require a little guidance here, which is one example of where immigration lawyers like myself can be helpful. 

When I meet people in your situation, I reassure them that, not only are they safe to dream with me, but I’ve also helped hundreds of people just like them realize their dreams, even when they didn’t believe it was possible. Almost everybody who comes here once asked the same questions you’re asking.

My last piece of advice is simply to follow your heart. The world needs your ideas and contributions. There are lots of resources and ways to get informed and educated, which is the first step on this journey. Once you have a clear vision, you can work to make your dream a reality — It’s not always easy, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

You’ve already asked for help, which is a great way to get started. I wish you the best!


Dear Sophie: I have a startup that has been quite successful in Germany. What’s the best way for me to spend some time in the United States exploring product-market fit, gauging business development, and talking to venture capitalists? — Founder in Frankfurt

Dear Founder: Congratulations on your startup! And bravo for considering taking steps toward strengthening the U.S. marketplace. 

The first thing I suggest you decide is how long it will likely take for you to accomplish your goals. 

If you think you can get the answers you need in less than 90 days, the answer is pretty simple: apply for ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), which is available to citizens of about 40 countries (including Germany). You’re allowed to visit for business or pleasure with ESTA, but you’re not allowed to work — and you must definitely depart the United States before the end of the authorized period. 

ESTA could be great for a short business trip or a brief accelerator program in Silicon Valley. Be careful with programs that run longer than 90 days. I’ve seen founders in these longer programs leave on day 88 to go back home for a week and then return to the U.S. to complete the program, hoping that this is a safe workaround of the time limit. Remember that ESTA is a non-immigrant status, and if Customs and Border Protection suspects that you are trying to live here or work here, they have the authority to deny your entry to the United States. 

On the other hand, if you know you’ll need to spend 4-6 months in the U.S. without interruption, I suggest you talk to an attorney about the possibility of applying for a B-1/B-2 visitor visa (even if you have ESTA). A visitor visa allows you to stay in the U.S. for up to six months on a single visit. 

People often ask me how long they can stay in the U.S. during a calendar year or how long they need to be outside of the United States after a six-month visit. While there is no fixed answer to these questions, I remind them that ESTA, B-1, and B-2 are non-immigrant statuses, Customs and Border Protection has the authority to deny you entry if you appear to be living or working in the U.S. In my experience, reentry seems OK when people are spending less than 50% of the time in the country as visitors. Still, it’s always best to talk with an attorney about your particular situation. For example, sometimes our clients request that we provide them with letters of support explaining why their trip is temporary, which they can show to the officers at the airport if they get questioned.

I encourage people in your situation to at least come for 90 days. It’s a great opportunity to network, have some great conversations, and clarify your long-term goals in the U.S. Take some time to think about it, reach out online, so you have things set up before you arrive, and plan out your finances so you can make the most of your trip. I’m wishing you every success!


Dear Sophie: I am a venture capitalist, and my fund recently had great success. We’re now raising a second round and building out the infrastructure of our organization. I have a brilliant contractor working for me who scouts new startups. She was born in India, just got her Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from an Ivy League university, and was also recently accepted back into a Master’s program there. I want to help her plan for her future. Can she keep working for me after OPT, or should she go back to school? How do these choices affect her prospects for short-term and long-term chances for immigration? — Venture in Venice Beach

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