Why Silicon Valley needs more visas

When I hear protesters shout, “Immigrants are welcome here!” at the San Francisco immigration office near my startup’s headquarters, I think about how simple a phrase that is for a topic that is so nuanced, especially for me as an immigrant entrepreneur.

Growing up in Brazil, I am less familiar with the nuances of the American debate on immigration legislation, but I know that immigrants here add a lot of jobs and stimulate the local economy. As an immigrant entrepreneur, I’ve tried to check all of those boxes, and really prove my value to this country.

My tech startup Brex has achieved a lot in a short period of time, a feat which is underscored by receiving a $1 billion dollar valuation in just one year. But we didn’t achieve that high level of growth in spite of being founded by immigrants, but because of it. The key to our growth and to working towards building a global brand is our international talent pool, without it, we could never have gotten to where we are today.

So beyond Brex, what do the most successful Silicon Valley startups have in common? They’re also run by immigrants. In fact, not only are 57% of the Bay Area’s STEM tech workers immigrants, they also make up 25% of business founders in the US. You can trace the immigrant entrepreneurial streak in Silicon Valley from the founders of SUN Microsystems and Google to the Valley’s most notorious Twitter User, Tesla’s Elon Musk.

Immigrants not only built the first microchips in Silicon Valley, but they built these companies into the tech titans that they are known as today. After all, more than 50% of billion dollar startups are founded by immigrants, and many of those startups were founded by immigrants on H-1B visas.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/jvoves

While it might sound counterintuitive, immigrants create more jobs and make our economy stronger. Research from the National Foundation of American Policy (NFAP) has shown that immigrant-founded billion-dollar companies doubled their number of employees over the past two years. According to the research, “WeWork went from 1,200 to 6,000 employees between 2016 and 2018, Houzz increased from 800 to 1,800 employees the last two years, while Cloudflare went from 225 to 715 employees.”

We’ve seen the same growth at Brex. In just one year we hired 70 employees and invested over $6 million dollars in creating local jobs. Our startup is not alone, as Inc. recently reported, “50 immigrant-founded unicorn startups have a combined value of $248 billion, according to the report [by NFAP], and have created an average of 1,200 jobs each.”

One of the fundamental drivers of our success is our international workforce. Many of our key-hires are from all over Latin America, spanning from Uruguay to Mexico. In fact, 42% of our workforce is made up of immigrants and another 6% are made up of children of immigrants. Plenty of research shows that diverse teams are more productive and work together better, but that’s only part of the reason why you should bet on an international workforce. When you’re working with the best and brightest from every country, it inspires you to bring forth your most creative ideas, collaborate, and push yourself beyond your comfort zone. It motivates you to be your best.

With all of the positive contributions immigrants bring to this country, you’d think we’d have less restrictive immigration policies. However, that’s not the case. One of the biggest challenges that I face is hiring experienced, qualified engineers and designers to continue innovating in a fast-paced, competitive market.

This is a universal challenge in the tech industry. For the past 10 years, software engineers have been the #1 most difficult job to fill in the United States. Business owners are willing to pay 10-20 percent above the market rate for top talent and engineers. Yet, we’re still projected to have a shortage of two million engineering jobs in the US by 2022. How can you lead the charge of innovation if you don’t have the talent to do it?

What makes matters worse is that there are so few opportunities and types of visas for qualified immigrants. This is limiting job growth, knowledge-sharing, and technological breakthroughs in this country. And we risk losing top talent to other nations if we don’t loosen our restrictive visa laws.

H1-B visa applications fell this year, and at the same time, these visas have become harder to obtain and it has become more expensive to acquire international talent. This isn’t the time to abandon the international talent pool, but to invest in highly specialized workers that can give your startup a competitive advantage.

Already, there’s been a dramatic spike in engineering talent moving to Canada, with a 40% uptick in 2017. Toronto, Berlin, and Singapore are fastly becoming burgeoning tech hubs, and many fear (rightfully) that they will soon outpace the US in growth, talent, and developing the latest technologies.

This year, U.S. based tech companies generated $351 billion of revenue in 2018. The U.S. can’t afford to miss out on this huge revenue source. And, according to Harvard Business School Professor William R. Kerr and the author of The Gift of Global Talent: How Migration Shapes Business, Economy & Society, “Today’s knowledge economy dictates that your ability to attract, develop, and integrate smart minds governs how prosperous you will be.”

Immigrants have made Silicon Valley the powerhouse that it is today, and severely limiting highly-skilled immigration benefits no-one. Immigrants have helped the U.S. build one of the best tech hubs in the world— now is the time for startups to invest in international talent so that our technology, economy, and local communities can continue to thrive.

Zizoo, a booking.com for boats, sails for new markets with $7.4M on board

Berlin-based Zizoo — a startup which self describes as booking.com for boats — has nabbed a €6.5 million (~$7.4M) Series A to help more millennials find holiday yachts to mess about taking selfies in.

Zizoo says its Series A — which was led by Revo Capital, with participation from new investors including Coparion, Check24 Ventures and PUSH Ventures — was “significantly oversubscribed”.

Existing investors including MairDumont Ventures, aws Founders Fund, Axel Springer Digital Ventures and Russmedia International also participated in the round.

We first came across Zizoo some three years ago when they won our pitching competition in Budapest.

We’re happy to say they’ve come a long way since, with a team that’s now 60-people strong, and business relationships with ~1,500 charter companies — serving up more than 21,000 boats for rent, across 30 countries, via a search and book platform that caters to a full range of “sailing experiences”, from experienced sailor to novice and, on the pricing front, luxury to budget.

Registered users passed the 100,000 mark this year, according to founder and CEO Anna Banicevic. She also tells us that revenue growth has been 2.5x year-on-year for the past three years.

Commenting on the Series A in a statement, Revo Capital’s managing director Cenk Bayrakdar said: “The yacht charter market is one of the most underserved verticals in the travel industry despite its huge potential. We believe in Zizoo’s successful future as a leading SaaS-enabled marketplace.”

The new funds will be put towards growing the business — including by expanding into new markets; plus product development and recruitment across the board.

Zizoo founder and CEO Anna Banicevic at its Berlin offices

“We’re looking to strengthen our presence in the US, where we’ve seen the biggest YoY growth while also expand our inventory in hot locations such as Greece, Spain and the Caribbean,” says Banicevic on market expansion. “We will also be aggressively pushing markets such as France and Spain where consumers show a growing interest in boat holidays.”

Zizoo is intending to hire 40 more employees over the course of the next year — to meet what it dubs “the booming demand for sailing experiences, especially among millennials”.

So why do millennials love boating holidays so much? Zizoo says the 20-40 age range makes up the “majority” of its customer.

Banicevic reckons the answer is they’re after a slice of ‘affordable luxury’.

“After the recent boom of the cruising industry, millennials are well familiar with the concept of holidays at sea. However, sailing holidays (yachting) are much more fitting to the millennial’s strive for independence, adventure and experiences off the beaten path,” she suggests.

“Yachting is a growing trend no longer reserved for the rich and famous — and millennials want a piece of that. On our platform, users can book a boat holiday for as low as £25 per person per night (this is an example of a sailboat in Croatia).”

On the competition front, she says the main competition is the offline sphere (“where 90% of business is conducted by a few large and many small travel agents”).

But a few rival platforms have emerged “in the last few years” — and here she reckons Zizoo has managed to outgrow the startup competition “thanks to our unique vertically integrated business model, offering suppliers a booking management system and making it easy for the user to book a boat holiday”.