To Build a Diverse and Thriving Business, Embrace Immigrants
Fourteen years ago, I came to the United States from Romania to attend Stanford University. Since then, I have co-founded a company, built a team of more than 100 people and created a category of software and products that did not exist before we invented it.
It hasn’t been a cakewalk. Simply getting a visa required a lot of time, multiple people vouching for me in front of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and financial assistance from early supporters who believed in our concept despite the risk of losing their investment in the event of a hiccup in the visa process.
We have faced similar hurdles in hiring other immigrants to build the company. A visa transfer can take anywhere from 30 to 45 days. A new visa can take two to three months. Legal fees can range anywhere from $10,000 to 20,000, depending how quickly you want the process to go, how the lawyers are paid, and if there are any issues with the filing that need revisions.
Yet as I write this from my desk in New York, immigrants comprise more than 20 percent of our workforce. They come from China, India, Australia, Great Britain, France, Canada, New Zealand and elsewhere. They include my co-founder and CCO, Aron Tzimas, who moved from Melbourne to help me get the company off the ground. They include engineers, data scientists, product managers, client success managers and others who have made vital contributions to our success.
The truth is that we would not be where we are today without the many immigrants who have joined us on our growth journey. They are an indispensable asset to our company — and to other employers — for several reasons.
Immigrants are risk takers. Every immigrant I know has made an immense leap of faith by leaving their home country, their families and everything they know to come to the U.S. Leaping out of your comfort zone to see what else is out there creates a strong-willed and determined person. These people thrive in a startup environment. They understand the need to hustle to achieve greatness because they have done it in their personal lives.
Immigrants have diverse perspectives. Varied voices and backgrounds challenge the status quo, which leads to disruptive technology. There is a reason many successful technology founders are immigrants. Their personal journeys led them to create something better for themselves and their families. Being able to think differently, be agile and challenge the system is a valuable quality in employees as well as entrepreneurs.
Immigrants are change agents. In your startup’s lifecycle, you will go through millions of changes both large and small. You need people who can not only handle change but also embrace and thrive in it. Moments of change show a person’s drive and ability to survive and thrive in chaos. No one knows that better than an immigrant.
Immigrants can see new possibilities. Immigrants have the ability to view the American market as both outsiders and insiders. When I arrived in the U.S., for example, I quickly realized that the ads that targeted me failed to fit me because they didn’t consider my unique background, experience and upbringing. That led me to create a solution enabling customers and brands to better own their voice online, marking the first step in building what today is a much broader content intelligence platform providing analytics for content teams.
Immigrants have a strong work ethic. Just as we were motivated to leave our countries to explore opportunities in the U.S., we are motivated to take full advantage of those opportunities by pouring their energies into their work. At Knotch, one of our core values is relentlessness, meaning that we are tireless, persistent and hungry for progress. That, in a nutshell, defines the immigrant mentality.
We highlighted some of these benefits last fall in a campaign called “Opportunity Makers,” a series of interviews and podcasts profiling 15 immigrant executives. What I loved about this campaign was that it set out to debunk the narrative that immigrants take opportunities away from Americans. More often than not, the immigrant community actually creates opportunities, whether by building a company like Aron and I have or by helping grow businesses like ours with their diverse voices and perspectives.
Our experience shows that it’s time for technology companies to give more immigrants a seat at the table. Hire them. Support them. Help them navigate the U.S. immigration system. You’ll get highly engaged employees, fresh ideas, a more flexible corporate culture and a workforce willing to go the extra mile to get things done. You can’t ask for a better formula for business success.