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Dear Sophie: With the H-1B lottery looming, how should we approach overseas hiring?

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​​Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

TechCrunch+ members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

We’re an early-stage startup that — like many other companies — is facing a significant challenge when it comes to recruiting talent. We have not posted job openings internationally, but we’ve received some applications from international talent.

This is all new territory for us. What’s your advice for hiring internationally? Also, I know the H-1B lottery is fast approaching.

Can you explain a bit more about this process?

— Eager Early-Stage Startup

Dear Eager,

Yes, the H-1B lottery is fast approaching! The period for registering H-1B candidates opens in March; there are a few steps companies need to take before then if they have never before participated in the H-1B lottery process. First, be sure to create an account with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which conducts the lottery. Given this timeline, your company should determine as soon as possible whether the positions you are looking to fill and the prospective international talent you are looking to hire would qualify for an H-1B specialty occupation visa.

Check out my column in TechCrunch+ last week for more specifics on the lottery process. To bypass the H-1B lottery — or if a candidate is not selected in the lottery — your company could consider getting a cap-exempt H-1B for the candidate. Transferring an individual’s H-1B to your startup is also an option. To find out more about that process, take a look at this Dear Sophie column.

A futurist lens on international hires

I recently had a fascinating conversation with Jamais Cascio, a futurist and distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto. Cascio has some wonderful insight relevant to your question.

The population in the U.S. is getting older and the birth rate is declining; as such, we will increasingly need to look to immigration to keep our economy going. Cascio discusses three mindsets for dealing with radical changes in this chaotic world to remain strong as a company and succeed into the future. This advice is highly applicable to companies such as yours as you embark on an effort to hire from abroad.

The three mindsets that Cashio said would benefit companies are:

  • Resilience: Being able to withstand a shock to the system without breaking. For example, he said companies that have just-in-time delivery models are very brittle and prone to break down compared to those that have built-in slack into their system. Building in slack often requires additional resources and reduced efficiency and profit but offers built-in resilience.
  • Improvisation: Remain creative and nimble and be ready to embrace change.
  • Empathy: Probably the most critical of the three, this involves recognizing the humanity in others and what we do matters to others now and in the future. (I loved hearing that the role of the heart is and will be critical for business success!)

Embracing these mindsets while developing an immigration strategy that offers stability for international talent will be key to attracting and retaining talent and creating a company culture that fosters innovation and endurance. Listen to my podcast, “Tips for Companies to Support Valued Humans,” in which I discuss this in more detail.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

Specific visas to consider

Before we dive into visa specifics, please be aware that I recommend you consult an experienced immigration attorney, who can help you devise an immigration strategy for prospective international hires, as well as provide guidance on what visas would be appropriate given the job opening and prospective candidate. Take a look at a previous Dear Sophie column in which I offer an overview on immigration-related matters you should focus on if your startup does not yet have someone handling HR.

O-1A visa

If your prospective hires don’t make it through the H-1B lottery process I mentioned above, or you need to get them here more quickly than October and you can’t take the risk that they might not be selected in the H-1B lottery this year, a great option is the O-1A extraordinary ability visa. More and more of our startup clients are opting to pursue it for key executives and individual contributors with niche expertise. While the bar for qualifying for the O-1A is much higher than for the H-1B, the process for getting an O-1A is much quicker. And the O-1A does not have an annual cap or lottery process to contend with.

Visas for talent from specific countries

Specific visas exist for talent from Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico and Singapore.

If the job candidate is an Australian national, an E-3 visa will allow that individual to work in the U.S. in a specialty occupation, just like an H-1B. E-3 visas also require the sponsoring employer to file a Labor Condition Application with the U.S. Department of Labor, as is required with H-1B petitions. A maximum of 10,500 E-3 visas is available each year.

Is the job candidate a Chilean or Singaporean national? If so, the candidate may qualify for an H-1B1 specialty occupation visa, which is an H-1B visa earmarked for citizens of Chile and Singapore. Thanks to special treaties the U.S. has with those two countries, professionals may qualify to receive H-1B1 visas on a fast-track basis. Each year, 1,400 H-1B1 visas are reserved for Chileans and 5,400 are reserved for Singaporeans — and rarely are those visas completely exhausted.

Professionals from Canada and Mexico can come to the U.S. to work under a TN visa, which was born out of trade treaties between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. TN visas are limited to professions listed in treaty agreements, but most of these jobs overlap with H-1B specialty occupations.

Some good news: Through the end of 2022, consular officers can now waive the in-person interview requirement for some individuals seeking some nonimmigrant (temporary) visas, including H-1Bs and O-1s. Individuals who are applying for a visa in their country or nationality of residence may have the interview waived if any of the following apply:

  • Previously issued any type of visa.
  • Never been refused a visa unless it was overcome or waived.
  • No ineligibility.
  • Citizens or nationals of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program.

Wishing you every success!

Sophie


Have a question for Sophie? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space.

The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!

Source: Tech

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Spendesk is the fifth French startup to reach unicorn status this month

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Fintech startup Spendesk is announcing that it has raised an extension to its Series C round. Tiger Global is investing $114 million (€100 million) in the startup. Following today’s funding round, the company says that is has reached a valuation of more than $1.14 billion (more than €1 billion).

In other words, Spendesk is a new unicorn in the French tech ecosystem. Funding news has been accelerating over the last few months in France. In January alone, five startups announced that they have crossed the threshold to reach unicorn status — PayFit, Ankorstore, Qonto, Exotec and Spendesk.

Back Market, an e-commerce marketplace focused on refurbished smartphones and electronics devices, has also raised a mega round and reached a $5.7 billion valuation.

Let’s go back to Spendesk. The startup offers an all-in-one corporate spend management platform for medium companies in Europe. Originally focused on virtual cards for online payments, the company has expanded its product offering to tackle everything related to corporate spending.

Spendesk customers can order physical cards for employees, team members can use the platform to pay outstanding invoices, file expense reports, manage budgets and generate spending reports. By offering everything in a single service, Spendesk wants to simplify accounting and approvals in general so that money moves more freely.

The startup defines its platform as a “7-in-1 spend management solution”, meaning that Spendesk is no longer just a product that lets you order debit cards for your employees.

“We have had this goal since the beginning — we really want to become this platform, this operational system to manage your spending,” co-founder and CEO Rodolphe Ardant told me. “When we started working on the product, we looked at each use case and designed the right workflow for that.”

In particular, Spendesk helps you formalize your internal processes. You can define team budgets, set up complicated approval workflows for expensive payments, automate some pesky tasks, such as VAT extraction.

“We target mid-market clients. Those are customers with 50 to 1,000 employees. We have a few clients that are bigger than that and a few clients that are smaller than that,” Ardant said.

And the company currently has 3,500 clients — around half of them are based in France while other clients are mostly based in Germany and the U.K. Clients have spent €3 billion through Spendesk in 2021 alone.

With its central positioning in the financial stack, Spendesk needs to interface perfectly with other financial tools — banks on one side and ERP products on the other side.

The startup currently supports many of the popular accounting tools used by European companies, such as Xero and Datev. Spendesk customers can also export transaction batches and import them into Sage, Cegid and other accounting software solutions.

Spendesk is also working on automating the integrations with your bank accounts, which could be particularly useful for companies with multiple bank accounts. For instance, you could imagine setting up a rule that automatically triggers a transfer between your German bank account and your Spendesk account when you want to pay a German supplier.

Image Credits: Spendesk

Spend management in Europe

Spendesk isn’t the only spend management solution in Europe. There are some competitors, such as Pleo, which recently reached a $4.7 billion valuation, and Soldo — another well-funded competitor as it has raised $180 million last year.

In the U.S. as well, companies like Brex and Ramp have reached sky-high valuations. And yet, Spendesk doesn’t think it has the same positioning as American startups.

“On the American market, it shouldn’t be called the spend management industry — it’s the corporate card industry. Players like Brex and Ramp position themselves as a payment method,” Spendesk co-founder and CEO Rodolphe Ardant told me. “Europe’s corporate culture is a culture of debit — not credit. We don’t provide payment methods, we provide a process.”

It’s a slight difference in product positioning, so it’s going to be interesting to see if a European spend management startup can successfully enter the U.S. and vice versa.

When it comes to business model as well, Spendesk considers itself as a software-as-a-service company with recurring subscriptions. The startup didn’t want to share any hard numbers for its revenue. Its CEO just said that Spendesk’s revenue “more than doubles every year.”

With today’s funding round, Spendesk plans to triple the size of its team over the next two years. The company plans to have 1,000 employees by the end of 2023.

Source: Tech

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Crypto.com expands venture arm to $500 million to back early-stage web3 startups

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Crypto.com, a popular cryptocurrency exchange, has extended its venture arm’s fund size to $500 million as it looks to more aggressively back early-stage startups to help the nascent ecosystem grow, following similar moves by rivals Binance, Coinbase and FTX.

The broadening of Crypto.com Capital comes less than a year after the Singapore-headquartered firm unveiled its maiden fund of $200 million. The fund, unlike those of many of its rivals, has no LPs (meaning, it’s fully financed by the firm’s balance sheet.)

The maiden fund, whose individual checks run up to $10 million in size, has been so far deployed to back about 20 startups including YGG SEA, multi-chain crypto portfolio tracker DeBank, cross-chain token infrastructure Efinity and Ethereum scaling solution Matter Labs.

Crypto.com will continue to focus on backing early-stage startups, said Jon Russell, who joined the firm as a general partner this month, in an interview with TechCrunch.

With the fund, Crypto.com is broadly focusing on gaming, decentralized-finance and startups innovating on cross-chain solutions. But he cautioned that the industry could change and expand, as it has in recent years, to areas “we don’t know about,” hence the firm is keeping an eye out on everything.

Tuesday’s announcement also further illustrates the growing involvement of cryptocurrency exchanges in being the rainmaker – and beneficiary – of the ecosystem which encompasses the industry in which they operate.

FTX, which has backed over 15 startups, last week announced a $2 billion crypto fund. Its founder, Sam Bankman-Fried, also owns Alameda Research, a venture firm that has backed close to 100 web3 startups.

Coinbase Ventures, the investment arm of the only crypto exchange that is publicly traded, and Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange by trading volume, are also among the most prolific investors in the web3 space.

Venture investment in crypto / web3 in 2021 by category (Image credits: Galaxy Digital)

The funding activity in the space, even as most of the aforementioned names often co-invest in startups, is at an all-time high. VCs invested more than $33 billion in crypto/web3 startups in 2021, more than all prior years combined, Galaxy Digital, another prolific investor in the space, wrote in a recent report.

“Valuations in the crypto/blockchain space were 141% higher than the rest of the venture capital space in Q4, highlighting a founder-friendly environment and the intense competition among investors for deal allocations,” the report added.

Scores of venture capital firms have also raised new funds for their crypto investments. Just last year, Andreessen Horowitz added a $2.2 billion crypto fund, Paradigm unveiled a $2.5 billion fund, and Hivemind Capital Partners announced a $1.5 billion fund. Katie Haun, who co-led a16z’s $2.2 billion crypto fund, has left the firm to launch her own crypto-focused fund.

Russell – a former journalist who previously had stints at TechCrunch, The Next Web, and The Ken – said Crypto.com is backing startups to help the ecosystem grow.

“If you’re in the industry, it’s in your interest to help companies grow in the ecosystem and the ecosystem itself to grow,” he said. (Worth pointing out that Solana, Avalanche, Polkadot — as well as some of their major investors — are also aggressively backing startups that are building applications for the native blockchains.)

The startups Crypto.com backs are under no obligation to list their tokens on Crypto.com over any of its rivals or offer the exchange any other preferential treatment, he said. The exchange team similarly doesn’t have a soft spot for the investment arm’s portfolio firms, he added.

(What’s up with the career move? “I’ve been crypto curious for a number of years but I wasn’t gasping to dive in full-time. This project appeals to me because Crypto.com is ambitious but yet it does things the right way. There’s certainly a lot of hype and hot air in crypto and web3 right now, but it’s impossible to ignore the talent that’s pouring into the industry,” he said.)

Crypto.com, which started its life as a blog of professor Matt Blaze (who sold the domain to the crypto exchange), has aggressively expanded in the past year as it looks to court more users. The Singapore-headquartered firm last year agreed to pay more than $700 million for the naming rights of the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The downtown Los Angeles complex has been rebranded as Crypto.com Arena for the next 20 years.

The firm, which bills itself as the “fastest-growing” crypto exchange, said at the time of the announcement that the move is positioned to make cryptocurrencies mainstream. Crypto.com, which processes trade volumes of over $2.5 billion every day, also teamed up with Hollywood star Matt Damon last year to promote the brand and cryptocurrencies.

The Damon-starring ad equated buying crypto tokens and NFTs to one of the greatest and boldest accomplishments in the history of humankind. Hyperbole, to be sure, but having the most mainstream American actor as Crypto.com’s celebrity sponsor has certainly helped bring the trading platform, and all that it sells, into the mainstream. The ad went viral and also attracted criticism for being cringeworthy.

Source: Tech

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Focused on smaller cities, Vietnamese social commerce startup Mio raises $8M Series A

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Mio, the Vietnamese social commerce platform, has raised an $8 million Series A, less than a year after announcing its seed round. The funding was led by Jungle Ventures, Patamar Capital and Oliver Jung, with participation from returning investors GGV, Venturra, Hustle Fund, iSEED SEA and Gokul Rajaram.

TechCrunch first covered Mio at the time of its $1 million seed funding in May 2021. Founded in 2020, Mio is a group buying platform that focuses on selling fresh produce and groceries in Tier 2 and 3 cities in Vietnam. The company is able to offer next day delivery because it built a logistics infrastructure that enables it to send produce directly from farms to customers.

The Series A brings Mio’s total raised to $9.1 million, and will be used to expand its logistics and fulfillment system, enter new areas in Vietnam and add new product categories like fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and household appliances.

Mio co-founder and chief executive officer Trung Huynh said that since TechCrunch first covered Mio seven months ago, it has achieved 10x gross merchandise value growth, a 10x increase in agents, or resellers, and grew its team from 60 people to 240. It now fulfills more than 10,000 pieces of fresh produce per day, operating in Ho Chi Minh, Thu Duc, Binh Duong, Dong Nai and Long An, with plans to expand into northern Vietnam.

The numbers “strengthened our conviction in this model and its potential,” he said. “We need fresh capital to accelerate hiring, product development and supply chain to keep up with the pace of growth as we deepen our presence in existing geographies and expand to new provinces.”

Mio is able to offer next day deliveries because its vertically integrated mayor layers of the value chain, including procurement, warehousing, order sorting and bulk delivery. The startup owns the majority of its logistics infrastructure and uses its own fleet of couriers. Its ability to delivery fresh produce directly from farms to customers in less than 16 hours contributed to higher customer retention and growth, Huynh said, and it will continue to shorten delivery times. .

Mio resellers are called Mio Partners. Huynh said one of the driving factors behind Mio is targeting the right people for the program, or “housewives and stay-home-moms in lower income regions who love sharing value-for-money products to their social circle of friends.”

They aggregate orders, usually from friends and family, and orders are delivered to them in batches for distribution. The startup claims Mio Partners can make up to $400 a month, including a 10% commission on each order and additional commissions based on the monthly performance of other resellers they referred to the program.

“There is a strong possibility” that Mio will expand beyond Vietnam, Huynh said, “but will only be considered at a more appropriate time after we successfully built our playbook for Vietnam.”

Source: Tech

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