Xiao Wang – Co-founder and CEO of Boundless

Force time for synthesis. Without time to connect ideas you’ve seen or heard, it’s very difficult to come up with great, new concepts.

Xiao Wang is co-founder and CEO of Boundless, helping families navigate their immigration journey with confidence.

Prior to Boundless, he helped build and launch Amazon Go, the cashier-free grocery store, and held strategic roles at Providence Equity, the NYC Department of Education, and McKinsey & Company. Xiao received a BA and MS from Stanford University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Xiao currently lives in Seattle, Washington. He enjoys running marathons, skiing, and exploring the Pacific Northwest woods with his wife and dog.

Where did the idea for Boundless come from?

To be honest, I’m disappointed it’s taken so long for Boundless to start. As a country, we’ve all just taken for granted that immigration has to be hard, and that navigating this journey is a right of passage for all immigrant families in America. Late last year, I started asking “why.” Why is this process so universally difficult? And after talking to hundreds of families and lawyers I realized that it’s fundamentally an information asymmetry problem. This perceived difficulty stems from a lack of knowledge about the process—what forms are needed, how to complete them accurately, how long does the process take, etc. All questions that technology and data can solve really well. At that point, I felt an obligation to build a company that provides that peace of mind that immigrants have always been looking for.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

A typical day starts with a gathering my thoughts around 6am, then going for a workout before heading into the office. The rest of the day is a series of conversations with the team, customers, partners, candidates, and investors. Since I am constantly context-switching between tasks, people, and decisions, the only way to truly be productive is to force time for synthesis. Without time to connect ideas you’ve seen or heard, it’s very difficult to come up with great, new concepts. I make sure to explicitly block time out for this every week.

How do you bring ideas to life?

First, start with the ideal end-state. Imagine that everything has gone perfectly according to plan, what is that experience for the customer? How will it materially change people’s lives? It’s always important to start at the end as you’ll quickly identify if it’s worth pursuing or not. Once that finish line is set, find the smallest, most essential part of the experience that can be quickly built and tested. Live customer feedback will always provide better guidance than months of planning.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Technology is such a wonderful tool that can help people at a scale and speed never achievable before. I get really excited about the growing cohort of companies and customers that value social impact as a core part of what they stand for. We all have an obligation to help those who are less fortunate.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I go for a run. No headphones, no music, no distractions. Creativity requires breathing time away from the urgent. The best way to get in my own head and come out with great ideas is to go running. Get out of the office, away from people, and just go where your mind takes you.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t be afraid to try more things. I jumped into the corporate life very early (as a senior in high school), and missed out having a broader set of experiences to draw on. Working with a diverse team across a wider range of problems would have improved my empathy at an earlier age and helped me build better products and experiences.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I think access to high-speed internet should be a public good. Just like power, water, sewage, police, fire, military protection, and more, connectivity should be viewed as a fundamental part of people’s lives. The government should be responsible for investing in and subsidizing network to all residents, an investment that will pay off dramatically over time.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Be crazy protective of your time. Everything has an opportunity cost, not just with your work. The same precious pot of time includes relationships with loved ones, friends, health, etc. There’s literally an endless amount of tasks and it’s critical to revisit what you spend time on and if it’s the best use of your time at that moment.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Talking directly with customers. Every person at Boundless takes turns handling customer service calls/chats and I directly call customers. This regular interaction is critical for a number of reasons. First, it embeds a true “customer obsession” mindset within an organization in that everyone has to care about our customers, no matter their functional role. Second, we learn so much more about our customers’ needs at a deeper level than through generic online surveys. Finally, being a mission-driven organization, it is inspiring to hear how we have helped families through this wildly complex process.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I had started an online personal training company, focused on brides-to-be, and I realized that since most of my clients had the same goals, I could repeat the same workouts across all of them. This resulted in a product that was effective, but not truly delightful. Ever since, I have developed a singular focus on always considering what is best for the customer experience, often at the cost of efficiency, ease, and scalability.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I feel very sad when people waste their precious time on something that’s not value-adding. One classic example is trying to find parking. Both busy parking lots (I’m looking at you, Costco), and city streets are filled with the inefficiency of looping round and round hoping for luck. Someone should build a program that automatically guides me to the next available spot or puts me in a waiting queue. Seeing the amount of wait time will have the side benefit of discouraging driving during peak hours.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

A nice dinner date with my wife. It’s too easy to take for granted the important people in our lives who enable this selfish life as an entrepreneur to succeed.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Boomerang extension for Chrome. I’ve adopted a new philosophy of never letting anything sit in my inbox. Either I respond to it, delete it, or have to show up a few days/weeks later depending on what I’m waiting for. Boomerang is a great tool to help me keep my inbox clean.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Essentialism. Brings people back to what they should be focused on. It’s like taking Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and applying to everything in your life. It’s a constant reminder of the fact that there is an opportunity cost to everything that you do and you should be deliberate about saying “no” more often.

What is your favorite quote?

“But I also realize that winning doesn’t always mean getting first place; it means getting the best out of yourself. One of my greatest joys is inspiring other people to perform at their best.” – Meb Keflezighi

Key Learnings

  • Make sure you have time away from the urgent to gather your thoughts and come up with new ideas and a clear strategic vision.
  • Treat your time as a precious resource. Always be thinking about how you’re using it compared to how you want to be using it.
  • Talk to your customers, openly and honestly. They are your best source of information about what is actually good or bad about your product.
  • Take the time to thank your loved ones—they put up with a lot for you to pursue your dreams!