His own family’s immigration experiences – and a desire to bridge the gap between technology and service – led Romish to become a founder of Bridge.us, an online service designed to assist employers in filing immigration applications for prospective foreign national employees. In just their second year with this focus, their revenue will be over $1 million, three to four times what it was in 2015.
Romish was born in the US, but both his parents were immigrants. Growing up he was constantly aware of both the peaks and valleys of the immigration process. Mostly, he says, things went well – but sometimes there were issues, such as when some cousins had to leave the country the day before they walked for graduation from college because of a clerical error in their immigration applications.
Bridge US is a service provider for companies. It simplifies the completion of forms and suggests supporting documentation. The material is then reviewed by attorneys, but since the attorneys didn’t have to do all the work of preparing the documents, it’s much cheaper for the client. Bridge US also allows the employing company to easily track visa status and file for extensions or other adjustments throughout the employee’s lifespan with the company.
While studying for his MBA at Harvard, Romish began working for ZocDoc, an online service to help connect with and understand the healthcare system. From there, he along with a co-founder developed the idea for Lex Spot, which would be similar, but in the legal field. Their third co-founder – the developer – agreed to come on board if they could find 20 lawyers willing to buy into the service, which they were able to do.
Lex Spot had some success in attracting clients, but the costs of advertising outweighed the income. Lawyers did see inquiries, but it wasn’t enough to justify the expense. And most importantly, the team felt like all they were doing was helping the lawyers advertise; they weren’t really solving the problem they set out to address, which was using technology to make the whole process simpler.
By 2012, Romish was finishing his Master’s and had to look seriously at whether to continue with the business. His first co-founder left. But at the same time, President Obama enacted DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). It was an opportunity to narrow the focus of the company to immigration law. But they realized people were not comfortable with a purely automated process of preparing their paperwork, and so they contracted with immigration lawyers to provide the option to have everything reviewed. Between 2000 and 2500 people completed the process for DACA through the platform. It was a challenging time, with the change in focus, economic issues, and the birth of Romish’s first child all that year.
The year 2013 was a time for Romish to focus on raising a seed around, as well as refine all they’d built on the platform to that point. They also rebranded to Bridge US and were able to hire more experts in immigration law. At the same time, they began shifting to a focus on being a B2B service provider, with services for processes visas for foreign national employees. The intention was always to have as much automated as possible, but initially, they kind of faked that, using employees to complete parts of the process until it was fully functional.
The focus at first was just H1-B visas, and since these are filed April 1, they had to work hard to get clients for March. They ended up with about 50 business customers and helped them process more than 200 applications. It went smoothly from the client side but was cumbersome behind the scenes.
Customer requests began coming in after that filing season for help with H1-B extensions and other types of visa. They also had to review that first filing season to see what had worked and what needed improvement. But they managed to earn around $300,000, mainly in the H1-B season. Going about it the second time, in 2016, they realized they could be a real company as they continued to grow.
Advice to Others Starting Out
- On the psychological side, be prepared to deal with the high and lows, especially the lows. Realize that growth and development are probably going to take three times as long as you expect.
- On the business side, spend 90% of your time thinking about distribution – how will you get your product or service in the hands of customers. Don’t lose sight of distribution while focusing on the product.
romish [at] bridge [dot] us