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How I became an “Alien of Extraordinary Ability”

Over the past 7 years, I have lived and worked in India, United Kingdom, and The United States of America. From working in Management consulting to leading strategic Initiatives at the world’s largest non profit organisation for entrepreneurs, to attending The London School of Economics to running two startups, it has been an incredible journey, and I am just getting started. 
I had campus offers after my undergrad from two of the Big 4 accounting firms (Deloitte and PwC), but I chose to join a boutique management consulting firm instead, thus began a series of unconventional, sometimes smart, at times not so smart, but thoroughly exciting career moves which have now led me to receiving the prestigious EB1A (Alien of Extraordinary Ability) Green Card in Business and Entrepreneurship from the Government of The United States of America.

I am penning this essay down because I wanted to share this achievement, talk about the journey — the highs, lows, and the learnings. Before I start, I must say that I feel extremely grateful, and honoured to have an amazing support system which includes my family, mentors/advisors, teachers, and friends, all of whom have been unequivocally helpful in the journey.

I have divided this piece into three main parts :

1.What is the EB1 Green card — Criteria for qualification.
2. My journey and how I pursued the EB1.
3. Life lessons — How to think and win BIG (10X thinking) and how to deal with the anxiety.

About the EB1 Green Card:

The EB1 (Employment based- first preference) “Alien of Extraordinary Ability” in business and entrepreneurship Green Card is touted as one of the most prestigious green cards globally and requires you to show a significant amount of evidence of excellence in your field to be considered.

It was a long drawn process, and took me roughly 18 months to complete since the case usually requires you to work with top quality lawyers, compile a lot of evidence, get letters of support from experts in your field, pass two rounds of scrutiny by immigration officials, undergo medical fitness tests and attend a final interview at the consulate.

There are two versions of this visa:

  1. A non immigrant version — O1 visa. This visa gives you temporary working rights in the USA, usually for three years and has to be renewed every year from then on (no cap on number of times you can renew)
  2. An Immigrant version — EB1 Green card. Gives you permanent working and living rights. The ‘physical card’ needs to be renewed once in ten years but your status as a lawful permanent resident (LPR) is ensured.

Let’s get to the criteria for qualification:

According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) “You must meet 3 of 10 criteria, or provide evidence of a one-time achievement (i.e., Pulitzer, Oscar, Olympic Medal)”

{Basically, if you have a Nobel prize/Oscar award you can directly apply for this visa category and have a very good chance at receiving it. If you do not yet have such an award, you need to fulfil at least 3 of the following 10 criteria listed on the USCIS Website.

The criteria to receive both the visas (O1 / EB1) is similar, but the EB1, being an immigrant version, is much tougher to get an approval for, because you need to provide more high quality evidence, the immigration officers go through the evidence in much more detail and generally the approval rates are lower for it as compared to the O1.

My journey so far:

  • Began my career with a management consulting firm in Bangalore, India, here I reported to the Director of Consulting and worked on business development. I also worked on a client engagement where we streamlined the supply chain and deployed a CRM system from end to end for a client in the corporate gifting segment. I also bagged a deal for a leadership and process training at a large US based insurer.
  • I was in the core team of Startup Festival in Bangalore, a supremely successful event in early 2013, this event got me interested in entrepreneurship and also lead me to my next role : As a Senior executive of Strategic Initiatives at The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) Bangalore, I used to lead and implement new strategic initiatives and run the accelerator program. Got deeply engrossed in the startup ecosystem while it was just about to take off in India. (RedBus, which was mentored by TiE Bangalore, had just got sold to Naspers Inc— this was one of the first big ticket exits in the nascent Indian Startup ecosystem, and it was a very exciting time to be at TiE. Here I learnt a lot under the tutelage of Sanjay Anandaram, Ravi Gururaj, Naganand Doraswamy, Tarun Hukku amongst other prominent Indian VC’s and entrepreneurs).
  • I launched AngelHack in India in co-ordination with the CEO, Sabeen Ali and the rest of the global team based out of California. Ran their first three hackathons in the country with a lean team of 4 people (each event was sold out and got excellent reviews).
  • Launched my first venture — Cheersmate.in which broke even in the first week of operations, scaled operations to 20+ restaurants in Bangalore, bootstrapped the venture for two years while running it profitably. Learnt a lot about running operations at an early stage startup. Ultimately shut it down as I realised that this could be a good lifestyle business at best but not a thriving scaleable company, and I wanted to work on something with a bigger vision and impact.
  • Was selected by the Government of UK as a Young Graduate entrepreneur. Awarded the Tier 1 Graduate entrepreneur Visa.
  • Mentored students and co-taught the ‘Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship’ certificate course at Christ University with my good friend and social entrepreneur, Nihal Ahmed.
  • Received an admit to The London School of Economics & Political Science for a Masters. 
    Took up a place for a MSc in Information Systems & Philosophy. I used to look up interesting classes happening across the campus and went to lectures that I found the most interesting — from undergrad classes in European politics to auditing classes in Business ethics & Public Policy (Finished all my teaching terms at LSE, deferred the final exams). 
    Past Education : I hold a Diploma in Management accounting from The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, CIMA - UK and a Bachelors in Commerce from Christ University, Bangalore.
Invited by the LSE’s entrepreneurship department to speak regarding the “Future of Work” at the Lord Beveridge Festival.
  • At Draper University, I met legendary venture capitalist, Tim Draper and an army of amazing entrepreneurs from across the globe. This unconventional human accelerator/startup school really showed me the power of 10X thinking and gave me a deep insight into how Silicon valley functions. The cherry on top was that my team and I won the overall championship. I have written about my experience at DU on Quora. This has been one of the experiences that I most cherish in my life, has been a huge catalyst for the things I am able to do today including applying for this visa.
My team (Patrick Dai, Kimberlee Ott, Grant Kellogg, Jelmer van der Wijk) and I, at the exclusive winning team dinner with Tim Draper!
  • Launched my second venture, Paradigm Shift in San Francisco: placed amongst the top ten pitches at Draper University. Was selected by Boost VC while we were in the idea stage, raised seed funding. We went on to launch a Spanish language learning VR product out on the Google Play store and are expanding in the US.
  • In 2018, I received the EB1 Green Card after initializing the process in mid 2016.

Anxiety, Impostor Syndrome:

Whenever you embark on something momentous, when an event’s results are out of your hand, anxiety is a given. Sometimes it becomes incredibly hard to cope, especially when a lot hangs in the balance. I was extremely anxious during this process, it was a long drawn out, costly affair and had huge implications on the future course of action.

During the past few months, I have learnt and grown immensely, and one of the things I always remember is that all you can do is to put in your best, ensure that the odds stay in your favour by constantly working hard, and then forget about the result. Anxiety sets in after the result is now out of your hand, but you can significantly reduce its impact by following this stoic like approach. (Of course, this is a lot easier said than done but it is a good reminder to help yourself cope.)

Impostor Syndrome usually rears its ugly head too, when you start questioning whether you really are good enough, do you deserve this or are you a charlatan. These are thoughts which go through the minds of every person punching above their weight class. One must remember that these thoughts are normal. How you deal with these situations will go onto refine and define you.

When the journey gets tough, I remember this quote — “He who would accomplish little must sacrifice little; he who would achieve much must sacrifice much; he who would attain highly must sacrifice greatly.” — James Allen

Thinking Big (10X)

The first time I heard of the extraordinary ability visa, I had heard of the O1 (Nonimmigrant version) and was unaware that there was an EB1 (Immigrant Version). I had almost made up my mind to apply for the O1 but after doing some research I identified that the EB1 would be a much more stable and ambitious option, although much riskier. (The O1, as mentioned earlier is a non immigrant version and you need to renew it annually after three years, causing you to burn time in the immigration process, not to mention the uncertainty involved)

After much deliberation and mustering a lot of courage, I decided to opt for the EB1. This was a very hard decision because not only is the EB1 much harder to receive as compared to the O1, (most people usually go in for the O1 first, and then attempt the EB1) but, this was probably my only shot at going in for this filing given the expenses and time involved in the process.

I would not say that this was a completely thought out move, a lot of it was based on gut instinct, and having the courage to take the leap. I picked up the phone, consulted my lawyers, explained to them that I’m willing to take the chance, and they agreed (after saying that their fees is non refundable, of course).

There is an element of Hard + Smart work in any monumental decision. Sometimes taking the leap is the absolute best thing to do. Fortune does favour the brave as they say!

When tough decisions have to be made, when you need to let go of certain opportunities you must remember: ‘You can have everything, but just not everything at once.’

Gratitude:

This has been one of the most proudest achievements of my life so far, it has definitely been one of the hardest ones to achieve, since the formal process took 18 months but it was all of the past 7+ years in the making. I mention this because none of this would be remotely possible without the constant encouragement of my family, friends, mentors, and teachers. A huge token of appreciation is due to my parents, and my younger sister, Surabhi Washishth, who has been a great sounding board and a huge inspiration with her own personal journey of becoming the Director of HR at WeWork India.

A lot of credit for this endeavour goes to the following people — Tim Draper, Ravi Gururaj, Andy Tang, Murali Srinivasan, Sabeen Ali, Prof. Biju Toms amongst others who have provided invaluable help along the way— My great friends Nihal Ahmed, Vladimir Dubovskiy, Richard Malone, and Utkarsh Sinha who also supported me in this endeavour.

My previous colleagues & board members at TiE Bangalore— Kunal Kashyap, Gayathri Sharma, Shashi Kiran, Naganand Doraswamy, Sanjay Anandaram, Tarun Hukku, Prathap Rao and Sampath Iyengar — each one of you has been a great influence.

I am supremely grateful to everyone who has been a part of my journey in one way or the other.

The Future:

I am moving to San Francisco, working on seeing what the next best step would be for Paradigm Shift.
After these amazing experiences in various capacities in startup ecosystems across the globe, I see myself working in Venture Capital soon too. Deploying funds at high growth, impactful startups run by passionate entrepreneurs is a great mission for the next decade of growth. If you are a VC reading this, let’s talk!

All in all, I wish to be one of the most connected and value providing people in the startup and Venture Capital ecosystem globally, and I am actively working towards this vision day in day out. Have already been connecting and facilitating deals with fellow entrepreneurs and VC’s from across my network in the past few months.

Love you, India. 
Goes without saying I will still be working extremely closely with the Indian startup ecosystem, I owe so much to the country and the people with whom I have formed deep relationships. I will be actively designing a life that allows me to provide value in both India and The US. 
See you soon, USA!

In case anyone wants to know more about the journey, recommendations regarding lawyers, or to just connect, please feel free to write in to me/leave a comment here and I would be happy to respond.

I wrote this piece in South Goa, literally chased the monsoon to get here last week. Yes, Goa in the monsoons is a highly attractive and underrated experience!
Here is a photo of my view:

I can be found on: Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn/Personal Website

Thank you for reading! :)