Updated to fix broken links. (Hat tip to Sara Kubik.) Meet Javad Khazaeli, a partner at the Khzaeli Wyrsh law firm, based in St. Louis, Mo. He also is co-founder of the startup, Road to Status—which launched in June, 2016 and is based in Chicago. Khazaeli, 41, has citizenships in the U.S. and Iran.
Education & degrees: Washington University School of Law, J.D. (2002). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, B.S., Biology and Psychology (1998). I am licensed in Missouri and Illinois. I have also practiced throughout the U.S. as a government litigator.
Past significant jobs: Senior Attorney, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, National Security Law Division (Counterterrorism). Certifying Officer in charge of employer audits for employers who hire unskilled, foreign workers, U.S. Department of Labor.
What problem does your startup solve? My family of immigrants sent me down the path to Road to Status—an online immigration form preparation tool that makes the tedious immigration application process safe, accessible, easy and affordable. We service both do-it-yourself clients and immigration service providers, often connecting the two. Using our software, consumers can better understand the immigration process, easily complete applications for immigration benefits, and (if desired) connect with our partner network of immigration attorneys for an affordable initial consultation and/or limited-scope review of their application.
Legal service providers can also leverage our document automation technology to interface with their clients online, more efficiently produce immigration applications, and get the most of their business development efforts.
Is the product/service currently on the market? Yes. Consumers can get started at Roadtostatus.com. Practitioners can inquire about partnerships at https://www.roadtostatus.com/partner-us-new/. Most of our “Do It Yourself” applications cost around $99 to $200. A full list of our retail pricing is available here. Pricing for legal service providers is based on volume and the needs of the organization.
How did you come up with the name? The name describes the experience or journey that someone applying for immigration benefits must navigate. It is not easy, sometimes bumpy, but hopefully ends with the client achieving legal immigration status. We wanted to be the people and tech to help them navigate the process.
What inspired you to pursue this startup? As an immigrant and a former immigration prosecutor for the U.S. government, I saw first-hand the broken application process. While with the government, I could not understand why there wasn’t a technology fix to streamline the process. Once I left the government, I found the best partners to take my idea and make it a reality.
Do you have funding yet? Yes. We self-funded the company to get the platform built and took an official investment round to expand operations in June 2016. We raised just under $2 million from a group of private investors.
What is your biggest challenge re: the start-up? Consumers of legal services are typically presented with two choices: paying for expensive lawyers without the opportunity to properly vet—or going it alone with no support infrastructure. To succeed, we must convince people that there is a better way: using technology to both provide support and reduce the cost of experienced attorneys. At the same time, we are working with lawyers to increase their efficience.
What do you need right now? In six months? In a year? We are currently working to finalize and implement significant partnerships with several private and non-profit organizations. Over the next six months, we expect to be looking to raise a second round of funding to further grow our platform and increase our individual user and practitioner bases. In a year: We hope to double, if not triple, our staff!
What have you learned that you wish you knew five years ago? That building immigration software is much more complicated than we imagind. Also, it’s best to start early and test often with real users.
Who most influenced you and how? My former immigration law professor, Stephen Legomsky, who became immigration counsel for President Barack Obama. When I first started law school, I was focused on the areas of law that most interested me or affected my life. Legomsky taught me that I should focus on helping marginalized people who are being discriminated against. That led me to work in areas that I had not previously considered. Which eventually led me to immigration and civil rights advocacy.
What book changed your life? The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon. I am a big fan of history books.The way Chabon tied the personal stories of two Jewish cousins to the back drop of World War II—all through the use of comic books—was amazing to me. The book brought true history, fiction and comic book storytelling together seamlessly.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs? Running out of time is as deadly to a startup as running out of money. Don’t try to do too many things at first. Focus one problem you can solve. And build from that.
What are you afraid of? Dying in some freak accident or acting where I become a Reddit thread where everyone laughs at me.
What are you most proud of? I have taken a non-traditional career path from the government, to private practice, to my own practice, to being an entrepreneur. I have succeeded at most of my endeavors. Much may be luck, but much has been a willingness to take a risk.
Where do you expect to be in 10 years? I can’t even imagine where I’ll be next year. Likely enjoying life in St. Louis and traveling as much as possible.
What would be your dream career if you were not a lawyer and entrepreneur? Diplomatic envoy. Where else can you do such global good while getting to travel? Also, i’m not cut out for tents and the hard life of an aid worker. Much respect to them.
What does your workspace look like? (Borrowed from Sam Gosling.) Regular desk, standing desk, lots of Apple products.
What’s your favorite vacation destination? New York City—I prefer the bustle to the beaches.
Favorite food: My mom’s (Afsaneh Khazaeli) homemade Persian food.
Favorite quote: Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. —Patrick Moynihan
What’s your mantra? Help as many people as possible.
Who would you want sitting next to you if you got stuck for three hours on the tarmac in a 737? Barack Obama or Alyssa Milano. (She was my first TV crush.)
Compiled by Monica Bay, Fellow at Codex and a freelance journalist. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @MonicaBay.
Cover image: Clipart.com