Peteris Krumins has been fascinated by computers for as long as he can remember. “As a child, I would spend literally all my time tinkering with hardware and software,” he says. By the time he was 15, he’d already been hired as a professional computer programmer in his native Latvia.
At 25, Krumins decided to turn his passion into a business and, along with a friend, founded Browserling, a software company that helps web developers test new apps and websites across multiple browsers at the same time. “Before Browserling, developers had to download every single browser and operating system to make sure their software worked equally well on all of them,” Krumins explains. “Browserling provides a single platform for them to do so, saving a lot of time.”
It is ‘unbelievable’ that the United States doesn’t have a visa specifically for immigrant entrepreneurs.
Today, Krumins runs Browserling as the company’s CEO. But he’s had to do so remotely — from Latvia. “I started Browserling in the San Francisco Bay Area on a tourist visa,” Krumins explains, “but as soon as I did, I no longer qualified as a tourist and had to leave the country.” Krumins went home to Latvia in 2011 and has not been able to return to the United States since. “It’s been a nightmare,” he says emphatically, adding that it is “unbelievable” that the United States doesn’t have a visa specifically for immigrant entrepreneurs.
Krumins considered applying for a visa that allows foreign individuals who have made a substantial investment in a business to work in the United States. But that investment is prohibitively expensive. His last option is a special visa called O-1, designated for individuals with “extraordinary ability.” While hopeful, Krumins says he is also trying to stay realistic. “The O-1 is an incredibly competitive visa with a complicated application process,” he says.
While he pulls together his petition, Krumins has no choice but to run his startup from abroad. “Running a company remotely has been incredibly challenging,” he says. Krumins is unable to fully engage in the San Jose-based entrepreneur network Hackers/Founders, where he also serves as a Hacker-in-Residence, offering advice to budding startups. “I’m missing out on trainings and networking opportunities that would help me grow my company,” he says. “I use Skype a lot, but it’s just not the same as meeting in person.” In addition, the hours are grueling. “The time difference between Latvia and California means I need to be awake and working all night.”
Despite these challenges, Browserling has had impressive success. “We started getting customers from day one,” Krumins says. Since 2011, the company’s user base has grown to 16,000, with customers that include England’s National Health System. Still, Krumins dreams of opening a brick-and-mortar office in the Bay Area, where he says he would hire local workers. “It’s so easy to find incredible talent there,” he says. “That’s part of the reason I’m so eager to move back.”
In the meantime, Krumins will continue to run his company remotely. “It’s frustrating,” he says, “but it’s the only option I have.”