Creating an Equitable Future with DAOs
Early in 2022, Legalpad worked with Utopia Labs' Co-Founder, Alexander Wu to prepare his O-1 visa petition. We recently caught up with Alexander. He shared about his journey, including meeting his co-founders online, dropping out of university, and how the O-1 visa has helped him disrupt the Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) space on a global scale. We're excited to share more of Alexander's inspiring story with you!
Priming for Building a Web App for DAOs
Today, Alexander is the Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer of Utopia Labs, a rapidly growing startup building a web application for DAOs. This is especially notable because it’s only been a few years since he—and the rest of the world—were hearing about DAOs for the first time.
A DAO, which stands for Decentralized Autonomous Organization, is an organization that replaces the standard hierarchical business structure with a structure where power is distributed equally. While this emerging legal structure is most commonly used in the cryptocurrency space, it has expanded beyond with DAOs doing everything from opening coworking spaces to purchasing physical property.
Alexander first heard about DAOs in 2017, but it wasn't until years later with DeFi Summer that he began to see a compelling DAO market emerging. "This was the first time we saw [DAO] projects being built that were actually useful," Alexander explained..
Alexander felt compelled by the vision of DAOs; enabling organizations to operate with innovative goals and values. "DAOs are interesting because they make coordination more global, centralized, fair, and equitable, and that is what drew me to the space," Alexander shared.
The main criticism of DAOs, however, is that they are simply inefficient. "A lot of them rely on Google Sheets" for everything from payroll to expenses to budget, says Alexander.
"The future is that a lot of the inefficiencies DAOs face will be solved, and we'll start moving towards an effective coordination framework where organizations can be very decentralized, very global, very fair, and equitable, while still being very effective, impactful organizations."
With Utopia Labs, Alexander is at the forefront of solving the inefficiencies facing DAOs. He and his team are dedicated to "helping make these new kinds of coordination structures more optimized."
Meeting Co-Founders Online and Dropping Out of University
Before we dig into what Alexander is up to with Utopia Labs, let's zoom out a bit. Alexander grew up in Toronto, Canada, and a few years ago, he got into Minerva University, a unique and highly selective university based out of San Francisco, CA. While he was working on his Bachelor's degree in Computer Science, he met Kaito Cunningham (Utopia Labs' future CEO), Pryce Adade Yebesi (Utopia Labs' future COO), and Jason Chong (Utopia Labs' future CTO) online.
The four entered a few online hackathons. "After that, we stayed in touch and talked about ideas. I think we all wanted to build something together, but I don't think we expected that what we'd do would be to build a startup and for it to get to the size and stage that it is at now," Alexander says.
Their shared interest in DAOs led them to converse with many prominent figures in the DAO space. Through these conversations, they became aware of the most pertinent inefficiencies DAOs faced. From there, they started building solutions.
Halfway through his Bachelor's degree and on the brink of launching what would become a highly successful startup, Alexander was at a crossroads. He made the difficult decision to drop out of university to focus on Utopia Labs full-time.
The only problem was that he needed a way to legally work in the U.S., and most U.S. work visas require a Bachelor's degree.
The O-1 Visa Journey
Alexander and his co-founders knew they wanted to launch Utopia Labs in the U.S., but securing a work visa was a daunting task for Alexander, especially as a college dropout.
Dealing with U.S. immigration took a toll. Alexander wanted to figure it out fast. "It's a huge mental load," Alexander mused while thinking back on his immigration journey, "you're constantly thinking about it."
Alexander and his team talked to many immigration attorneys and explored various visa options, including the H-1B and TN, but as they require a Bachelor’s degree, they just weren’t viable solutions for him. Numerous friends recommended that Alexander talk to Legalpad about the O-1 visa since it does not have any degree requirements.
Initially, Alexander doubted that he would qualify for the O-1 visa after looking at USCIS's website. This is hardly surprising since the language that USCIS uses when referring to the O-1 visa can be intimidating. You can either qualify by getting a major award such as a Nobel Prize or by meeting three of eight "extraordinary ability" criteria.
When asked what advice he'd give to other international founders, Alexander said that he urges his founder friends to give the O-1 a shot even if they're uncertain whether they qualify. His success story is a testament to that. He ended up applying for the O-1 visa at the very beginning of 2022, and it was approved within a matter of weeks with premium processing.
"Legalpad did a really good job of extracting the friction away. I didn't feel like I had much of a cognitive load worrying about my application, and I was able to put a lot of trust in Legalpad for them to take it from 0 to 1," Alexander said about the process of preparing his O-1 application. “When I got it approved, to say I was very happy, is a big understatement.”
The Future of Utopia Labs
Since getting his O-1 visa, Alexander has moved to the U.S. and been able to put his full time and energy into Utopia Labs. The results are apparent. Utopia Labs raised Series A funding and is now servicing over one hundred of the most prominent DAOs.
Alexander is excited about what he and his team are working on next. Right now, Utopia Labs' web application is making payroll and expense management seamless for DAOs, but they are soon expanding their product to enable better coordination between DAO teams.
"I'm personally very excited about the new product features we're going to ship this year, being the product person on the team. I'm very excited about digging deeper into this financial stack, allowing customers to analyze spending and make sure that costs are being accounted for. We're also moving more into a coordination layer, where we're helping DAOs coordinate and operate between different teams."
Check out Utopia Labs to learn more about what Alexander is up to. We are certainly excited to see what he and his team accomplish!
If U.S. immigration is creating stress as you scale your startup, Legalpad may be able to help. Chat with our team of immigration experts so we can help you get back to what's most important, working on your startup!