Until he moved to the United States for his MBA, Daniel Jayeoba had never lived outside Nigeria for an extended period. Before then, he spent three years at a prominent Nigerian law firm, Banwo & Ighodalo, where he gained experience across its banking, fintech, media, and entertainment practices.
It was while working in the fintech practice that he discovered his love for building and scaling businesses. With little prior business experience, he decided to enroll in an MBA program at Harvard Business School.
“I really wanted to do more than just legal advisory. I wanted to be involved in the execution. I wanted to be involved in operations. I wanted to be involved in building and scaling these companies, and that was my path to business school.”
In his first year at Harvard, he landed a role at The Room, where he helped the startup expand into Uganda, leading market research, building out a revenue model, and creating a pipeline for placing tech talents into jobs.
Like many immigrants in the United States, he struggled to access relevant information or find appropriate resources despite an abundance of resources. When he did find them, he discovered that they were frequently expensive for most immigrants.
“Although I was very excited, I was not prepared for the hustle that was going to be this movement. First of all, you don't know what you don't know, so you can’t even ask the right questions. There were so many resources available and so many structures in place, and I did not know how to leverage them. I was essentially clueless, and I made some mistakes and missed some opportunities.”
By the end of his first year in the United States, he had a better understanding of what he needed to do and began helping others with the immigration process. One of the people he helped was Oyebade Adepegba, an old friend who had moved to pursue an MBA at Yale University.
Like himself, Adepegba was a lawyer and had cut his teeth in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector. Following several conversations with friends and colleagues who had faced similar challenges during their immigration journey, the duo started Guideli, a settlement management tool for immigrants.
Guiding immigrants through their settlement journey
More than 40 million people who live in the United States are immigrants. Each year, at least one million people move to the country to begin a new life. This doesn’t include the over 1 million students who may wish to remain in the country post-graduation. For these immigrants, getting the right guidance and resources on their journey is key, potentially saving them time and money, not to mention maintaining their legal status in the new country.
When users sign up on Guideli, they are presented with a series of questions, such as their country of origin, the US state they wish to move to, and the visa type they’re entering with. With this information, Guideli can provide a roadmap for users, showing them how they can access things like a driver’s licence, banking, or insurance.
On the other hand, Guideli provides visa guides for individuals already in the US, but who wish to gain permanent residency or change their visa. Guideli works with these individuals to draft a visa petition where needed and can connect them with immigration lawyers to ease the process. Per Jayeoba, the startup has begun integrating artificial intelligence to improve its processes. However, he clarifies that the primary purpose of artificial intelligence within Guideli’s operations is to provide a personalised experience for users.
“AI is just augmenting, and AI is just making the services more intelligent. Definitely, we can go about this without using AI, but where AI comes in is personalization.”
Guideli’s business model
Guideli is barely a year old, but it was accepted into the Techstars Detroit Fall Class of 2023, and the founders see this as validation of its potential. But beyond validation, the duo decided to join Techstars to learn the ropes of running a business in the United States.
“For us, it was an interesting process because we went to business school and were like, “Do we need to still apply to an accelerator?” We really quickly realized that we're still internationals in the US. We don't really have a footing. We've never lived here prior, and we [thought] an accelerator might be good to just understand practically doing business in the US.”
According to Jayeoba, Guideli’s personalisation tool is part of its go-to-market strategy, with its primary business model enabling it to monetise the visa application process. It charges a subscription for users who either choose to draft their applications using artificial intelligence or work with a lawyer. The second aspect of its business model involves referring immigrants to financial institutions that pay to be on the platform.
While Guideli’s solution could potentially have a large market, it has competition from the likes of Legalpad and Boundless Immigration. However, Jayeoba claims that Guideli’s personalised experience sets it apart from competitors.
“A lot of competitors have just focused on the visa application process. No one is caring about that integration period, that landing board for newcomers to come into the country. They are only concerned with visa application support. We differentiate ourselves by actually providing you with information and resources personalized to you that help you integrate into the country. That's how we catch you early.”
Its use of artificial intelligence is also a differentiating factor, as it reduces a user’s dependence on immigration lawyers when drafting visa petitions. However, when a user demands a lawyer, Guideli pairs them with one. Ultimately, Jayeoba says the goal is to reduce the cost of legal fees for immigrants.
Another way Guideli stands out from competitors is through what it calls the buddy system. Under this arrangement, experienced immigrants can provide one-on-one guidance for new immigrants, giving them the chance to work with someone who has experienced some of the challenges they go through. Jayeoba says this system is patterned after a common practice in Nigerian boarding schools where a student at the start of their journey is handed over to a staff member to help with navigating the new terrain.
Since its launch, Guideli has seen significant traction, primarily through word of mouth. While it waits to begin beta testing in the final week of October 2023, the startup has more than 10,000 people on its waitlist, signifying the demand for its services. Seeking to validate demand for its services, the startup hosts virtual events covering topics like preparing for residency applications, career mapping, and financial literacy for immigrants. These events have quickly helped it build a growing list of users who need the services it offers. While it currently serves only users in the United States, it says more than 26 nationalities are represented on its waitlist.