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Big Ideas: “Let’s digitize all of the world’s laws, legislation and regulations to enhance economic development, diplomacy, international relations, and ultimately people’s relations to their government”

Businesses today have access to massive amounts of data, but it doesn’t matter how much data you have if you don’t know what to do with it. FiscalNote is empowering organizations with the tools they need to source and digest business-critical information and data — ultimately setting the standard for the enterprise of tomorrow. Companies […]

Businesses today have access to massive amounts of data, but it doesn’t matter how much data you have if you don’t know what to do with it. FiscalNote is empowering organizations with the tools they need to source and digest business-critical information and data — ultimately setting the standard for the enterprise of tomorrow. Companies will be able to transform their business DNA and infrastructure from the top down to better analyze risk and maximize opportunities in previously untapped ways through the use of data. By implementing new ways to understand and use data, employees’ time will be freed up, creating a more meaningful workplace through technology.


As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change the World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Hwang. Tim is the founder and CEO of FiscalNote, a technology and media company that combines award-winning journalism from CQ Roll Call with products and services that provide access to large quantities of data, news, and analysis for all levels of government. FiscalNote is the largest privately held company in the legal analytics and regulation technology (regtech) space and powers over 4,000 of the world’s largest and most influential corporations, associations, non-profits, and law firms, creating a more open and transparent society through data. With technology and capital partners from the likes of Mark Cuban, Jerry Yang, Steve Case, NEA, Renren and others, FiscalNote is revolutionizing access to legislation, regulations, and court cases for organizations around the world.


Thank you so much for joining us Tim! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Myentire life, I have been fascinated with the intersection of technology and politics. At 16, I worked in then-Senator Obama’s 2008 campaign, which I consider the fastest growing startup in history. The campaign revolutionized the use of social media and grassroots advocacy to mobilize voters. At 17, I was elected to public office and served on the Board of Education for Montgomery County, Maryland, where I managed a $2.5 million operating budget, $4 billion capital budget, and served 22,000 teachers as well as 11,000 administrators. While at Princeton University studying computer science and political science, I was President of the National Youth Association, a national 501(c)(3) organization that serves thousands of inner-city children in underprivileged areas around the country.

Also, during my studies at Princeton, the foundation for FiscalNote began to form. I started FiscalNote my senior year of college together with my two best friends with a simple goal in mind: unlock the potential of government data to solve some of the world’s most complex information problems. We moved to Silicon Valley to start the company, where we spent all summer based in a Motel 6 and building the minimum viable product (MVP) version of the platform before beginning pitching to investors. After our seed round, led by Mark Cuban, we came back to the D.C. area to scale the business. In six years, we’ve grown FiscalNote into a global company with nearly 500 employees and offices in 3 continents.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

One interesting story is how we secured our $1.3 million seed round funding. After doing my research, I cold emailed Mark Cuban to pitch him the idea of FiscalNote. He responded within 45 minutes and became our lead investor after just a few emails. On the heels of Cuban’s investment, investors including Jerry Yang, the founder of Yahoo!, and the venture capital firm, NEA, quickly followed suit. It goes to show, if you’re confident in your product and know that it has the potential to change the world, something that seems as impossible as a cold email can make all of the difference in launching your business.

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

My vision has always been to change the world by revolutionizing how people think about data. To bring this to life, FiscalNote has a goal of digitizing all of the world’s laws, legislation and regulation to enhance economic development, diplomacy, international relations, and ultimately people’s relations to their government. FiscalNote transforms the time-consuming tasks that weigh down workforces into easy, streamlined processes through AI, so that employees can get back to doing the tasks that matter most to them. Beyond rethinking data, employees have the opportunity to rethink the workplace of the future — one where they’re are able to explore fulfilling tasks versus tedious “check the box” exercises.

How do you think this will change the world?

Businesses today have access to massive amounts of data, but it doesn’t matter how much data you have if you don’t know what to do with it. FiscalNote is empowering organizations with the tools they need to source and digest business-critical information and data — ultimately setting the standard for the enterprise of tomorrow. Companies will be able to transform their business DNA and infrastructure from the top down to better analyze risk and maximize opportunities in previously untapped ways through the use of data. By implementing new ways to understand and use data, employees’ time will be freed up, creating a more meaningful workplace through technology.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

Of course, with any “big idea,” you have to weigh the pros and cons that may come up as a result of the idea fully taking shape, and you should plan for addressing any of those potential cons before they potentially have an impact. In FiscalNote’s case, when you’re dealing with regtech or policy-focused technology, there is the potential to create this concept of global group think around regulations without consideration of autonomy for national sovereignty. But you have to keep in mind, what works in one locality won’t work everywhere. That’s why FiscalNote has prioritized incorporating both large-scale, national data sourcing into its platform and state-centric data, so that organizations have full visibility into what’s happening on a global or national level as well as the more local aspects as well.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

There wasn’t a specific tipping point. The idea has brewed in my mind for some time based on my previous political experiences both in Obama’s campaign and as an elected member of the Board of Education in Montgomery County. I saw a need for organizing and analyzing government data sets as organizations were constantly being inundated with critical information around pending legislation and laws but had no way of digesting it or even understanding it. These experiences inspired a solution for a pervasive problem, which is how many big ideas get their start. If you see a problem that needs solving, and you have the tools necessary to develop a solution and the passion for it, go for the big idea.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

The need for technology that digests data is so pervasive, there’s nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking that needs to happen. The way we see it, FiscalNote is already becoming engrained in companies’ everyday business structures. For FiscalNote to take this idea and continue to elevate it, we need to continue to build a great company, and that starts from within. A great company requires great teams, great cultures, and a great business model with continued investment in innovative technology solutions and international cooperation.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. People and leadership matter more than the product you’re selling. At the end of the day, FiscalNote is what it is today because of its people. When we first started the company, my co-founders and I came up with the type of culture we would want to work in and prioritized building that ahead of the product, with an understanding that employees are the foundation for the company. With a vision-oriented team, anything is possible.
  2. Always listen to the customer. Whether they know it or not, they’re always right, and you should instill this mindset in your employees who are working with your clients every day. For example, at FiscalNote, we hold a monthly “Client Spotlight” series during which clients are invited into the FiscalNote office to visit with the entire team. We use these sessions to gather client feedback first-hand and facilitate direct conversations between our clients and the team.
  3. Get investors aligned on your culture and financial expectations. Whether you’re going through your first seed round or in Series C, you’re always selling the vision of the company from the inside out. When we seek potential investors at FiscalNote, we look for those who can be great coaches and are just as excited about the venture as we are. Investors should have experience and passion in your pursuit, and also possess an understanding of your teams and expectations.
  4. Building a great company is going to be 10x harder and take 10x more than you think it will, and it doesn’t get easier — just more exciting. Growth and scale present their own set of challenges that can be tackled creatively when building a great company. You should always stay true to the culture and the values at the core of your company. Strong, clear values will translate across borders.
  5. I’d been told this before but be prepared for the unexpected. Life has an odd way of changing your plans. The ability to be agile and resilient is critical if you want your big idea to succeed.

The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?

You should never stop the pursuit of attaining critical skills, such as coding and building strong networks, which are essential in “future proofing” your career. As I quickly learned, the ability to be nimble and adapt are invaluable soft skills, especially in the ever-evolving tech industry. Use your curiosity to fuel your growth. On a parallel path, stay up to date on the latest hard skills companies are looking for. For example, if you’re in tech, it’s no secret that an understanding and ability to work with AI is becoming table stakes. I’ve also found that you need to position yourself in markets that will always be growing both domestically and internationally.

Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?

Though it’s a mouthful, I’d invest in configurable applications of machine learning and data operations to improve the process of ingesting, cleaning, structuring, and analyzing public data. This will help us continue to elevate the FiscalNote platform, so it can be as useful and integral as possible to businesses based on their evolving needs, with consideration for the data and technology of tomorrow.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

For me, it has always been about minimizing three things: regret, the current state opportunity costs, and risks relative to rewards. You have to let go of the fear of “no” and go after your idea if you believe it can change the world.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

The most important success mindsets are interlinked: conviction and determination. If you have conviction of something, it’s only a matter of time until you get it right. Just keep pursuing your goals with an open mind and an openness to feedback. If you have a talented team and a great culture, and you provide direction as a leader, you will have success.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

There’s always going to be another restaurant review app around the corner. How many times will you have an opportunity to invest in an application that’s promising to digitize all of the laws and regulations for every country on the planet?

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@timthwang is my handle for Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I look forward to connecting with you!

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