This 25-Year-Old Entrepreneur Is Trying to Do the Impossible: Make Sense of the Government

Tim Hwang, armed with nothing but big data and some millennial elbow grease, is out to make government -- and our entire economy -- more efficient.
This 25-Year-Old Entrepreneur Is Trying to Do the Impossible: Make Sense of the Government
Image credit: Fiscal Note
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Deputy Editor
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This story appears in the September 2017 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

By age 19, Tim Hwang had worked as a field organizer for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and served as an elected official on Maryland’s Montgomery County Board of Education. Now he’s 25 and the co-founder and CEO of FiscalNote, a Washington, D.C.-based tech startup that’s trying to do the impossible: Make sense of the government. 

Related: How This Startup Helps People Find Common Political Ground

What attracted you to politics?

When I was young, politics seemed like a really big opportunity to take a small amount of your time and aggregate it into a larger impact. Whether it’s local politics or a presidential campaign, it makes you feel like you’re part of a movement. 

So how’d you end up founding a tech company instead of running for office?  

The headlines after the 2012 campaign were all government shutdown, debt-ceiling crisis. I thought, What is the end goal of a political career? Say you’re concerned about healthcare -- you spend 30 years fighting for it, maybe something gets passed, but then it could get repealed four years later. Or you build a mobile app that connects rural patients with urban doctors and provide access to healthcare for millions within two years. Technology is the way to make change.

You launched FiscalNote in 2013 and set out to solve a very different problem.

Government doesn’t know what government is doing. If the president wants to change minimum wage, he doesn’t know what the Department of Labor is doing, much less what the state legislatures and city councils are doing. And if the government doesn’t know, how does the private sector know? They don’t. Whether you’re a bank or a health insurance company or an energy company, what you do is highly dependent on the government. 

Related: This Startup Is Lowering Companies Healthcare Costs With AI

What’s your solution? 

We aggregate legislation, regulations and government filings from thousands of federal, state and local agencies. We use artificial intelligence to structure it and normalize it, and then we deliver personalized data feeds to companies to predict or show how government may be impacting their businesses. We provide a collaborative capability for legal teams, government affairs teams and lobbyists to work together on issues that affect their companies. So far we have 200 enterprise-­level customers. 

How is the current political climate impacting your work? 

There’s a heightened interest. Most executives are at a loss when it comes to managing government risk. It’s not just the U.S. -- Brexit, rising nationalism, whatever, it’s all contributing to a sense of urgency when it comes to political intelligence. Which is why we’re expanding into every country we can.

You started this company when you were 21. Was it tough figuring out life as a young CEO? 

Politics gave me a good training ground. The campaign world is fast, and you’re building something from nothing. On the flip side, I had served on a government seat in Maryland [the state reserves one county position on the Board of Education for a student] helping manage a $2.3 billion operating budget and wrangling unions, teachers and administrators. It was a crash course. 

Related: How to Be Taken Seriously As a Young Entrepreneur

You’re just 25. Is FiscalNote a long-term plan for you? 

We recently had our four-year anniversary. It’s like we’re coming up on our second term. We’re going to start expanding into data sets outside of just core government data -- so beyond regulations you have the impact of those regulations, like utilities rates, or pharmaceutical pricing. It’s a very meaty problem. It’s enough for me to chew on, at least for the foreseeable future. 

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