Tim Hwang - CEO and Co-founder of FiscalNote

I bring ideas to life through rapid prototyping and rapid failure. The only way to execute ideas is to just go out and do them. If it doesn’t work or isn’t a good idea, move on to the next one.

FiscalNote CEO and co-founder Tim Hwang’s innate passion for the intersection of policy and technology led him to co-found FiscalNote in 2013.

Under his leadership, FiscalNote has experienced tremendous growth. The company increased customer acquisition more than 700 percent in the past year, secured more than $18 million in funding to date and was named one of CNN’s “10 Most Innovative Startups of 2014” as well as one of Business Insider’s “25 Hottest Under-the-radar Startups in America.” At just 23, Tim has led FiscalNote to become one of the most disruptive technology startups within the legal space.

Tim’s entrepreneurship blossomed at an early age, when he served as president of the 750,000-member National Youth Association (NYA) and founded the social enterprise Operation Fly, Inc., for which he received the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. During this time, he acutely observed the dire need for a technology platform that could, and would, revolutionize the way policy and legal professionals work.

Prior to attending Princeton University, where he finished his coursework within three years, Tim was elected to the student seat on the Montgomery County (MD) Board of Education, one of the largest school districts in the United States. During his tenure, he helped oversee a budget of more than $4 billion for more than 150,000 students across the county. He also joined the 2008 Obama presidential campaign, acting as one of the campaign’s first field organizers.

Tim has a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and is currently on deferment from Harvard Business School.

Where did the idea for FiscalNote come from?

While working for the Obama presidential campaign and the Montgomery County (Maryland) Board of Education in high school, I really got a sense of how government works. Later, as president of the National Youth Association, I realized there were an astronomical amount of bills and laws passing through government, but no efficient or easy way to search through all that information – it was all searched for manually. Along with my two best friends, we saw there was a need in the market for a search engine or database that automated this process.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

A typical day for me usually starts with one-on-one meetings with some of my direct reports, followed by calls with advisors, board members or customers. This takes me through the morning until lunchtime, when I like to eat with employees or partners and take a break from work for a few minutes. In the afternoon, I use the time to be creative and think about business strategies and cost structures. At the end of the day, I frequently get dinner with new hires or employees.

As far as productivity, I am a strong advocate of time management. I align meetings every week with a pre-determined set of priorities, which helps me allocate time throughout the day for specific meetings, calls, etc. Most of my planning happens on Sunday afternoons. As CEO, my priorities usually align with company financials and investors, maintaining a healthy company culture, and making sure the entire organization is performing well and keeping up with new trends and technologies to be successful.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I bring ideas to life through rapid prototyping and rapid failure. The only way to execute ideas is to just go out and do them. If it doesn’t work or isn’t a good idea, move on to the next one.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The Internet of Things is amazing. Coming from a data and analytics perspective, it is fascinating to see a future where everything in your life is connected to your mobile devices. It will truly be a shift in how humans interact with computers.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

My dedication to time management has absolutely made me more productive as an entrepreneur. I like to allocate time to certain things and stick to that. Even a simple list of to-dos is a significant help in moving through the work day.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I can’t say I’ve really had a terrible job. However, one thing I learned from being on the Montgomery Board of Education in Maryland is that everyone has their own agenda or set of incentives, but they are all trying to make the world, town or business a better place. Everyone’s trying to do what they think is right or best. It was important for me to understand this because as an entrepreneur looking to grow a business, people I work with will always have differing ideas or opinions, and I need to consider every idea.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

If I had to start again, I would invest in customer success earlier. I would make sure that everything past the sale is up to par with the seamless product experience we want our customers to have.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I always make decisions based off the value it will bring or add. When contemplating a decision, whether it’s product-related, about the company’s direction or personnel, I try to determine if it enhances value or supports our company’s values.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

At FiscalNote, we pride ourselves on our product design. Our painstaking attention to design and software has differentiated us from the competition. In this day and age, people expect high quality products, and we take pride in the beautiful and functional software we’ve created.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

One failure I had as an entrepreneur was not choosing the right capital partner during our Series A. This decision caused money to be very tight in the beginning, to the point where we had to ask employees to give up their salaries for a few weeks to keep us afloat until we found a better deal. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because all of our employees rallied together to overcome this challenge and created the amazing family culture we have at FiscalNote today.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I had an idea around procurement brokers. Basically, these brokers are trying to find good deals for companies trying to link retailers with lenders, and lenders with people looking to lease equipment. The idea is to create software that automates that process so procurement officers within companies can get quick access to equipment at a low cost. This would streamline the entire space.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best $100 I’ve recently spent was on drinks for two of my good friends whom I had not seen in a few years. My friends are everything to me and it was great to catch up with them.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I really enjoy using software like Slack, Lever and Venmo. These platforms are extremely intuitive and I appreciate the attention to detail that these companies have put into their products. The UI and UX are very well designed, with no extraneous features.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Andy Grove’s High Output Management is a great book because thinking about management from a manufacturing point of view helps you really understand quality control and how to effectively manage personnel.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Eric Schmidt, author of How Google Works, and Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, have both been very helpful in shaping how I carry myself and how I run the company. I would definitely recommend checking them out.


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