A few years ago, Tim Hwang realized he wanted to transform the way people get political information. The traditional model was ineffective and slow: most people relied on newspapers, polling firms and lobbyists, but Hwang thought there could be a better, faster way.
What if you could use data to predict legislative results?
Hwang, along with Gerald Yao and Jonathan Chen, founded FiscalNote in 2013 with the aim of creating a more transparent system by using artificial intelligence and data-driven analytics.
Yao, Chen and Hwang are local boys. The three childhood friends had attended high school together at Thomas S. Wotton, in Montgomery County.
But after founding FiscalNote together, they decided to head out to the West Coast. It was the summer after their junior year in college. They had scraped together $25,000.
Along with two other recruits, the FiscalNote team lived out a scene taken straight from “The Social Network” — “Five guys stuck into a small motel room,” Hwang said.
Still, he said, starting out in Sunnyvale was worth it. “It was the best place to start a company,” said Hwang. Particularly when it came to fundraising.
Within four months, FiscalNote had racked up a $1.3 million seed round from four big-name investors: Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang, New Enterprise Associates and First Round Capital.
Their pitch must have been good, because Cuban, for one, took the bait instantaneously.
“We shot him an email. Within 45 minutes there was a response,” said Hwang. “We ended up closing out a deal over the weekend.”
After the round closed, they moved back to D.C. for easier access to their client base of politicos. And that hasn’t stopped their funding momentum.
“The solution lends itself better to a search engine kind of approach where you aggregate all of this information and make it searchable and analyzable for anybody that wants to get it,” said Hwang.
One of FiscalNote’s products is called Sonar, which launched in May of this year. Sonar makes it easier for users — mostly policy and legal professionals — to search for policy-related information and obtain extensive analysis about regulations.
“We take all of the information coming from those regulators, it might be proposed regulations or specific notices, and we make that completely searchable,” Hwang said of the Sonar product.
In addition to making information searchable, Sonar allows the public and organizations to comment on different issues during the rule-making process.
“People can automatically sort comments that people are saying,” Hwang said. “You can sort based on the name of an organization, by the industry, but also whether or not they support the actual rule itself.”
In addition to Sonar, FiscalNote offers a product called Prophecy, which provides legislative data from all 50 states and can predict policy results with 94 percent accuracy, the company says.
Hwang also said the team is expecting major revenue growth this year.
“It’s increasingly important to have transparency and understand what is going on in government and not just have a lawyer giving you really high priced, low quality advice,” said Hwang.