It’s been over a year since Dorm Room Fund NYC announced our investment in FiscalNote, a legislation-tracking startup founded by undergraduates. Since then, FiscalNote has quickly grown into Capitol Hill’s leading provider of cutting-edge legislative and regulatory analysis. Last month the company announced $7 million of Series A funding. Read on for DRF investment partner David Dworsky”s Q&A with co-founder, CEO and recent Princeton alum Tim Hwang to learn more about how he launched and led FiscalNote while remaining in school.
How did you come up with the idea for FiscalNote while you were in school and what does the company look like today?
I was running a politics organization and one of the biggest problems we had was understanding how government was impacting our constituency. Following the latest updates in government legislation was a very difficult task at the time. I thought about it from a computational perspective and it seemed like such a simple thing to create what initially started off as a search engine for laws and regulations across the US. From that initial product, FiscalNote has become a whole suite of predictive analytics tools that make it a lot easier for people to understand what’s going on with government and legal data. Today we provide this broad analytics platform for customers around the world.
What was it like balancing your company with school work?
Prioritizing was the most important thing. For me, school work pretty much fell to the wayside as the company grew larger. I did try to plan my schoolwork such that I’d finish my thesis early but there’s only so much you can do. And if you’re going all in and really trying to focus on the company, prioritization is key.
What was the value of raising venture money while in school?
Up until raising our first round we were still proving out our thesis, and by raising money we were able to validate the concept. We were really young and scrappy at the time and I think getting venture funding allowed us to move to the next step in terms of validating our concept and knowing this was something we wanted to put our time into.
Can you talk a little bit about how you met met your co-founders, Jonathan dgfev online casino Chen and Gerald Yao.
I had actually known my co-founders since elementary school. I also went to high school with them and we kept in touch through college. We had always been bouncing ideas off each other and this idea in particular was one that stuck. We tried to really test it out while in college and decided that we all wanted to continue working on this problem after graduation.
Do you have any advice for students who are trying to balance an entrepreneurial endeavor with school work?
I think the most important thing is to really take advantage of the opportunities that are on campus. Being in college, you can approach people in a very innocuous manner and ask them for advice. People are just more willing to engage with you. I think that type of environment lends itself really well to the type of customer interactions that you need to have as an early stage company. There’s a low barrier to entry in terms of getting to customers and talking with them as you build out your product.
At what point in college did you know that you wanted to start your own company after graduation?
I don’t think there was a definitive point when I decided I was definitely going to become an entrepreneur. It was more constant exposure to technology and the rapid innovations that were going on, and seeing our idea as a viable opportunity. Once I knew I had the team to really take advantage of that opportunity, we decided to run with it.
What are some of the disadvantages of being a student entrepreneur?
Well for one it takes up a lot of time and you have to forgo other responsibilities you might have at school. If you’re really serious about the venture, you’re going to end up putting school work on the backburner. The other disadvantage is inexperience. It’s important that you recognize that, and try to counterbalance it through advisors or specific strategic hires to get to a point where the inexperience is channeled into the right places. Because it can be an advantage sometimes, especially with respect to building technology. But when it comes to management, training, and the business side of things, inexperience gets to be a pretty big disadvantage that you have to learn to compensate for.
Can you talk about a major trend in Natural Language Processing (NLP) and how FiscalNote fits in?
One of the major trends of NLP is the idea of information retrieval in a very broad sense. We are trying to leverage technologies like entity extraction, optical character recognition (OCR), search queries and more for a variety of functionalities and use cases for our customers. When it comes to entity extraction, for example, we look at large pieces of legal data and have to be able to extract out people, concepts, or ideas for analytics. For queries and answers, we are trying to pioneer some pretty structured natural language searches that allow people and attorneys to be able to search our platform in a natural language manner — not just as a “bag of words” approach, but really understanding what the question is and trying to get the right answers in a very targeted manner. These new technologies are exciting because up until about the 70″s or 80″s NLP hadn’t seen much innovation, and now because of the lower cost of computing and experimentation, there’s been a lot more research going on in some of these fields.
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