Young Entrepreneur Uses Tech for a Good CauseBy Pat Burke
Tim Hwang is one of those people who can take an idea, organize a group to rally around it and then turn that idea into a successful reality. He has the markings of a seasoned leader and IT innovator, yet what makes Hwang unique is he’s been leading organizations and founding businesses since he was 14 years old. Now 23, Hwang has nearly a decade of experience running not-for-profit organizations, building analytics tools and finding success in the world of tech startups. Among the Princeton grad’s accomplishments are founding programs that provided blankets for the homeless and backpacks for underprivileged students. He sold an analytics tool startup in 2012, and currently focuses his efforts on humanitarian missions and how to apply analytics in the policy and regulations space. Hwang is the CEO of FiscalNote, a data analytics firm that helps search, track and analyze legislation. He recently took time to discuss with CIO Insight the rep of Millennials, the growing complexity of regulations and the incredible advances in machine learning, among other topics.
CIO Insight: You’re a busy guy. Do you ever take a day to veg out, watch a game or do some gaming?
Tim Hwang: I don’t do this as often as I should. I’m not much into video games but every once in a while, I’ll take a ‘staycation,’ stay home to catch up on Netflix. Things have been getting increasingly busy, so it’s hard to completely disconnect.
CIO Insight: As an entrepreneur, has your relatively young age been a positive or a negative when raising capital or presenting a business plan to potential investors?
Hwang: I would say it’s neutral, not a positive or a negative thing. Most people I’ve come across don’t necessarily care about age – especially in the technology industry, where there are many young entrepreneurs. I’d say I’m about or slightly below the average age, so most people don’t bring it up as a good or bad thing.
CIO Insight: I understand you’ve founded and have been involved with several humanitarian projects that help the homeless and underprivileged students. We recently ran a story headlined “The Last of the Millennials.” In it, 78% of current high school seniors said being able to make a positive impact on people's lives is a defining factor of success, but only 47% of today's professionals feel this way. What do these percentages say to you?
Hwang: Looking at the disparity between those numbers, I’d say some managers today aren’t doing a great job, and that’s probably an extension of the fact that most organizations aren’t mission-oriented. If you have a mission-driven culture to drive positive impact, your managers will make sure their teams are cohesive and able to do this at a tactical level. Being a great manager includes linking your team’s work with the organization’s greater impact on society. That creates a differentiation and a culture that attracts strong talent.
CIO Insight: Do Millennials get a bad rap?
Hwang: I think it’s a mixed bag. There’s a certain element of truth to the tech-obsessed, inward-facing nature of this generation. It’s a double-edged sword in the sense that people are more career-oriented and interested in creating a positive impact in society, but they don’t yet have the tools or know-how to do that. Managers of older generations have different expectations at work. There’s definitely a gap between the technological advances available to millennials and the seeming inability to achieve anything.
CIO Insight: As the founder and CEO of FiscalNote, which helps search, track and analyze legislation, how would you describe the current state of data analytics? And why is it important to apply predictive analytics to government and legislation?
Hwang: There are a lot of things happening right now in the industry. Technology, in particular, is accelerating quickly because of advances in machine learning. The last couple of years have brought massive improvements in machine learning, natural language processing and artificial intelligence (AI). Because of these improvements, the industry is experiencing the ability to ‘verticalize’ applications. What I mean by that is that much of the innovation isn’t happening so much in the technology itself, but in the intersection of technology and a vertical. For example, the intersection of AI and health care or AI and politics. This is enabling people to solve business problems that were previously unsolvable.
One of the biggest challenges today impacting companies is the uncertainty in the policy and regulations space. From a legal perspective, the world is becoming more complex – companies are having to keep up with more laws and more regulations that could affect their business. Technology is becoming more and more important in solving this issue. The combination of AI and machine learning with the legal industry is letting us tackle this problem head on and provide value for customers.
CIO Insight: Who inspires you? Anyone you know personally, and anyone in history or business?
Hwang: I recently read Andrew Carnegie’s bio and it was great to learn more about his relentless pursuit of excellence and strength of character in making ethical decisions and doing what’s best for the industry and the world in general. He’s a great example of a very successful American entrepreneur that people can really look up to.
CIO Insight: What would you consider the ultimate accomplishment?
Hwang: To me, the ultimate accomplishment is creating something that provides a lot of value to a lot of people. I want to build something from the ground up and say I helped in doing that. Technology is a great way to reach that goal because it helps scale things quickly in a very short amount of time. I want to walk into a law firm and see them using FiscalNote and say, ‘I did that.’