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Startups

Big data firm FiscalNote eyes SPAC listing in US; valuation could top $1 bn

Apr 26, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

FiscalNote CEO Tim Hwang
FiscalNote CEO Tim Hwang

FiscalNote, a Washington D.C.-based tech firm that uses artificial intelligence and big data to track, predict and analyze regulation and legislation worldwide, is considering a trading debut in the US -- thus poised to become the second company founded by a Korean-American to list on a US exchange, following Coupang Inc., which went public on the New York Stock Exchange last month.

“We’re considering different options to grow the company, including going public through the traditional route or through a Special Purpose Acquisition Merger (SPAC),” said Tim Hwang, the founder of FiscalNote, in an interview with The Korea Economic Daily.

SPAC listings have been hot in the US with sizeable listings valued at over 1 trillion won -- unlike South Korea where most SPAC listings are below 100 billion won ($89.3 million). Merging with a listed blank check firm would reduce and simplify the IPO process.

Some close to the company think FiscalNote's enterprise value could reach 2 trillion won ($1.8 billion), and could rise considerably higher as Service as a Software (SaaS) firms have seen their valuations surge recently.

Data analytics firm Palantir Technologies is a prime example. The firm, established by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, went public on the NYSE with its share price at $9.50 -- which spiked to $45 this January. Currently, Palantir's share price hovers around $20, creating a market capitalization of around 45 trillion won, double the enterprise value when it listed.

FiscalNote is similar to Palantir in the sense that it's a big data firm with government agencies as its main clients. The firm's client portfolio includes many government agencies and large private-sector corporations. A large portion of FiscalNote's revenue stems from government agencies.

“When a political issue arises, clients use our service to predict and analyze the situation and to draw up a strategic response in a short period of time," said Hwang, adding that data on political affairs and cases such as the 9/11 terror attack; Occupy Wall Street; riots in the Philippines; and tax resistance movements are also monitored and amassed by FiscalNote products.

FiscalNote's artificial intelligence is 90% accurate in predicting legislative passages, according to Hwang. The company offers numerous service packages, with annual fees ranging from 20 million won to more than 1 billion won.

“We have a stable revenue model because government agencies tend to set long-term budgets,” said Hwang, adding that FiscalNote is reputed to have a sound financial structure and a healthy cash flow due to the steady inflow of subscription fees from around 4,000 corporate clients.

BUSY WITH M&A ACTIVITIES, BACKED BY IMPRESSIVE INVESTOR LINEUP

FiscalNote has been expanding its operations via aggressive M&A activities that mostly target software and data firms.

"In the past year, we have acquired four firms, and this year we plan to acquire additional companies across the US, Brazil, Chile and the UK," Hwang said.

Overview of FiscalNote's funding (Courtesy of FiscalNote)
Overview of FiscalNote's funding (Courtesy of FiscalNote)

The company also has an impressive roster of investors. When FiscalNote first launched in 2013, Hwang sent an email to famed billionaire Mark Cuban, owner of NBA's Dallas Mavericks, and secured $740,000 in funding just a month after the initial email exchange.

Other financial investors include AME Cloud Ventures, a fund led by Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang; Singapore-based sovereign wealth fund Temasek; S&P Global; and Visionnaire Ventures. In Korea, PE firm Lakebridge Equity Partners led one round of investment.

Industry watchers say that the company's IPO is guaranteed to be successful given the lineup of high-profile financial investors.

In 2018, the tech firm also acquired political news outlet CQ Roll Call from The Economist Group for $180 million as Hwang deemed it important to pair FiscalNote’s advanced technology with high quality, human-authored analysis and content. CQ Roll Call is recognized by the White House and Congress as a trusted media organization. Through the deal, FiscalNote brought over more than 200 CQ Roll Call employees under its roof.

“By giving clients access to automated technology and critical news and analysis, we can create a kind of information ecosystem, shedding light on what is happening in Washington, from politics to legislative and regulatory activity," said Hwang.

Hwang considers FiscalNote's rivals to be Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters — the two platforms having held a strong presence in news, politics and economics over the past four decades.

"The advertising business is a small portion of our overall revenue, a majority of which is subscription software-based," Hwang said, adding that the company's growth will be driven by the data, AI software and subscription businesses.

CHANGING THE WORLD THROUGH TECHNOLOGY

CEO Hwang's goal is to become an entrepreneur who changes the world. It was the yearning to create a different and better future that drove the then 20-year-old Hwang to co-establish FiscalNote with two Asian-American friends from high school. They worked on FiscalNote while living on pizza in a $70-a-night motel in Sunnyvale, California.

"In the US, changes are made through politics so I majored in political science at Princeton University, aiming to become a politician. But I saw that over the past three decades, it was technology that changed our lives — more than politics," Hwang said, referring to AI and unmanned cars as examples.

"Eventually, our goal is for FiscalNote to have data on every country's regulation and legislation. And geopolitically speaking, I hope that by cultivating FiscalNote as a way to bring transparency to the world’s legal information, it will ensure a solid relationship between South Korea and the US," Hwang said.

Write to Ye-jin Jun at ace@hankyung.com

Danbee Lee edited this article.

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