Ep. 185 – Thorben COO, Chris Koomey


Our guest today is COO of Thorben, Chris Koomey.

Those who know him, call him Koomey. Koomey has dedicated his life to helping entrepreneurs get more out of their businesses and their lives by building multiple streams of value for income, wealth creation and fun. Currently, he is focused on building value in Thorben Consulting, LLC, as well as his wife’s Enterprise Cloud Solution provider for the federal government and growing businesses. Drawing on his experience as a business owner, business consultant and business attorney, Koomey provides perspective and practical guidance to entrepreneurs through the currently underground Business Growth Guild. Koomey invests in companies that apply proven innovations in new fields with visions of impacting his corner of the world.

Koomey started his first business when he was 19 with a coffee shop. He started his own law practice out of law school and grew to 12 attorney firm and then turned the practice over to his partners when first son was born.

Koomey has a law degree from the College of William and Mary, an MS in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University and a BA and MA in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago.

Koomey has written two books that were Amazon Best Sellers in their categories The Business Godfather Treatment: The Street Smart Guide to Building Business Wealth and Plan to NOT Pay Taxes and looks forward to his next career of writing entertaining fiction because Life is for Laughing. Koomey enjoys coaching youth sports, raising his family in our wacky world and drinking red wine.


In This Conversation, We Discuss:

What Chris takes from his law practice that he employs in his role as a COO

Chris’s decision model for choosing which contractors to outsource

How to cash flow the company’s growth plan

How Chris goes through developing relationships with people in government

Recognizing the positive side of conflicts and why they’re sometimes necessary for growth



Connect with Chris Koomey: LinkedIn

Thorben – https://www.thorben.com/

Maverick – https://maverick1000.com/

Cadre – https://www.cadredc.com/

Connect with Cameron: Website | LinkedIn

Get Cameron’s latest book: The Second in Command – Unleash the Power of Your COO

Subscribe to our YouTube channel – Second in Command Podcast on YouTube

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The post Ep. 185 – Thorben COO, Chris Koomey appeared first on COO Alliance.

Our guest is the COO of Thorben, Chris Koomey. Those who know him call him Koomey. He dedicated his life to helping entrepreneurs get more out of their businesses and lives by building multiple streams of value for income, wealth, and funds. He’s focused on building value in Thorben Consulting, as well as his wife’s enterprise cloud solution provider for the Federal government and growing businesses.

Drawing on his experience as a business owner, consultant and attorney, Koomey provides perspective and practical guidance to entrepreneurs through the underground Business Growth Guild. He invests in companies that apply proven innovations in new fields with visions of impacting his corner of the world. He started his first business when he was nineteen with a coffee shop. He started his own law practice out of law school, grew to a twelve-attorney firm and then turned the practice over to his partners when his first son was born.

Koomey has a Law degree from the College of William & Mary, an MS in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University, and a BA and MA in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago. He has written two books that were Amazon Best Sellers in their categories, The Business Godfather Treatment: The Streetsmart Handbook for Building Business Wealth and Plan To Not Pay Taxes. He looks forward to his next career of writing entertaining fiction because life is for laughing. He always enjoys coaching youth sports, raising his family in our wacky world, and drinking red wine. Koomey, I am right there with you. Welcome to the show.

That’s everything that I’ve got there. Thanks for having me, Cameron.

How many kids have you got?

We have three boys. Two in college and one working.

What did it feel like dropping your first couple off at college? Are they nearby or out of town a bit?

The first was about 7 or 8 hours away in Upstate New York. He’s an engineer. There was no tear shed and it was a business transaction. We dropped him off and as I drove away, I did get a little tear in my eye.

I dropped my youngest son off at university in Montreal and pretty much cried every day since at some point. It was brutal.

We have texting and phone calls.

The amazing thing is we’ve got the technology and FaceTime. We’ve got the connection that we didn’t have when you and I went away to school. What was the drive for all the education that you got?

Part of it was I was good at it and finding that itch of the analysis and resolution of growing up in a world of conflict. I grew up in New York, which is filled with conflict. It was intriguing to me how you do well in those situations. As I’ve grown up, I realize we’re all in this world of conflict with groups, which is social psychology, and we’re living it every day now. We used to not know it. It’s part of the news, everyday interaction and the excitement of businesses. You’re always at some level of conflict of how we manage our team, market and customers.

Part of the excitement of businesses is that you’re always at some level of conflict about managing your team, the market, your customers, and things like that.

Are you about 46 or 47?

I’m 55.

You’re the same age as I am. When did you turn 56?

January 28, 2022.

I’m two months older than you. When you were growing up, you were an entrepreneur at heart. Did you become a lawyer because you had all those same traits like problem-solving, good leadership, analytical skills, headstrong, determined, tenacity and all that stuff? Was that what led you to be a lawyer?

Part of it was when I was growing up in the ‘80s. Every adult I knew between the age of 40 and 50 had their career change, not by their choice. I was determined to not let that happen to me. That’s what’s fed my striving career as we go forward.

I’ve never experienced that. That’s cool. That’s what shaped you to be in control of your own destiny.

Also, to help other people not let that happen to them. In the 2nd half of the 20th century, we were in the professional world to become a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer or an architect. That were the values of that time. My family was an immigrant, so education was a big part of it. What I think is interesting is now, in the 21st century, we’ve moved away from that professional world and almost back to where we were a hundred years ago, where everybody had multiple streams of income. They might have had a job, kept borders in the house, did crafts, or were farmers. Now people talk about it as if it’s a different time. This is more normal. The odd time was 1950 to 2000 for the professionals.

In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s stage, up until about ‘93 and ‘94, being an entrepreneur was not cool. We were vilified, greedy or profit-centric. Being the entrepreneurial person was the dirty black sheep of the family. I get why you went into law. I did my undergraduate degree in Law. What do you think you take with you in your COO role from your law practice?

In law practice, you always focus on your client. As a COO, your client is your employees as well as the organization and then clients. You’re always looking, “How am I making sure their interests are taken care of? “That’s the motivation between building an organization where people feel connected and also helps them achieve their potential.

What kind of law did you practice?

I was a business lawyer. Going back to what you’re talking about in ‘93 and ‘94, being in business was not attractive. I’d go to these interviews and everyone wanted me to build a law practice on environmental law or litigation. They wanted me to build their business. My passion was always helping entrepreneur achieve their dreams. I started out, and it turned out to be the perfect time in 1994 as the internet started to wake up and all the opportunities that came from that had a change in ’98, 2001 and 2007.

There are a lot of skills you bring to the table as a COO, having been a lawyer, especially in the business law practice. It’s an area where we encounter agreements, contracts, employment law and trade. There is so much that happens in the business world that you’re around as a lawyer. That’s a strong skill to bring in as a COO.

It has to be a quick read. One of the things that are interesting is that now this practice of law has been about becoming a bully. It’s the loudest off-center thing. For me, it was always about getting people to those practical solutions. What I brought to the table as a lawyer was I can give you the legal side but also the practical business side. That’s being a COO. It’s the puzzle helping people solve their problems and work towards their dreams.

SIC 185 | Thorben

Thorben: Being a COO is about helping people solve their problems and work toward their dreams.


The readers can’t see behind you, but you move backward and a logo flashes in front of me. That was the logo of one of my very first coaching clients, Yanik Silver, who runs Maverick in Maverick Business Adventures. I was introduced to him by Tim Ferris in 2007. How did you get to know Yanik and what did you pull out of the group that he’s involved in?

I love being a Maverick. It started all things. I happened to be sitting at lunch for another group and he was sitting next to me. We were talking about kids because he has a son and a daughter. It turns out that he was doing a family entrepreneur event. I brought my 10-year-old son who’s now 18. They went and built a business plan around selling glow sticks on July 4th down in Annapolis, Maryland. The whole beauty of Maverick is, as an entrepreneur, it’s not about money. It’s about impact and fun. It’s very consistent with what I’ve done my whole life. That’s my tribe. Those are my people.

They are wonderful people. Camp Maverick was one of my favorite events that Yanik would put on. What was the event that you were at? Do you remember what the other event was? Was it a mastermind or another entrepreneur conference you were at? Where you met him?

It was another one of your clients. It was Cadre.

Derek and Mel Coburn.

It was one of their lunch meetings. Part of what Cadre did was they’d have monthly lunch meetings, interesting topics, working on different aspects of your business. I was operating a financial education business at that time. I was part of that conscious, “How do I start extracting myself from the day-to-day?” and having other people manage. Cadre was the first step and then Maverick is my favorite.

We could geek out on mastermind groups forever off those two guys alone. There’s a concept that I learned years ago from a friend of Yanik’s. His name is Joe Polish, who I’m a close friend of his now and a member of his Genius Network, which talked about the first domino. The idea is that when you see the room filled with dominoes that are set up and you touch the first domino, and everything else happens because of that first domino. It sounds like Derek Coburn might have been one of your first dominoes because of Cadre leading you to Yik Maverick stuff that impacted your family.

That’s also how I went to your talk at Cadre and got your book Double Double. I was talking with one of the Mavericks and they said, “I have this book Double Double. All I did was follow the directions and that’s how I doubled my business.”

It gets simple. What we’re talking about here is that if we’re the smartest person in the room, we’re in the wrong room. It’s about learning from others and absorbing that information. You’ve always been a real student. Is that part of the appeal for you of being in these groups is that you’re continuing to learn, or is it more about the community and hanging out with like-minded people?

I have tickets to the Traffic & Conversion. I don’t do internet marketing, but I’m intrigued that, for every business, that is a nut that they have to crack. I need to learn that so I can bring that to bear for clients and other businesses that I work with. I need to have that specialized knowledge. It’s the problem-solving and how we bring stuff to the table for people who are too busy in their day-to-day.

I was talking to somebody about this. I’m good friends with Perry Belcher, Roland Fraser and Ryan Deiss, who run Traffic & Conversion and war room, a spectacular business community. Less of the community that you have in Maverick, Cadre and more of deep IP around all things digital marketing. I was talking to a CEO about this and he said, “I need to learn all this.” I said, “No, you need to be aware of it all so that the people that do it for you can then do it,” but we need to be aware. Are you going to Traffic & Conversion to get good at it?

Definitely, for the awareness so I can point people to what’s the potential. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to show people what’s possible. My wife’s company is an IT company. Back in the ‘90s, I worked with a lot of engineers as they were building their internet companies. What I learned was they want to intimidate you with language and complexity. I learned the basics of websites and eCommerce so I know when they’re trying to bluff me.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to show people what’s possible.

If you’re a CEO and someone is coming to you with a social media marketing plan, you need to be able to know, “Do they know what they’re talking about or are they bluffing me? Where should I make sure that I’m focused on?” One of the problems for business owners, they know they need to do it. The first person that comes to them presents them with a nice PowerPoint presentation followed by a bill, and then they’re not getting those results. That’s probably the most common with any cutting-edge service so you need an understanding of what’s realistic and how it fit your particular company.

With these contractors that are pitching you or the sub-trades that are pitching us, how have you been able to determine which ones are the ones to go with? What’s your decision-making model for selecting people to outsource parts of the business to?

It’s always a challenge. I always prefer to do a personal connection. That’s where the Maverick comes in. In those folks, generally, you have a connection and consistent values. Outside of having a network like that, it’s being able to ask them questions and find out what their answer is. I was setting up a company back in 2007. I needed a basic network so I could have computers work, and I knew what I didn’t need.

Three companies came in, and one of them bid me out of this big rack and all this complexity. One guy came in and he was like, “For what you need, you need this and it’s going to cost you 1/100th of what this other guy said.” It was more that I knew that the other guy was bluffing and I didn’t need that. I went with the guy who was straightforward, but if I didn’t know the technology. I would’ve gone with more expensive guy thinking that was better. You need to have some basics. If it’s not you, at least you need to have some trusted advisor that you can run ideas by.

Let’s talk a little bit about Thorben. You’re the COO of Thorben. Do you guys have a special relationship?

My wife is the CEO.

Tell us about Thorben first, what it is and then I want to find out how you’ve divided and conquered the COO and CEO jobs. How have you divided and concur?

Thorben is a Federal government IT contractor, which is its own beast. It provides high-level technical services for Federal government agencies. It started putting in SAP systems. There are giant ERPs and then that’s morphed into Enterprisecloud. Everything has moved to the cloud and how you get the benefit of the move to the cloud. My wife was a Pricewaterhouse consultant in the ‘90s. The new technology was SAP ERPs so she became a technical expert in that area. Ahe put in the biggest system at that time for Gillette and then participated in basically getting these ERPs started. That technology wave has run its course. It’s about a 25-year wave and the new wave is Enterprisecloud.

It’s taking these monstrous systems and putting them on a new platform with different capabilities. That is in its infancy like the internet was in the ’90s and the ERP was. This wave is building. It’s been going on for a couple of years now, but it’s picking up steam. Where we’re providing the value is companies are moving to the cloud but not taking advantage of the infrastructure that’s there. They’re not taking advantage of, “How do I optimize this new technology?” They’re looking at it as a different type of data center.

In the old model, costs went up every year. Enterprisecloud, if you’re doing it right, the cost should be going down and adding in automation. Everyone talks about artificial intelligence and machine learning. What you want to do is get automated so that when artificial intelligence and machine learning become more mature and implementable, you’ll be able to take your automated process and add those pieces to it.

Are you guys a consulting company, hardware or a bit of both? Are you going back to a lot of your original clients and now moving them to the cloud from their old systems?

Most people have already moved to the cloud and Software as a Service. Everyone is either there or in the process of moving, but they moved and were promised the brochure of, “You’ll save money. You’ll do this.” If you’re not intentionally focused on achieving that, you’re not going to get it. Part of our role, we don’t sell hardware and we are a high-performance consulting. We do the very technical part. One of the things that we’re lacking is some of the soft things that the bigger firms have, project management, training, and call centers. A lot of our work is they get the complicated thing and then they ask us to do the technological piece.

SIC 185 | Thorben

Thorben: If you’re not intentionally focused on achieving something, you will not get it.


How many are on your team?

We have twenty people.

Are they all in Virginia?

Now it’s all remote, but generally, they’re in this area. They have been at client sites pre-COVID.

Is that where most of your clients are then or in the DC, Virginia area?

Yes, because of the Federal government.

What’s it like working with the government? Would you go down that path of working with the government again if you weren’t already deeply entrenched?

It’s very strange for me because I’ve been involved with other businesses that have different paces. With the Federal government, it’s glacial. In another business, you might spend a month to get to know someone, 3 months to get to a deal and then 6 months to close a deal. With the Federal government, it’s 1 year to get to know them, 3 years to talk about the deal, and 5 or 6 years to close the deal.

It’s a very different pace, but also the opportunities are much larger. It does take a level of patience. My wife was the Pricewaterhouse consultant. IBM bought Pricewaterhouse and made the consulting no fun so she decided to set up her own company. Part of what I did was to get her to that cliff and get her confident, “You can leave a salary and make that leap.”

Was she been running it, or you and she have been running it now for a long time?

Seventeen years since 2004. That’s the interesting thing. I’ve been involved but on a very low level at the beginning. She was expecting it to be a one-person company forever. Through sheer competence and confidence of clients, she kept adding people. Every year there’d be a new person. She built this company organically with no sales and marketing.

Would she call herself an entrepreneur or more of a CEO?

She would call herself an architect. She is very much an engineer executed.

Harvard wrote an article years ago called The Misunderstood Role Of The COO. They identified seven distinct types of chief operating officers. In work I’ve done, I’ve also noticed that there are around seven distinct types as well. I came at it from a very different perspective. In some cases, the COO is very inward-facing in operations, engineering, IT, finance and execution. In some cases, they’re very outward-facing in sales, biz dev and PR. Think about Shopify as an example. Harley Finkelstein is the COO of Shopify.

He’s the very outward-facing spokesperson of the company, sales, marketing, biz dev, and PR culture. Even at 1-800-GOT-JUNK, I was very outward-facing as COO. In other cases, the COO would never speak with the media. They would never do biz dev. They don’t even run sales and marketing. Is she, as CEO, more of an inward-facing engineering ops architect role?

She’s executed. She’s working with clients and managing teams. Part of what happened during COVID, it created opportunities. She said, “I want to intentionally grow.” In 2020, I was about halftime, and in 2021, I’m full-time. It was building the infrastructure for sales and marketing. In the Federal government, there are particular things. There are things called contract vehicles. There’s getting how many employees do you have? How many things are you priming? There are particular things about where the value of your company comes from.

In 2020, we got our first GSA contract, which is one of the big ways that you start getting business. In 2021, we put in proposals for several more of those. We’re building out basically the capability to add business. We’ve also been developing sales and marketing materials so that we can be more responsive and have more proposals out. My goal is to build this out so then we can bring on a lead salesperson, so then I can focus on building out the infrastructure for the growth that’s coming. Part of this is we’re very intentional. We’re taking advantage of the glacial pace of the Federal government and trying to put these pieces in place intentionally. Over the next 3 to 5 years, continue to grow, but for the first time, grow intentionally as opposed to purely organically.

I’ve got some questions around that 3 to 5-year growth plan for sales and marketing. I also have a question around these contract vehicles. Is that like the government numbers that you’re allowed to bid based on if you are a certified vendor?

It’s a certified vendor. They’ve approved your pricing. That way, people can accept that that is a competitive price. The GSA is a big one that the Federal and state governments can access. Within agencies, there are smaller ones that give them some flexibility and speed as far as how to get things. We participated in something with NIH, which is the National Institute of Health. That would give us access to Health IT opportunities. We have another one with the military health system, which also would help us in the Health IT world. They call it a license to hunt, but you’re pre-approved. You still have to compete for specific opportunities.

That’s the step in the door at least.

It’s one of the barriers to entry.

I heard years ago that you could acquire smaller companies that have some of these numbers, fold those in, and then you have bought your way in the door. Is that true or accurate?

It is very accurate. That is definitely a strategy that some folks do. They’ll look for companies in particular industries. They have contracts or even relationships.

Have you ever come across Andrew Sherman? He lives in the DC area. He’s big in the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. He’s the Chief legal council for the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and the International Franchise Association. He was on our board at 1-800-JUNK and talked about companies having the Rembrandts in the attic. The basic idea was that their IP was these valuable assets that they often didn’t see as valuable as they were.

If you and I were open to go buy a home on the lake, we would buy a summer home, and you bid $4 million, then I came in and built $6 million, you’d be like, “Cameron is crazy.” What you didn’t realize is I found two Rembrandt paintings up in the attic that are worth $5 million each. I was like, “I’ll give you the house. I’m buying $10 million in paintings for $6 million.” Are these numbers, contract vehicles, and doorways some of the value in the organization that you’re building for a potential exit?

There are pure numbers. Cashflow drives the most value for every business. It’s how attractive you are to another buyer. In the Federal government space, one is these contract vehicles. Another is what they call qualification. If they buy you, they’re able to talk about your experience to win new work, which is also incredibly valuable.

You’ve got to have the ticket to get in the door and some work when you’re in the door, and then you’ve got some real little Rembrandt paintings that you got to sell.

The ones that we’ve put forward get to the volume. They don’t want to know that you did it but did it at a certain volume. It’s $5 million, $7 million or more. Part of being intentional about building this infrastructure is getting enough of those and building up cashflow and things that are going to be attractive to someone else.

Part of being intentional about building infrastructure is building up cash flow and things that will be attractive to someone else.

This 3 to 5-year growth plan marketing sales that you’re working on, how do you cashflow that? Is it just you that’s working on it or do you have a few people working on it? Is it a long sales cycle?

It’s a very long sales cycle. It’s me and Julietta. Julietta is someone that’s been part of our family for a while. She has an MBA. She is taking over some of these steps to help us get proposals ready, hire people more effectively and build some of these processes. Her next move will be developing training around how we manage projects that’ll allow us to bring people on and can be able to handle a higher volume of work.

Part of the 3 to 5 years is knowing the government is at its own pace. We won our first prime contract. That was fun. It’s how do we position ourselves for new ones? Part of what we started to do, we have our own network. We have people that know us but what we need to do is get known by more people in the government. I always say, “People do business with their friends, but we need more friends.” That’s intentionally making more friends and giving them a unique perspective.

How do you go about building those relationships and getting more of those friends in government? Is it through sales, PR marketing or a blend of everything?

There are ways to do it with PR and marketing, but based on our size, this is more, “I don’t need 20,000 people. I need ten and much more hand-to-hand getting to know people.” One of the things we did was build a white paper with a unique perspective that should catch people’s eyes that are either thinking about going to the cloud or already there. I’m an individual email guy because most mass emails get blocked. The goal is if I can send out 100 to 200 emails, I’m going to get 10 people responding and then I can build a relationship from there.

Most people aren’t willing to do that because they want to do the easy thing. They’re like, “Let me get a list and blast out 10,000 as opposed to being very particular.” I’m looking for people in a particular office. We have these vehicles that we’ve applied for in healthcare. What I’m doing is I’m reaching out to people in government healthcare so we can start identifying when those vehicles are available and we have people that can use those vehicles.

How do you know when to not chase the rabbit anymore? I would imagine government tends to say yes to meetings and phone calls. They drag stuff on. Maybe this is my bias or cynic in me, but how do you not spend forever chasing a deal that’s never there or not going to happen? How do you not chase a relationship that won’t lead to a deal?

My strategy is going to be different because a lot of people do that in this space. Being from the lawyer selling services in chunks, part of what we’re going to offer is you need someone to talk to. You can do this on a monthly basis at a very low level. In the Federal government, everyone is looking for these million-dollar or multimillion-dollar opportunities.

Part of this is, “If we’ll make ourselves available for a certain number of hours per month, one of the things in the government is totally underutilized. Every office has a credit card they can use up to $3,500 a month on that credit card without questions asked.” Part of the strategy is providing services in a way that’s different than others. As you point out, people will talk to you forever if they don’t have to pay anything. It’s getting them to a small decision point sooner, and then you can see how serious they are.

SIC 185 | Thorben

Thorben: Part of the strategy is providing services in a way that’s different than others.


I heard a funny quote from Jeffrey Madoff, who’s an amazing film director. He said, “The difference between a yes and a no is a yes includes a check.”

Abraham Lincoln said, “One of your first lessons as a lawyer is the lawyer always needs to get money upfront because then the lawyer knows he has a client and the client knows he has a lawyer.” It’s a habit that has been built up for many years. People will take free consulting forever. It’ll waste your time that way. The idea is we’re providing a high-value service, and we can save them millions of dollars.

You’re getting them into your funnel with a lower ticket item and then building it up from there. It is smart.

It’s something that others don’t do. That’s the other side of it. In the Federal government space, they are all chasing the great white whale.

It’s smart. It’s like the free book plus shipping. That leads you into the funnel, and then all of a sudden, you’re in the mastermind, and it’s in the platinum program. I want to go back to the depth or the core of what some of your interest was, what possibly makes you successful in being able to work with your wife and being married for many years, conflict analysis and resolution. I can’t imagine that being married for many years has been easy every single day.

Particularly during COVID, there were a few moments when one business collapsed. It was very uncomfortable around here.

What are the lessons for working with a spouse or a partner? There’s a lot more of that coming again. There’s a lot more of the digital nomads that are collaborating, working and starting to do stuff. How do you work well with a spouse or a partner? Can you give us some good tactical, like take-home lessons for dealing with business conflict?

The spouse part is a challenge. I’m in my bedroom and she’s in the office. We’re in the same home and we always have tried to remain separate during the day so that we’re not sharing problems as they happen and distracting each other. It is a geographic separation. Any COO and CEO are bringing attention to what matters, not to every little thing. Part of it is accepting there’s a problem. If you can deal with it, deal with it, and then report back later. Don’t make it a team event because what happens is then there’s a swirl and frustration comes from that. That’s one piece of it.

The other side is having a clear end time to it. If there’s a proposal that may spread out into weekends and stuff like that and if there’s not an extra thing, the business ends. That started back when she was a consultant. She would leave on Monday and come back on Friday. Before that, we used to work on Saturdays and Sundays when she’d leave on Monday and Friday. We took 48 hours and spent time together.

That had nothing to do with the business unless, of course, there was something that needed to come up. What is important is making an appointment with the things that matter. Work is not just an appointment. Have an appointment to work out, for your personal time and with each other. That’s an important part of this.

Let’s talk about conflict. If you’ve got conflict in the workplace, let’s say, with a CEO, a peer on your leadership team or conflict with a supplier, are there some good lessons for us in dealing with that?

Most conflict comes from people trying to avoid conflict. They’re trying to be too nice and they never voice what they want, then things get to the point of escalation. It is incredibly straightforward and also keeps your eye on what is our objective here. It’s nothing to do with the business. We have a gas grill that went up in flames. My wife called me, “Come out here.” I looked at it and I filled up a bucket of water. She’s yelling at me and saying, “What are you doing?” I went out, poured water on it, and we put the fire out.

At that moment, knowing what needs to be done and not getting caught up in a swirl. From a conflict perspective, it’s in a professional environment. It has the expectations down. In our work, we work with people from other companies and the government. You’re always dealing with a coalition of the willing, but you can’t let mediocre people hold you back. It’s defining, “We’re going to do this process and we’ll give you an opportunity, but you have to also buy into the high-performance aspect of it.”

If you’re not going to buy into the high performance and not looking out for the client’s best interests, you may have some uncomfortable moments, but it’s with a principle in mind. The coalition of the willing is something that we all deal with. People want to be nice and let things happen. At some point, you got to get people to buy into, “What is our objective? If we’re looking out for our client’s best interests, we’ve got to follow the process.”

It was Patrick Lencioni that talked about the fear of conflicts in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team as being detrimental. That’s passive-aggressive, where you keep brushing it aside in that underlying issue. I also think conflict seems to be coming a lot of it’s from written communication because we misinterpret everything. We’re skimming, we’re getting too much, and we don’t completely read it.

They read into it too much. In most things, you got to pick up the phone. Hash it out outside of a group setting. You had an event in the COO. We had a conflict person. I checked out because it was too basic to me that conflict is part of life and interaction. The key is conflict can be negative, but it can also be positive if you’re doing it toward a common goal. Here’s my academic side. There’s one book that talks about this. It’s a guy named Lewis Coser. He wrote it in the ‘50s. It’s The Functions of Social Conflict. I don’t even know if it’s in print anymore, but it explains our current political situation and why conflict exists because you’re getting a benefit from it.

Conflict can be negative, but it can also be positive if you do it toward a common goal.

That’s why how groups have operated over the last thousands of years. It recognizes that they’re negative and positive. Conflicts don’t always end up in a bad result if people are bought in and have a common objective. Making sure that people are bought into that common objective will allow you to get a better result from that interaction.

It’s interesting when companies scale when you go from 30 to 100 or not even the numbers. It’s more from the first management team to a real professional leadership team. They tend to get along better when it’s more of a professionally managed company because they’ve learned that skill. They’ve learned to be able to have conflict. It is almost like a marriage where you’ve been able to have enough fights and reconciliations. If you have a fight, you don’t walk out the door thinking the marriage is over. You’re like, “That was that one.” You still love the person. You guys get to have good makeup sex in your boardroom, which is cool.

When I first started my law practice, people that were starting a business for the first time always had partners. People that had operated other businesses were sole owners. Part of it was the people didn’t have confidence in themselves in the business. Invariably what happens in any partnership of any level is people have different functions like, “This person is responsible for sales. This one is for accounting.”

At some point, if revenue isn’t where they want, everyone believes that what they’re doing is the most important and that what everyone else is doing stands. That’s where I always prefer the single-owner business so people can make a decision, but people need to have a common purpose. We’re a professional service. Our focus is on the client. As long as you’ve bought into that, that’s going to be the decider as to what makes sense.

It’s not a conflict about the person. You’re having good debates about the issues. I want to go back to when you were 22 years old. You’re graduating college. You’re getting ready to start your career. What advice would you have for the young Chris Koomey that you know to be true now but wish you’d known back then?

I haven’t thought about that. When I was 22, I went and helped a friend’s family set up a hardware store chain. I was making very little money, but it ended up being a great experience. The next phase was helping a nut and bolt manufacturer get on computers. It’s not when I was 22. It was when I was 28 and graduated from law school. I was always looking at innovation and opportunity. I graduated from law school in 1994 as the internet came alive. Rather than doing that steady path, I’m a lawyer and going to build a law practice to see the big opportunity and invest in that.

In my first year as a lawyer, I made $8,000. People would come to me and say, “I need to make this much money, $30,000, $40,000 or $50,000.” “You can’t go off on your own. You have to be willing to invest.” Two years in, I was ahead of all those salary folks. That’s part of having a comfort level in yourself. The advice is when you see the opportunity, don’t just look at it. Go all in when it’s a good one. The internet in 1994 was brochure sites. There were opportunities in ‘98 when XML came along. That opened up a whole other world and 2001 is another opportunity. When that great opening comes, don’t think or talk about it. Figure out how to take advantage of that.

We got a few of them coming up. We’re into the dawning of almost the new roaring in the ‘20s feels like.

There are many innovations coming, massive changes and dislocations. That’s where opportunity comes. The sad thing is the United States is getting less entrepreneurial when this is the time where you need to figure out, “How do I take advantage of this?” The distinction is, many years ago, the payouts for doing very well were good. Now, the payouts for doing very well are astronomical. For any profession, you’re almost better off going for that big one because you could get a $1 million, $5 million or $10 million opportunity. That wasn’t the case in the ‘90s. You were getting a $500,000 opportunity. It was good, but it wasn’t this remarkable life-changing thing. There’s never been a better time to be looking for that big opportunity.

SIC 185 | Thorben

Thorben: There are so many innovations, changes, and dislocations, and that’s where opportunity comes in.


I had the COO from Blockchain.com as a guest on the show. I’m talking to him about what’s happening in the crypto world and with blockchain. There is some interesting stuff coming down the pipe. Chris Koomey, thank you so much for sharing with us on the show. I appreciate your time.

Thank you for having me. I enjoyed it. I look forward to seeing you later.


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