March 25, 2023

Episode #72: Hamish Cohen – Proteus Discovery Group

Hamish was born in Edinburgh Scotland. He moved to Indiana, sight unseen, at the age of seven, and he has been a Hoosier ever since. After spending time travelling and working, he spent fifteen years handing complex commercial, antitrust, and securities litigation at a large, national law firm. During that time, he began working with businesspeople about risk mitigation, governance, and securities compliance – stepping repeatedly into more of an outside general counsel role. In doing so, he developed a deep entrepreneurial spirit.

In 2015 Hamish and his partners started Mattingly Burke Cohen & Biederman – a sophisticated business boutique law firm – and Proteus Discovery Group, an eDiscovery consultant and vendor. As a lawyer, Hamish provides business-related guidance and counsel to numerous businesses, assisting with their entrepreneurial development. Running Proteus, a legal-tech company, Hamish gets to be an entrepreneur, working as a founder and general counsel at an IBJ Fast 25 Indiana company. In both roles, he understands the effort inherent in to developing strategic goal and hitting tactical milestones, all while being true to your and your business’s core values.

Hamish is always happy to talk about a client’s business and legal issues, goals, and needs and, where appropriate, to serve as part of your growing team to provide timely, thoughtful, cost-effective legal and business services. You can reach Hamish at Hamish.cohen@mbcblaw.com.

Transcript

hello this is coach Tim Campsall and I’m your host for the self-made as a myth make a difference together show where we’re talking with successful business owners to hear their stories of the journey to building their business and because we know that success in business is not something that we can do on our own we’re taking some time out to recognize and acknowledge the folks who have helped us along the way today I’m excited to have a fellow business owner from Indiana with us my guest took four years off between undergrad and his law degree to work and travel around Europe we’re going to have them tell us a little bit more about that sounds exciting he enjoys skiing with his family and just got back from a ski trip on unscathed which is always a good thing and he is most proud of his children it is my pleasure to welcome Hamish to the show today hello Hamas hey Tim thanks for having me it’s a pleasure to be here fantastic well hey let’s start with having you um tell us a little bit of your uh personal story so um introduce yourself tell us where you where you were born where you live and about your family and some of your hobbies perfect thank you yes so I’m Hamish Cohen I’m a business owner I’m an entrepreneur I’m an attorney which is usually the last thing I tell people I was born in Edinburgh Scotland I emigrated here when I was seven years old I’ve lived mostly in Indiana since then so I’m a kind of a I’m a Hoosier even though I still can’t really Define what that is other than the circular definition that it’s someone from Indiana

um I went to high school in the northwest side here Pike high school and then I then I took a year off went back to Scotland I took an undergraduate degree here and then spent four years off what you mentioned and I I which was great for me I think part of the entrepreneurial spirit is a sense of adventure and I spent four years kind of working and adventuring and I I worked in a youth hostel and I worked on a cattle ranch and I traveled all over over Europe and it was a terrific experience I’m married I have four children we’re kind of like The Brady Bunch we have I have two boys and two girls and the girls are my stepdaughters and they’re as you as I’m as you mentioned they’re probably what I’m I’m most proud of I think uh parenting is also like entrepreneurship it’s also an adventure where you can’t do it alone and you’re often learning on the Fly and uh I think I think what we try to do as parents is raise kids that are ultimately better people than we are which I realize is a very subjective measure but um I my kids are really kind of they’re nice they’re kind they’re thoughtful people and I don’t know if I’m any of those things on any given day so I’m really proud of that fantastic well uh our our kids are a reflection of ourselves so that uh is it is a reflection of you and your wife so congratulations well thank you they’re definitely a reflection of my best days not my work now I most people who tell me that they you know traveled Europe did took a summer off to do it and you took four years so what was the what was the thought process there that’s amazing well there really wasn’t one I got out of undergrad and I I wanted to go back to Europe I spent quite a bit of time there and I was born there and I just I walked into a youth hostel uh there was hiring an Edinburgh Scotland and and the guy working there was a guy knew a guy I used to drink illegally with when I was you know 16 years old and uh he said you’ve got the job and I I just ended up staying for the best part of four years and uh what what brought me back was was law school I got a scholarship to law school in Indiana and that kind of problem that that in a friend’s wedding I came back to being a friend’s wedding and uh never left again so it was sort of an organic thing and it just happened to take four years now illegal drinking in Scotland that sounds like an oxymoron to me yeah okay that is that is actually technically the drinking age there is 18 although back back when I was 16 if you if you had three pounds and you were tall enough to look over the uh the bar counter they would serve you I think take it a little more seriously now but yeah it was not let’s just say it was not strictly enforced you’re right it’s not strictly enforced what’s a funny story that your family likes to tell about you that you’d be willing to share with us today so that was you sent me that question beforehand which I maybe shouldn’t admit and I was the one I had trouble with my family’s very British so they don’t really tell funny stories you know it’s it’s not exactly a strength I I think the uh the one I would mention is because because it’s one that’s hard I don’t I don’t love it is my my stepdaughter always tells everyone that I I remind her of the grandfather from the Meet the Robinsons the animated movie he’s the guy who wears you know he’s kind of bald he got the big hair and he wears his clothes backwards and he’s he’s a sweet and Goofy character and so yeah that that apparently um that is the movie character to which I’m most relatable as opposed to any Tom Cruise action movie hero right and the grandfather for me at the Robinsons so that I’m learning to live with that there you go it could be a lot worse so I you know I I would take her it could always be worse tell us how the the business came about and at what point did you have the confidence that you could run your own business so it took a while um my partners and I I’m lucky and then I’ve got three Partners uh and I would never admit this to them but they’re they’re fantastic people and you know one of the things we’re talking about are are the people that help you and bring you along and you know I I think of that a lot of times in in the out of the organization sense but it’s also an inter-organizational sense so at least three great partners and we started talking about it um you know we started our business eight years ago but we probably started really talking about it 10 years ago and it took us a couple years you know it started as a dream I think a lot of businesses do it started as this concept and this dream and something we really believed in and it took us a couple years of putting together a business plan and really thinking about it and and kind of working through the pros and cons before we we were ready to jump and and I think what really did it is is kind of putting together the business plan and realizing that we we had something there was a there there and if we if we were brave enough and diligent enough and we worked hard enough and lucky because there’s always that element of luck to we could jump and really make this work but it definitely took a while tell us a little bit more about the company what do you guys do how do you help folks so we have we have three companies really two of which I’ll talk about two of them today one of them is our Law Firm which is Madeline Burke Cohen and biederman LLC LLP and and that is sort of a business Boutique Law Firm which is not particularly interesting there’s nothing interesting about a law firm um the other community that’s that’s kind of our entrepreneurial company is called Proteus Discovery group and it’s an it’s a legal tech company and it’s it works in in the e-discovery world and what e-discovery is is um where businesses usually it can be a person again in litigation or there’s a government investigation or there’s due diligence in in a big transaction there’s a tremendous amount of data that needs to be gathered and gathered in a forensically sound manner stored in a in a safe manner uh deduped analyzed reviewed and in some cases produced and that’s what we do we do that entire process so we we identify where the data is we talk to the custodians and figure out um where relevant or or interesting information is and sometimes it’s accessible and sometimes it’s not particularly accessible We Gather it in a forensically sound way we organize it in a way that makes it usable you know for example we threat email families together and then using both lawyers technologists and Technology we review process and boil that information down to what it’s useful and you know sometimes you start with tens of millions of documents and at the end what you’re interested in is ten thousand or a thousand or or maybe it’s just a hundred documents that are going to be exhibits of trial and and we are that funnel we run that entire process I’ve got to imagine that this saves people thousands of hours it it does it it it um when we first started doing this as lawyers not as technologists or business owners it was an incredibly inefficient process I mean when I first started I’m old enough it was a lot of it was in hard copy right you you’d go to some freezing Warehouse outside of Chicago and spend hours looking through you know asbestos coded boxes of documents trying to find something that was relevant or important now it’s all done electronically and and and the technology itself if by managing the process and the technology you can very quickly focus in on what matters and that saves an incredible amount of time and money and when we realized we could do that we realized ultimately we had a better product than what was in the Market at a much better price you know we were very much a disruptor when we started even though what we’re doing now is becoming more of the norm but we were out in front of it and it’s it’s been a fun process fantastic and uh in our last call imagine that you developed it for your own benefit first and now and and then went to monetizing it and offering it as a service to others is that correct that’s right so we we did it so we also have a a process management software we’ve built which is um which has been terrific and we we did that for ourselves and then we we’ve we’re taking it to the market as well so and I mean ultimately the Proteus model was something that we we learned ourselves as lawyers and and we we implemented first on the law firm side and then then we realized we really we had we really had to tail wagging the dog the dog was Proteus and if we invested in it I mean money but the real investment is often time and energy or you know Blood Sweat and Tears uh produce really could be the entrepreneur vessel it could it could be the company that would grow so so so far so good yeah fantastic hey Miss share a story where someone pushed you or inspired you that you could do it even though maybe you weren’t sure if you could and that impact that person had foreign I’ll share a couple quickly so the first one would be my my partners and and and as we as I mentioned earlier I think the people that Inspire us and move us exists both inside and outside of an organization and I am I’m a lawyer so I spend my a lot of my time as a lawyer dealing with risk mitigation that’s what good business lawyers do is is uh we we help our clients mitigate risk among other things that’s one of the important paths we do and I had a good job at a great Law Firm I was a partner and the biggest law firm in the state of Indiana which was a secure uh position doing interesting work and one of my partners in particular Sean Burke really believed in this and so so did so did Ryan so did John but he really believed in this model and uh he was just I I think in a in a phrase relentlessly positive yeah and and I just think that was really important for me you know part of being an entrepreneur is taking risks and and my partners uh were willing to take those risks and do it together and uh so having that person and then outside just um people like Mike Kelly at Developer Town you know I I just you know when I first started when we first started this business he was one of the first people I met and I kind of met him and Mike Lauren and all of his entrepreneurs that they kind of host and work with and deal with and I just realized that there was this this vibrant entrepreneurial community in Indianapolis in the midwest in the United States of all these folk who were doing incredibly exciting things and and doing in some ways together uh you know we think of I think capitalism as being very competitive but but entrepreneurship is I think entrepreneurship is is is in many ways a shared journey and I think entrepreneurs have so much they can share with each other and and uh Mike Kelly was the person who kind of introduced me to that concept very early on which really inspired me and helped us in the beginning of our business fantastic Mike is a great guy I know him uh personally and um had had the opportunity to to share a meal with them he’s yeah just a great awesome guy who wants to make a difference in in others lives so I’m so happy to hear that you’ve had the the opportunity to work with him that’s awesome yes yeah I’ve been very very lucky there he’s he’s one of the most generous people I don’t know anyone who has less time but is also more generous with their time I don’t know how he does it I think maybe there’s actually three Mike Kelly’s

yeah I I couldn’t do it I don’t have that that energy but hey what’s your biggest uh learning as a business owner so that’s that’s a good question um I think the biggest uh the biggest lesson for me is that it’s it is a constant growth process like when we first started the business we identified the things that we thought were going to really take off and we identified what we thought were going to be the problems and we got many of them wrong um you know many of the issues that we’ve dealt with or we’ve had to deal with as we’ve grown were things we didn’t even think about and conversely there were many of our successes were things that we we didn’t think about and didn’t know about and we’re not things that we counted on when we first put together our business plan it it is a iterative process you are constantly learning on the Fly and I and I I think I I knew that in my heart of hearts but I don’t think I appreciated the extent to which that is true yeah I um I’ve heard this phrase before uh about failure and that um our founder I I love his quote he says that he’s never failed he he either succeeds or he learns and I like I’ve heard it also be called learn forward right yeah learn Ford I like that yeah no I’ve we’ve definitely had quite a few learning opportunities so yeah and we’ve learned from them which is part of the the joy of Entrepreneurship is that you get to learn and grow which is incredibly exciting you’re not doing the same thing every day it’s always lots lots of learning opportunities you you mentioned your um your business partners with being that persistent and I think that’s another quality that you know needed to have a successful business is to you know to be persistent through those those challenges or those learning opportunities and and have the faith and the courage that hey we’re gonna we’re gonna keep pushing forward because we’re do we know we believe our vision and these Road bumps and blocks are not going to stop us from achieving what we know is possible no you’re exactly right it’s you have to be a little dogged um you know and you know that when you first start the business and for us we got a line of credit I signed that personal guarantee you know it’s you know you you realize very quickly that there’s that you you have to you have to be persistent and you have to push forward image we know that business success doesn’t happen in isolation so tell us about uh your biggest challenge during the years as a business owner and and maybe another a fellow business owner who you know came alongside you and helped you to get through that so I think the the biggest challenge are the the human challenges I think the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do is terminate an employee um it’s just because we’re human and you appreciate even if that person isn’t working they’re the wrong person in the wrong seat they don’t necessarily share your organization’s core values maybe they’re disruptive or whatever the case is and you’ve even when you’ve done all the right things you you’ve tried to Mentor them you’ve talked to them you’ve put them on a personal Improvement plan and it just isn’t working it’s still something terrible and I hate it um and you know I think you know the the people that have kind of helped us through that um you know I mentioned Mike Kelly Mike Horner Developer Town there’s Tony who introduced us to to each other um who I think is a great guy and just an incredibly uh dedicated and person people like Hector Escobar who’s a local business guy who’s very successful uh chasing Damon who runs ship Sigma I mean I think what they all have in common is this sort of fearlessness and and bravery and I think just being around these folk helps and and and and realizing that you’re not the first person to go through this you know every everyone has a situation where they have the wrong person in the wrong seat and and that’s okay and and that ultimately you’re hurting that person you’re hurting yourself and you’re hurting the business if where you don’t make the difficult decisions and being around people like the folks I mentioned who are I mean they have great core values they’re they’re good people they’re kind they’re smart they’re hard working and they’re willing to make the difficult decisions when they need to um you know I think most people really inspire me and they’ve seen them do those things has been really good for me and really good for our business um I’m glad to hear that you were able to get that support and be because it is right it’s like we we get an emotional attachment to our our work family and it’s hard to to part ways there’s another phrase that it can be helpful in in these types of situations it’s you know higher slow and Fire fast right so the higher flow is yeah make sure that we know that they’re the right cultural fit right that they’re gonna they’re gonna fit into our DNA and our values and our beliefs because that’s the most important thing we can teach skills but we can’t teach cultural fit and then the fire fast is as soon as you know that you know that you’ve made a wrong decision you’re you’re not doing yourself a benefit right and you’re not you know you’re doing a disservice to your employee as well by trying to figure out how to make it work so I’ve had people you know who have been let go you know come back later and say hey Tim you actually did me a favor because I found something that was the right photography and yeah yeah that’s that’s great Tim I wish I wish I’d heard that before but yeah you’re exactly right the analogy someone gave me once is every now and then you’ve got to rip the Band-Aid off yes you gotta rip the Band-Aid off and you know I like that that’s a great phrase I wish I I wish we’d talked I wish we talked about seven years ago

Hamish if I asked you to pick I’m going to kind of put you on the spot here if I asked you to pick three people in your business owner Journey that you’re most grateful for you know them being there um to contribute to your business’s growth who are those three people and how they help you well I don’t know if I can only pick three that’s tough so I obviously the the Mike’s a Developer Town Mike Kelly and Mike Lauren so I’ll put them in one bucket um and and I kind of mentioned what they did before but but they’re just incredibly they’re incredibly entrepreneurial they’re very very brave and and they’re they’re kind and generous they really believe in in a community and I always see them committing to that community and and and building that community and sharing their time with people um you know it’s it’s funny they there’s nothing I don’t think that they’ll work and share with people uh you know as a lawyer like sometimes they’ll refer people to me with an agreement that they’ve given the person and invariably I’m like yes this is pretty good I wrote it and uh but but I’m glad that they’re doing that I’m glad that they’re they’re sharing their time and expertise the the second bucket would be my my partners and we think about people who Inspire us as being outside of the organization but but one piece of advice I would give to entrepreneurs is is look for good look for really good business partners I think the word partnership is um is undervalued you know real Partners look after each other I still have lunch with my partners two or three days a week and we we talk shop I mean it’s our it’s a de facto business meeting we deal with the issues of the day and then and then we talk about our families and we make fun of each other and we belong in Indiana Indiana University basketball and we do all the things that that are human and enjoyable and you know we are a family which um makes makes the good better because you’ve got someone to share with and when it’s bad and it’s difficult you’ve got you’ve got people pulling on the oars with you and then uh Tony you introduced us I haven’t known Tony for that long but just incredibly impressed by him and and what really amazes me about him again is that that sense of community um this this this idea that hey you’re doing X Y and Z I know these people who are struggling either with similar issues who have dealt with this before or who are who have skills that that can help you with this and making that introduction like that no no thought about it just introducing you to other people that can can help you along your journey because it’s difficult running a business requires a myriad of skills you’re constantly dealing with new issues or things that are beyond your your your ballet weight you know I’m a lawyer I’m good at the legal side I’m our company’s general counsel but but I’m not an HR specialist it’s not always good with people I’m a bit of an introvert you know it’s my I don’t have the skill set that covers all of the things that we deal with in a business and having these people that are that have those skills and are willing to make those uh connections is just incredibly important for those listening uh it’s Tony selzo with that thank you yeah thank you I should have said that no no worries yeah Tony is Tony’s Tony’s remarkable person so I really really enjoyed getting to know him and again uh background Tony is the one who launched and created rainmakers here in uh in in Indianapolis he’s since moved on and has a new business and helps helps entrepreneurs so just a little shout out we both know Tony’s a great friend and uh I appreciate uh the work that he’s he does with us as well I’m famous as we think about the excuse me Hamish sorry the next three to five years um what are the biggest challenges that you’ll face uh that in terms of you know getting to your goals as as you look to grow your business and who are the types of people that you’ll need uh in your business or and and or outside of your business helping you to solve those challenges sure um so our our challenge now and we’ve we’ve we’ve we’ve had a couple of we’ve grown and we’ve done well we’ve obviously proven our concept repeatedly in the marketplace so our challenge now is is growth is is strategically growing the business in a way that is true and consistent with our core values um and those those are core values from a business you know we provide quality we’re we call ourselves the anti-vendor and that we we do all the things the vendor does but we also are very relationship driven we we really care about our clients uh and I think that the trickiest thing there and we try to be very deliberate about this is is very specifically identifying what our seats are as we grow where do we need people and what are their roles going to be and defining those and then and then so you said very slowly and deliberately finding the right people for those seats and that’s been a process for us and I think when we first started hiring people we we were not deliberate I mean so I think the challenge for us is is strategic growth we’re trying to grow as a business um and that’s difficult it’s difficult because it requires bringing in more people and more clients and so as to the clients we’ve got to find them um we we believe I think correctly that we’ve got a better widget we’ve got a great product at a great price and we we provide that legal Tech sphere a tremendous product at a incredibly competitive price but it’s it’s not always easy to sell that because uh people are not always don’t always understand what they’re buying when they buy legal or legal technological or technological services and so the messaging around that is is something we’ve always worked on we’re lawyers we’re not marketers and so yeah back back to the point you don’t have the entire skill set um so we’ve we’ve got ahead of marketing now who’s a great guy who’s doing a great job but building that out is very foreign I’m not a national marketer um uh and then fill in the other seats with the right people doing it like you said slowly and deliberately is going to be really really important and I think one of the key things for us is doing so in a way that is true to our core values you know we’ve we’ve spent a lot of time over eight years as a successful business figuring out who we are I actually have a sheet here now with our Proteus core values on it that one of my partners printed out and gave to me is in case in case I forget what our core values are great yeah yeah I know right you know we are we deliver we commit we’re sincere and we’re adaptable so there you go fantastic yes I know right but but finding folk that are true to that and maintaining um maintaining that our quality as we grow is going to be incredibly important to us um and and doing doing that requires us finding really good people and putting them in the right seat and continuing to maintain the relationships we have in the business community community with the people who Inspire us I love that your partner printed that out one of the things that that we do as a company and we poach our clients on is to you know in our Monday team huddles yeah I actually read out one of our our core values and then we go around and everybody shares where they feel like they’re doing well and where they can improve and that’s great live right we keep it real and we hold each other accountable to to the fact that we’re you know we’re actually living it out it’s not just this thing that’s printed on the wall and we all forget about it yeah that’s fantastic Tim I love that yeah we try to do the same thing we we have a weekly meeting and one of the things that we really emphasize systemically or systematically is are those core values and why they matter and what what they actually mean to us and how they mean to us internally and how they what they mean to us as we interface with our clients so because that’s critically important yeah and that’s something that I’ve been been taught to by by these people who’ve inspired me yeah and the more that we the more we do that on a regular basis it becomes a whole lot easier to discern potential hires in our culture or not because we now know what it is we you know we live with it every week um and even putting writing that into a job ad people will self-select out and they’re like hey that that’s not the type of culture I want to be part of so I’m not going to apply for that job that’s that’s exactly right and that’s that and that’s exactly the sort of thing that I had no idea about that the people we’ve mentioned have said to me I mean you’re exactly and that’s why this matters I I I’ve never written a job description before I started this business I never hired anybody not really I set it in job interviews but sure you know it’s these are the sort of things that that people know and you know I I know everything that you want to know about corporate governance and corporate structure and board meetings and stuff like that but this stuff I didn’t know about and having people who could kind of like hey well have you thought about have you thought about your core values have you thought about how that how that should be expressed and how that affects the people you hire I mean my initial answer was well no oh really yeah if we’re being honest right yeah well it’s a big shift right and when we’re when we work for a corporation there’s somebody else that does all that stuff for us and the person shows up for the interview and right we ask them some questions yeah and then if you you fill out the form that HR gave you and yeah four out of five or whatever it is and then you don’t think about it again yeah right okay right it last question here Jim Rohn said that we become the average of the five people that we spend the most time with so as you think about that quote what advice do you have for business owners who are trying to do it on their own who don’t think that they need other people’s help and that they can you know they can sort through it all and figure it out by themselves so my advice is that that is a myth there there are no entirely self-made business owners which doesn’t diminish the experience or the process at all it is running a business is an incredibly challenging and complex thing and if you can do it successfully I think you’re you’re accomplishing something very special but but it’s not something that you do on your own and and I think it’s I would say that for a number of reasons not number one it’s a lot more fun with other people I’m a very relationship driven person I I think you have more fun when you share the experience even if you’re a sole proprietorship if you have people you can share the experience with number number two no no one is an expert at everything you know I come I routinely have business people come to me who are brilliant they are brilliant in business they have an incredible idea their implementation of it is fantastic but but their corporate governance is a mess because they’re not lawyers and they don’t know how to set up and run actually run a business from a legal standpoint and that’s just that’s that’s what I can do so that’s one of my perspectives but we’re all like that none of us know everything and then the third point I would make is many of the things we Face are subjective many of the things the decisions that I’ve had to make as a business owner there is no right or wrong answer there’s there’s no formula that I can plug the data in and get oh here’s the obvious answer having smart thoughtful kind experienced people that you can bounce those issues off and get their perspective improves your decision making exponentially it just does and so I’m faced most of the decisions I make are subjected decisions having good folk that I can share those uh issues with just improves my decision making so much for so many reasons so it’s you know we are all hard working we’re all independent folk um and so on and so forth and that’s important but at the end of the day I think the entrepreneurial journey is a shared Journey it just has to be awesome advice thank you for sharing that um sounds like you’ve been blessed with some incredible people who have helped you along the journey if they were all on the show here today what would you want to say to them I’d say thank you I’d say thank you for your advice thank you for your kindness thank you for your support and and thank you for making this a lot more fun I mean life life is short I uh I’ve it’s not always easy but it really has been a great ride and I’m just so grateful I am really grateful for those folks that they’ve they’ve been a part of it it’s been a pleasure speaking with you today thank you so much for being on the show you too Tim thanks for having me made I really appreciate it to everyone who tuned in thanks for listening to the self-made is a myth show with your host coach Tim cancel be sure to help spread the movement by liking the show and posting about it on your social media and to join our movement go to bmadtogether.com all right folks that’s a wrap make sure to pay it forward and I’ll see you all next time take care