BTU #263 - Business Development @ Palantir (Chris Musselman & Michael Adams)

When you believe you can do anything, you will persist and endure in a way that isn’t always beneficial. I think a lot of us have carried a pack for so long and done so many wonderful things in the military that we feel like when we slide over into the commercial side, we keep running without realizing the toll that some of those burdens have taken over time.
— Michael Adams

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Why Listen:
In this episode I interview not one but TWO incredible Veterans who work at Palantir, both of them work in Business Development. We do a deep dive on both Palantir and the functional role of Business Development, with two different viewpoints on each. We talk about listening to your gut when you make decision; we talk about how Veterans have more tech experience than they may think; we talk about taking a step back before making career decisions; we talk about taking the time to find your own way of advocating for yourself, and much, much more.

About Chris & Michael:
Chris Musselman works in Business Development Executive at Palantir. He started out at the Naval Academy, after which he served for over 21 years with the Navy SEALs. He holds a Master’s in International Public Policy from The Johns Hopkins University.

Michael Adams is an Business Development Executive at Palantir. He started out at the Naval Academy, after which he served in the Navy for over 20 years as both a Surface Warfare Officer and a member of the Judge Advocate General corps. He holds a J.D. from Georgetown University and a Master of Laws from Harvard Law School.

Our Sponsor: 

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Selected Resources: 

Transcript & Time Stamps:


Joining me today from Charlotte, North Carolina are Chris Musselman and Michael Adams. Chris Musselman works in Business Development Executive at Palantir. He started out at the Naval Academy, after which he served for over 21 years with the Navy SEALs. He holds a Master’s in International Public Policy from The Johns Hopkins University.

Michael Adams is an Business Development Executive at Palantir. He started out at the Naval Academy, after which he served in the Navy for over 20 years as both a Surface Warfare Officer and a member of the Judge Advocate General corps. He holds a J.D. from Georgetown University and a Master of Laws from Harvard Law School.


Can you talk a little bit more about your transition out of the military?

Chris: I was coming out of a tour at the White House and my wife and I just kind of decided that we were ready for something new. My wife was interested in a job for me that would be a little bit safer and to be able to spend more quality time with our family.

So I set out into the business world with the goal of eventually become a CEO. I decided to do that by learning and conversations with various leaders. But through that I realized that that wasn’t quite the right fit for me. I reached out to Bethany Coates and BreakLine. I committed to her and the BreakLine program and was exposed to many companies in high tech. I really felt like I belonged there.

Michael: I hit the 20 year mark and had two young kids. I was working with the Joint Staff and really enjoyed that. But I also realized that part of what I was doing didn’t require me to open a book or grow in any way. You really don’t want that as an attorney. You want to feel like you’re constantly having to learn and grow. I had a fear of becoming complacent.

Getting out for me was about creating a better environment for my wife and family. I thought about getting out at various points in my career. When I finally did, I started working at a law firm in Charlotte. Eventually, I had a friend that wanted me to come talk to Palantir. Palantir was interested in building their business and brand in the North Carolina area. We realized quickly that I could make a large impact at Palantir and they made me a great offer. So that’s how I ended up here.


How would you explain the work that you do at Palantir?

Chris: I think if you’re talking about Palantir, you have to talk about why it was founded. It was founded in 2004 with a sense of service. That sense of service resonates today. The founders of Palantir wanted to bring services to the intelligence community to track down terrorists. That eventually transitioned into using technology to combat human trafficking and other societal issues. For me it really resonates with me that Palantir is so purpose driven. I feel like I’m doing something that matters.

Michael: We’re somewhat industry agnostic - we have clients across many different industries. But at our core, what we are about, is taking the status quo and elevating that into something completely new. We’re a data integration company but what we are really about is developing impactful solutions to issues companies are facing.


Could you also talk about Palantir Gotham and Palantir Foundry?

Chris: Those are the fundamental products that Palantir offers. Gotham looks to put the “x” on something or relationship which then allows you to exploit that “x” to increase national security. There is also now an AI component which monitors and manages data and information.

Foundry is how we manage our internal data to help other companies that need data solutions. This is a decision making and transformation tool. Back when I was in the military, I would make decisions based on various read aheads and PowerPoints. But you didn’t know if you could always trust the information that you were getting. With Foundry we are able to make a more calculated and precise decision in these kinds of situations. Foundry monitors with data how your company makes decisions and how effective those decisions are.

Michael: Foundry is designed to allow high tech companies succeed. They can write code to extract various information that will be valuable to them. But even for executives who many not be so tech savvy, they are able to use and manipulate data within Foundry. If you think about the role of an analyst - that person is not doing a lot of analysis. What they do is research and gather information. Only a small percentage of their time is actually spent analyzing. So imagine that in place of that you could use Foundry to bring all of that data together into more cohesive points and you can now do much deeper analysis.


What does a typical day look like for you?

Michael: One of the fun things at Palantir is that your title is what you make it. I’m relied upon at Palantir to build relationships and establish trust and credibility with existing and new customers. I advocate for the issues and challenges companies are facing. I help to put our best assets against the problems customers are facing.

There’s a lot of strategy in this role. I have direction from our top executives to build our customer base in North Carolina. On a normal day, I wake up, I pray and then I go work out. I eat breakfast with my wife and kids. I then go into my emails and connecting with customers. I travel to visit our customers and work on issues they’re facing.

Chris: The thing that resonates with my about this job is being able to exercise the sense of initiative that I had in the military. When I was hired Palantir wanted me to help break into the American market. I believe that there is a synergy between my background in national security and our clients that are facing various issues.

In February, there was a Friday when it snowed. I was at my office when my son texted me. He wanted to go skiing. Because Palantir is so flexible, I was able to leave the office to go skilling with my son and then go back to getting my job done after that.


Was there a learning curve when you starting working at Palantir?

Michael: I think most people in the military might be surprised at learning just how technologically competent they are. My major at the Naval Academy was political science and I’m a lawyer by trade. When I was at Annapolis, I was taking 20 credits every semester, including Calculus and Engineering classes.

When I was a Surface Warfare Officer, I was responsible for all the systems that went into navigating that vessel.

Some of my most significant work in the Special Operations community as a lawyer was examining electronic warfare and thinking about how we could leverage our technology to find solutions. So I was frequently in a technical environment where I was not the subject matter expert but I learned the expertise over time. In the military, you are used to adapting to different environments. For me as a went into private practice, I was a Cyber Lawyer.

When I came to Palantir, I had a strong foundation from the military in making me effective at learning, listening, and contributing.  

Chris: The learning curve here is extremely steep and I love that. I did my undergraduate in Chemistry but that didn’t help me that much once I got out into the fleet. But it taught me more about how to think about a problem effectively.

My graduate degree in International Public Policy from Johns Hopkins University taught me how to think more about strategy. I learned how to look at what resources were available and to use those to solve problems.


What advice do you have for people that want to do something completely different after they get out of the military?

Chris: When I was getting out, I knew I didn’t want to work for the government but outside of that I wasn’t sure about what I wanted to. Being a SEAL is what I did but it’s not who I am. After many conversations, I realized that the tech space was right for me. It just felt right.

Michael: I felt that I was stubborn and skilled enough to do pretty much anything if I really wanted to. Chris and I played baseball together at the Naval Academy. We had a coach that was a bit of a curmudgeon. He was kind of a Bobby Knight character. So you can imagine that if you come through that kind of environment, that you would come out believing that you can do almost anything.

But one thing I’ll say is that sometimes that can work against you. I think a lot of us have carried a pack for so long and done so many wonderful things in the military that we feel like when we slide over into the commercial side, we keep running without realizing the toll that some of those burdens have taken over time. In the military when you’ve been running for so long and you’ve never really stopped, it can be hard to slow down and under what success looks like on the civilian side.

In the military, success is usually quite clear. In the civilian workspace, it can be more difficult to know what success looks like. So you need to be very deliberate about what success will look like for you in your civilian career. Otherwise, you’re just kind of running but not really running toward anything.


Do you have any advice for veterans about the value of graduate education?

Michael: I think it’s a very personal decision. There are certain industries where that will be required and others where it is not. I was very fortunate that I got 8 years of free education - first at the Naval Academy and then at Georgetown Law School and Harvard Law School. The things I learned in law school I’m not necessarily using every day. But I was able to build many valuable relationships that I’ve had the opportunity to develop over time. So if you go back to school, be mindful of how beneficial building those relationships can be. When I was at Harvard, I was interacting with a wide range of very talented executives. The thing I took away from those educational experiences was giving me many relationships that I really value.

Chris: In talking to people leading up to my transition, it was about 50/50 regarding the issue of the value of graduate school education. Going back to what Mike said, I think the value in graduate school really is in the relationships you build. But when I did my job search out of the military, I didn’t have a Master’s degree and I never felt that I was at a disadvantage without a graduate school degree.


Do you have any resources you would recommend to listeners?

Chris: I wish I knew about Beyond the Uniform when I was in the military. I went back and listened to some of these interviews and there is some really great information here.

Three resources I really recommend are:

COMMIT Foundation
American Corporate Partners

Michael: Some books I would recommend are Zero to One by Peter Thiel, one of the founders of Palantir. Another is Getting Things Done by David Allen. A third is Barbarian Days by William Finnegan.


Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners?

Chris: The most difficult thing for me during the transition was learning to talk about me. We’re not used to that in the military.

Each person has their own journey to getting to a place where it will feel comfortable to tell your own story. Talk to other people that have transitioned and ask them how they tell their story.

Mike: Take your time. It’s easy to undersell yourself or jump into something that’s not the right fit. For me, I got advice before I retired and that was to just take some downtime. I didn’t take that advice though and I went right into working for a law firm. I was working all over the world for that firm. But on a personal level, I feel like I failed. I lost sight of what was most important to me. If I had taken some time during my transition, I probably would have done some things differently. The good thing is, I ended up at Palantir which has given me my sense of self back.