Chris O’Brien spent a career in the Coast Guard helping solve the world’s problems. During tours aboard a cutter, he helped combat piracy off Somalia and human trafficking in Asia. He trained forces in Pakistan and Afghanistan and performed search and rescue operations to find missing mariners.
Now, the Petaluma resident is solving problems in a different way — through analyzing big data.
O’Brien is the co-founder of a startup consulting firm called BROB Analytics, helping governments and businesses sift through forests of data and find bold solutions to today’s pressing problems. From helping a business find the perfect location to helping nations deal with the impacts of climate change, O’Brien uses data to help others.
“It’s all about making the most of what you have,” said O’Brien, 33. “We help people optimize their resources.”
Raised in Connecticut, O’Brien came to the west coast with the Coast Guard. He injured his knee during a training exercise, and a military doctor made things worse by accidentally severing his nerve. Now the disabled vet suffers from complex regional pain syndrome, a malfunction of the nervous system, making it feel like his skin is constantly on fire. He moves around with a cane and a wheelchair.
After leaving the Coast Guard, O’Brien went back to school, earning two master’s degrees in business and science, and then launching BROB Analytics. (The “BR” is for his partner, Jason Brown, and the “OB” is for O’Brien.)
As a veteran, O’Brien is able to tap into the lucrative defense contracting industry, but most of their clients are from the private sector. Recently, a Chinese firm that makes routing machines to cut furniture wanted to locate in the Bay Area, and O’Brien’s company helped them create a business plan.
Working out of his garage in a quiet east Petaluma neighborhood — his partner is based on the east coast — O’Brien uses open source data or purchased data, and then spends time trying to see the trees for the forest.
“I love it,” he said. “Every day you sit down and get another puzzle to solve. We’re solving the problems of the future.”
O’Brien met his wife, Stephanie, through the Coast Guard, where her father was a senior officer. O’Brien’s colleagues teased him about looking over his shoulder while dating an officer’s daughter. They were married in 2012 and have two young children, ages 5 and 3, and Stephanie is his full time care giver.
Sometimes, O’Brien’s best skill is identifying unanticipated problems. While his background in the armed services, O’Brien said he can serve as a convener for multiple stakeholders.
“I know how different organizations interact,” he said. “Bringing them together in one cohesive unit is something that we can do. We can make plans for various emergencies and then streamline it and make a much larger environment of awareness.”
The company is still small and nimble having been founded in April. Besides O’Brien and Brown, who have been friends since childhood, they only have one other employee, Daniel Giggy, a geospatial science and resource management expert. Their website is www.brobanalytics.com.
When he’s not working out of his home office, O’Brien enjoys spending time with his kids, fostering his daughter’s curiosity for science. He also does freelance design work for local businesses.
But it is the analytics where he has found his niche.
This story originally appeared in Petaluma360.com, part of the Sonoma Media Investments news network.