Lifelong learning lets you climb the mountain to success

Building a business is often compared to climbing a mountain. It’s likely a difficult hike to the top, but then you get to sit back and enjoy the view—right?

Well, maybe not. Most mountain climbers I know don’t quit climbing when they get to the top of their first mountain. Sure, they take a little time to enjoy conquering this particular challenge, but most then start planning for the next mountain.

This means learning new climbing techniques and learning all they can about the next climb. That’s true for entrepreneurs as well: The learning never stops.

Learning = success

Successful entrepreneurs – like mountain climbers – are lifelong learners. Just because you’ve experienced success doesn’t mean you should stop learning. Helping your company stay successful is as important as building it in the first place. To do that, you have to keep educating yourself.

Lifelong learning doesn’t necessarily mean going back to school—although that is one form it can take. Whether you choose to take classes at a local college, attend a training course on a new software, or consult with experts about how to implement some new management styles, continuing to learn new skills and perspectives is essential to keeping your business on a successful path.

Obstacles to learning

“But I’m too busy to read or take a class or meet with anyone else!” I get it. Your days are full, and your head is weighed down by the multiple hats you wear. But don’t let the urgent get in the way of the important.

Continuing to learn from books and other people is the only way to make sure you stay ahead no matter what industry you’re in. Research shows that people who engage in lifelong, self-directed learning perform better and have more motivation than those who don’t.

The rewards of self-directed lifelong learning shouldn’t be underestimated. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn summed it up this way:

“Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.”

Focus areas

However, you’re running a company, so you need to make sure you’re directing your self-learning in areas that will help you be more successful. Jackie Nagel, president of Synnovatia, a small business performance firm, recommends focusing your learning efforts in these areas:

  • International economic trends
  • Technology
  • Consumer behavior
  • Industry trends
  • Marketing trends

Of course, don’t hesitate to find out what people are doing outside of your industry as well, and engage in something called learning transfer—where you take the ideas that work in one field and apply that knowledge to work in your own area of interest. To do this, you have to be able to deconstruct knowledge from one field to make it useful in another. Elon Musk breaks it down like this:

“It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree—make sure you understand the fundamental principles (i.e., the trunk and big branches) before you get into the leaves/details, or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”

Tap into wisdom

While transferring knowledge from one industry to another is one way to engage in lifelong learning, another important way is to learn from others who have been there before. Engaging with a mentor – or even a one-time meeting with someone who can offer insight and perspective into your industry or company – is invaluable. It allows you to learn from someone else’s experience without having to live through those things yourself. And the best way to avoid mistakes, of course, is to talk to someone who’s already made them.

While it’s tempting to go it alone so you can say you built your company yourself, you give up access to a wealth of wisdom when you take that route—wisdom that can save you a lot of agony and money. Richard Branson has this to say about the “I can do it myself” mindset:

“Understandably, there’s a lot of ego, nervous energy and parental pride involved, especially with one- or two-person start-ups … Going it alone is an admirable, but [a] foolhardy and highly flawed approach to taking on the world.”

Don’t hesitate to ask someone who’s walked in your shoes and is further down the path for feedback or advice. One of the best ways to learn is to be taught by someone who has done what you’re doing.

Whether you seek out a mentor or learn in other ways as you climb the entrepreneurship mountain to success, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security when you reach that first summit. Keep learning all you can from reading, classes, learning transfer and others who’ve already climbed the mountain. After all, there are many more summits to reach, and you’ll need that knowledge to make the climb.

Marshall Dougherty is a partner of Target Hill Capital, a venture capital firm dedicated to building scalable growth companies and investment opportunities backed by unmatched due diligence to exceed VC success rates and investor IRR. Share your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter or on LinkedIn.

Veterans bring new benefits to your business

What does the perfect candidate for a job in your company look like?

Is it someone who works well in a team, is adaptable to any situation, possesses leadership skills and can focus on the big picture while still seeing the details?

If you haven’t already, consider hiring a veteran. With more than 30 years of military service of my own, I know firsthand the skills you can acquire in the military. Those skills translate well to the business world and make veterans some of the most valuable people you can hire, especially when you work in a field that requires people to think on their feet and adapt to quickly changing environments—which sounds a lot like many companies I know.

Hiring veterans isn’t just a topic that’s near to my heart, it’s becoming a conversation throughout the business world. The Kansas City Business Journal – along with the VFW – recently held a panel discussion on how to recruit and retain veterans as part of your work force, which helped raise the profile of this important topic locally. If you’re not part of this broader discussion, you should be.

Not sure about the benefits of hiring a vet? Consider these attributes all members of the military must learn to be functioning members of the Armed Forces:


Teamwork is a priority in every branch of the military. Soldiers work with all sorts of people from all different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. They long ago learned to put aside petty biases to further the good of the country. Those skills translate well into a team environment at your company. Good people skills and the ability to get the job done no matter who you’re working with are soft skills former military members already have.


Veterans have learned to think on their feet when a mission doesn’t go as planned. As a matter of fact, they’re trained to be adaptable in all situations. When plans go awry, soldiers have mastered the art of changing the plan to still meet the goal.


Former military personnel, no matter their rank when they left, have fully developed leadership skills. (And many say that the best followers make the best leaders.) In the military, soldiers learn to both lead and follow. They understand a command structure and how to work within that structure to get things done. When they join your company, they can both lead and follow well, depending on the circumstance.


Grit is passion and perseverance toward long-term goals, and according to a study by a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, it’s more important in determining success than IQ. Grit is something former soldiers have in spades. Finishing a mission even when the plan goes south in a life-or-death situation takes grit. If your company needs someone who’s going to tackle the job no matter the obstacles and blaze a path toward the company’s goals, then hiring a veteran just might be your best bet.

Working under pressure

Military men and women are trained to work in high-pressure situations. Many of them have experience in a combat zone. And there’s no more high-pressure scenario than one where your life and the lives of others are at stake. Veterans aren’t afraid to make decisions and take action even when the stakes are high.

Shane Robinson, a former active-duty soldier himself, elaborates in

“Despite the rigidity of military regulations and the certainty provided by standard operating procedures, officers and enlisted soldiers alike are accustomed to making significant decisions in the face of moral dilemma, under the threat of physical harm and in a myriad of other uncertain situations.”

Seeing the big picture

You need people in your company who can see the big picture but can also focus on the details. Those who spend time in the military often have this rare skill set and can set your company on a path to success. Daniel Freifeld, CEO and founder at Callaway Capital Management, believes the military fosters this mindset: “Indeed, military experience might be unique in equipping business leaders with this type of skill set,” he said.

A lot of what former soldiers bring to the table isn’t always possible to define on a resume, so it’s important to keep in mind these skills when considering a veteran for a role in your company. Be a part of the discussion and keep your options open for hiring former members of the military. It might be one of the best decisions you’ll make for your company.

Marshall Dougherty is a partner of Target Hill Capital, a venture capital firm dedicated to building scalable growth companies and investment opportunities backed by unmatched due diligence to exceed VC success rates and investor IRR. Share your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter or on LinkedIn.

Are you ready to take advice?

If you have children, you know that even before you become a parent, everyone wants to give you advice. All of a sudden, everybody’s an expert.

But once you have kids, you also know that every child is unique, and no one knows your child as well as you do. So, you learn to take the advice you think will work with your child and put it into practice. (You also learn to throw out what doesn’t work.) You may even stop listening to advice on child-rearing altogether.

The danger with this approach? You just might miss a valuable nugget that could make a tough time a little easier.

What’s your mindset?

Starting a business is similar to having a child in many ways, including the amount of advice you’ll receive. It’d be easy to simply stop listening—after all, who knows your company better than you?

But that’s not going to work well for you or your business in the long run, especially if you have a relationship with venture capitalists. Most VCs expect to have some input into the way your company is run. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Venture capitalists come to the table with more than just money. They bring experience and wisdom garnered from previous relationships with startups. They’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. That doesn’t mean their advice is always right for your company, but it is worth listening to and considering.

Giving advice in a way that it will be considered is an art form, but so is taking advice. As a startup owner, are you ready to take advice? Do you have the necessary mindset to listen to what others have to say and decide whether to apply it to your business?

It’s all about perspective

How do you create a mindset that will allow you to filter through the advice others bring to the table? It all starts with perspective, says Alex Turnbull, CEO and founder of Groove:

“There’s no substitute for actually asking people with wildly different perspectives from yours for advice. … You’ll see angles and opportunities that didn’t exist before.”

As a parent, when you’re in the midst of dirty diapers and late-night feedings, it can be hard to think about the teenage years. But someone who’s already lived through that can tell you how quickly the days fly by.

The same is true with your business. Many times, VCs and others bring a long-term perspective to the table that you may not have because you’re in the throes of startup life. It’s easy to become laser-focused on the here and now and miss things you should be doing that will benefit you later. Don’t get so caught up in your own perspective that you dismiss advice from those who may have a broader view based on wider experience.

What are your biases?

Another barrier to taking advice can be your own biases and experiences. You may have tried something once that didn’t work or you simply may not like a certain course of action based on something you’ve seen or heard in the past.

When you want to reject a piece of advice based on your own experiences, first examine those biases to make sure they’re a legitimate reason to pass up the recommended course of action.

In an article in Harvard Business Review, David Garvin and Joshua Margolies call this “egocentric bias,” the idea that “even when people lack expertise, they put more stock in their own opinions than in others’ views.” Often, biases aren’t based on facts, and experiences can be specific to a certain set of circumstances. Don’t let your past hold you back for no reason.

How does it compare?

As parents, we’ve all had those moments when our teenager comes home and tell us they’ve decided something based on the advice of another adult—the exact same advice we’ve been giving them! While they weren’t interested in taking that advice from us, they’re more than happy to take it from someone else (even though the information is identical).

When considering advice about your company, be like that teenager. Seek advice from more than one person, then compare that advice. If you seem to be getting the same advice from multiple sources, it might be time to seriously consider that course of action.

Taking advice from others can be difficult, especially when that advice is different from what you would do on your own. But as a startup owner, you need to be ready to consider advice from multiple sources. Not all advice will be perfect for your company, of course. But just because the advice may not be right for your company doesn’t mean you should stop listening.

Because as any good parent will tell you, it’s not a good idea to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Marshall Dougherty is a partner of Target Hill Capital, a venture capital firm dedicated to building scalable growth companies and investment opportunities backed by unmatched due diligence to exceed VC success rates and investor IRR. Share your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter or on LinkedIn.

Just launch already! (Or: How I learned to stop polishing the cannonball and love my product)

Knocking down your enemy’s castle in the 15th century was hard work—nearly impossible, actually. That all changed in the 1450s, however, when a French engineer crafted the first cast iron cannonball, which made quick work of traditional English castle walls.

Now, I spent more than three decades in the Army, but I’m afraid the era of the cannonball was a little before my time. Yet, I think I can safely guess that when the commander was yelling for another cannonball to fire, the man in charge of loading it wasn’t worried about first cleaning off the dirt.

Which leads me to a vital lesson for new entrepreneurs: Stop polishing the cannonball.

Don’t sabotage your time to market

“But it’s not ready yet!” I hear this refrain from many business owners, especially engineers and technical people—and I get it. You want to put your best foot forward when you launch. And we’ve all been taught you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. All true, but…

“It’s not quite organizational anal retention, it’s more that engineers like to engineer. Designing new products captures an engineer’s imagination and attention in such a way that they get distracted from the bigger picture (time to market and basic functionality) and go off in tangents instead of remaining focused on the goal.”

This is a quote from author William Bouffard, who makes the point that being “done” is really more of a state of mind, and that hard deadlines and bold leadership are sometimes necessary to prevent that all-too-common cannonball polishing.

So, what’s the answer? It’s learning to let go, to turn it loose already! After all, you’ve created the idea, you’ve built the minimum viable product (MVP), you have to make it available—ship it, sell it, share it. Even better than hopefully making a little money (a nice bonus) is the data and client feedback you’ll receive. Not only will this guide you toward more targeted improvements to your product or service, you’ll also get to exercise your company processes and see where you need to make changes. That’s right, don’t forget about those—the cannonball is useless without the right people taking all the right steps, in the right order, to fire it.

The first step is the most important

This doesn’t mean you have to take aim at the biggest castle right out of the gate. Use this opportunity to start small; roll it out to a friendlier market, a smaller audience, friends and family, etc.

Digital Baron, one of our portfolio companies, is a good example: As they were perfecting Skip, an app-less mobile order and pay platform for quick-service restaurant customers, they chose a smaller fast-food chain in a small-town market for a pilot program. That initial launch allowed them to work out some issues with their product – issues they may not have discovered on their own – while mitigating much of the risk of rolling it out to the larger world. That has led to a much more polished product made better by real feedback.

This lesson ties back to the concept of moving the heavy flywheel, made popular by author Jim Collins. Like a flywheel, a new business takes many incremental efforts to build the momentum you seek:

“No matter how dramatic the end result, the good-to-great transformations never happened in one fell swoop. There was no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no wrenching revolution. Good to great comes about by a cumulative process – step by step, action by action, decision by decision, turn by turn of the flywheel – that adds up to sustained and spectacular results.”

Just staring at the flywheel – or cannonball (I’ve mixed my metaphors here) – won’t get you closer to your goal. You have to take that first step, move the wheel that first inch, break down your first stone wall. Stop polishing, start firing!

I think you’ll be surprised at how quickly your aim improves.

Marshall Dougherty is a partner of Target Hill Capital, a venture capital firm dedicated to building scalable growth companies and investment opportunities backed by unmatched due diligence to exceed VC success rates and investor IRR. Share your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter or on LinkedIn.

Soft skills or hard skills: Which is the future of work?

When is Java better than creativity?

This is not the setup to some strange riddle but instead a reflection on how we categorize our worth for an employer. We’re all used to reviewing resumes with a list of skills, both hard (such as JavaScript or Adobe Creative Suite) and soft (teamwork, communication). But which are most important? How do we prioritize these lists? And what do they have to do with starting a new business?

A lot, as it turns out. Because as the types of jobs and technologies continue to evolve, the future of work in general is going to change how we prepare for it.

The hard value of soft skills

Hard skills are straight-forward: They’re usually a list of software programs you know well or online tools you can navigate. But softer skills are a little more fluid—and therefore much more difficult to quantify. They’re also becoming even more valued.

The World Economic Forum recently interviewed executives from hundreds of global employers and compiled a list of the top 10 “employer-demanded skills” for the years ahead. Here’s the list:

  1. Complex problem-solving
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People management
  5. Coordinating with others
  6. Emotional intelligence
  7. Judgment and decision-making
  8. Service orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive flexibility

Now, it’s no secret that technology jobs dominate the headlines, and the employment trend is definitely moving that way. It may surprise you, then, to see so many “soft” skills in this top 10 list. But the employers who were interviewed for the study replied that the more technical skills – such as teaching someone how to use Trello, for example – can often be taught on the job. Creativity, however, is one of those have-it-or-you-don’t type of traits.

This is an important finding because so many of these attributes we find in our top entrepreneurs and leaders of emerging businesses. Indeed, I would argue an entrepreneur will surely fail if he or she is lacking too many of these top traits. Gary Schoeniger, Founder of the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative and whose work has been embraced by the Kauffman Foundation, goes further:

“Entrepreneurship is more than an academic discipline and reaches far beyond the concept of traditional business creation and small business management. Entrepreneurship is a mindset; a framework for thinking and acting that can empower anyone to succeed. It is a mindset that can empower ordinary people to accomplish the extraordinary.”

Balance is key

The timing of the WEF report is fascinating, especially as we embrace the rise of automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence—all designed to unburden humans of rote, repetitive tasks that have become such a large part of any job.

In fact, Target Hill Capital is involved with many technology-based companies who are banking on their ability to find innovative ways to make our lives easier (and often eliminate some level of human involvement).

However, any entrepreneur or business leader can recognize there’s no replacement for those skills that not only make you a more effective founder but also a more interesting person. If anything, these new feats of automation are teaching us that it’s precisely those “human” traits and soft skills that make us so valuable to both an employer and our customer base.

For any of us to succeed, we’ll need to rethink how we approach the future of work in the years to come. Joseph E. Aoun, author of “Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence,” writes that the pivot needs to begin before we even enter the work force:

“A robot-proof model of higher education is not concerned solely with topping up students’ minds with high-octane facts. Rather, it refits their mental engines, calibrating them with a creative mindset and the mental elasticity to invent, discover, or produce something society deems valuable.”

Laura Wilcox argues in Forbes that instead of prioritizing certain skills over another, we should view them as complementary:

“We should see hard and soft skills as working in concert with one another. Emotional intelligence bolsters the hard skills, helping us think more creatively about how best to leverage our technical chops.”

For any engineer or artist who decides to take the leap as an entrepreneur, you know the important of juggling these hard and soft skills (or bringing in help when you need it). Even more important is the need to emphasize that balance as we hire and grow our companies.

So, my riddle above was actually a trick question—looks like you need them both.

Marshall Dougherty is a partner of Target Hill Capital, a venture capital firm dedicated to building scalable growth companies and investment opportunities backed by unmatched due diligence to exceed VC success rates and investor IRR. Share your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter or on LinkedIn.

How outsourcing can provide extra wind in your sails

They say a good ship captain knows every weld of his ship. He recognizes every nook and cranny, each angle and curve, and can tell you how everything works (and why something stops working). A good entrepreneur has that same passion and fervor for a new business. After all, when you build something from the ground up, you know it intimately because you’ve assembled every piece.

I love that never-give-up, hard-working attitude! Indeed, it’s the type of work ethic that often separates the wheat from the startup chaff—a necessary ingredient in a successful emerging enterprise.

Until it’s not.

Sooner or later, that kind of possession over every aspect of your business must make room for an extra set of hands. Otherwise, your quest to handle everything leads to a heavier load than you can manage—and that can spell disaster for any entrepreneur.

Look for outsourcing opportunities

Outsourcing is nothing new of course, but the latest technological advances means certain functions can be farmed out more easily than ever. The talent is plentiful as well: More than one out of every three workers in the United States are freelancers, according to Betterment’s 2018 “Gig Economy and the Future of Retirement” report, with an estimated increase of 40 percent by next year.

Kansas City is also blessed with a number of small agencies and firms focused on providing outsourced functions—many specifically for startups and small businesses. As you review your company and its operations, look for tasks that could be handed off, such as:

  • Accounting and book-keeping functions
  • Payroll
  • Data entry
  • IT support
  • Marketing, including writing, editing and social media
  • Shipping services
  • Customer service
  • Website

If you’re used to handling everything yourself, relinquishing this control can be daunting, but as Ben Walker explains on Creator from WeWork, it’s crucial to success:

“Even though outsourcing can be a scary thought to some entrepreneurs and startups, in most cases, it just makes sense. Let the outsourcing company assume and manage the risk in their areas of expertise for you, so you can return to your desk with a clear vision of where your business is and where it needs to go in the future.”

Benefits of outsourcing

Be sure you’re really thinking through how outsourcing can help. Yes, outsourced services aren’t always cheap, but the long-term payoff can more than make up for it:

Boost your business – In the beginning, your company needed your hands in everything to ensure your idea was created the right way. But once it begins to really take off, outsourced experts can give it that extra propulsion you wouldn’t be able to provide on your own.

Elevate a team’s skill set – Your in-house marketing person might be doing fine but may not include a solid writer, for example, who can truly nail your message. Outsourcing that function energizes the entire team and allows all of them to up their game and integrate their efforts more effectively.

Avoid the résumé rut – Maybe you’ve realized you need to hire an IT expert to manage some back-office data functions. But unless you’re experienced in the technology realm, you may feel unsure how to even evaluate candidates. Outsourced firms come ready to hit the ground running, which prevent you from spending too much time learning how to find the right candidate in a field in which you’re not an expert.

Save some hard-earned money – Outsourcing can be a cost-efficient option, especially when you compare it to the combined expense of hiring, offering benefits, training, etc. And if the task is more project-based, hiring externally can be even more attractive.

The biggest benefit? Working with experts in their field who know what they’re doing and know how to help startups. I admire entrepreneurs and their desire to tackle every task and really be a jack of all trades; indeed, you have to. But to take your company to that next level, you’ll need a strong crew at your back.

And that just makes you a better captain.

Marshall Dougherty is a partner of Target Hill Capital, a venture capital firm dedicated to building scalable growth companies and investment opportunities backed by unmatched due diligence to exceed VC success rates and investor IRR. Share your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter or on LinkedIn.

Don’t forget 4 basic values that drive entrepreneurial success

Originally published in Startland News
December 10, 2018


The local crime report, shady politicians, unscrupulous business people — it’s easy to adopt a cynical view of the world and feel like today’s culture of lying and dishonesty has permeated our daily lives. Certainly, there’s no shortage of “used car” entrepreneurs out there, doing anything to get ahead, where the end always justifies the means.

Thankfully, it’s easy to mute the TV, tune out the talking heads, and look to successful entrepreneurs who champion fair play and personal values. Kansas City boasts many of these success stories, proving that ethical business practices can (and do) drive success.

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation elaborated on this type of value system, which is really the only thing that will sustain you once you make the leap:

“Entrepreneurship is not a values-free, amoral process. The very act of starting and building something of significance should require a consideration of values — of combining what is done with how it is done. There’s also a very practical reason for a values-based, morally rigorous view of entrepreneurship. That is usually the only viable way for an entrepreneur to do business in the long run.”

From my experience working with entrepreneurs, four key values are indispensable for any entrepreneur — not only to help your business grow but also to help you sleep at night, knowing you finished another day doing the right thing.


What should be a “no duh” can sometimes be surprisingly hard to come by. But honesty at the start of a new venture is crucial. Studies have shown that dishonest organizations experience a greater rate of employee turnover, which, of course, also hurts the bottom line. That kind of culture also breeds more dishonesty in your ranks, and the cycle just gets worse from there.

Jon Levy, an author and human behavior scientist, writes in Entrepreneur:

“Dishonesty can create significant moral stress on employees. Moral stress occurs when an employee’s ethical values conflict with those of an organization, and it has been linked to employee fatigue and burnout.”


No one likes to admit their shortcomings or deliver bad news to employees or customers. But by taking the long view and owning your “human-ness,” you’ll build trust among your employees and see more engagement in your relationships. People value candor much more than we realize and are often more willing to support you and even offer innovative solutions if they feel you always strive to be transparent with them.


While there’s certainly a time and place for hardball business, remember the old saying of “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Some people feel that “Kansas City nice” is slowing our progress, but the other side of that particular coin is exactly what injects our local startup ecosystem with such a vibrant energy. I have witnessed countless instances of entrepreneurs helping others get started, teaching them valuable insights that often make all the difference. No one accomplishes anything alone, and I believe that kind of group effort is one of the reasons Kansas City is getting the recognition it deserves.

You certainly should be protective of what you’ve built; you wouldn’t succeed as a business owner if you didn’t. Just be sure that defensive mentality doesn’t also keep you from supporting a fellow entrepreneur looking to fulfill a dream. (And remember that you’ll need assistance at some point yourself.)


While some people blame the Millennials (they’re a popular target, after all), no generation has a monopoly on a lack of integrity. Flaking on a contract you’ve signed, overstating projected earnings, overpromising and underdelivering, covering up mistakes — you may feel you’re justified when you’re in the moment, but these are clear signs of a lack of integrity.

In a world of cutting corners, you will easily stand apart when you choose to do the opposite, when you demonstrate you can, indeed, be trusted. People want to spread the news that you’re true to your word, honest and trustworthy. The value of that can simply not be measured.

Values build your KC reputation

Consider this: Kansas City may be a big city, but it’s also a small town. These values are not only solid bedrock from which you can grow a successful business, but they’re also the keys to your reputation here. Treat people well with honesty and integrity, and you’ll quickly be known for that. Do the opposite and you’ll understand how quickly your reputation will precede you.

Marshall Dougherty is a partner of Target Hill Capital, a venture capital firm dedicated to building scalable growth companies and investment opportunities. Share your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter or on LinkedIn.

This piece originally appeared in Startland News.

5 ways to position your startup for investment

No matter what sport you play, positioning is everything. Hockey great Wayne Gretzky once gave this advice:

“Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

Just like sports, positioning is also important when setting your company up for investment. Too many startups lose out on investment capital – whether it’s from friends and family, angel investors or venture capitalists – because they haven’t positioned their firm well.

Yes, positioning your company for investment takes time and legwork, but when done well, it can set you up for success. If you’re looking to start an investment round, work on these five tactics before you send out your first email.

1. Do your homework.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but too many companies overlook this step when seeking capital. Be clear on who you are and what type of capital you need. Are you looking for startup capital, early-stage capital or growth capital? Before sending a pitch to a potential investor, make sure they’re even interested in companies at your stage of growth.

Investigate the personalities of the people you want to invest in your company. Alejandro Cremades, author of The Art of Startup Fundraising & Serial Entrepreneur, suggests this advice:

“Often overlooked but extremely pivotal is whether these investors are easy to get along with.”

If your investors aren’t a good fit for your company’s culture and brand, they may bring you more misery than help.

Not all investment companies are in an investing phase; they may be raising more capital themselves. Research the last time the investment firm funded a company, and find out how many startups they’ve funded in your sector. If an investment group hasn’t funded a company in six months or has never funded a company in your sector, move on to a different option. After all, your outreach should focus on quality—not quantity.

2. Use your network.

Finding investors is about knowing the right people (or knowing the people who know the right people). If you’re truly interested in growing your business, tap into your network. In fact, many investment companies don’t even accept cold pitches and instead require a referral. Talk to your people: You don’t have to know the guy at the top; you just need to know someone who can get your foot in the door with the investors you’re interested in.

3. Find a mentor.

No matter what stage of growth your company is in, there’s always someone out there who knows more than you do. To position your startup for investment, you need someone else’s brain to pick—someone who knows “where the puck is going to be.”

Think about who you know or who you’d like to know with expertise in your industry or in building a company from the ground up. Before you even think about pitching your company to an investor, pitch it to a mentor.

4. Be prepared.

Before you send an email or set up a meeting with potential investors, be ready. Polish your pitch. Make sure you can sum up your idea in a minute or less. Bob Rice, managing partner at Tangent Capital, suggests:

“You need to be able to get your point across within a minute while you’ve got someone’s attention … before they start to wander. It’s almost like a headline in a newspaper.”

Make sure you also know what investment terms you want. Investors may want to negotiate the terms, but having a set idea of what you’d like to get and how much of the company you want to give up gives everyone a starting point for negotiations.

Know your competition. Don’t go into an investor meeting thinking you have an original idea. Make sure you know about your competition and are prepared to say why you’re different.

5. Be honest and flexible.

Don’t try to hide the difficult stuff. If investing in your company brings a certain amount of risk, be honest about that risk. If you had difficulty in a certain stage of production of your prototype, own up to it. The investing relationship is all about trust, and if investors don’t think they can trust you, they won’t invest in your company.

Bringing in investors also means bringing in new energy and new ideas to your company. Be prepared to be flexible in your plans as investors offer different ideas and ways of doing business. Look at it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Positioning your startup for investment is about preparation and legwork. Do these five things, and you’ll have no trouble positioning yourself where the puck (or money) is going to be.

Marshall Dougherty is a partner of Target Hill Capital, a venture capital firm dedicated to building scalable growth companies and investment opportunities backed by unmatched due diligence to exceed VC success rates and investor IRR. Share your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter or on LinkedIn.

4 personality traits for a successful entrepreneurial mindset

Who pops in your head when you think “entrepreneur”? A member of the ruling class, like Bill Gates or Oprah? Maybe someone disruptive like Elon Musk or Uber’s Travis Kalanick. It could be local success story Betsy Johnson of SwimZip, or maybe it’s the last person you saw on Shark Tank.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Just to become an entrepreneur – to take that leap – takes the right mindset. The right frame of mind is necessary to funnel the passion you have for your new business into a reality. It allows you to weather the inevitable storms, to overcome the doubters who say you should have stayed at your day job. That right mindset is even more important than the most polished business plan—no matter what they told you in your MBA program.

The formidable four

Successful entrepreneurs come from all walks of life, but many of the most effective ones I’ve known all share many of the same personality traits that help them get into the necessary mindset. Here are four of the most important:


Starting a business isn’t for the faint of heart; there’s no Chicken Exit on this roller coaster. Bravery comes in mighty handy as you’re getting up and running, like maxing out your credit cards to scrape together the funds you need to take the next step. In that respect, entrepreneurs are eternally optimistic (or confident?) because they truly believe those short-term financial investments are going to pay off big in the long run.

Fearless also means courageously plowing ahead when you see an opening or an opportunity. Maybe that means asking for forgiveness later, but it’s about not being deterred by that “Do Not Enter” sign. (I’m speaking figuratively, of course; don’t trespass or break the law in the name of entrepreneurial spirit.)


Yes, you need to be fearless and a little fearful as well. A healthy dose of fear can be a good motivator. Just as fear has taught us to run from the attacking bear or walk carefully near a cliff edge, that same instinct comes in handy as you’re starting a business.

Marcia Layton Turner elaborates in Entrepreneur:

“Those who are nervous about failing can become hyper focused and willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. If you feel insecure, use that emotion to drive you to achieve your business goals.”


Let’s face it, your new venture will not go like you’ve played it out in your mind. And that’s OK. Smart entrepreneurs have a mindset of flexibility from day one. It’s about keeping more than one acceptable outcome in mind. Turner explains:

“If you are willing to listen, your clients will show you which of your products or services provide the most value … Smart entrepreneurs constantly evolve, tweaking their business concepts in response to market feedback.”

This also applies to your internal processes and structure. You make think you know how your approval procedure should go or how quality control should be managed from your years of working at other companies. But you may find these simple processes need some tweaks to make the most sense for your new business. Be open to change and open to the input of others. Allow your team to be creative—to literally help you create the company that works well for everyone.


With few exceptions, your new startup will not be a get-rich-quick scheme; settle in for the long haul. And the best mindset you can bring with you is one of consistency and persistence. After all, an impressive six-pack is not achieved with one set of sit-ups; it takes repetition and commitment every day.

Approach your startup with the same perspective. It will take time to build trust with your team, to learn the best methods of communication, to see the fruits of your labor. You’re only going to get better by keeping at it, and by keeping your focus on your long-term goals. Each day will bring you one step closer to where you want to be. And those companies who focus on quality and their customers – instead of only profits – are the winners in the long run.

The perfect VC partner

Think you have the right mindset to move forward? I love the entrepreneurial spirit of Kansas City and the amazingly inspired business owners I meet. Target Hill Capital works with a select few of these startup founders because we’re careful about finding those with the right frame of mind.

Our due diligence process is extensive but crucially important to know we’ve found a partner portfolio company with the commitment to building a new business the right way. Our team works directly with your team so we can become a true partner in your success, instead of just throwing money out and leaving you to go it alone.

We’re working to build something special in Kansas City. That way the next time someone thinks “entrepreneur,” your name will be the first to come to mind.

Marshall Dougherty is a partner at Target Hill Capital, a venture capital firm dedicated to building scalable growth companies and investment opportunities backed by unmatched due diligence to exceed VC success rates and investor IRR. Learn more at or share your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter or on LinkedIn.

New VC fund breathes new life into KC startup ecosystem

When the KC Chamber rolled out its Big 5 initiatives back in 2011 – especially the goal of making Kansas City “America’s Most Entrepreneurial City” – I must admit I was a little skeptical. I was, of course, in favor of the effort, but it seemed like a steep hill to climb.

I’ve never been so glad to be wrong.

In fact, our hometown has been making news not only in the Midwest but around the country for the positive steps we’ve taken. Momentum started early with the announcement that Mayor James was bringing the City Age “A New American City” to town in 2012, followed by the formation of LaunchKC the creation of Startup Village, and many other milestones.

Today, there’s no slowing down, as you can see with some recent stats from KCSourceLink’s We Create KC, the state of entrepreneurship report:

  • On average, 4,400 startups in Kansas City hire their first employee each year.
  • There was a 290 percent increase in available capital for early-stage entrepreneurs from funding organizations in Kansas City.
  • Kansas City ranked as one of the top tech cities in the U.S.

However, even as I revel in this good news, I also remind myself we still plenty of room for improvement, especially when we compare ourselves against the coasts. For example, venture capital activity in Silicon Valley reached $35.2 billion in 2016; Kansas City was at less than $2 billion.

We think we might have found an answer to that.

Filling the funding gap for founders

One area where Kansas City is lacking is early-stage funding. While you can find some VC firms in this space on the coasts – such as Afore Capital in San Francisco or Kepha Partners in Massachusetts – it’s virtually non-existent in the Midwest. Yet, it’s critically important if we’re going to attract the type of innovative and successful entrepreneurs we say we want.

So, what is “early-stage” funding? It’s that stage of funding that lies between the friends and family round of $50-100K and the traditional Seed or Series A round of $1 million and above. The concept is still relatively new but it’s gaining traction because more and more people are recognizing the unserved need in the market. TechCrunch explains it this way:

“Raising pre-seed funding helps build and distribute the product, providing early traction with the least amount of capital. Founders are increasingly realizing that seed investors do not write the first check––with most seed capital coming 2.4 years after a company’s founding … These investors supplement the friends and family round, providing institutional capital previously available much later.”

A better way is born

Target Hill Capital was really created out of a desire to fill that early-stage space in Kansas City—to give the region a competitive boost as we keep climbing toward that ambitious goal the Chamber defined seven years ago.

Let’s face it: The old way isn’t working. Currently, Kansas City venture capital is concentrated in the seed to growth capital stages. While there’s an ample supply of capital at both stages, many of these VC firms invest in the same deals without a consistent due diligence process. And few conduct process-driven, consultative follow-up.

We wanted to really bring a Silicon Valley mindset and risk tolerance to Kansas City with a specific focus on B2B tech companies. In addition, Target Hill conducts follow-up and enforces those practices that help ensure portfolio companies make it to the seed round, better positioning them for success. For investors, Target Hill offers both VC holdings as well as high-quality, income-producing multi-family real estate assets to mitigate the risk and balance its portfolio. The approach reduces the volatility of early-stage venture investing without sacrificing its benefits.

We want to serve as the true cornerstone of Kansas City’s functioning startup ecosystem—joining the right resources with the right network with the best and brightest tech startups. Our goal is to not only fill a gap in the local VC landscape, but also to construct scalable-growth companies and investment opportunities to ensure everyone hits the mark.

With any luck, we can check off one of those Chamber Big 5 goals a little earlier than we thought.

Marshall Dougherty is a partner at Target Hill Capital, a venture capital firm dedicated to building scalable growth companies and investment opportunities backed by unmatched due diligence to exceed VC success rates and investor IRR. Learn more at or share your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter or on LinkedIn.