‘Skip’ delivers a new dining solution

Target Hill Capital invests in KC-based fast-food tech company

Kansas City, Mo. –  After just launching earlier this year, local venture capital firm Target Hill Capital has made an investment in a promising tech company poised to disrupt the restaurant industry and ultimately change how diners interact with restaurants.

Digital Baron, based in Leawood, Kan., has created the only “App-less mobile order and pay platform” for quick-service restaurant customers. And the whole thing started with a failed fast-food run by founder Eric Tucker.

“After struggling to communicate a drive-through order in a heavy rain, I just drove off in frustration,” Tucker said. “I later founded Digital Baron to develop a better ordering experience. Now, placing an order is as easy as sending a text—because it is sending a text.”

Known as Skip, the platform combines a device’s standard messaging app with the mobile Web to offer consumers an easy-to-use mobile interface for order and pay— without installing a new app on their phone.

After developing and patenting the product, the company began a pilot program in three Dairy Queen locations (Missouri, Georgia and Colorado). The pilot test has exceeded expectations and provided valuable insight into how to make the product better.

While looking for investors, Digital Baron became acquainted with Target Hill Capital through a mutual connection in December 2017. Target Hill was intrigued by the enormous opportunity, and after conducting its due diligence decided to invest in January 2018. Marshall Dougherty, partner at Target Hill, said the experience and passion of Digital Baron’s leadership team were key factors in their decision to invest.

“They work very well together as a team, they’re open-minded and ‘coachable’ learners, and they have track records of success,” he said. “And they demonstrated they’re very thoughtful and disciplined in designing and executing their business processes, both internal and external.”

Early results have already proven Skip’s effectiveness, including higher guest counts, increased speed of service and higher order accuracy. And in a market test earlier this year, Skip improved the average amount spent by restaurant customers by 20 percent.

“Skip truly empowers restaurants with digital solutions to grow their revenues and reduce costs—all while improving the customer experience,” Tucker said.

The company is also working on self-ordering kiosks that can be placed within restaurants and is negotiating with a point-of-sale (POS) vendor to gain access to hundreds of additional restaurant brands. The company also plans to expand beyond fast food to fast-casual and full-service restaurants, and integrate with food delivery services, such as Uber Eats, Postmates, DoorDash, and others.

Target Hill’s Dougherty is confident that Digital Baron is poised for even greater success and now has a product they can legitimately sell nationwide:

“They’re an agile team who executes well, learns quickly, and applies the knowledge gained to improve the product,” he said. “I have no doubt Skip will soon be improving the ordering experience for consumers everywhere!”

To learn more about Skip, check out this article in Startland News.


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.

Target Hill Capital defusing risk on startups between friends and family, seed funding stages

By: Austin Barnes, Startland NewsMarshall Dougherty, Target Hill
November 5, 2018

An opportunity to deliver exponential impact in a community committed to entrepreneurship has resulted in thelaunch of Target Hill Capital –– an outside-the-box venture capital fund, Marshall Dougherty said.

“When we were involved [with previous startups], we compared notes and surveyed the startup ecosystem in Kansas City,” Dougherty said of the events that led he and his partners –– Jim Ferree, a former NASA designer, and Brendon Barker, a veteran Kansas City attorney –– to found the investment fund.

Deposited into the startup ecosystem in January, Target Hill aims to fund early-stage companies that have grown past the “friends and family” investment stage, but aren’t yet large enough to launch a round of seed funding, Dougherty explained.

Read the full article on Startland News.

Target Hill Capital invests in Kansas City’s future: Company focuses on early-stage funding for entrepreneurial companies

Kansas City, Mo. – A new venture capital firm comprised of seasoned investors from Kansas City is filling an underserved need in the local startup ecosystem. Target Hill Capital launched in January and is focused on early-stage funding for entrepreneurial companies past the “friends and family” stage (typically $50-100K) but not yet ready for seed funding ($1M+).

For investors, Target Hill offers both VC holdings as well as high-quality, income-producing multi-family real estate assets to mitigate risk and balance its portfolio. The approach reduces the volatility of early-stage venture investing without sacrificing its benefits. The existing portfolio is on track to achieve a 12 percent cash-on-cash return for 2018.

“We’re interested in companies with products or services that are ready to fill a need in the market,” said Marshall Dougherty, one of the Target Hill partners. “We recognize that many companies have financial demands at that earlier stage. We want to partner with these companies to position them for success and ensure they achieve the next seed round.”

Because the majority of funding in the region is concentrated in the seed to growth capital stages, Dougherty said Target Hill has an opportunity to not only fill a gap in the VC landscape but also help construct scalable growth companies and investment opportunities.

The company provides funding in the $250-500K range and provides key benefits to entrepreneurs, including expedited funding and a hands-on approach. In addition, Target Hill works with the business owners to implement best practices for operations, finance and customer acquisition to help ensure success. The company works primarily with technology startups who have an existing product and that have identified a market with significant growth potential. Each prospective portfolio company must also undergo a rigorous due diligence process, with only about 5 percent of companies receiving funding.

Target Hill was founded by Jim Ferree, a former NASA designer and owner of J&A Industries. After selling the company to private equity, Ferree briefly retired before recognizing the opportunity in the venture capital ecosystem in Kansas City.

“While you can find some VC firms in this space on the coasts, it’s virtually non-existent in the Midwest,” he said. “We’re excited for the opportunity to help innovative and successful entrepreneurs realize their goals.”

Brendon Barker, a practicing attorney for the past 18 years, is an additional partner at Target Hill. The company was named for the field used as a shooting target for West Point cadets in the 19th century.

To encourage growth in the local region, Target Hill also requires its portfolio companies to have a presence in Kansas City if they’re not already located here. The current portfolio includes the following companies:

  • Digital Baron – A powerful text-to-order and payment tech platform using standard smartphone capabilities that targets the fast-food and quick-service restaurant markets.
  • PlanIT Impact – A software tool that calculates and analyzes the impact energy, water, stormwater and transportation design decisions have on building performance and efficiency.
  • Blipd – A location-based augmented reality mobile app development company. Blipd allows users to create, share, discover and connect with the important people and places around you.
  • Tweedl – A mobile app created by the former CFO for Sean “Diddy” Combs that connects aspiring music artists with music lovers everywhere, empowering users to select the next hot artists and boost their influence as tastemakers in music.
  • Novel Growth Partners – A flexible capital firm working to improve access to capital for companies in underserved markets.
  • Vesta Realty LLC – A boutique, privately held real estate investment firm that focuses on the acquisition and management of opportunistic and value-add multifamily properties (through which Target Hill invested in Jenk’s Best Living LLC and Bixby’s Best Living LLC).

About Target Hill Capital

Founded in January 2018, Target Hill Capital is a venture capital firm that aspires to be 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. The company’s sharpened focus allows them to fearlessly weed out the wild guesses from the insider’s secrets to launch the next generation of innovators using the perfect mix of science and art. Learn more at www.targethillcapital.com.