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.

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