How Values Shape a Business and Its Founder: The Inspiring Story of Hotel Tango, a Veteran-Owned Distillery

Medal of honor recipients

Pictured l to r: Medal of Honor Recipient Sammy Davis, US Army, Vietnam War; Travis Barnes, owner of Hotel Tango; Medal of Honor Recipient Earl Plumlee, US Army, War on Terrorism (Afghanistan)

The thought of starting a business can be daunting, let alone sustaining it. But Travis Barnes, owner of Hotel Tango—the nation’s first and only combat-disabled veteran-owned distillery, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year—says anyone can do it with a little bit of determination.

The Power of Military Discipline in Entrepreneurship

“Don’t wait … don’t have the regret of ‘should’ve, could’ve, would’ve,’” said Barnes. “There’s no time like right now to start the process.”
Perhaps there’s more to it than that, though. Four distinct values were instilled in Barnes during his three Iraq tours in the Marine Corps from 2002-2006 – values that now make up the DNA of his distillery in Indianapolis. He is a testament that values not only shape who you are, but they also help you lead the life you desire.

Discipline: The Backbone of Veteran-Owned Businesses

Discipline lies at the heart of military culture. This was no exception for Barnes.

“You’ve got over 200 years of history and traditions … from the way your haircut is to the way that you walk, to what you were allowed to wear, to the way you talk,” Barnes said. “From day one, [discipline] is immediately ingrained in you.”

18 years removed, Barnes still shapes his life around discipline. It’s what fueled his ambition after receiving an Honorable Discharge and led him to receiving his JD at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. It even helped him learn a new trade in the basement of his college house—brewing, distilling and the laws behind them—which would eventually mean founding Hotel Tango with his wife Hilary.

Straightforwardness: A Key to Business Transparency

You have to be honest and transparent with those you work with. That’s how they’ll trust in you and your brand, according to Barnes.

“When I say ‘straightforward,’ I mean it in the way that I do business and talk to people, and how I expect to treat them and be treated.”

Ultimately, Barnes would gain that trust not just from his employees, but also consumers and the overall community through partnerships and philanthropy.

Spirited: Living with Gratitude and Positivity

“Every day we survive is another day that we have to brag about,” said Barnes.

Life as a Marine taught Barnes that tomorrow is not promised. While serving, he was hit by several IEDs which resulted in the diagnoses of Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Living with those conditions today, Barnes has a heightened gratitude for life, reflected in the positive attitude he exudes.

“Things can be worse. When people complain, I try to remind them that no one is shooting at you. So, it’s not that bad.”

Gung Ho: The Spirit of Teamwork and Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm and eagerness automatically come to mind when one thinks of “gung ho.” For Barnes, those traits don’t translate to action without a team.

“Being gung-ho is about working together to accomplish a common goal. I need a team. I need great people to surround me to accomplish what I want to accomplish and what they want to accomplish.”

Barnes knows all about support systems – from working with his fellow Marines in combat to receiving love and support from his parents after returning home from Iraq to meeting Hilary in law school and starting a distillery with her. He says that support systems and reaching out for help are essential for achieving what you set out.

“I’ve been fortunate and blessed to have great parents, great life, great business, mentors. I seek out mentorship. I think you have to be proactive about it. It’s not going to come to you.”

– Barney Barnum

By embracing the six core values of the Medal of Honor – Courage, Integrity, Commitment, Sacrifice, Citizenship, and Patriotism –  you can lead an impactful life that will help shape the future and carry forward the best traditions of what it means to be American.