I was never one of those people who always wanted to start their own business. I became an entrepreneur because I job-hopped my way into a pretty ugly resume and basically forced myself to forge my own path.

So with two clients, I started my own consulting, marketing, and public relations company, and got a desk in an incubator a few miles from my house.

It was the biggest risk I've ever taken.

To quote Owen Wilson in Wedding Crashers, I'm young, but I'm not that young (as evidenced by the fact that I just quoted Wedding Crashers). If my business fails, I'm not the only who will suffer. My wife and three kids will suffer, too. Having firsthand experience with childhood poverty, I am primarily motivated by never wanting to put my kids in the same situation--and the job I left paid well and provided health insurance for my entire family.

Jobs like that don't grow on trees, especially here in the suburbs of St. Louis.

My wife and I made the decision to start our company at the height of the recent startup craze, and I joined a wider community of other aspiring entrepreneurs--and immediately felt like an outcast.

I didn't look or act like nearly every founder I met.

I didn't wear skinny jeans and a blazer. My haircut is not trendy. I have very, very little tolerance for buzzwords. I hold a dim view of most new technology. And, more than anything, what made me an outcast was that I always thought entrepreneurship meant providing a product or service someone was willing to pay money for.

The way I understood entrepreneurship, if you started a software company that eventually sold a billion-dollars' worth of software and employed 20,000 people, you were an entrepreneur. However, if you sold $200,000 worth of ice cream and employed three people--one of them being yourself--you were still an entrepreneur.

Both the guy who sold a billion-dollars' worth of software and the guy who sold ice cream took a risk and found customers who were willing to pay for their product, and both managed to sell enough of that product to pay their expenses and keep the business going.

That was not how a lot of the people around me understood entrepreneurship.

To more than one person I met, entrepreneurship was a cool haircut. Entrepreneurship was the right jeans. Entrepreneurship was a vocabulary that seemed to exist largely to decide what percentage of nothing was rightfully yours.

Entrepreneurship was users, not customers. Entrepreneurship was seed funding, not sales.

Two years ago, I met a lot of people who talked about the potential for a billion-dollar exit as being the sole barometer of whether an idea was worthwhile.

Most of these founders are gone, their startups living on only as long-neglected Twitter feeds.

The entrepreneurs I know who've succeeded usually took a skill they learned or knowledge they gained during their career and applied it to a problem they had experience with, with the full understanding that success requires paying customers.

In other words, the term "entrepreneur" doesn't just apply to founders who've thought of ways to lose other people's money in amounts usually only achieved by the government.

The term "entrepreneur" also applies to the mechanic who starts their own shop, the pizza maker who opens their own restaurant, and anyone else who takes a risk and figures how to get someone to buy the thing they make.

If that describes you, take pride.

A grease-stained work shirt or apron covered in pizza sauce is a far better indicator of success than being able to use 14 different variations of the word "disrupt" in a single sentence.

Published on: Mar 27, 2017