Patrick Mish's father, a NASA engineer, always had this advice for his son: Play it safe. Get your engineering degree, find a safe, stable job, and you'll find yourself successful and happy. But after earning a doctorate in aeroacoustics at Virginia Tech and entering the work force, Mish began to wonder whether he was cut out for corporate life. As told to Nicole Carter.

You'd think working on the Navy's next-­generation destroyer for Northrop Grumman would be a really exciting job for a guy who just got a Ph.D. in aeroacoustics. My team was charged with making the ships superstealthy. But this wasn't my dream job; it was blatant bureaucracy. Outside contractors did most of the technical heavy lifting—the stuff I wanted to do.

Alone in my little cube, I would often think, There's got to be something out there that I can sink my teeth into. Then, one day, it just hit me: I'm going to make e-reader accessories.

"Alone in my little cube, I would think, There's got to be something out there I can sink my teeth into."

I know what you're thinking: You've wasted a perfectly good Ph.D. and thrown a great career away. But hear me out.

My wife has always been an avid reader, so when Sony came out with its first e-reader, in 2006, we both were excited about this new technology. For whatever reason, it got our wheels turning. We realized there weren't many accessories for it: no cool book lights or covers. We both thought, Now, here is a great opportunity in a new market. I started small. After cold calling a few manufacturers, I landed on one I liked and began designing and selling a small quantity of accessories online, after work.

But I wasn't ready to be an entrepreneur just yet. I wasn't ready to risk everything on a new business.

In addition to my wife's hesitations ("What about the mortgage? The kids?"), I knew I needed to become a better salesman. A friend introduced me to the owner of an IT company who was hiring a sales rep. I had several meetings with him. It took more than a little convincing. At our last meeting, I literally pounded my fist on the table and said, "Are you going to give me this job or what?" He did. And I quit my job at Northrop.

Turns out, the sales job was significantly more demanding than the Northrop Grumman job. But I focused, learned how to do the job, and did it well. After eight months, I resigned and started M-Edge full time.

So was this whole thing a huge risk? Not to me. I look at it like this: The Ph.D. taught me to be a fast learner and to have self-discipline. Northrop Grumman taught me to be a good collaborator and how to settle disputes between competing interests. The sales job, obviously, helped me develop relationship skills. It was a process of building an entrepreneur who not only could start a business but could also run a business long term.

And my dad? I'm not going to say he didn't raise his eyebrows when I left Northrop. He raised me on the values of the Great Depression, when you were lucky to have work. But today, he offers nothing but support. In a way, his old-school values have been my biggest asset as an entrepreneur.