For much of my career in business journalism, I worked for publications that put Wall Street at the center of the universe. The executives I covered in those publications are highly intelligent, urbane, and charming--the embodiment of an American aristocracy. They graduate from exclusive schools, work in the fanciest office towers, are dressed by the best tailors, and climb from one impressive job to another. And what do they do for a living? They move money among institutional investors and corporations. They help CEOs acquire companies. (And, of course, they engineer the kinds of financial contraptions that in 2008 came within a whisker of causing global collapse, but never mind that now.)
But what they don't do is gamble everything to start companies, create jobs, build wealth from scratch, and come up with products and services that make life better. Our economy assigns that crucial job to a group of outsiders who have no credentials other than the difference they make in the world. To be sure, plenty of entrepreneurs went to top schools too, but pedigree doesn't matter in entrepreneurship. What matters is what you accomplish.
Take Robert Thompson, the founder of Punch Bowl Social, a new spin on the oft-tried, challenging restaurant format of casual dining and entertainment. Thompson dropped out of high school at 16, got a GED, never finished college, and warred with his dad. He struggled with alcoholism and lost at least one business because of his own mistakes. And yet, as writer Adam Bluestein and senior editor Danielle Sacks tell it, he hung in there long enough to get another shot. Now, in Punch Bowl Social, he not only may have succeeded where other restaurateurs have failed, but he may also have found the answer to the universal question of what Millennials want.
Or consider the story of Inc.'s 2016 Company of the Year, Riot Games. Founders Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill were friends whose video game obsession led their parents to despair that they'd never amount to anything. Well, the families can rest easy now. As senior contributing writer Burt Helm and Los Angeles bureau chief Lindsay Blakely note, Beck and Merrill are surfing a wave in e-sports--a wave they helped create--that routinely fills 20,000-seat arenas around the world for their League of Legends championships. As institutional sports like golf and the NFL decline, the pair represent a disruptive force that could last a generation.
And therein lies a key difference, in my opinion, between the credentialed corporate stewards I used to cover and the driven, flawed, innovative scrappers we cover at Inc. To borrow from New York Times columnist David Brooks: The elite build résumés. Entrepreneurs build legacies.