On the phone, Bill Gouldd projects a school-boy hesitancy and eagerness to please. It's hard to believe that Gouldd, founder of Equinox International, the 1996 number one company on the Inc. 500, is the same man who holds audiences of 3,000 in thrall--or who was forced to pay a $75,000 fine to the state of California for alleged multilevel marketing abuses committed at a previous venture. Whatever his checkered past, Gouldd makes it clear he knows exactly what he's doing with Equinox--and dares anyone to bet against him.

The company, based in Las Vegas, is a multilevel marketer of household and personal care products, vitamins, and diet formulas. Five years in business, it had sales last year of $196 million and profits between 6% and 10%.Gouldd's brother Steve Gould (Gould with one "d"; Bill added the second d at the urging, he says, of a spiritual adviser who told him he was "out of balance") is now president of the company, leaving Bill free to do what he loves: go on the road and lead Equinox sales seminars.

In a 1996 interview, he maintained that motivating everyday people to become sales people has been the key to the company's success. "The frustrating part is when I see someone who has all the talent and all the ability in the world, but they don't want to listen to anybody," says Gouldd. "That prevented me from being successful for a long, long time, so maybe I'm ultra-sensitive to it. God gave us two ears and one mouth and we're supposed to use them in that proportion."


Inc.: How did you finally learn your lesson?

Gouldd: When I began in this field, I met a man who was very, very wealthy, and basically he was the first person to tell me, "You dumb s---, you sit down and shut up. You don't know a thing." And I was shocked. Like, who do you think you are to talk to me? And he said, "What did you make last year?" And I said I made $21,000. He said, "I made $8 million. Now if I listen to you, how much am I going to make next year?" And it was like someone hit me over the head with a baseball bat. And he says, "Now what if you shut up and listen tome?"

Inc.: How do you know if someone can sell?

Gouldd: There are some people who are great sellers who go out and make fortunes and there are other people who may not be all that good but they share products with someone and then they're able to recruit that person and they're able to profit off that. There are people who just like to make some extra money, and others who are simply happy buying good quality products wholesale from the manufacturer.