To Henry David Thoreau, Walden Pond was a setting for the exploration of life's meaning. He wanted to "live deep and suck out all the marrow of life." Greg Wittstock, the 33-year-old founder of Aquascape, also sees ponds as a means to an end, but his exploration is in the world of business. In building Aquascape, which designs and sells pond-building supplies and is profiled beginning on page 58, Wittstock has developed a successful marketing strategy and created an army of loyal followers. His philosophy is simple: In the information age, the source of knowledge has the upper hand. So rather than keep his knowledge of good business practices and innovative pond-building to himself, Wittstock eagerly shares it with anyone who will listen--friendly customers and rival firms alike. All they need to do is attend his Pond College, read his books or watch his videos, meet him during the annual (now in its 11th year) Parade of Ponds, or just talk to him in the normal course of business. Wittstock's maverick ways and continual innovations drive his rivals crazy. But his customers, who grow richer listening to him, love him. Wittstock's other goal is to evangelize the psychic benefits that a large pool of water, stocked with koi, can provide. "Everyone wants a pond," he maintains. "A lot of people just don't know it yet." A lot do. As Wittstock's business has boomed, so has the pond industry, growing from stagnancy to $1.4 billion a year in sales. Inc. contributing editor Bo Burlingham instinctively knew that growth of that sort meant something extraordinary was happening in the world of entrepreneurial business; and he was right. From Aquascape's anti kanban (Japanese for just-in-time inventory control) sentiments to its 20/20 rule, Greg Wittstock is a case study in imaginative business making. This is Bo's third cover story for Inc. this year, and in many ways it is his best: It's provocative, illuminating, deeply instructive, and even funny. By the time you've finished reading it, you may even be raring to place an order for your own Walden, no, make that Wittstock Pond.

Contributors

When visiting friends in Manhattan in the mid-'90s, Ian Mount frequented Coyote Ugly, unaware that one day he would write about its Hollywood-propelled evolution from dive bar to international chain. He started writing business stories for The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1997 and covered tech stocks for SmartMoney.com during the Internet boom. As senior writer for Business 2.0, Mount wrote articles on intellectual property and corporate behavior.

Eric Wahlgren is a freelance writer who has worked for BusinessWeek, Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, and the Daily News of Los Angeles. In his first article for Inc. (Case Study, page 36), he considers the situation of a U.S. sail manufacturer that has been taking advantage of the dollar's relative weakness by expanding into Europe. Wahlgren, who once ran a friend's sailboat aground, enjoyed interviewing the company's owners--"real" sea dogs, he says.

Sasha Issenberg writes about trade, real estate, and urban development for Philadelphia magazine, where he is on staff. For Inc., he attended a QVC open house for people pitching their wares. A pointer: Think unique. QVC shoppers like to buy things they've never seen before.