For as long as she can remember Maria Giudice, founder and CEO of the design company Hot Studio, wanted to be a famous artist. It took her longer to realize that she also wanted to be an entrepreneur, but from an early age, the signs were there; as a teen, Giudice did brisk business painting rock bands on the back of jean jackets (it was the 80s). She charged $100 per jacket--more than she could have ever made baby-sitting--and with that, her entrepreneurial spirit was born.

Still, when Giudice decided to attend art school--the prestigious Cooper Union--after high-school, her father was convinced she would graduate with no marketable skills, and no way of making a decent living. Instead, Giudice made a career out of combining her artistic ability with a talent for business. In 1997, she founded Hot Studio, a marketing strategy, design, and technology firm that delivers web and mobile products for clients across industries. Today, it’s safe to say her father’s fears have long been laid to rest: in 2012, Hot Studio took in $15.5 million, earning a three-year growth rate of 146 percent. The company has appeared on the Inc. 5000 list every year since 2008.

Giudice’s San Francisco-based Hot Studio is again vying for a spot on the 2013 list. As applicants arrive, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of these fast-growing private companies. (For more information and to apply, go here).

Giudice is fond of saying that she "accidentally became an entrepreneur, and accidentally started a business." After graduating from Cooper Union, Giudice landed a job designing guide books. As she modestly puts it, she happened to be at the right place at the right time. "The design studio I was working for was one of the first early adopters to embrace digital design. I gained a lot of knowledge about how to design on the Macintosh and so when I left the studio, I was asked to create a guidebook to teach designers how to use computers," she says.

The first guidebook was a hit, and with technology changing so rapidly, Giudice was designing a new guidebook every six-months. "I kept getting busier and busier, and so I started bringing on people to help," she says. Pieces naturally fell into place, and in 1997, she founded Hot Studio.

Currently, Hot Studio has 75 full-time employees and designs digital products and services for a wide range of clients, from big names like Cisco, Hearst Corporation, and Warner Music Group to scrappy start-ups. For each client, Hot Studio uses creativity and empathy to design everything from websites and mobile phone applications to iPad interfaces and desktop applications.

"A lot of businesses don’t take the time to stop and listen to their customers," Giudice says. "When we are designing a product, we try and put ourselves in the situation of the people we are designing for, be it through interviews, or testing prototypes--sometimes, we’ll just go sit in the park and observe. There are so many ways to get close to the people you are designing for."

The success of any project hinges on what the client wants, what their customers want, and what the client thinks their customers want--getting a client to accurately understand their customer base is crucial. Giudice prides herself on turning potential clients down when necessary--a large part of Hot’s success, she believes, stems from being selective.

"You can’t agree to date every man that asks you out. That would be very scary. And it’s like that in business, too. You have to talk to the client, make sure they are doing something you believe in," she says. "Never work for a company that contradicts your values."