It's rare to make Inc.'s list of fast-growing companies more than once -- especially not 20 years apart. But that's what Jerry Galison's company, New York City–based Galison/Mudpuppy, did when it landed at No. 3,828 on the 2009 Inc. 5000, two decades after coming in at No. 473 on the Inc. 500 in 1989. Galison, who sells high-end note cards, journals, and puzzles, attributes his success to one key quality: patience.

I've always had an interest in art.
I had an art studio for five years where I painted and sculpted. But it wasn't until I saw the gift shop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art back in 1981 that I recognized how I might make a business out of art. They had created some beautiful customized products like stationery and note cards that featured works from the museum. I thought there might be something to that.

My first client was the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Now we make custom gift cards and journals not just for museums but also for dozens of businesses, like Starbucks, Anthropologie, and Target.

My breakthrough idea was a beautifully designed note-card box.
That's what landed us on the 1989 Inc. 500. In 1996, we introduced Mudpuppy, our brand of toys and games, such as jigsaw puzzles, for kids.

The limit of my imagination was one idea at a time.
There were times I worried that the well would run dry -- but lo and behold, another idea would come along. That's how we evolved.

I've always approached the business more like a farmer than an empire builder.
It's always been about discipline and incremental growth. We slowly add more formats, carefully nurture them, and enlarge the customer base one acre at a time. It sounds mundane, but it's been the key to our success.