A lot of business websites create lists. (Maybe you've noticed.) One of Inc.com's competitors, for example, ranks giant public corporations in order of their total revenue. Another ranks people by their supposed net worth. Others rank mutual funds, financial advisers, and so on.
The Inc. 5000 resembles those lists in a superficial way. Like a few of them, the 5000 (and its print-magazine cousin, the Inc. 500) is a household name. And if you're on it, it's something to brag about.
But the Inc. 5000 is different where it really counts. Corporate giants rise to the top of the Fortune 500 by bulking up over generations of CEOs. You can get on the Forbes rich list either by inheriting wealth or by creating it, as if the two were equally worthy of praise. By contrast, people don't inherit their way onto the Inc. 5000. We honor just one thing: real achievement by a founder or a team of founders. No one makes the Inc. 5000 without building something great--usually from scratch.
That's one of the hardest things to do in business, as entrepreneurs know better than anyone. But unless gutsy and determined people do that hard thing, free enterprise fails. None of the mega-corporations or rich princelings on those other lists would exist without entrepreneurship somewhere in their past.
The blessings of entrepreneurship are on abundant display in this year's list. There's Irene Rhodes, whose Consumer Fire Products (No. 229) makes a foam-spraying system that saves homes from the kind of wildfires that are ravaging the West as I write this. There's George Kurtz, co-founder of CrowdStrike (No. 144), whose company helped identify the Russian hackers who broke into the Democratic National Committee's servers. There's Jake Shoff, whose Phoenix Recovery & Counseling Centers (No. 34) have helped thousands beat addiction, and which he co-founded in response to a good friend's death from an overdose. Their stories, and those of many others on this year's list are inspiring. No other word describes them.
All this comes with a warning label, however. Rapid growth is a great thing, but it's also a leadership challenge, especially if you let it go to your head. That's the moral of Lindsay Blakely and Burt Helm's harrowing feature about Fuhu, the company that captured No. 1 on the Inc. 5000 in both 2013 and 2014--and then imploded. We twice celebrated with the Fuhu founders; now, in sadness, Blakely and Helm offer a postmortem designed to help you learn from their missteps.
After all, landing on the Inc. 5000 isn't the end of the entrepreneurial journey. It's meant to be a milestone on the way to further success. In fact, we'd like nothing more than one day to see you and the beautiful company you've launched on ... one of those other lists.