When you write that first memo on letterhead featuring the name of the brainchild you've created to change commerce as we know it, you're ecstatic. Still, you cross your fingers and hope you can pay rent as you make Year Two sales projections of $4.5 million. Ever-hungry for inspiration and guidance, you spend your downtime in the business section of the local bookstore but notice that the books about making your first million have been replaced by tales of the latest crop of billion-dollar ventures. Deep contemplation begins: "Do companies even make their first million anymore, or do they just start at five?" You start thinking about $1 billion. Lining up the 10 digits in your head, you can't help wondering whether you'll ever get there and how famous companies like Ernst & Young, Intel and Levi Strauss & Co. managed to do it and stay there.
Don't be too painfully jealous about the success of megabrands like Levi's, a company that's been around since 1853 and didn't hit its first billion until 1975. But do ooh and aah over much younger companies, like Walnut, California's ViewSonic Corp., founded as Keypoint Technology Corp. by James Chu in 1987. At that time, the company was a computer peripherals distributor specializing in keyboards and monitors and was enjoying first-year sales of $4 million. That's enough to put a grin on your face, but nothing like watching that number soar to about $1.4 billion in 2000. Evolving into a visual technology company in 1990, ViewSonic is now poised for another upswing in sales, despite the fact that the computer industry as a whole has seen better days.
With years of sales experience in his native Taiwan and a post as president of a Taiwanese keyboard manufacturer under his belt (all before founding ViewSonic), Chu, 44, knows it's not just a remarkable product that makes a billion dollars. It's also not the wizardry of one individual; nor is it millions in advertising dollars. It's certain tried-and-true survival tactics Chu has employed that have not only kept ViewSonic afloat and thriving, but kept his team smiling as well. The rules can be applied to virtually any company, so if you're aiming to someday appear on a list that starts with "Hot," "Fastest-Growing" or "Best," we suggest you pay attention.