This issue marks the third anniversary of Fast Company. True to our name, we feel as if we've been keeping fast company — and making fast friends.
The number of people who have found and embraced Fast Company is one indicator of the strength of this fast-forming community. Today more than 300,000 people buy each issue — and, judging by what we hear about the rate at which issues disappear from subscribers' desks, the actual number of readers is probably closer to 900,000. At the same time, the community continues to organize — and to self-organize. More than 10,000 people in nearly 100 cities have formed chapters (or "cells") of the Company of Friends. And then there are the Fast Company live events.
Our most recent Real Time gathering, held in New Orleans last December, was a living encapsulation of our first three years. One woman scrambled from Russia to make the opening celebration. A Portuguese publisher compared notes about emerging fast companies in his country. Other Real Timers — more than 400 people in all — came from as far away as Sweden, England, Australia, and Canada.
The event brought to life Fast Company's promise of combining inspirational thinking with practical tools for success. Real Timers had a chance to share ideas and experiences and to learn from 21 "models and mentors." But the spirit of the gathering was best captured by the three speakers at the general sessions — people from different walks of life and with different perspectives, each of whose presence at Real Time made perfect sense.
The event's kickoff speaker was Robert B. Reich, a former secretary of labor and the author of a recent cover story, "The Company of the Future." As a member of the Clinton cabinet, Robert worked as a change agent in government. At Real Time, he offered insights on change, along with actionable advice.
The next keynote speaker was Bill Strickland, the "genius at work" whom we profiled in our September 1998 issue. Bill, a brilliant social entrepreneur, brought Real Timers to their feet by outlining the practices that he uses to bring hope to at-risk children and out-of-work adults. His overarching message: "The only thing wrong with poor people is that they don't have any money — and that's a curable condition."
Finally, Ray Evernham, the crew chief behind NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon, talked about how he keeps his team on track. Speaking with one of Gordon's No. 24 cars right beside him, Ray reminded Real Timers of a key lesson: "The fastest car doesn't always win." With racer's-edge clarity and dirty-fingernails experience, Ray laid out the way to build a winning team.
A former labor secretary. A social entrepreneur. A crew chief. Before Real Time, it would have been hard to imagine a "business conference" that would feature any of them as a keynoter. But at a Fast Company gathering, it's hard to imagine any other kind of keynote speaker. That's just one measure of how far this community has come.
Another measure: Three years ago, we often received email from readers who had just discovered the magazine. A common refrain of theirs was "I thought I was the only one who thought this way — and I thought I was crazy." In New Orleans, the common refrain was "I'm so glad we're all here together. Anyone who doesn't think this way must be crazy!"
For all your support, suggestions, and ideas over the past three years, many thanks from all of us. As we enter our fourth year, we will continue to chart the future: to describe what the work of the new economy will look like and to suggest ways in which you can prepare for that work. And as we do so, we hope that all the members of the Fast Company community will grow and prosper — and think like crazy.
A version of this article appeared in the Feb/March 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine.