[Note that this classic Fool column originally appeared on the Fool's four-year anniversary, August 4, 1998. Timely numbers have been updated as of today's date.]

When I was One, I had just begun.
When I was Two, I was nearly new.
When I was Three, I was hardly Me.
When I was Four, I was not much more.

-- A.A. Milne, "Now We Are Six"

On August 4, 1994, Foolishness was truly born.

Erik Rydholm, Tom Gardner, and I had been running a silly little newsletter for our friends (or, as it turned out, our parents' friends) the previous year. It had the name The Motley Fool, and we'd been written up briefly in The Wall Street Journal and again in Forbes. By the spring of '94, we had developed a following in a little message board of our own on America Online, which we'd named "The Motley Fool." Before long, America Online invited us out to lunch to consider the possibility of our opening up an online area.

What lay in store for us online, however, we'd never have guessed.

Oh sure, it wasn't a tough decision to make at the time. We decided to close down our small print newsletter -- which we believed would pay us more than we'd get from AOL that first year, which we were wrong about -- in order to start something that would surely be forward-thinking, surely be "The Future" eventually, whenever The Future should finally show up.

With the help of Rob Shenk, Bill Youstra, and Katherine Borsecnik at AOL, The Motley Fool opened up shop on this very day four years ago. Sixty readers tapped into the site that day.

In between then and now, the Future has arrived. Today, we have over 2 million online readers, at least 12 million newspaper readers, 5 best-selling books, a national radio show, our first international toe-holds with Fool UK and Fool Germany, and nearly 300 full-time employees. And yet those achievements pale in comparison to the scope of our future plans. We think we've made a good start, nothing more.

That's why I led off today with the Milne quote. Even though we're four [as of August 1998], we still don't think we're much more.

Anyway, most importantly this has all been one heck of a lot of fun! And our daddy ain't taking our T-bird away, either. As Foolishness begins to spread its wings over a still very Wise world, we're looking for much more fun, which wouldn't really be any fun unless we were providing oodles for you. As a company, we will be entering many new fields in the next 10 years, doing so always with the idea of debunking the conventional wisdom, improving the consumer experience, and spreading sweetness and light ahead and behind, creating shared pleasures for our communities and customers.

Yeah, I'm proud to be a Fool. And it's my earnest hope that you share these very same sentiments, dear reader, with every bit as much fervor. Foolishness is open to all -- only those without a sense of humor, an open mind, or a kind spirit need not board The Ship of Fools. From everyone here at Fool HQ, I wish to thank you deeply for your support of our efforts. And as always, we rely as much on your constructive criticism as your praise. Please keep both flowing copiously, as together we encounter the friendly trade winds and occasional dark shoals of Life.

The debut of The Motley Fool in 1994 also featured the debut of this very portfolio, which is already now taking on the proportions of cyberspace's Grandaddy Portfolio. Four full years before the public spotlight -- and yet there wasn't anything like a spotlight on us when we started this thing -- our aims were always to provide education, amusement, and enrichment in this space each day, believing that over the long term we would demonstrate that average private investors (that's all we are) can invest their own money successfully and:

  • don't need to pay fees to mutual fund managers
  • don't need to fob around Wall Street looking for tips
  • don't need "guidance" from the CEOs of companies they invest in
  • don't need access to Wall Street's vaunted, pricey, and exclusive research
  • don't need to trade regularly
  • don't need to invest in anything but common stocks
  • don't need their noses glued to CNBC or Bloomberg screens to follow "the action"

    Further, we created this portfolio with a few self-imposed disciplines:

  • we announce all our buy and sell decisions before making them
  • we occasionally short companies in the broad light of day
  • we invest our own real money (no "model" portfolios here)
  • we explain all our reasoning and keep updating our opinions
  • we aim at truth and excellence above all

    We knew from August 4, 1994 forward that we would surely accomplish all these things, because they were all factors under our direct control. But we wanted to achieve one thing more. In a world whose Wise advertising and university teachings have formed an unholy alliance to teach our young people otherwise, we wanted to demonstrate that mere average investors, mere Fools, could beat the stock market. Maybe even crush it. That last prized aim of ours had no guarantee, but to date, our performance has been Foolish indeed.

    More important than all of this, though, is just that we aimed to have FUN, to keep things lighthearted and amusing, and in so doing to make it as FUN for you as it is for us. Because that's as serious as we'll ever be about money. Money is not a serious subject -- it is serious FUN. Those who disagree can now frequent many other online personal finance areas that have sprung up in the meantime! For the rest of us, let's continue to improve our own plights and the plights of our family, friends, co-workers, and fellow Fools as we educate each other together to save more, invest more, and give more away. The Motley Fool is all things money, and we judge our own success by the success of our readers in saving more, investing more, and giving more away.

    Now, to close... fourth birthday, fifth anniversary, fiftieth lap around the track, whatever. These are artificial distinctions. In the end, what counts? Foolishness, baby:

    Fools don't claim that cats bark, but they talk about cats when everyone else is talking about dogs. They offend all the rules of conversation, and when they really offend, they're magnificent.... -- Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum

    Neither man nor woman can be worth anything until they have discovered that they are Fools. This is the first step towards becoming either estimable or agreeable; and until it be taken there is no hope. The sooner the discovery is made the better, as there is more time and power for taking advantage of it.
    -- Lord Melbourne (1779-1848), English statesman, Prime Minister

    Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a Fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God -- 1 Corinthians 3:18-19.

    I have great faith in Fools: self-confidence, my friends call it.
    -- Edgar Allan Poe


    --- David Gardner

    P.S. This weekend Fool Radio will talk with the CEO of Millennium Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: MLNM).