Where were you in August 1994, and what were you doing? When I tell you where I was, you won't believe it (of course, you'll have to read to the end to find out).

I hope you were buying stocks
I wasn't. I sure wasn't betting $1,800 on a company most people had never heard of. But somebody was, and he was about to make a lot of money. I know this for two reasons.

First, that one trade made this guy a legend in these parts. Second, this Fool told us he was going to buy before he went long, then tracked his returns in pretty-much real time online for the world to see.

Five years later, his split-adjusted 46-cent shares crested atop $50. Before you could say "Mad Money," Money.com crowned him "among the most widely followed stock market advisors in the world," and his $1,800 stake ballooned to $190,000.

Yes, you read that right
That stock was America Online -- and the investor was David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool. True, we were in the midst of a massive bull market -- true, too, this was before the Steve Case stuck it to Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) -- but there may have been more at work here than that.

In 1994, AOL satisfied David's No. 1 criteria. The company was a first mover in an important emerging industry. And this may surprise you. David still owns AOL -- and he's still up. Way up.

If you'd bought AOL with him, you'd still be up 1,943%. If, like my college roommate, you saw the tech revolution coming and bought any number of other future tech titans -- for example, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) or Applied Materials (Nasdaq: AMAT) -- instead, you'd be up roughly 600% or 400%, respectively.

Even if you rolled the dice on fallen angel Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL) or Corning (NYSE: GLW), a glass company since held up as the poster child for the tech stock bubble, you'd be sitting on triple-digit gains -- ahead of what you'd expect from almost all non-equity investments.

I'm shocked, shocked to hear ...
Maybe that doesn't surprise you, but it did me. In fact, it got me rethinking two long-held beliefs -- one of which led to an epiphany. The other was more of an affirmation.

And that's simply that folks like us looking to save for the future as have to keep investing. For me, that means buying good companies, whether the market looks overvalued, cheap, or downright scary -- and not selling. That last part goes double if you manage to catch lightning in a bottle.

After all, while it's true that AOL wasn't the only great call in David's original Rule Breaker portfolio -- he also recommended Amgen (Nasdaq: AMGN) and eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) in 1998 and 1999, respectively -- but if you take away that one 1,943% winner, David looks human, right? More on that just ahead.

But first, the epiphany
Slow and steady may not win the race. Like most Fools, I've been versed in Warren Buffett's rules to investing. You know, "Rule One: never lose money. Rule Two: never forget Rule One."

But what if David's right? What if, most nights, we can get by with just a few big swings? What if nine out of every 10 stocks we buy can go to zero and we'll still break even -- if we find just one 10-bagger.

Of course, it's a mathematical certainty. And that's a "mere" 10-bagger -- a solid 1,000% gainer. If you smack a 1,943% home run; well, that changes everything.

Because I have news for you ...
"The Tortoise and the Hare" isn't a true story. It's not even based on one. Take away AOL, Amgen, and eBay ... and David's pretty average. But that's crazy talk. You don't compare the batting average of a singles hitter with that of a slugger.

The fact is, David's kamikaze style works over the long run. And not just in the go-go '90s. In 2004, David launched a new Rule Breakers newsletter to prove he could find this decade's great growth stories.

How does he plan on pulling it off? For starters, he runs every company through a six-point checklist:

  1. Is it the top dog and first mover in an important, emerging industry?
  2. Does it have a sustainable advantage?
  3. Does it have strong past price appreciation?
  4. Is good management in place with smart backing?
  5. Does it have strong consumer appeal?
  6. Has it been called overvalued by the media?

Looking to hit one out of the park?
If you can find a stock with all six traits, you have a Rule Breaker in the making. And contrary to what the hysterics are shouting on CNBC, this is the time to buy stocks. So, by all means, steal David's six-point checklist to get started.

But if you want a shortcut getting rolling (who doesn't?), here's an easy idea to consider: Take David up on his offer and try Motley Fool Rule Breakers free.

You can test-drive the complete service for one whole month, see every single past pick and read every back issue, without paying a cent. There's no obligation to subscribe. To take your swing, click here.

This article was first published May 31, 2007. It has been updated.

In 1994, Paul Elliott was writing strange poems and banging around the Midwest in a Ford Econoline. He doesn't own any of the stocks mentioned. Microsoft and Intel are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. eBay and Time Warner are Stock Advisor recommendations. You can see all of David Gardner's Rule Breaker picks and his entire scorecard with your 30-day free trial. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.