Zumba Fitness Startup – Their Salsa Roots Are Now Worth Millions
There are three other Colombian gems, in addition to the emerald, for which Colombians can be proud. Their names are Alberto Aghion, Alberto “Beto” Perez, and Alberto Perlman. With a multinational fitness phenomena, Zumba, the three have built a business which originally had the aim of selling fitness DVDs based on dance classes Beto had given while still living in Cali, Colombia.
Imagine greased back hair, tight jeans, a white t-shirt, and a pair of black Chuck Taylors. That’s 7 year-old Beto in Cali dancing like John Travolta in Grease accompanied by his mom entertaining his neighborhood at block parties. It’s the moment he saw the movie Grease that changed his life, he says. There were two life changing events in Beto’s life.
The other was just 9 years later when Beto, living alone and supporting himself by teaching group dance classes, forgot to bring the music he usually used to teach with for the one-hour instructional session. All he had was a cassette with two 30-minute sides. Side A. Side B. The actual music on the tape escaped him “What’s on this?” he thought. Worried and stressed, he began to sweat. He looked up at the students and said, “Ok, are you ready? Let’s go.”
There’s No Doubt
Improvising the dances, he guided the class for one hour straight. At the end of the class, he noticed the students sweating but very happy. They were smiling a great deal. The class was a success. He says it was then that he knew that he could do it, that he could do most anything. From this experience he learned something that he carries with him to this day, “If you doubt, you die.”
His Mom had already moved to the United States without him looking for work and here he was living alone, supporting himself teaching dance classes and working in an ice cream store. What the owner of the ice cream store didn’t know was that Beto would sometimes use that time to sleep under the counter to rest up as he was also dancing in clubs for fun like any teenager in Cali early into the morning hours.
The Magic City
Aberto Perlman was a young entrepreneur having moved to Miami with his family from Colombia when he founded an internet incubator during the late 1990’s. By early 2000 the bubble had popped and Perlman, after laying his employees off, was feeling the disappointment. Looking to share his disappointment with his parents, the 23 year old Perlman went to his parents’ house for dinner and began to open up although his mom wasn’t particularly interested.
All Perlman’s mom could talk about was the dance class she was taking in Miami with the same instructor from whom she took in Colombia. “He’s incredible” she would tell her son. She suggested that the two meet. They met at a coffee-shop and Perlman continued the conversation somewhat skeptical.
Beto invited him to one his classes to see for himself and after witnessing the smiles and sense of joy Beto’s students felt after the class, Perlman knew Beto was the guy. Beto transmitted something special to his students that he’d never seen before. Beto had heart. It was time to produce some DVDS.
“Do you have any money?” asked Beto.
“No, do you?” responded Perlman.
“Good, Ok. Let’s do it.” Beto said.
Perlman then called his childhood friend, Alberto Aghion, and told him all about the dance instructor he met in Miami. Aghion responded, “Yeah, that guy used to come by my house when I lived in Bogotá and teach my sister and her friends how to dance.”
The first step was to film a DVD. Charging 200 students $20 dollars each to be in DVD to be filmed at the beach, the three Albertos spent an entire night on a Miami beach hammering boards to create a stage for Beto and a floor for the students. They now had $4000 dollars, filmed the class with the name Zumba, and started looking for investors. This was July 2001 and there were several investors interested. Two months later with attacks on the Twin Towers, the investors suddenly felt uneasy and backed out.
Mother Of Modern Presidents
Eventually they were introduced Fitness Quest of Ohio who already had traction with their fitness videos of Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkly. Perlman arrived in Ohio worried if the company would understand the Latino sensibility of Beto and the Zumba product. Perlman showed the video to the woman that screened their pitch. She liked it and called her boss. Her boss liked it and called the CEO. The CEO came down and watched it. Four minutes later he offered a deal as long as he could meet the blond Brazilian woman Beto was dancing with in the video.
Everyone laughed and then the CEO asked if Beto could speak English. Beto couldn’t speak English but Perlman told the CEO, “Yes, of course.” In 30 days the CEO would fly down to Miami to see Beto in action. Instead learning English in 30 days, Beto asked Perlman to teach him three phrases, “Nice to meet you. I’m sorry, I have to go.” The CEO flew to Miami and was impressed by Beto’s class. After the class, Beto approached the CEO and said, “Nice to meet you. I’m sorry, I have to go.” He went directly to his Pontiac parked in the lot and sat waiting without air-conditioning.
Today, Zumba fitness classes with certified Zumba instructors are worldwide with 12 million strong in 110,00 locations. The three Albertos have made the Miami based Zumba brand a successful product that transforms people’s lives selling an emotion in the form of classes, instruction, apparel and video games.