Zumba king Alberto Perlman on turning a gym workout into a multimillion dollar business

Alberto Perlman, founder of latin dancing exercise brand Zumba Fitness, on his best business decisions - and his worst.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 09 Nov 2015

Zumba Fitness was founded in 2001 in Miami by three Albertos - Alberto Perlman, Alberto Perez and Alberto Aghion - who were all born and raised in Colombia. 

 

Starting as an improvised aerobics class, a decade later the Latin-inspired dance-workout programme now has 14 million participants in more than 150 countries.

 

Co-founder Alberto Perlman explains his best and worst decisions in business.

 

MY BEST DECISIONS

My best decision was to listen to my mother. She had been taking this one fitness class for 10 years and raved about it. She had tried step, taibo, spin, and this was the one she'd stuck with. So she told me to meet the instructor. 'Maybe you can start a gym,' she said. I was looking for a job so I went along and what I saw gave me goosebumps. The people looked happy, as if they were dancing in a nightclub, but the fitness results were the same as a high-intensity run. So I met the instructor (also called Alberto) and I offered to turn his class into a multimillion dollar business.

The second smart move was choosing the name. Berto's class was called Rumba, which means 'to party' in Colombia. It was a generic name so we had to come up with something you can trade mark.

A fitness instructor can run a Latin dance rhythms class but if he calls it Zumba, we litigate. So all the best instructors come to us and become celebrities. Some of them tour Europe and make $2,000 a class. Not a single copycat has made a dent in our business because of the success of the name.

MY WORST DECISIONS

My worst was waiting so long to tweak the Zumba business model. We had been working out of a warehouse for six long years, barely making ends meet, trying to sell Zumba DVDs. I started getting calls from people asking us if we trained instructors. They wanted to do their own live classes using our fitness programme. From that point, the entire business was focused on making our instructors successful. We gave them the choreography, the marketing materials, the training, the music. For every 10 people who bought the DVD, 90 went to the live classes.

I also wish that I had never listened to the corporate big guys - the middlemen - who convinced us that to expand we needed distribution partners. We tried that in the UK in 2006 and the partner did nothing with it. It was only when we took control that the brand really grew.

Today, we're the only exercise programme in the world that has a fitness CD that went platinum. But we will never forget that the instructors are the beating heart of the business.

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