An Interview and Tips for Success with Alberto Perlman, Co-Founder of Zumba Fitness


Courtesy of Alberto Perlman

Alberto Perlman is the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Zumba Fitness, LLC.

Alberto Perlman is the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Zumba Fitness, LLC, the largest branded fitness program in the world. He was born in Colombia, and moved to the United States in 1994, graduating from Babson College in 1998. In 2001, Perlman along with Beto Perez and Alberto Aghion, founded Zumba, a global lifestyle brand that fuses fitness, entertainment and culture into a dance-party experience. It has more than 15 million weekly participants in 200,000 locations across 180-plus countries. Perlman oversees day-to-day operations, manages brand and product development, and negotiates strategic partnerships with fitness clubs and organizations around the world.


Why did you decide to start your hugely successful global fitness brand Zumba?

I was having dinner at my parents’ house, and my mom kept talking about her fitness class, and that it was so amazing that I should do something with this guy who teaches it. So I went to his class, and what I saw there was something that I didn’t know could happen, it was fitness without sacrifice. People were exercising, but they weren’t sacrificing themselves for exercise. They were happy and enjoying it and still getting an amazing workout. So I told him that we should create videotapes of his class and sell them on an infomercial, and the rest just came about.


What was the first job you ever had?

In high school in Colombia, I noticed that the juniors and the seniors couldn’t park their cars anywhere because all the parking spaces were taken by faculty. There was a piece of land in front of the school, which was just grass, and there were homeless people that were occupying it. I went to them and made a deal that I could park cars there, and I would split the profits with them. I was charging the equivalent of $90 a month for students to park their cars there. It was extremely popular, and quickly became completely full, we had space for 30 cars and every spot was taken. But a few months in, I realized people weren’t renewing their membership with me, but their cars were still there. When I went to them to get the money, they told me that no, we went directly to the people on the land, and we paid them $70. So I realized at that time that if you are going to be an intermediary, you need to add value, not just be a salesperson. If you don’t add value, the world will disintermediate you in the same way that Uber disintermediated taxicab companies.


What’s the most fun part of what you do in business now?

I think the most fun part is, and it has always been, spending time with Zumba instructors. Amazing people, every day they are standing in front of a crowd, and changing their lives. I’ve heard stories that are amazing, women escaping domestic abuse and Zumba being the thing that helped them get through it, and people going through an illness and Zumba kept them sane, it’s like having your own group of people that support you. And so spending time with Zumba instructors has opened my eyes to this amazing diverse world. I’m very lucky that I’ve been able to spend time with people from over 100 countries, of all nationalities, all races, all mentalities.


What’s the best joke you’ve ever played on Alberto Aghion, your business partner?

I’ve played too many jokes on him. My favorite one was when I put his picture in the rotation of the huge LED screen on Biscayne Boulevard. There is an LED screen on Biscayne in front of our office that shows logos of all of the restaurants and retailers. I called the manager and told him that it was Alberto Aghion’s birthday and that it was his dream to be in that rotation. I was able to get his picture in the rotation for a whole weekend, all of my friends saw it all of his friends saw it, and to everyone that was driving by he would just flash on there. So that was my favorite one.


Tell me about a mistake that you’ve made in either business or in life and what you think people could learn from it.

Partnering with the wrong people; if someone has a bad reputation in business, if you think that because you have a special relationship, or you know another angle or another side of them, or you think it happened in the past and they’ve changed, that to me has been taught the hard way. I said well ‘we’re gonna use this international partner, yes some people had a bad experience but it’s going to work well for us’, and the same thing happened. Even if you set up the contract right, and do everything right, you cannot make a good partnership with a bad person.


Are there any habits you have had, or have picked up along the way that you believe have contributed to your success?

Starting with the end in mind is an important habit, which I know Stephen Covey writes in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. To me, visualizing one year out what you would like something to be is the first step to planning. It sounds very logical but not a lot of people plan that way. I also think it’s very important to listen, listen to people and understand what they are trying to tell you, whether it is your employees or customers. It is a very important habit to have, and trying to be the only person who talks in the room is very dangerous, and I learned that along the way.


If you were looking to hire someone out of college with little to no work experience, what qualities would be the most important to you?

Drive and caring, if they care about what they are doing and they have a lot of drive, those two things are more important than talent. If you have three people from a foreign country who can’t update their credit card on your website, someone who dismisses it as only being three people is very different than someone who says that this is a problem, let’s go investigate. You want people who go the extra mile, who are really going to care about every single thing they are doing.


If you could give three pieces of advice to a student like me, who is about to go to college, what would you say to them?

  • Always think about the consequences of your actions; cutting corners or doing something that is not right might seem like a good idea at the moment and then it can definitely come back to haunt you. You want to sleep well at night knowing you’ve done everything right.
  • I think that taking risks while you are young is important; right when you graduate, that’s when there is a time. The first three years after you graduate, you can go and take some risks. If you want to take risks when you are married and have kids, you cannot afford it. So take risks earlier rather than later.
  • Try to find things in the business world that you are passionate about. It’s those extra hours that you want to actually spend, whether it is thinking in the shower, or at night before you go to sleep because you like what you do. Those hours count and they count a lot; they will make the largest difference in your life.

Interview has been condensed and edited for context

Full interview will be published on the Learning from Leaders site soon.