Meet the Man Behind Zumba: Beto Perez

He built a global empire helping people have fun and burn calories.

from Reader's Digest | November 2009

Getting Ahead with Beto Perez
Who are your students?
Ninety percent of them hate to exercise. I think people in the fitness business create programs for people in the fitness world. With Zumba, anyone can do it. Sometimes we have three generations in class.

You were rejected a lot when you first started. Did you get discouraged?
No, no, no. We were so poor. If I wanted Nike or Puma shoes, my mom said, “You want them? You have to clean the house for two months.” She taught me that nothing is impossible.

What advice do you have for people with an idea?
Have passion and perseverance. It’s like fishing—you have to throw the bait. You throw it once, and the fish might not bite, so you have to throw it again and again, until it bites. I was also lucky to find my business partners early. If people have ideas, they need to find the right people to help.

What challenges have you faced as the business has grown?
Somebody called wanting to start a Zumba class in Thailand. The students were quiet, respectful, expressionless. I come in and say, “Hey! Are you ready for the party?” I play music, and they’re like robots, not moving. They didn’t know anything about Latin music. But after 20 minutes, they were totally into it. You have to hook them with the music and the energy. It’s been a challenge for me, working with other cultures.

What’s next?
I’m now producing music, something I never studied. And we’ll be adding more international beats to the mix—African, bhangra [Indian folk dance], calypso, quebradita [Mexican cowboy music], and Afro-Brazilian.

You’re teaching less so you can focus on the business. How’s that going?
Four or five years ago, I was teaching 22 classes a week. Then the company grew, and I went from being an instructor to being a business guy. It felt strange. But I need the time to think, to organize, to create. I still teach five classes a week. I can’t stop. I need the contact with people.