Today: How street performer Guy Laliberte became a billionaire.
Born to a middle class Quebec City, Canada family in 1959, Guy at the age of 18 was anxious to see the world. The only problem was he had very little money.
But that didn’t stop him. Guy decided to hitchhike through Europe, making money by entertaining people on busy sidewalks, by using his musical skills. He planned to live off coins people would drop in his musical instrument case as he played his accordion and his harmonica, and musical spoons or a Jew’s harp.
For young Guy, going to Europe was exciting and so with his backpack and musical instruments off he went. Sometimes he slept on park benches, and other times in youth hostels or anyplace else that could accommodate a young man with little money.
Guy would play his music on street corners or on the lawns in crowded parks and make money, a handful of coins at a time.
In the process, Guy met other street performers, some of them sharing nearby benches, sleeping in parks or also living in youth hostiles. They taught him to expand his act to include stilt-walking and fire-breathing for the more he had to offer, the bigger the crowd he could draw.
Guy never thought this would amount to more than a fun adventure, but it changed his life. He loved the art forms he saw including dance and acrobatics and when he returned to Montreal, he began to organize festivals and other moneymaking events from his room in a youth hostel.
Then one day, Guy came across an irresistible but risky opportunity. He was 24 years old, with shoulder length hair, living a hippie lifestyle yet managed to convince the conservative Quebec government to let him host one of their shows as part of their 450th anniversary celebration.
Guy promised a grand show, under a big top tent. Yet he had so little experience working under a big top, that on the 1st day, the tent collapsed prior to the crowd arriving. He got it hoisted back up but this was one of many problems that confronted him for he was learning by trial and error.
Through persistence, Guy overcame the problems, including keeping the tent safely upright and his show became a big hit, and very profitable. After that, as a creative director, producer and risk taker, he began booking other large scale shows and started making substantial money.
Then in 1987 Guy saw what could be the chance of a lifetime. It was a chance to capture a huge audience in one of the most important locales and put his company on the North American map. But to take advantage of this opportunity, he would have to risk everything he owned.
What was this opportunity? Guy could bring his show to Hollywood. Los Angeles, the home of Hollywood, was going to host a large arts festival and he booked the opening night, committing to a major cash guarantee.
It was thrilling but if his show bombed, he wouldn’t have enough money left to get everyone back to Montreal and he would be broke.
Being a gambler, Guy later became a world class poker player; he took the bet, which made him like a trapeze artist with no safety net, for it was a tense time once all his money was at risk.
It turned out to be a great gamble as his show hit big, and by its unusual nature became the talk of the town. It subsequently found a home in nearby Las Vegas and it grew into a huge attraction, which has now spread to five continents.
What is the name of this remarkable showman’s Montreal based company? It is Cirque du Soleil (pronounced “circ do so-lay”).
Today, it offers multiple shows. The O show for example, combines acrobatics, magic, aquatics and a host of other skills, under a rainbow of theatrical lighting and conducted in a symphony of toe tapping rock music.
Audiences are spell bound and Cirque du Soleil has become as renown in business as it is in the entertainment industry for it has grown into a billion dollar a year enterprise.
Guy, an ex-street performer is fabulously wealthy and has become a sizeable philanthropist and it all happened because like many a successful entrepreneur, he did what he loved, learned to do it well and had the courage to pursue his dream.
Success Tip of the Week:
If you have an entrepreneurial dream but are unsure if it will succeed, do as Guy did and start small. He began by testing his material in front of a few people on street corners and he learned what worked and what didn’t. You too will learn by trial and error if only you will give yourself the opportunity.
In the next KazanToday:
A flight attendant’s reaction offers us a valuable life lesson.