Perez returned to Colombia but didn't give up. On his fourth trip to Miami he landed a job at the swanky Williams Island Spa where several Colombians lived. Some had even taken classes with him in Bogota.
Within a year, Perez was in demand, teaching 22 classes all over South Florida. At the same time, Perlman and Aghion were looking for a new business venture after the dot-com bubble burst, which led to the demise of their Internet company Spydre Labs, an incubator for Internet companies related to Latin America.
Enter Raquel Perlman. While Alberto Perlman was telling his mom about how badly he was feeling for laying off people, she was telling him about how happy she was taking Perez' classes that were then called Rumbacize.
"You should meet Beto and maybe start a gym together," she told her son. "He's the talk of Aventura."
Perlman, now 35 and the company's CEO, resisted at first. But after more of mom's prodding, Perlman called Perez and they met at a Starbucks. Perez told Perlman to attend a class to understand why people loved it.
Perlman watched a class and was reminded of people having fun at a night club, but without the drinking and pickup lines.
"Beto, have you heard of Billy Blanks' Tae Bo? Why don't we do VHS tapes and sell them on television?" Perlman said he told Perez.
Aghion, now 36 and the company's president, joined the venture. Their first stumbling block came when they went to trademark Rumbacize, a play off Jazzercise and rumba, which means to party in Spanish. They discovered Rumbacize had been covertly registered by the owner of a fitness club where Perez taught classes. So the three Albertos went to a Houston's restaurant in North Miami Beach and brainstormed.
"Bumba. Cumba. We said everything trying to find something that rhymed with Rumba," Perlman recalled. "Wumba. That sounded like something for pregnancy."
They were getting nervous. Nothing sounded right.
"Then we got to Zumba," Perlman said. "That's it. We were excited."
In August 2001, the trio founded Zumba Fitness. "We were known as the worst dancers in our class," Perlman said about himself and Alghion. "And we still can't dance."
They started with about $4,000 - their entire combined savings - and ran the new enterprise out of the garage of Aghion's Aventura home.
To create a demonstration video to show investors, the three stayed up all night laying down boards to create a dance floor on the beach outside a Sunny Isles hotel. About 200 of Perez' students paid $20 each for the class, raising another $4,000.
The video went well. Investors lined up. Then the terrorist strikes of 9/11 occurred and the investors pulled out, Perlman said.
The project seemed dead until Perez' gym contacts led to a meeting with an Ohio company called Fitness Quest, which sold Total Gyms. Perlman was leery that a Latin-based video would go over well in America's heartland, but he put on a suit and made the trip.
Fitness Quest's CEO looked at the tape. Perlman said his reaction was: "If I get to meet the blond standing next to Beto, I'll do the deal."
But there was one more thing. Could Perez speak English? At the time, he could not. But Perez told Perlman to tell them he could. When the Fitness Quest executives met Perez, he told each one: "Nice to meet you. I'm sorry. I need to go."
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