Of all the rags to riches stories ever told, one that I find the most inspiring is that of busker-turned-billionaire Guy Laliberté. The founder of Cirque du Soleil, the world’s largest privately held entertainment company, his shows have touched the hearts of more than 100 million people worldwide.
But it all started from very humble beginnings and demonstrates how passion and a drive to succeed can lead to amazing things! So how did this busker become a billionaire?
At the age of 18, Guy left his native Canada to hitchhike across Europe as a busker. He spent his first night sleeping on a bench in London’s Hyde Park embracing his backpack, two precious accordions, a harmonica and less than $1,000 in his pocket. He played music, sang and juggled on the street to earn a dollar, before joining a performance troupe of street performers including acrobats, fire breathers, sword-swallowers and stilt walkers. Although he didn’t become rich with money, he became rich with experience, and picked up skills that he would later put to good use.
Initially, “It was just an adventure, and I was planning to go back to school and have a regular life,” Guy Laliberté recalled in a recent interview.
He did try a regular life. After the challenges of living on a hand-to-mouth existence in Europe, he returned to Canada and in his first week accepted a full time job at a hydro-electric power plant in Quebec. Three days into his new job, the plant workers went on strike and Guy was fired. He was now unemployed and broke, but it was at that point that Guy made the decision to never work a normal job again and instead devote himself 100% to his undying passion for performance art.
Drawing on his experiences, he joined a street performance group where he met his future business partner Gilles Ste-Croix and organised a summer performing arts fair called Le Fete Foraine (“The Carnival”) which gained moderate success over the next few summers.
The birth of Cirque du Soleil
In 1983, the provincial government of Quebec offered a $1.5 million arts grant to celebrate the 450th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s discovery of Canada. In order to impress the government and win the grant, Guy’s partner Gilles Ste-Croix walked 56 miles ON STILTS! The stunt worked and the partners used the $1.5 million to create and launch “Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil”.
The new Cirque du Soleil (meaning “Circus of the Sun”) was born to bring the concept of street performing into a circus show environment. But like many new businesses it had its fair share of challenges.
“We had every problem starting a big top could have. The tent fell down on the first day. We had problems getting people into the shows. It was only with the courage and arrogance of youth that we survived”, said Guy Laliberté.
But survive it did and although the initial event only returned a modest $40,000 in profit, Guy Laliberté was already planning bigger things.
No risk, no reward
For the next few years, Cirque du Soleil operated as a 6-month a year travelling acrobatic circus in Canada, when in 1987, Guy put everything on the line when he took his entire circus to the Los Angeles Arts Festival in a make or break bid to establish Cirque du Soleil.
He spent every penny both he personally AND the company had, to set up a performance in California for several months. Years later, Guy admitted that had the show been unsuccessful, he would not have had enough money to bring his troupe back to Canada. Fortunately the show was a smash hit and lead to $2 million worth of future contracts.
It was then in 1992, that Guy took Cirque du Soleil to a new level when he struck a deal with casino mogul Steve Wynn to bring the show into the entertainment mecca that is Las Vegas. A key piece of the deal was that it was not exclusive and would allow Cirque du Soleil to establish productions in other venues and other cities.
As a result, Cirque du Soleil has never looked back! Cirque du Soleil started with 73 people and has now grown to over 5,000 employees including over 1,300 performing artists. It runs 20 different productions around the world, in a combination of permanent performance venues and travelling shows that have visited over 300 cities across six continents.
Driven by the vision and creative genius of Guy Laliberté, Cirque du Soleil has continually evolved itself to stay fresh with audiences and maintain its status as the premier creative acrobatic circus experience. Combining music, theatre, dazzling costumes and high-flying acrobatics to create enormous spectacles of human movement and sound, Cirque de Soleil continues to break new ground.
“Our biggest goal is to continue to force ourselves to always start our creative work on a white page and not take advantage of past successes and challenging ourselves,” said Guy Laliberté.
“We’re not afraid of risking what was our success yesterday in order to explore some new field. We’re adventurous. We like the challenge of unknown territory, unknown artistic field, and that’s what stimulates us.”
Living life to the fullest
Guy Laliberté is testament to someone who is enjoying life and living it to the fullest:
- In 2007, he finished fourth in the World Poker Tour taking home $700,000 in winnings.
- In the same year he launched the One Drop Foundation, a charity that aims to provide clean drinking water to some of the world’s poorest people. Guy has donated $100 million of his personal wealth to the cause.
- In 2009, he became Canada’s first “space tourist” when he joined a Russian mission to the International Space Station.
I find the story of Guy Laliberté truly awe-inspiring. A man who had the courage to walk away from an everyday career and follow his passion, dream for the stars and in going to space even make it there!
He is a true example of how daring to dream big and taking a risk to make it happen can pay off with massive rewards.
Come with me to see Cirque du Soleil TOTEM
I am a big fan of Cirque du Soleil and have seen every show that has come to Australia. So I am really excited about the new show TOTEM that is coming soon to Australia and I am giving you a chance to win tickets to the Sydney, Melbourne and Perth show seasons.
Please note, you will need to have access to Facebook or a Facebook account to enter the draw. Plus, if you share the promotion with your friends on Facebook and they enter the draw, you’ll receive an additional entry.
I am also excited to announce the winners of tickets in our monthly prize draws.
Sydney: Debbie Cole of NSW
Melbourne: Jayde Ormsby of SA
Perth: Viviana Sputore of WA
Sydney: Daina Byrne of NSW
Melbourne: Amiranda Latch of VIC
Perth: Diane Caratozzolo-Waddington of WA
Hurry enter now on our Facebook page!! The last of our prize draws in this promotion will be held at the end of August.