The 500 investors, advisors, attorneys and entrepreneurs gathered in Hollywood for the Florida Venture Capital Conference were treated to entrepreneurship Miami style.
And it doesn’t get much more Miami than the story of Zumba, co-founded by three Albertos from Colombia and now a worldwide sensation with 14 million people taking classes in 186 markets around the world. CEO Alberto Perlman shared the Zumba story during the conference dinner Thursday at the Westin Diplomat (pictured above).
Of course, the journey wasn’t easy. For Perlman, Zumba was actually his 18th or 19th company – by age 24. The team nearly ran out of money at one point, and Perlman acknowledged he made some poor hires early on. There were plenty of iterations as the company experimented with several business models.
Zumba was on the way to becoming an infomercial company, Perlman said, when the co-founders started getting calls from Zumba fans who wanted to become instructors. That’s when it hit them: Turn instructors into entrepreneurs. As they grow their own Zumba businesses, the instructor network would deliver the holy grail of business models: recurring revenue and scale, Perlman said. In each new market, master trainers are empowered to scale the business; that is how Zumba can be in 186 markets with just 200 employees.
“The biggest lesson I have learned in life is to never lose the pulse of my customers,” said Perlman.
Now Zumba is a fitness, music, apparel and gaming company – and it is also a tech company, with about 30 developers. “We are all technology companies,” he told the crowd. "To compete, Florida needs to invest a lot more in technology education -- we need to lead.”
The conference attendees also heard from Dr. Maurice Ferre, co-founder of Mako Surgical, another South Florida success story. The surgical robotics company based in Davie was sold in 2013 to Stryker Corp. for $1.65 billion.
Just as Silicon Valley has the PayPal Mafia, because so many companies have spawned from that venture, there may be a Mako Mafia in the works.
For instance, Ferre is involved in several startups doing cutting-edge healthcare technology and robotics. Mako co-founder Rony Abovitz is developing Dania Beach-based Magic Leap, which attracted $542 million in financing from Google and other investors in November. And some former Mako employees and Mako funding went into OrthoSensor, a venture-backed Broward company that makes "smart" orthopedic devices.
"I'm really excited about the ecosystem down here in Florida, and especially South Florida," said Ferre, who is also on the board of Endeavor Miami, which is helping to accelerate high-impact entrepreneurs. ‘We are seeing more people come up with novel innovations.” (Ferre pictured below with Knight Foundation's Matt Haggman)
As a way to spark more innovation, Andrew Rosen, chairman of Fort Lauderdale-based Kaplan, said at the conference Thursday that the global education company “is committed” to opening an ed-tech accelerator in Fort Lauderdale. Jon Hage, CEO of Charter Schools USA, said his company is partnering with Kaplan on the endeavor, which would incubate promising tech startups in the education industry. Charter schools can be ideal laboratories for ed-tech startups to test their solutions, Hage said. “I think we can build something special together,” added Rosen.
In addition to keynote speakers and panel discussions, conference attendees heard presentations from some of the 23 selected early-stage or later-stage companies in Florida seeking venture funding -- 12 from South Florida. On Thursday, companies giving six-minute presentations included EZDoctor of Fort Lauderdale, ParkJockey of Miami, PowerPHASE of Jupiter, Senzari of Miami and Skypatrol of Doral. In its pitch, Entic of Pembroke Pines (pictured below), which describes itself as Nest for commercial buildings, included a testimonial from one of its many customers -- the Diplomat. Nice touch.
The annual conference, a signature event put on by the Florida Venture Forum, continues Friday with more company presentations.
Posted Jan. 29, 2015