3 Success Tips from Guy Laliberté (Cirque du Soleil founder)

My name is Evan Carmichael and welcome to a special video post brought to you by American Express Canada. They have recently launched their Amex for Business Canada Facebook Page where you can access the latest news, information and resources for Canadian entrepreneurs.

I believe that the fastest and most effective way to build a business is to model the strategies of people who have already done what you’re trying to do. I call it Modeling the Masters.

Today we’re going to look at how a young entrepreneur went from performing in the streets and sleeping on park benches to becoming a billionaire who plays high stakes poker and is a space tourist in his spare time. This is the story of Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté and the top 3 lessons that you can learn from his success.

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“I bet everything on one night. If we failed, there was no cash for gas to come home.” – Guy Laliberté

Guy Laliberté, (born September 2, 1959) is a Canadian entrepreneur, philanthropist, poker player, space tourist and the founder of Cirque du Soleil. When Laliberté was 18 years old he left Canada for Europe to become a street performer. He played traditional Canadian music on an accordion with a hat for donations and slept on a park bench by night. He also met other street performers who taught him how to breath fire, juggle, perform magic, and walk on stilts before returning home.

Unable to find a 9-5 job back home, he started a business that would create large-scale street shows. After 3 years of successful shows in 13 Canadian cities, Laliberté wanted to get bigger. In 1987 his company was booked as the opening act for the Los Angeles Arts Festival. He spent all the money he had to get to Los Angeles and prepare for the show. If it didn’t work out he’d have to perform on the streets to get gas money to go home. Luckily for him the gamble paid off – his performance received standing ovations and ticket sales came flying in.

With an estimated net worth of US$2.5 billion, Laliberté was ranked by Forbes in 2011 as the 11th wealthiest Canadian and 459th in the world. In 2006, Laliberté was named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year and his company now employs over 5,000 people – not bad for a hustling entrepreneur who started off sleeping on park benches because he couldn’t afford to pay rent.

Action Item #1: Have a Greater Purpose

Is your goal to make a lot of money or to change the way something is done? If you look at the most successful entrepreneurs in the world you’ll find that they started their businesses to have an impact. Sure they had to make money, but it wasn’t their primary objective. Strangely enough, if money is your only goal then it rarely comes to you but when you focus on a greater purpose you’re much more likely to become successful.

Laliberté’s goal isn’t to make money; it’s to touch people – even if it’s only for a few hours on a single day. He goes to great lengths to help people open their imagination, be awed like a child, and see the world in a slightly different way. He transformed the circus industry from being large-scale amusement park shows designed to make people laugh to a full out experience that expose people to new cultures and ideas.

According to Laliberté, “We are in a position of financial and social power, and we could be agents of change in our society. Without pretension, I believe we could be a nice little gardener who takes care of the garden, and hopefully our neighbor will do the same. Then, maybe we’ll achieve a better world… Inside every adult there’s still a child that lingers. We’re happiness merchants – giving people the opportunity to dream like children.”

Action Item #2: Foster a Creative Workplace

Very few entrepreneurs can’t benefit from an influx of creativity into their businesses. When you and your team and creative, you’re coming up with new ways to solve problems, unique products and services to sell, and interesting ideas to fuel your future success. Think about your own success. Did you have your best ideas when you were in a creative space or when you were stressed out and overworked?

Laliberté believes that if you create a creative place to work, you’ll be rewarded with unique ideas that will help grow your business. He’s resisted the urge many entrepreneurs have to go public because he wanted to prevent shareholder pressure for short-term profits. He also invests 40 percent of profits back into research and development, twice the average for his industry. His hands-off management style allows his team to be as creative as possible without his interference and he only provides feedback in the final phases of production.

According to Laliberté, “I believe that the profits will come from the quality of your creative products… Business is difficult. But it could be approached two ways: Seriously, or with the same way you’re doing your job, with entertainment aspect, with pleasure, with fun. And we decided to try to make it as fun that we do our creativity… I believe in nurturing creativity and offering a haven for creators, enabling them to develop their ideas to the fullest… We are each but a quarter note in a grand symphony.”

Action Item #3: Take Risks

It almost goes hand in hand that to be an entrepreneur you have to take some risks. You’re venturing into the unknown and are creating new products and services. But when you’re betting on yourself then there’s no better investment in the world. If you commit to seeing things through until you reach your goal you’ll have the confidence to take the necessary risks and move mountains to accomplish your vision.

Laliberté isn’t afraid to take risks. He attributes this quality to his early years as a street performer where he had to be creative and daring to stand out and to survive. His first big risk was to change the way a circus was run. Gone were the dancing bears and lion tamers. He would create an animal-free circus. He then introduced the concept of having a permanent show. How could a circus survive without travelling? Laliberté would show them. He continued to bet on himself believing that the risks would pay off and he was right.

According to 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… I have seen many successful people fail after they start fearing they might lose what they have built. [We stop growing] if we start being afraid of taking risks and if we start diminishing our creative pertinence. We should always aim at doing more-creative endeavors, not in terms of volume but in terms of more creativity and more sharing… I don’t believe in pitfalls. I believe in taking risks and not doing the same thing twice.”

True Story

Laliberté understands the importance of getting the right people for his company. Once a year, Cirque du Soleil engages in a hiring campaign to bring new and freshly energized talent on board. For 16 weeks, anywhere between 60 and 70 candidates from around the world are gathered together to be tested. Pushed to their limits, Cirque encourages candidates to do things they probably have never done before, evaluating not only their core competencies, but also their values, generosity, courage, teamwork and problem solving skills. Laliberté wants to hire people who are risk-takers, just like himself, and who fit with the company’s core values.

More Quotes

“It was live or die in L.A. And we bet everything on one night.”

“If you want to be good you have to connect with the best people.”

“Today, the dream is the same: I still want to travel, I still want to entertain, and I most certainly still want to have fun.”

What Do You Think?

Does your company have a greater purpose? Are you afraid to take risks? What part of Guy Laliberté’s message impacted you the most? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts if you leave a comment below!

Evan Carmichael

To learn more check out my list of Guy Laliberté articles. Also don’t forget to check out the Amex for Business Canada Page!

About the Author

I #Believe in entrepreneurs.

61 Responses to “3 Success Tips from Guy Laliberté (Cirque du Soleil founder)”

  1. 3 Success Tips from Guy Laliberté (Cirque du Soleil founder): My name is Evan Carmichael and welcome to a specia… http://t.co/pSBGWgkA

  2. Debbie Kelly says:

    3 Success Tips from Guy Laliberté (Cirque du Soleil founder): My name is Evan Carmichael and welcome to a specia… http://t.co/pSBGWgkA

  3. joDge says:

    This is very inspiring. I wish I have the same courage and enthusiasm as Guy Laliberté has. As an Entrepreneur, I always dream that my small business will grow and that people could never forget. I’m not even half way, but eventually — I’ll be there.

  4. missTerry says:

    “We are each but a quarter note in a grand symphony” — This is so True. Like lovers, we can never say it’s true love if you didn’t at least make a difference in your partners life. So as to hiring someone in your company, never stop pouring a hot coffee on a half empty cup. There’s always room for improvement.

  5. 3 Success Tips from Guy Laliberté (Cirque du Soleil founder) http://t.co/Fh7QvyhT

  6. If money is your only goal then it rarely comes. http://t.co/lrOeEofS

  7. If money is your only goal then it rarely comes. http://t.co/lrOeEofS

  8. ana Monaghan says:

    Cool! Like it and ‘im!

    Thank you again, Evan!

    Beautiful work you do, in the inspiration room!

  9. RT @EvanCarmichael: 3 Success Tips from Guy Laliberté (Cirque du Soleil founder) http://t.co/a52jvrZV

  10. If we failed, there was no cash for gas to come home. http://t.co/Nb7U0HLr

  11. RT @EvanCarmichael: 3 Success Tips from Guy Laliberté (Cirque du Soleil founder) http://t.co/dZF8268K /Una historia de éxito valiosa

  12. RT @EvanCarmichael: 3 Success Tips from Guy Laliberté (Cirque du Soleil founder) http://t.co/dZF8268K /Una historia de éxito para aprender

  13. Camilla says:

    Thank you for these little programs. This was inspiring.

    1. Glad you enjoyed Camilla!

  14. Phil Thomas says:

    'When you’re betting on yourself then there’s no better investment in the world.' @EvanCarmichael: http://t.co/g6XEyGot #fb

  15. Hana Guenzl says:

    A great story – RT @EvanCarmichael: 3 Success Tips from Guy Laliberté (Cirque du Soleil founder) http://t.co/4LByFWlv

  16. If money is your only goal then it rarely comes. http://t.co/lrOeEofS

  17. Riyike says:

    This is very inspiring. I want to appreciate you Evan for sending this to me. I have actually thought of starting a small scale business but i need you to help me with it.

    There is this Vegetable oil its called (Wesson) its very good for the health of people. when i mean healthy i mean very healthy.

    I am thinking of being a major distributor here in my country Nigeria. Please Evan, how do i go about this, i really want Nigerians too to enjoy the health benefits of Wesson vegetable oil.

    Will be waiting for your reply Evan.

    Thank you

    1. Hi Riyike – alright! Sounds like it’s time to get started – good luck!

  18. Oloturex says:

    This was powerful… I really like d part where he said do business not to make profit but to impact… Be a risk take & have courage & believe in all u do…. Mr Evan , u doing a great job… More Grace 2 ur elbows. Rdgs

  19. Is your goal to make a lot of money or to change the way something is done? http://t.co/lrOeEofS

  20. Is your goal to make a lot of money or to change the way something is done? http://t.co/lrOeEofS

  21. RT @EvanCarmichael: Is your goal to make a lot of money or to change the way something is done? http://t.co/guwdKbaD

  22. cassandra says:

    Thanks,Evan
    For such a wonderful true story which gives me so much hope and faith.

  23. Ashraf says:

    This is so informative.
    Thanks alot

    1. Great to hear Ashraf!

  24. malefane lebusa says:

    An interesting and very inspiring video, i like it.

  25. He attributes this quality to his early years as a street performer where he had to be creative and daring to stand… http://t.co/IUKWwDmd

  26. Very Inspiring and knowledgeable Story

    1. Great – thanks for commenting!

  27. He also met other street performers who taught him how to breath fire, juggle, perform magic, and walk on stilts be… http://t.co/Nb7U0HLr

  28. RT @EvanCarmichael: When you're betting on yourself then there's no better investment in the world. http://t.co/kqQUDbGx

  29. Without pretension, I believe we could be a nice little gardener who takes care of the garden, and hopefully our ne… http://t.co/k7Bm8esR

  30. Justin Chung says:

    Well said RT @EvanCarmichael: When you're betting on yourself then there's no better investment in the world. http://t.co/5XevvLb0

  31. Today, the dream is the same: I still want to travel, I still want to entertain, and I most certainly still wan… http://t.co/jXpuyt0G

  32. Enjoy his focus on purpose, creative workplace, risk taking to include how he hires talent… talk about a sustainable model! Wow…

    1. Thanks Wayne – glad you liked it!

  33. More Quotes It was live or die in L.A. http://t.co/IUKWwDmd

  34. RT @EvanCarmichael: 3 Success Tips from Guy Laliberté (Cirque du Soleil founder) http://t.co/2W1uHIYV

  35. 3 Success Tips from Guy Laliberté (Cirque du Soleil founder) http://t.co/oy24Vn0O

  36. RT @EvanCarmichael: 3 Success Tips from Guy Laliberté (Cirque du Soleil founder) http://t.co/bvqu79jt

  37. 3 #Success Tips from Guy Laliberté (Cirque du Soleil founder) http://t.co/Sr7xIm6N via @Andrew_ob & @EvanCarmichael .

  38. 3 Tips for Success from the founder of Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberté! – http://t.co/pmJ3kFOl #Entrepreneurship

  39. “@MrPigeonPie: 3 Tips for Success from the founder of Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberté! – http://t.co/uWefuzCg #Entrepreneurship”

  40. Great video Evan!

    Very few people, if any, can achieve greatness on their own. No matter how much talent or vision they have. It’s obvious that Guy places a premium on building a quality team, even if they may have more talent than he. Insecurity has capped the potential of many leaders.

    1. Well said – thanks Aaron!

  41. 3 Tips for Success from the Founder of Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberté! – http://t.co/QLzyFaAq #Entrepreneurship

  42. Virgil says:

    Discovered you late last night and got up early this morning to read more of your material and get to know more about you.

    This quote from Laliberte has special resonance for me: “We should always aim at doing more-creative endeavors, not in terms of volume but in terms of more creativity and more sharing”.

    As founder of the nonprofit http://www.liviingwell60plus.org (www site under development), I am consumate in searching out stories and connections that result in memorable cellular experiences.

    1. Thanks for sharing Virgil!

  43. 3 Tips for Success from the Founder of Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberté! – http://t.co/BYdQjuSk #Entrepreneurship

  44. 3 Tips for Success from the Founder of Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberté! – http://t.co/BhuTfT1i #Entrepreneurship

  45. 3 Tips for Success from the Founder of Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberté! – http://t.co/M0BIpb2L #Entrepreneurship

  46. Andy Mowat says:

    3 Tips for Success from the Founder of Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberté! – http://t.co/M0BIpb2L #Entrepreneurship

  47. 3 Tips for Success from the Founder of Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberté! – http://t.co/hydkKF8U #Entrepreneurship

  48. 3 Tips for Success from the Founder of Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberté! – http://t.co/hydkKF8U #Entrepreneurship

  49. Max Quotes says:

    I’m actually from Montreal, Canada, so reading this post was really a pleasure and an inspiration. It’s always good to see people from your place be successful as Guy.
    Thanks Evan

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