In this first jinnterview of our series “Tell your journey“, we discuss with Jacomo Belluti, founder of 4 dance schools in Belgium, France and Luxembourg.
This video was recorded on June 6, 2020. Special thanks to @boris for organizing this event.
The video language is in French. Subtitles in French and English are available. For the transcript in English, please scroll down. For the French transcript, please click here.
Adama: Hello everyone, thank you for being with us. Today we are shooting our first video, in which we interview people who have an entrepreneurial background, and today our first guest is Jacomo, so Jacomo, thank you for being with us.
Jacomo: Hi, it is with great pleasure that I am here with you today.
Adama: Well, the pleasure is shared… hold on, I am turning off my notifications because I realize that there are several noises. So can you… Maybe you can start by presenting your journey.
Jacomo: Okay, okay. Well, what you need to know is that I am 42 years old. I started entrepreneurship at the age of 18 already. I started with a small business of… I had an event agency, and it was very complicated. It was very complicated, especially since I had no funds, I had the ideas, but I did not have the funds. And that is what was missing a lot in my project. I did not have the funds, and the problem also is that being young like that, you did not… how to say it, how I can explain that… Given your age, you are not credible. You understand? This is the problem when you start a business very early, is that already you do not have the experience. Is that okay? To people, you are not credible. Why? Because when people ask you “Okay, your project is good, but what is your experience, what is your background?” There, you find yourself in a situation where you just got out of school, and, well you do not have the qualifications, we will say, for what you are going to do. Even though you know exactly what you want to achieve, but the problem is, you are not credible. So, you struggle a lot to find partners willing to bet on you. Why? Because as I explained to you, your journey has just begun. So that was very difficult for me. What helped me a lot was the fact that I was not afraid. So, I knocked on every door, I got rejected thousands of times, and it was because of my perseverance that people eventually believed in me. What you need to know is that there is always, always, always a person who will believe in you.
Adama: I understand that you did… You’ve been turned down a lot. What was it, in fact, your first business idea?
Jacomo: At the very beginning – since I am a dancer at the beginning – I wanted to create a show agency. That offered shows for major brands like Orange, Sony, Nike, etc. I had noticed that there were not so many shows with all these brands. Of course, there were on TV. But outside of television, there were not enough artistic performances in the markets, in the malls, and so on. So, I proposed that. And it is true that at the beginning, it was very, very, very complicated to do that. And one day I seized my chance, as I told you. At that time, there was a magazine called GTI Magazine. It was a tuning magazine. At that time, there was the big phenomenon of “Fast and Furious”. So, I started to make shows for them.
Adama: Which year was it?
Adama: When was it, in which year?
Jacomo: It was ’98.
Jacomo: It was in ‘98. My problem, as I explained, was really the lack of money. So, my first step was to have the funds, to be able to open… create my agency, with the communication that goes behind. All these small shows that I had done, allowed me to earn money, and most importantly to earn a reputation. And in the end, in fact, money was not the main obstacle. The main obstacle I had – but at that time, I did not know it – was the reputation, the credibility. And the fact I performed for big brands, for GTI Mag, the fact I danced for many different artists, that is how you build a name. People start following you, trusting you because of your name. So, after that I started to sign bigger deals, I did a lot of stuff, and I was able to raise the funds to do other things.
Adama: Okay, so if I understand correctly, when your started you did a show agency for brands, you could not really get started so instead you did small shows, we are going to say on a smaller scale, to get more experience and build your own credibility.
Jacomo: That is right, because at first, I thought that money was the problem. That since I do not have money, I cannot promote myself. Eventually, I realized that the problem was not money, it was visibility, you understand? And today, in fact, with what you propose, you offer visibility to people. That is super interesting, something we did not have – I am talking about more than 20 years ago, there was not that. So, today, what you offer is super awesome because all over the world people can see what you do.
Adama: Okay, and once you finally launched, you are finally more credible, what is next? Do you get deals always bigger?
Jacomo: In fact, the difficulty that comes afterwards is to remain in the game. Because if you are not known, you really have nothing to prove. But when you get to a certain level, the point is not to sit and relax, you know? So, you are among the big guys, but now, at that moment, that is where the game really starts. Why? Because in fact, people expect that what you propose is really in line with the image they have of you. And you always must recycle in any field, in fact, whatever that is, it is a business that I started and then I made others. and you really must keep being credible, you must innovate, you must find new strategies to make yourself known. Because you can quickly tour your country or where you are. So, the next challenge is to export yourself, and there it becomes complicated.
Adama: For example, how did you do in your case considering that at that time there is internet, but it is perhaps not as easy as today with the social network and so on.
Jacomo: I travelled a lot; I offered my services outright for free. Because you have people who want to see what you’re doing. Even though you already have a name where you are from, but… Let us say that I am from Belgium. In Belgium I made my network, people know me. Now to enter the French market, I start all over again since I do not have as much visibility as what I can have nowadays. Nowadays, when people do not know you, they just type your name on the Internet and find all the information about you. But at that time, no. Therefore, you must start the process again. Another important thing is that you are not the only one who can think: many others can. So, there are a lot of people who end up with the same ideas as you, right? I started to travel a lot: I went to France, I went to Italy, I went to Ibiza, I went to Germany, I went to the United States… Traveling so much helped me to improve what I did and to meet people who took me further. Because alone, you cannot do it. People who think that alone, they can do it… You can’t do it alone; it is on your journey that you meet people who take you further… It is a bit like hitchhiking: it is rare to see people who take you from a point and drop you off to at the exact point where you need to go. Instead, they take you to wherever they go, then from there you hitchhike again till your destination, and that is the same with entrepreneurship.
Adama: In entrepreneurship, many people are afraid to start their own business because precisely, what you just described is a phase in which you are alone, you must invest your own money to go to several countries where you are unknown. For many people, this phase is scary because you have no income. Were you thinking “I’m in this situation, I continue until a fixed date and hope it will work before, otherwise I stop everything” or were you only motivated to reach your goal?
Jacomo: Speaking of the first business I just explained to you, it is mostly the fact of saying “I don’t have much, I can’t make a mistake” because if I lose, I lose everything. It is when you start entrepreneurship because you do not yet have the right mindset. You cannot set a deadline, say “Here I am today, in six months, I’ll be there.” It is just impossible. Why? Because this thing happens: when you set a deadline, you impose a block on yourself. What you did in 6 months, you can do it in just a month as you can do in eight months. Everything is there: the intensity you give to the belief of what you do. I learned that with experience, you know. But the difficulty, it is true, is that you always question yourself. As soon as you get hit very hard, you question yourself: you ask yourself “how am I going to do”. The other big problem is often your own environment. Most of the time, people around you do not believe in your project.
Adama: Was that your case?
Jacomo: Oh yes, my brother. That was really my case. That was really my case. People start to believe in your project when you show them that, first, you believe in it, but especially when they see that there is an evolution in your project. When you are in the first phase of your project, no one believes in it. Especially if it is in an area that your close environment does not see you work in, or has never seen you work in. So, for them, it is just like throwing yourself to the lions, they say “hey, he’s not going to make it.”
Adama: When you started, you told people you have a business idea that is to offer shows for big brands. Do you have reactions like “come on, it’s not a serious job, stop that” or did some people support you?
Jacomo: Personally, for me, no one supported me. Why? Because for us Africans – especially for our parents, not today – you should know that today, you pay $400, you fly to New York, but at the time of our parents, it was almost mission impossible to go there, so for them, luck only smiled at others. For our parents, you had to succeed at school, that is the only thing that pays, you know. Dance is just a hobby, you understand. So, for them, they cannot imagine you succeed in this area. Only when my parents saw that I had dropped out of school, but I was starting to earn 5-digit amounts, at that point they started to believe in me. Since they saw that it was concrete.
Adama: How long did it take between, we are going to say, the time you decided to start your business and the moment when your parents finally thought you could succeed?
Jacomo: Look, it took two years personally.
Adama: It means that for 2 years, nobody believed in you.
Jacomo: Yeah, that is exactly it, nobody. When I say nobody, it is your environment, okay? So, in my environment, no one believed in me.
Adama: This is important, because your environment, you mean your family, your close friends, and therefore the first persons who are supposed to support you in this kind of adventure, so even they are not on board.
Jacomo: That is exactly the point. I think it is human. Let us suppose, in your case, you are an engineer, okay, you have been studying hard, things are going great for you. People think “ok, he’s proven himself, he’s good at it.” Now, you are in a field that is not yours. First, they are going to say, “but why is he going there, in it, everything was going well for him!” You know what I mean? “Why he’s going to do something brand new, everything was great!” So, they are like, “What’s your problem? Everything’s going well for you, why are you going to look for trouble?” You understand that? Why, because in fact, they are used to stay in what they are doing, that is the mentality. For us, the new generation, we want to evolve in what we do, you understand? That is the point: it is not that they do not believe in you, but they expect results. And not small results, they expect big results from you. And once you start getting these results, then they start following you.
Adama: Once you have had results in your business, you said at the beginning that you created several companies. What happened, did you think “now, I’m bored with what I’m doing, I’m going to change again” or was it more “I feel like I’m even more ambitious, I want to do more”? What is your state of mind at that time?
Jacomo: My state of mind at that time was the desire for challenge. You know, I am someone who loves challenges: I assume that in all the businesses you do, you always need an answer to “Why you are doing it”, okay? Once you have found the answer to “why”, the “how” is not that important. The “how”, you let it happen, but it is mostly the “why you are doing it”. The “why” will give you, will always let you, when you have difficult moments, remember “yes but, that was why I wanted to do this”. And the “why” is super important. Once I reached this, you should know that I was 20 years old, I earned 15 to 20,000 euros a month my brother.
Adama: Indeed, it is far above what most people of that age earn.
Jacomo: That is right, and as a dancer, you know. So, I started as a dancer, but I did not want to remain just a dancer, I wanted to create my own company. So, I created my own company, called Dance Floor. There, it really started to work. When I got there, I noticed that I had – for my part – I had done what I had to do. On the other hand, I had funds to aim much bigger. So, being a dancer after having my dance agency, I thought “Why not train dancers, to do what I can do?” So, I opened a dance school to train dancers. And from one dance school, I went up to two, I went up to three, and I finished at four.
Jacomo: And after that, as time went by, I wanted to do other things, I met other people. Because once you start to grow in your job, you meet people with a similar mindset to yours. So, you start to meet people who also want to start a business, who have projects. In fact, you start to bond to these people, and you find yourself in areas that were not made for you. So, I found myself in trading, although it really was not my thing at all. I had a friend who was in trading, who needed someone like me because he was a very shy person. While I am quite open minded. We really made THE TEAM together. Since I had a facility to talk with people, and he took care of everything related to programming. In the end, you know, I found myself in a field that was basically not mine.
Adama: Okay indeed, it is very far from what you were doing initially. Are you still in this business, or was it just one shot?
Jacomo: No, no, I am still in that business. And then what did I do? I realized that… It’s always the fact… Everything I’ve done afterwards, it’s always wondering: “What else can I bring? What is the value I can add to something?” And I think you succeed… Of course, it all depends on whether you are talking about success in terms of numbers. But if you are talking about success in terms of self-fulfillment. For me, what happened was that I thought, “OK, how can I add value?” And I thought “OK, I’m going to get into real estate.” You see what I mean? Because there are two things in which I realized that you could make a good living if you manage well: it was trading, right? I mean, the stock market, for those who do not know trading per se, the stock market and real estate. So, I started to put myself into real estate business: I studied, I went back to school again, you know, to get a degree of real estate agent, real estate developer and trustee. But in the meantime, what happened was that I also bounded myself with people who were already doing this Because you must know something, and that is what you are doing right now is great, because you save time to people. Why? Because, in fact, you have a project – for me, it was real estate. If you must start learning real estate, it is going to take you a certain amount of time, right? However, if you put yourself with people who have already the knowledge of what you want to do, you save a lot of time because their experience, you will benefit from it. So, you save time. That is where what you are doing is great, because in your system, people will be able to bring in other people in the same business, or who have already developed a similar business in other countries, maybe. And they are going to be able to help others by saying, “Listen, if you go like this, you do it like this, you’re going to get there.” So, you are saving time. And that is why today, I am in real estate, and it is going great for me, why? Because I had the chance to surround myself with people who already knew the job for many years.
Adama: So, if we basically sum up, you have a lot of companies, how many do you have today?
Jacomo: Today I am at 4.
Adama: Okay, in which areas?
Jacomo: So, I have my dance schools, but that is really a passion. I also have a printing company, so we do everything that is advertising, flyers, wait, I show you something, I do not know if you see there?
Jacomo: We are a graphic design company, so we do websites, anything that related to flyers, advertising, communication on the Internet. This is the second company. Then we have our trading company called CMB: we do trade for people, we create algorithms, we make robots that trade for our clients, and we have the real estate agency called Immovizit. And with Immovizit, what we are proposing is a website, in which instead of having photos like most real estate agencies, we are specialized in virtual tours. So, people, from their phone, can visit the property as if they were there.
Adama: Okay, so that means that the people post their ads on your site, basically you go to their house, you shoot with a camera, and then you publish the footage on your site so that people can look at it as if they were in there.
Jacomo: Exactly that.
Adama: Look, it is an impressive track record, I must admit.
Jacomo: Yes, because it really has nothing to do with the beginning, from where I started. But the most important thing in all this, I think, it is for everyone the same: it is not about “where do you want to go exactly”. Because you can start something and then go somewhere else. What you need to keep in mind is this fuel of “Despite no one believes in me, I believe in myself. I’m giving myself the opportunity” in fact, you understand? That is what makes you successful in all areas. Additionally, nowadays, with tools like yours… You know, if I had a tool like yours 20 years ago, wow!
Adama: All your companies, you do not have to answer if it is indiscreet, but how many employees, is that in total?
Jacomo: Contrary to what you may think, it is not that huge. I do not have many employees. Uh wait… About forty, about forty employees in all fields combined.
Adama: I think it is not bad at all. And is… how do you see the future? Are you optimistic, do you think that it is going to be a lot easier or “Maybe it’s not that easy today to do what you did before”?
Jacomo: If someone is to start today like I did, he would be much further than I am today. That is because, as I explained, in my time I did not have social networks, you know. Today, you can contact… We are going to talk about dance, I can contact Beyoncé’s dancers. Just because I know their names on Facebook. You see, you contact them, you talk a little with them, you invite them – that is what I did. Whereas at the time, it was super complicated, you did not have this at all. Regarding advertising, today you must know a something about advertising… Some will say the packaging is the most important thing. There are companies who have poor products, but they have an extraordinary packaging, so they sell. Meanwhile, you have people who have extraordinary products, but they have a poor packaging, so it does not work. So, in fact, you really can have a lot of people, you see in the platforms. And that makes your network much bigger, it is much easier today.