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Profiles In Doing Both: Why Cirque du Soleil Isn't Clowning Around About Business Models

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"Ka." "Kooza." "Ovo." And "La Nouba." Are these names familiar to you?

If so, then you're likely one of the nearly 100 million people who have seen a performance by Canada's famed circus troupe, Cirque du Soleil.

Founded in Quebec, Canada, by stilt-walker and fire-breather Guy Laliberte, Cirque du Soleil has grown into one of the world's truly great entertainment companies. With $700 million in annual revenue, the company now entertains patrons on six continents and in more than 200 cities.

That's a far cry from the Cirque du Soleil of 25 years ago -- a rag-tag band of street performers known more for creative ingenuity than business acumen. Despite his lack of formal business training, however, Laliberte built a thriving business around artistic costumes, world-class athletics and compelling storylines. Initially, Cirque du Soleil channeled that creative energy solely into its enthralling live performances. But over time, Laliberte recognized ways he could leverage that same magic through new business models without compromising the company's core revenue stream or artistic integrity.

So the company developed new businesses around product merchandising, licensing, video production and more. In addition to its award-winning "Mystere" and "O" stage shows, it has another business that provides entertainment to corporations and municipalities. These endeavors often leverage the creative stagecraft of the company's big-tent performances, and attendees at these events in turn buy even more tickets.

Cirque du Soleil has also teamed with Reebok to create a women's fitness routine based on its artistic creations. More recently, it accepted a challenge from Microsoft to help the tech-giant launch its controller-free video game technology called "Kinect." These deals come on the heels of contracts to create new offerings based on the works of the Beatles, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, and portend of more things to come.

Much like Disney monetizes its brand magic across multiple businesses, from film to theme parks to merchandising, Cirque du Soleil monetizes its artistry through multiple business models. In fact, one of the alternative revenue streams that Cirque du Soleil has created is an exclusive deal with Disney to provide entertainment at the Disneyworld Resort in Orlando.

While creative artistry distinguishes Cirque du Soleil, it's the company's ever-growing suite of business models that help it thrive. Consider: multiple business models provide Cirque du Soleil a buffer against downturns in any one sector and an extra lift when times are good. They also provide the company entry into adjacent markets--like fitness--and help preserve its longevity when its traditional revenue stream comes under threat from increased competition or internal challenges.

To succeed with these diverse businesses, Cirque du Soleil has had to develop new disciplines, new best practices and new capabilities. It has also had to embrace new financial models, legal expertise, distribution pipelines and logistical know-how. That has required the company to recruit new people with a dizzying array of skills. Today, Cirque du Soleil boasts 5,000 employees who work in more than 100 different occupations.

Their mission: help Cirque du Soleil grow in size and scope, and bring entertainment to more people around the world. This wouldn't be possible had Laliberte confined his thinking to one way of doing business. But he didn't. Because he recognized that Cirque du Soleil's true genius was artistic excellence that could be applied in a myriad of ways, he has led his merry band of acrobats to places where few dreamt possible. Better still, Cirque du Soleil's diverse businesses act as a flywheel, giving lift to one another, and putting smiles on more people in more places than ever before.

Whether you company sells products or provides a service, ask yourself if it wouldn't benefit augmenting its existing business models with one or more new ones. While doing both might sound daunting, you won't likely need to perform back flips to pull it off. You just need to land on your feet whenever you move into something new.

Inder Sidhu is the Senior Vice President of Strategy & Planning for Worldwide Operations at Cisco, and the author of Doing Both: How Cisco Captures Today's Profits and Drives Tomorrow's Growth. Follow Inder on Twitter at @indersidhu.