By 2000, Steve Cohen felt he was doing pretty well as a chamber magician, making about $2,000 per show, hosting private gigs at the homes of wealthy people in Chappaqua, New York.
Then he met Mark Levy, whom marketer Cohen describes as “awesome.” Levy saw more potential in Cohen’s actions than in Cohen himself. He leaned more into who he was already and overtly urged him to establish himself as a “billionaire magician”.
Cohen thought it was a silly idea. His wife thought it was a ridiculous idea. His parents and best friends advised him not to do it. “I thought I was going to lose all my clients,” she said.
But Levi was persuasive. “If you can’t give up a $2,000 gate, you can’t get a $20,000 gate,” he told him, referring to paying per show. To be, and to do your best for it.”
Cohen moved the show to a room at New York’s Waldorf Astoria and performed in a long-tailed tuxedo. He interspersed his speech with references to luxury goods. He enacted a dress code for his patrons. Many times he was ready to throw in the towel, but he pushed forward.
Fast forward 20 years. Meanwhile, Warren Buffett flew Cohen to his home to perform. He was also hired by Michael Bloomberg and Martha Stewart to do private shows. Cohen has performed for Russian oligarchs, Middle Eastern princes, Chinese billionaires, Moroccan queens and Saudi Arabia’s (former) crown princes. When he’s not doing weekend gigs (his two shows on Fridays and Saturdays, now at Lotte He New York Palace), he flies around the world to perform in private his islands, megayachts and villas.
And in time, he wasn’t just a “billionaire magician,” he was a millionaire magician.
Most people watching Cohen don’t pay $20,000 to $25,000 for a private performance, but $125 to $350 for one of the 64 seats in his public show. At the show I attended, the audience was mostly tourists, and the admission fee was about what you would spend on a Broadway show, but it seemed like a bit of a splurge.
Afterwards, I spoke with Cohen, and during our conversation, I realized that there was a lesson in his story for anyone selling, or looking to sell, luxury travel.
- On the value of positioning: “People want something they can’t find anywhere else, from someone who offers a unique and novel experience. It is something with
- On Converting Skeptics: “I never disparage people who disagree with me. They come to me expecting to see how I do what I do. It’s a cat-and-mouse game, but in the end, they aren’t. And their suspicions work in my favor. “You are giving us miracles.”
- On understanding the underlying fundamentals of technology: “The theme of magic is classic. All are variations on one of the six or seven tricks: make objects disappear, reappear, defy the laws of gravity.” , to permeate an object into another, someone’s you choreograph elements, mold them, fuse them into another. Nothing is original.
- On pitching intangible experiences: “Magic always happens in your head, between your ears. When you get someone to believe what you’re doing, they multiply that belief.”
- On the importance of listening to the customer: “Every show is different because every audience is different. I hope you enjoy watching them.”
- On setting limits on those who impose them: “I used to put on a midnight show that millionaires often booked. It was considered to be and was often delayed, so we stopped offering late-night programming.”
- On the importance of client referrals: “At the end of every show, I always say, ‘If you enjoyed this, tell your friends.’ My success depends on word of mouth.”
- On staying true to yourself while stretching yourself: “At first, like a court jester, I was trying so hard to please. Ultimately, it’s really just that if I lived in Iowa or Idaho, I might call myself a Farmer’s Magician.”