“I want to change history, do something important in my life, and influence individuals like we have with millions of small businesses on Alibaba. Then they love and respect you because you made their life important.”
Such is the ideology of the man who knows no bounds; a one-man army; arguably the biggest rags-to-riches inspiration in the whole wide world; one who needs no introduction – Jack Ma. If you don’t know who he is, you should probably work on your General Knowledge a tad harder.
Ma Yun was born September 10, 1964; who is now universally recognized as Jack Ma. He is a Chinese business magnate whose brainchild is the Alibaba Group; a conglomerate of Internet-based businesses. He is one of the richest men of the world with a massive net worth of US$39.2 billion as recorded in September, 2017. He’s not just a businessman per se; he’s a global icon and a philanthropist having spread his business philosophy on an international scale.
Most of you wouldn’t know that he was honoured with the second spot on the Fortune 2017 list of ‘World’s 50 Greatest Leaders’. And this is just a pinprick in the Jack Ma success story.
“No matter how tough the chase is, you should always have the dream you saw on the first day. It’ll keep you motivated and rescue you (from any weak thoughts).”
And if you’re still wondering; these quotes are golden words right from the horse’s mouth – Jack Ma himself.
Born in Hangzhou, China; he began learning English at a very young age, which might be the most popular language across the world, but not so much in China. He practiced the language by conversing with fellow English speakers at Hangzhou International Hotel by giving him tours for no less than 9 years.
It is where he became pen pals with a foreigner who gave him the nickname ‘Jack’ due to his inability to properly pronounce his Chinese name.
In his youth, Ma constantly struggled to attend college. The entrance exams which are held every year took Jack over four years to pass. Surprising, isn’t it?
Henceforth, he got degrees in English and business from Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute and Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business respectively. He has worked as an English and International trade lecturer at Hangzhou Dianzi University. This is the extent of Jack Ma education in its entirety.
“Help young people. Help small guys. Because small guys will be big. Young people will have the seeds you bury in their minds, and when they grow up, they will change the world.”
Jack ma Alibaba – You just can’t separate the two! He decided to teach at the local university he himself attended some years ago after facing a lack of good job opportunities. He then started a translation service venture for which he went to the US in the year 1995. It was in the states where everything changed.
He discovered the Internet and the reach of WWW (World Wide Web), which astounded him to bits. Another thing which baffled him was that there was no online business in China (a country which played host to nearly a billion people) whereas digital businesses were booming in the US. Where Jack Ma was different from all others was that he saw potential and he saw potential when it mattered. He instantly realized how the Internet can be a boon for small and medium Chinese companies; not just within the country, but their working relationships with the rest of the world.
“I try to make myself happy because I know that if I’m not happy, my colleagues are not happy and my shareholders are not happy and my customers are not happy.”
Once his star struck period was over; he then brainstormed an idea which involved selling Chinese products online and he coined the brand name as ‘Chinapage’. A venture undertaken in tandem with his friend, the company wanted to list on China based products and services. Within the initial days and without any proper marketing for that matter; the brand started receiving e-mails and calls from business owners throughout the country requesting collaboration and listing. This is what opened Jack’s eyes to the power of connectivity and how Internet is such a widespread and potent tool, impacting global trade positively by all angles.
In the latter stages, when Ma wanted to expand big time and in the hope of proper funding; he locked hands with a credible government entity with majority control. However, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows in his world as this major decision backfired. That so-called professional government entity brought forth negative levels of bureaucracy which came in the way of visionary thinking and creativity. This hampered what Jack had originally envisioned for China page. Growing frustrations ultimately saw him leave the company.
Thereafter, this Alibaba founder Jack Ma story took another interesting turn when he bagged a government job for the ministry of foreign trade and economic cooperation in the 1990s. Why this is being mentioned is because this stint allowed him to forge some very credible relationships in the domain which helped him in the long run. One of the most noteworthy names he touched base with was Jerry Yang, one of the founding members of another online juggernaut – Yahoo! Coincidentally, Yahoo! Eventually invested USD 1 Billion in Jack Ma’s Alibaba in the year 2005. Funny how things work out, isn’t it?
“Today, making money is very simple. But making sustainable money while being responsible to the society and improving the world is very difficult.”
Thanks to all such instances and his big-time failure collaboration with the government entity; he was able to learn more. As they say, learning what not to do is sometimes much more important than learning what to do. He learned about how inefficient the government is in some cases of business. In a Jack Ma interview, he once claimed, “Be in love with the governments, but do not marry them.”
One striking example – Once, the government approached Alibaba to help solve a ticket vending system crash during the heavy traffic of annual China Spring festival. Jack Ma and his team duly obliged and fixed the issue that came about. They didn’t charge anything to the government either; however, there was only one need – to be left alone in their matters.
Again, the time came to leave the mundane job and do something different. So, in 1999, Jack Ma left his government job to take a second attempt at an online business. He was able to muster a group of 18 skilled individuals and founded Alibaba, which will change their lives forever (they didn’t know that then). Again, the sole aim was to empower small and medium businesses in China and facilitate international trade. The frustration of the existing bureaucracy + the rejection he faced when he formed Chinapage + the zeal to do something big and different is what gave birth to Alibaba.
“It doesn’t matter if I failed. At least I passed the concept on to others. Even if I don’t succeed, someone will succeed.”
However, it wasn’t all plan sailing at the beginning. Jack Ma initially tried Silicon Valley in the search for investment. Silicon Valley as you all know, is located in California, United States, considered to be the technological hub of the world. However, all his efforts met denial and his ideology was heavily criticised and his business model laughed upon. It was labelled to be unprofitable by many.
That being said, Jack wasn’t one to be too bogged down by this fact and so, he valiantly kept trying. He succeeded eventually as he convinced both Softbank and Goldman Sachs to invest over USD 20 million and USD 5 million respectively. Not too shabby, eh?
The Jack Ma Alibaba story is far from over. Then came the year 2003 whilst Alibaba was still not profitable; Jack and his team came up with another venture – Taobao.com, which was an auction site online. The biggest USP of this website was that it charged 0 commissions; but arguably the toughest aspect was that their rivals were none other than eBay. Determined to succeed, Taobao stuck with the no-commission mantra for millions and millions of traders online. There was a flip side to it though, as it put Alibaba under significant financial duress. Merely to stay afloat, the team started offering customers some additional value-added services like making webpages for negligible fees.
This turn is what pushed everything in Jack’s favour as Alibaba captured the market in less than five years; in turn ousting eBay from China altogether. Everything that unravelled in this Alibaba Vs. eBay story can be beautifully summed up by what Jack said in an interview with Charlie Rose, “If eBay are the sharks in the Ocean, We (Alibaba and Taobao) are the crocodiles in the Yangtze River.” Ever since then, Alibaba has ventured into many different businesses coming up with a wide array of ventures simply through organic growth which includes the likes of AliExpress, Tmall and other acquisitions.
“You’ve to make consumers smart. An e-commerce portal doesn’t sell a product at cheaper rates, instead an offline shop sells it at a costlier prices.”
We all know about the dot com bubble don’t we? Well, when it came to an end in 2000, Alibaba was under severe jeopardy and it faced multiple heavy challenges which challenged its existence in the online space. Reasons for this trouble were the aggressive expansion undertaken by Alibaba and reaching out to the international markets too soon. And this is something which Jack Ma admitted himself. Realizing this, Jack closed down many worldwide branches that weren’t needed limiting their scope in a much targeted direction. He helped re-organize the company’s stature and its way of operation. His one big aim was to strengthen Alibaba in the Chinese market. Once this issue was dealt with, he then let the company spread its wings again into the market worldwide.
“Instead of learning from other people’s success, learn from their mistakes. Most of the people who fail share common reasons(to fail) whereas success can be attributed to various different kinds of reasons.”
Then again, the investment of Yahoo in Alibaba earned Yahoo a 40% stake, which raised the brand’s valuation to USD 2.5 Billion, which was mighty impressive for a company which was only six years old.
Another landmark in the Alibaba story came to the fore in 2014 when the company announced its IPO. In what was the largest offering to date, Alibaba raised funds in excess of USD 20 Billion having been listed in the New York Stock Exchange.Alibaba then had a market cap of over USD 200 Billion, which made it one of the biggest e-commerce giants to have ever existed. Even today, Alibaba under the tutelage of Jack Ma continue to expand day-on-day coming up with new ideas and making new acquisitions.
“Intelligent people need a fool to lead them. When the team’s all a bunch of scientists, it is best to have a peasant lead the way. His way of thinking is different. It’s easier to win if you have people seeing things from different perspectives.”