We are all social creatures always looking for fantasy in real life to trigger our thought process and seek inspiration from them.
So, today we’ll talk about a story.
The story of the life of a man who has impacted the entire economy and internet industry of China almost single-handedly.
Some of you might think immediately that the guy was lucky to be born in a rich family with useful connections that led him to the right place at the right time.
Others might assume that he has always been a tech genius and since the earliest age, he was already building electrical circuits and writing prototype, models.
Now, listen to this: it is all not how it was in reality!
Unlike other tech founders, Jack Ma has no background knowledge in computers. This goes to show that anyone with good enough passion can be successful provided that they have the courage to pursue their dreams.
Building one of the world’s largest e-commerce companies doesn’t require specialized or technical knowledge, genius-level math—or even a business plan.
So what does it take?
Here’s the story of Jack Ma, the richest man in China and, with about $44 billion in assets, one of the richest people in the world.
Rag To Riches
Jack Ma (aka Ma Yun) was born on October 15, 1964, in Hangzhou, located in the southeastern part of China.
He has an older brother and a younger sister. He and his siblings grew up at a time when communist China was increasingly isolated from the West, and his family didn’t have much money when they were young.
His parents were traditional Musicians-Storytellers and they didn’t make enough to be even considered as middle class during those days.
Jack Ma was scrawny and often got into fights with classmates.
As a boy, he did everything he could to learn English. He was an avid reader of Mark Twain and used every opportunity to get better at English.
"The very important thing you should have is patience." – Jack Ma Click To Tweet
Aged 12, he had an idea of how he could improve his English skills: Every morning at five o’clock he rode his bicycle for 40 minutes to an international hotel in his hometown and waited there for tourists.
When he approached them, he proposed a deal. He would show them around the city as a travel guide and they would teach him English in return. Even in rain and snow, he waited outside the hotel day after day, morning after morning, year after year.
Elevate your standards. One day he met an Australian family and soon became friends with them. They ended up inviting him to Australia, where he was impressed by the high standard of living that people enjoyed compared with China.
Built To Fail
Having no money or important connections, Jack Ma quickly realized that a good education is his only way to achieve his big goals.
His English was improving constantly, but he was so weak in math that he failed the standardized university entrance test—he only achieved one out of 120 possible points. He tried again, and this time he scored 19 out of 120. His overall results were so bad that the university turned him down.
“If you don’t do it, nothing’s possible.“ – Jack Ma Click To Tweet
He sent his application to Harvard University 10 times but got rejected every single time. In the end, he enrolled at the Teacher’s College which was at the bottom of prestigious universities ranking in China.
In 1988, he finally obtained a bachelor’s degree in English.
Like any other student post-graduation, Jack Ma was faced with the challenge of out-competing his batchmates and freshers across the country to secure a good job with a sufficient salary.
After graduation, he started applying for as many jobs as he could and that is when he got really depressed. He got rejected from 30 jobs and finally found a job as an English teacher at Hangzhou Dianzi University with a pay of $12 a month!
Chickens don’t fly. A degree in English certainly didn’t work in his favour, and although he applied to many jobs for safekeeping, he was rejected from all. In an interview with Bloomberg, he even confessed that out of 24 candidates, he was the only one who was turned away from a position at KFC!
The Turning Point
After finally coming to terms with all of his rejections and failures, Jack Ma visited US in 1995, for a Government undertaking project related to the building of highways.
It was then that Jack Ma was first introduced to the Internet and Computers. Computers were pretty rare in China then, given the high costs associated with them and Internet or E-mails were non-existent.
At that moment he realized that whatever he was going to do in the future has to be about the internet.
“The most important thing is to make the technology inclusive – make the world change.“ – Jack Ma Click To Tweet
That same year, he founded a company, along with his wife and a friend, raised $20,000 to start an internet company dedicated to making websites for businesses.
He had spent almost all of his money on registering the company and had little left for anything else. The company’s office consisted of a single room with a workstation and a very old PC in the middle.
It was called “China Yellow Pages” and within 3 years it grew to a $800,000 company.
Drunk by The Internet. His first online search on the Internet was “beer” and he became very surprised that there were no Chinese beers coming up in the results. He then searched ‘China’ and not a single result popped out! This experience made him realize that the Internet offers vast possibilities to entrepreneurs in China.
First Step Rocket
Finally, after persuading 17 of his other friends to invest and join him in his new e-commerce startup – Alibaba, the company began from his apartment.
Initially, Alibaba didn’t had a single penny in investment from outside investors, but they later raised $20 Million from SoftBank and another $5 Million from Goldman Sachs in 1999.
Building trust among the people of China that an online system of payment and package transfers is safe was the biggest challenge Jack Ma and Alibaba faced, a challenge that Jack will cherish for his lifetime.
“My job is to help more people have jobs.“ – Jack Ma Click To Tweet
At every step of the way, Jack Ma had to fight off resistance – from shopkeepers convinced that he was trying to put them out of business to government authorities who were suspicious of the privacy-factor that this online business model would affect.
Step by step the company started to become more recognised and started to attract users from all over the world. Within a short period of time Alibaba became one of the largest websites online.
From the outset he thought big and set himself very ambitious goals. Shortly after founding his company, he told a journalist: “We don’t want to be number one in China. We want to be number one in the world.”
He was so convinced of his future success that he even had a meeting filmed in his modest apartment in February 1999—to document the moment for his company’s later history. During the small meeting, he posed the question: “In the next five or ten years, what will Alibaba become?” Answering his own question, he said that “our competitors are not in China, but in Silicon Valley … We should position Alibaba as an international website.”
Fun On a Bun
Jack Ma has always insisted on having a sense of fun at Alibaba.
This is what is best in his life and what has helped him to stay goal-driven. The first time the company became profitable, he gave a can of Silly String to each employee to fully enjoy their achievement.
“Always let your employees come to work with a smile.” – Jack Ma Click To Tweet
In the early 2000s, when the company decided to start Taobao, its eBay competitor, he had the team working on it do handstands during breaks to keep their energy levels up.
The company name “Alibaba” was invented when Jack Ma was sitting in a coffee shop thinking on how to unlock the potential of small Chinese manufacturers and vendors. In the story “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” a secret password would unlock a throve full of riches and in the case of Jack Ma, it was his company that revealed the potential of small businesses to the world.
The biggest breakthrough for Alibaba came in 2005 with the appearance of Jerry Yang, the founder of the website yahoo.com, who invested $1 billion in Jack Ma’s company in exchange for a 40% stake in it.
This was extremely important for Jack Ma who was in the process of beating eBay in China and for Yahoo in the end as well since they netted around $10 billion in 2014 when Alibaba went for IPO.
“As a business person, I want the world to share the prosperity together.” – Jack Ma Click To Tweet
It was the largest offering for a US-listed company in the history of the NY Stock Exchange with a whopping $25 billion raised and still, it is the biggest IPO in history.
Also, it made instantaneously Jack Ma the richest man in China.
After bringing the company to financial stardom in 2014, Jack Ma decided to step down from his CEO post to continue as executive chairman. This would give him more opportunities to concentrate on his philanthropy work.
Humility is the key. Turning into a mega-wealthy man and a celebrity all over the world and in particular in his home country did not change Jack Ma the way who he is. He continues to enjoy his modest hobbies. He also likes reading, writing Kung Fu fiction, playing poker, practising meditation and Tai Chi.
The Baba Recipe
Beyond the economic success, Jack Ma is an exemplary figure that embodies the persona of a responsive and responsible leader.
When it comes to management lessons, Jack Ma has a lot of wise words to share.
On top of creating a differentiating business model and entrepreneurial experiences, Jack Ma is known for an extraordinary personality in both his leadership style and his beliefs.
Enlighten your mind
Jack Ma is passionate about building the Alibaba ecosystem in order to help people, a philosophy that he is trying to embed into the DNA of the company.
It is reflected in Alibaba’s policies: they offer stock options to employees and are concerned about improving the lives of employees who grow with the company.
"If you have a different mindset, you will have a different outcome." – Jack Ma Click To Tweet
Many entrepreneurs create a business model that focuses purely on revenue creation. For them, the vision is to create as much money as possible.
Jack Ma created Alibaba to improve the lives of his employees and customers too. In his opinion, real wealth is a fruitful and rewarding relationship between his company and its customers. Money is simply a by-product and not his final goal.
Jack Ma’s commitment to a cause larger than himself has propelled him forward.
rule of thumbWhatever you are working on, you should let your vision be to impact the lives of people positively.
Empower Your People
Since the conception of his business, Jack Ma has helped the younger generation.
Before the booming growth of Alibaba, he was distributing equity to the high school students who worked for him. This inclusive growth mindset followed him as Alibaba grew into an e-commerce giant.
It’s well known that Jack Ma is not tech-savvy. So how did he manage to build one of the largest technology company in the world?
“Your employee should have superior technical skills than you. If he doesn’t, it means you have hired the wrong person.” – Jack Ma Click To Tweet
He wasn’t afraid of hiring people who are smarter than him.
Many entrepreneurs let their egos keep them from their reaching their full potential. A leader should be willing to listen and learn from his employees.
rule of thumbHiring the wrong person can jeopardize your business. Don’t let it happen just because you’re intimidated by someone who’s smarter than you.
Envision the future
Jack Ma is a man of great vision.
From the beginning, Ma got huge dreams for his company. And he transformed them into reality.
Visionary leaders have their eyes on the horizon and not just on the near hand.
“A leader should be a visionary and have more foresight than an employee.” – Jack Ma Click To Tweet
They see things in a bigger picture and they think strategically. They are innovators, they work hard to bring their visions into life.
Jack Ma believes that it’s easier to unite the company under a common goal rather than uniting the company around a particular person.
Common goals are important because they encourage unity. If your team is working for one goal, the company will have a clearer direction.
rule of thumbBeing a farsighted leader will help the team when struggles arise. While other see dead-ends, you’ll see possibilities.
Lead By Example
Jack Ma recognises that he is no stranger to failure.
Every time you go out, try your best. If you fail to accomplish your goal but see the process to the end, then you are a success. Hardship is the best teacher and the key to fortune is understanding its lessons.
rule of thumbAs a leader, your strength and endurance will hold the team together.
“A leader should have higher grit and tenacity, and be able to endure what the employees can’t.” – Jack Ma Click To Tweet
When they see you hustling and fighting, they will be inspired to do the same.
Leadership is not for the faint-hearted. You must be ready to face the challenges with your head held up high.
Be like Forrest Gump: Never give up!
Improve your GQ
Jack Ma embodies the global intelligence, or GQ, that is needed for today’s global leaders.
GQ consists of seven elements, all of which are essential for global leaders.
Global interactions heighten the stress that leaders face. The more global the context, the more demanding leadership becomes.
"Forget about your competitors, just focus on your customers." – Jack Ma Click To Tweet
When leaders are placed in emerging market situations, the complexity increases exponentially because the differences in language, culture, customer preferences, negotiating tactics, business practices, laws, and ethical standards are so great. That’s why many otherwise solid leaders struggle with global assignments and working in emerging markets.
Someone who is high on global intelligences will be able to adapt to diversity at a global level, perform cross-border assignments that require understanding and collaboration with different activities across the region.
The Seven GQ Building Blocks
Global leaders must be able to adapt quickly to the rapidly changing global context by shifting resources to opportunity areas and developing contingency plans to cope with adverse geopolitical situations.
Global leaders must be prepared to alter their tactics quickly to adjust to changes.
Jack Ma is one of the most inspiring people alive today.
He indicates that one of the keys to his tremendous success is searching far and wide for opportunities. He says that one of the causes of failure is myopia when it comes to finding opportunities.
Go beyond your professional capability and financial ability.
His struggle with hardship and desire for wealth has been documented and inspires us all. He is currently the symbol of the entrepreneurial spirit in China and around the world.
Learn from his wise guidance and you may walk the halls of fortune in future too.
Believing in yourself, being persistent in the face of adversities and treating rejections and failures as opportunities to propel yourselves ahead is what Jack Ma’s extraordinary life speaks out to the world.
It doesn’t matter where you start, it is where you finish that counts!
So what do you think about Jack Ma and his Entrepreneurial journey so for with Alibaba?
Shout out your thoughts and comments about this business tycoon below.
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