The Early Biography of Jack Ma, Founder of Alibaba
Being the 11th Richest Man in China, it is hard to believe that Jack completed an English Education degree. What is a man without any business educational background doing competing with eBay and Amazon?
“Luck,” he would always quip when asked how Alibaba.com managed to rise up from being an anonymous site to being the now go–to site of small and medium–sized entrepreneurs.
Well, Jack Ma proved to be more than just one lucky man. He has the brains and the heart. Luck might get one far, but not as far as Jack Ma is right now.
His ambition could have gotten the better of him, but Jack Ma opted to go by the path few have braved to tread. Needless to say, it helps that he is a visionary and a willful man. One thing about Jack Ma is that he believes that small is beautiful. His drive to succeed is fuelled by his compassion for small businesses. He wants to focus on small and medium–sized enterprises, rather than the big ones, and his main goal is to help them become self-sufficient.
Yun “Jack” Ma is a native of Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province in China. He was born during the Cultural Revolution in China when the economy is still in the hands of whoever is controlling the state. In spite of this, Jack grew up with an open mind and a good sense of multi-cultural know-how. At 12 years old, he has been exposed to the Western and European practices and language.
Due to his fluency in English, he made a career out of being a tour guide. Even at such a young age, Jack knew how to play his cards. Most people would take his free tour-guiding as an act of foolishness. What they did not see was that Jack was not after the money. He was after the experience he would acquire upon mingling with people of other cultural ethnicity. He worked for knowledge.
He told tourists about Shanghai, the tourists told him about their home countries. It further honed his English communication skills. He soon developed an aptitude for the English language and in due course managed to learn it all by himself. Listening to Jack Ma speak, one would not sense that he is of Chinese descent. His very Asian appearance, though, easily gives him away.
When he was 15 years old, he met an Australian family. He played Frisbee with their two kids and developed a solid friendship with them. They corresponded via snail mail and it went on for the next six years. He was invited by the family to visit Australia and he stayed with them for a month.
It was a pivotal period in Jack’s life. It changed his perception of China and the other countries outside of it. He saw a different world, and a more liberal one at that. It goes without saying that the knowledge he accumulated in those nine years since he became a tourist guide—including his vacation in Australia—was priceless. It made him into the well-rounded man he is now.
Becoming a Teacher
Jack also had his moments of disappointment. He first flunked his entrance exam to Hangzhou Teacher’s University twice. He finally made it on the third try. Here, Jack Ma is already proving his resilience. He just does not lose heart. His classmates would have seen that in him too for they elected Jack to be their student chairman.
Jack must have really stood out because he would later on hold the chair position in the city's Students Federation. His excellent academic credentials led to his being assigned to teach at a university where he earned between 12 dollars to 15 dollars a month. He was the only one in their class of 500 to be given that rare opportunity.
But Jack wanted a different fate. He did not want to teach all his life. Jack’s Chinese blood does not become more apparent in his desire to put up his own business. At barely 12 years old, he knew he wanted to earn his own keep without being anyone’s employee.
Starting China Pages
Seeing a positive trend in China’s business setting, Jack mustered the courage to leave his teaching job in 1992. He applied for business–related posts, such as secretary to Kentucky Fried Chicken’s general manager. Unfortunately, Jack’s lucky streak is yet to start as he kept being turned down by employers.
He went to Seattle in 1995 to become an interpreter for a trade delegation. That’s where he first witnessed the advent of computer technology. Seeing how behind China is in terms of Internet advancement, he decided to set up China Pages, a website similar to Yellowpages.
Feeling like a “blind man riding on the back of a blind tiger,” he took his first business risk and borrowed 2,000 dollars to set up China Pages. He was clueless about computers. All he knew, and the only thing he was absolutely sure about, was that China has to cope with the Internet hype. Someone must bring the Internet knowledge to the grassroots of China. He willingly took the first step with both eyes closed.
Jack tapped the right market and his presence was felt by China Telecom. He agreed to do a joint venture with them at an investment offer of 185,000 dollars. That move would soon limit Jack’s influence over the first company he started. Upon feeling so restricted when it comes to decision-making, Jack gave up his seat in the board.
Jack was soon offered a project in Beijing to head a government group that promoted e-commerce in 1995. It was the right project and it came at the best possible time. It was all that Jack needed to start his own e-commerce business.
The Birth of Alibaba Group
Four years later, with the help of 18 people whom he was able to convince, Jack set up Alibaba.com in his apartment using the 60,000 dollars they collected from each of their pockets as starting capital.
Being an English major, Jack knew his literature. Contrary to what people might suspect, Ali Baba is not his favorite character. He named his business after Ali Baba because it has a universal appeal and an easy recall. When the thought of naming his business Alibaba hit him, he immediately asked random people if they knew the character. Apparently, he got positive results; thus, his multi–million–dollar company is now known by the name of Arabian Nights’ Ali Baba.
Alibaba Group survived because of Jack Ma’s sheer determination. They did not have feasibility study, they were not technologically savvy, and they were not born into a rich family. Once they lose the money, they lose the money. It was that simple and that bleak. Through it all, Jack believed Alibaba.com would make it.
They allocated the money very carefully. With Jack at the helm of Alibaba Group, he made sure that every cent they spent would be worth it.
They were in a rough boat ride when they successfully raised funds from Goldman Sachs in 1999. The following year, Softbank Corporation along with Fidelity and other institutions provided them enough capital to expand. It would seem that they are geared toward success.
A couple of years into the expansion, however, they experienced the awful aftermath of rapid expansion. They bit off more than what they can chew, and in the process, had to resort to retrenching their beloved employees. Worse, they barely had enough resources to survive for less than two more years.
It was when Jack learned the biggest lessons of doing business. Jack has the following to say about learning from his mistakes:
"The lessons I learned from the dark days at Alibaba are that you've got to make your team have value, innovation, and vision. Also, if you don't give up, you still have a chance. And, when you are small, you have to be very focused and rely on your brain, not your strength."
Alibaba Group’s Net Worth Keeps Growing
What saved Alibaba Group from its imminent bankruptcy was Jack’s brilliant idea of facilitating international relations between Chinese and American entrepreneurs through their website. It did wonders for the company and instead of a big time loss, they gained a one–dollar profit by the end of 2002. That commenced Alibaba Group’s uninterrupted surge to credibility and profitability.
Jack’s sense of humor is one of his best traits. He would often allude to Alibaba as his “1,001 Mistakes.” Jack learned the hard way, but he learned nevertheless and Alibaba Group is still going strong in the market.
Alibaba’s success was just the beginning for Jack. It propelled him to fame and people looked up to this short Chinese man who refused to give up. After making sure that Alibaba was established and already gaining profit, Jack started another web-based company for consumer e-commerce, Taobao, in 2003. Also in the same year, Jack founded Alipay, a web-based system which enables online payment.
Jack is insatiable. By 2012, his business has grown and is still growing into a conglomerate reaching a staggering 1 Trillion Ren Min Bi in combined Gross Merchandise Value (GMV).
And so Jack Ma’s lucky strike went on and on. He currently heads several companies, like Alimama, eTao, Tmall.com, to name a few. Jack has gone a long way from being the man who was clueless about computers and the Internet.
YouTube Video of Charlie Rose as He Interviews Jack Ma
This YouTube video has the interesting interview of Charlie Rose with Jack Ma as he talks about the humble beginnings of Alibaba Group. His passion is infectious. Listening to him makes one think we all could be successful in business. He confirmed that his "religion is small business."
Jack Ma Gives a Compelling Speech about Stepping Down as Alibaba Group's CEO
The unassuming founder of Alibaba has announced this year that he will relinquish his CEO post to Jonathan Lu, a loyal executive of the largest e-commerce business in China. Jack gave a speech before 20,000 audiences comprised of his employees, guests, and partners this May 2013. He says the following about giving up his seat:
"After today, I will no longer be a CEO. From tomorrow onwards, business will not be my sole focus. 14 years into business, I feel proud. In this world, no one can say that they will not age – make no mistakes, and be undefeatable. To make sure a company doesn’t age and make no mistakes, I chose to believe the younger generation. By believing in them, you also believe in the future. So I will not return to Alibaba as CEO. There’s no use for me to return because all of you will do better." (Source: Techinasia.com)
Jack Ma will leave his post as CEO with a heavy heart. But he will not entirely let go of Alibaba. He says he will remain as one of its executives.
Who would have thought Jack Ma would become the boss of not just one company but many successful investments? Jack Ma has made a name in the e-commerce industry and business people could all learn from his self-confidence and courage that paved the way for international e-commerce trading to be possible in a country as big and self-sufficient as China.
- Softbank Corporation
- Huayi Brothers Media Corporation
- The Nature Conservancy
- Association for Computing Machinery
Achievements and Awards
- 1999 - Founded Alibaba Group
- 2001 - Awarded “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum
- 2004 - Awarded as one of the “Top 10 Business Leaders of the Year” by China Central Television and its viewers
- 2005 - Chosen as one of the “25 Most Powerful Businesspeople in Asia” by Fortune Magazine
- 2007 - Chosen as the “Businessperson of the Year” by BusinessWeek
- 2008 - Predicted the economic downturn
- 2008 - Chosen as one of the 30 “World’s Best CEOs” by Barron’s
- 2009 - One of Time Magazines' "100 Most Influential People"
- 2009 - Chosen as one of the “Top 10 Most Respected Entrepreneurs in China” by Forbes China
- 2009 - Recipient of the “2009 CCTV Economic Person of the Year: Business Leaders of the Decade Award”
- 2009 - Created thousands of employment opportunities worldwide through Alibaba and Taobao platforms
- 2010 - Touted as one of “Asia’s Heroes of Philanthropy” by Forbes Asia
- Ranked number 25 by the BBC News in the "Web Rich List”
- 2007 - APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), SME Summit, Australia
- 2009 - Clinton Global Initiative, “Harnessing Innovation for Development”,
- 2011 - Association for Computer Machinery, Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Hangzhou, China
- 2011 - Stanford University event, China 2.0: Transforming Media & Commerce, USA
- Global Entrepolis @ Singapore