Jack Ma: A New Inspiration for Budding Entrepreneurs

By Adya Behra,

Edited by Nandita Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

China’s richest man, who has been ranked the world’s 18th richest man with an estimated net worth of $29.7 billion, has a strong vision of making China the largest internet market, change China’s social and economic environment and create 1 million jobs. He strongly believes that matters should be taken into our own hands, and prompt action taken in the form of starting businesses to cope with the economic downturn rather than waiting for the government or other businesses to help. He has taken up the challenge of helping more people to make healthy money, sustainable money, money that is not only good for them, but also good for society.

How did crazy Jack, as most people call him, embark on this journey, from being an English teacher to turning Alibaba into a $160 billion behemoth company?

Born in 1964 in the Hangzhou province of China, Ma grew up during China’s Cultural Revolution. When he was twelve years old he got interested in learning English. At that time,China was opening up and hosted a great number of foreign visitors. For eight years he rode his bike for forty minutes every morning, in rain or snow, to a hotel near the city of Hangzhou and showed foreign tourists around as a free guide and practiced his English. Those eight years made him more globalized than most other Chinese people. In 1985, Jack went for a thiry-one day summer vacation to Australia and discovered that the real world scenario was completely different from what he had grown up believing. Educated from birth to believe that China was the richest, happiest country in the world, Ma started to think differently when he learnt of a world outside his borders.

 On one side he was very good at English, but on the flip side he was very bad at math. He flunked the university exam twice, but finally got accepted into what was considered the city’s worst university, Hangzhou Teachers University, where he studied to become a high school English teacher. For a very long time he harboured the dream of joining a business or a hotel. He aspired to work in a fast moving environment, and the economic condition of China was condusive to fulfilling his dream, as at the time, in 1992, the business environment of China was rapidly starting to improve. However, his fate was such that he was rejected from every place he applied to, even being turned down for the post of general manager at a KFC outlet.

This fifty year old entrepreneur is actually an underdog in the internet business. At a conference in 2010, Ma revealed that he has never actually written a code, nor made one sale to a customer. He encountered a computer in his life for the first time at the age of thirty three.

In 1995, Jack Ma visited U.S.A for the first time and was introduced to the world of the internet by a friend. When he returned home, he decided to start China Yellow Pages, a directory of various Chinese companies looking for customers abroad, and some even say that it was the country’s first internet business. He usually addresses himself as “blind man riding on the back of a blind tiger”. But it was a flop. He competed with China Telecom leading to a joint venture but eventually ended up resigning and stepped down. Later he got an offer to come to Beijing and run a new government group to promote e-commerce. His dream was to set up his own e-commerce company. In 1999, he gathered 18 people in his apartment and spoke to them about for about 2 hours explaining his vision. Everybody present there were so impressed by his ambitious plan that they put forward their money on the table there itself and thus helped him in starting Alibaba with $60,000. He wanted to have a global company, thus the global name Alibaba was used as it was easy to spell and people everywhere associated it with “Open Sesame”.

There were three reasons as to why he survived and was able to defeat the giant EBay in China- they had no money, no technology and no plan. They lacked in all the three quintessential of any business, hence used every dollar very carefully. Their foundation is based with the bricks of global vision and local win.

Alibaba is an e-commerce company that provides consumer-to-consumer, business-to business sales services via web portals. Alibaba’s aimis to help small and medium sized enterprises in making money, and they have never copied any U.S. enterprise model to achieve this end, unlike other Chinese enterprises. It is true that he has made many mistakes, but he has always tried to learn something important from his missteps, which has resulted in his success. There was even a time when he only had enough cash to survive for eighteen months, but he relied on his brain power and eventually succeeded in the race. He has taught the whole world that in order to succeed, value, innovation and vision are the most important. Opportunities never wait for anyone, and so one has to keep his eyes open at all times, like Jack Ma who caught the internet wave and flowed with it to the pinnacle of success.

Adya Behera is a 19 year old and a privileged economics Hons student of LSR, Delhi, she has been connected with the economics since last 3 years. With a will to serve the nation it shall be the endeavor of the incumbent  to put light on the current topics and put forth the view of the columnist.