How Alibaba founder Jack Ma opened sesame

 

Billionaire Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, speaks at the Asian Leadership Conference in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. Wasu Media Holding Co., the Chinese media company backed by Jack Ma, has held talks with Netflix Inc. as the broadcaster of "House of Cards" seeks to enter China's $5.9 billion online video market. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Jack Ma

Photo from bloomberg.com

In life, a lot of things don’t make sense. Just like the way an English teacher at a local university in China who earned $12 per month went on to becoming a multi-billionaire in just 7 years. When his company Alibaba went public in 2014, it was the largest IPO in history raising about 25 Billion dollars and valued now over 200 Billion. Alibaba was not only the leading ecommerce website in China, it was also wildly successful on a global scale with it’s entire value exceeding Amazon and eBay combined. On the eve of it’s IPO Jack Ma, a regular Chinese school teacher who knew nothing about coding, catapulted to being a multi-Billionaire. From it’s humble beginnings in his small apartment, Alibaba is no longer a David. It’s now a Goliath.

But first, what is Alibaba? In his book Alibaba’s World, Porter Erisman, former Vice-President of Alibaba describes it as a vast e-commerce conglomerate that connects buyers and sellers and allows them to do transactions across a wide range of products and services. It’s basically an online portal where you can either buy or sell. It connects buyers and sellers in more than 240 countries and 80% of online retail sales in China happen in Taobao.com – a company under the Alibaba Group.

One thing is for sure, this English teacher managed to “open sesame” and bring China and the rest of the world (or most of it) along with him.

But how did he do it? Was he just lucky? Was Jack Ma merely at the right place, at time?  Erisman writes that Jack Ma was the right person, at the right place, at the right time.

After teaching for 5 years, Jack Ma decided that it was time to test the waters and start a business. So he opened his first venture – Hangzhou Hope Translation Agency. He started the Agency to cater to the increasing number of local businesses engaged with foreign trade. Then one day, one client who was a local government official, asked him to fly to America to sort out a business transaction with a US partner. When he arrived in Los Angeles, instead of a warm welcome, he got flashed with gun and robbed by his supposed host. Eventually he was able to go to Seattle where he asked for help from his American friends. It was there that Jack got introduced to the internet. He discovered that the internet was an amazing tool were you could type a word or two and get information for free. But when he typed China, nothing came out. That was when he had the idea to connect Chinese businessmen (and there were a lot of them) to the rest of the world.

Jack flew back to China and set up China’s first internet company – China Pages. It had some success but in the end didn’t work out. Next, Jack tried working with the government of Beijing to promote ecommerce. But he felt too stifled by all the red tape. So he left to start another venture, where he hired 17 of his old students and made them founders – Alibaba.

alibaba

Photo from answers.com

Alibaba was not always the successful business model it is today. When it first started, it was a free service. The company struggled for years to find a way to be profitable. In the first few years, it was bleeding money. It finally became profitable when, after 2 years, sellers started asking for a paid option to promote their products and be seen above their competitors. The rest is history. Alibaba went on to become the world’s largest ecommerce website and Jack Ma became a multi-billionaire.

If you don’t imagine it will happen, it will never happen.

-Jack Ma

What did I learn from Jack Ma?

One, dream big. Like Steve Jobs, Jack Ma was a visionary. He looked at the market, at what the users wanted and produced a product that could fulfill that. Alibaba.com was launched in a time when so little of China, due to government censorship, was online. But he saw the future of China and it’s businessmen and that future included doing business online. Ecommerce was on the rise. Most of the world was already online and China would be sure to catch up. Jack Ma would often set wildly high projections for Alibaba – double or triple the projections of his managers. And they often surpassed it. His vision has always been to connect buyers and sellers and make online transaction easy – on a global scale. He was not only a big dreamer but highly optimistic as well. Even when the company looked like it would topple down at any moment, he kept the faith and guided his team thru those tough times.

 A lot of young people don’t have dreams anymore. And we want to tell them, you have to keep your dreams.

-Jack Ma

Second, act on it. There are 1.3 Billion people in China. I’m sure a few other million had the same idea as Jack. The only difference was they didn’t do anything about it. When you have a great idea, act on it. If you don’t, you can be sure that someone else will. As Jack Ma said, “You can begin on nothing but an idea.” He certainly did.

Third, focus on the customer. Jack Ma was a salesman who focused on what the customer wanted. He didn’t know how to code and had no patience for algorithm talk but he knew how to sell. His focus was entirely on user experience. Whenever a new application or website tool was developed, he first tried it out. If he couldn’t understand it, that meant their customers probably wouldn’t either.

I’ve learned a lot from Jack Ma and how he took Alibaba from being a start up company to being the largest ecommerce website in the world. And if he tells me to keep my dreams, well, who am I to argue? Who knows, maybe Truly Wealthy Realty can also be an Alibaba someday.

Go live a Truly Wealthy life.

-Alex

 

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