The Motivating Story Of Alibaba’s Founder Jack Ma, The Richest Man In China

Atanu Sarkar

Fantasy movies or books may capture our attention but they are certainly rare in the modern world. We do look for fantasy to trigger our work process and seek inspiration from them. Likewise we hear about the success of lots of strangers but only few are special enough to intrigue us. What makes them different is their story which they have to share. These inspirational start-up stories will motivate and certainly improve our outlook in life.

Let us begin our series of exclusive start-up stories with the story of the life of a man who has single-handedly impacted the whole economy and internet industry of China. Let us begin with the story of Jack Ma.

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Jack Ma- Who the person is

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Known to be the founder of E-commerce giant Alibaba, Jack Ma is known to be the richest man in China with an estimated net worth of $25 Billion. He is also the stakeholder at Alipay which is its sister company known to be an e-payment portal. He made a recent world record $150 Billion IPO filing of his company. But you will be surprised that Jack Ma holds a 7.8% stake in Alibaba and 50% stake in Alipay. Yes it is true, that Alibaba is not a household name but it is certainly worth more than Facebook and has more goods listed than Amazon and eBay combined.

This seems to be the perfect prelude to the story of an arrogant billionaire who have seen and reached the peak of success. But it has seen dark days and also faced a hard life to be the person he is today. Undoubtedly, this is the true rags-to-riches story inspiring you even in your darkest days.

Jack Ma- His Humble Beginnings

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Jack Ma, born as Ma Yun, is one of the self-made billionaires with the fantasy story of Rags to Riches to share. Born in Hangzhou, located in south-eastern part of China, he was raised with an elder brother and younger sister. With his parents being traditional Musicians –Storytellers, they did not earn enough to be even addressed as middle class families in those days.

“I was never afraid of my opponents even if there were bigger than me,” says Ma.

As a child, Ma was scrawny and often indulged into fights with classmates. But like every teenager, he did also have hobbies. He loved collecting crickets and used to make then fight. He was so experienced that he was able to distinguish cricket just by the size and type just by hearing their sound.

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In those days, the communist China was all isolated from western region lacking the prospect of English dominating the whole world in those days. Jack was a person not to fall behind so when Former US president Richard Nixon visited Hangzhou in 1972, Jack made most of the occasion. Jack used to wake up early in the morning and offer the foreigners free tour in exchange of English lessons. That is when he met a foreign girl who called them ‘Jack’ as his name was hard to spell for her.

Jack graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English and also worked as an English teacher at Hangzhou Dianzi University getting a salary of just $12 a month! What is the more interesting part is that even before he received that degree, he became an English teacher.

Rejection is the pillar of success

Some say that Jack Ma is an extremely lucky chap who is said to have become billionaire in a blink of eye. But keep in mind that rejections do go with Jack Ma and would not believe how many times, he was rejected. In fact if we faced rejections so many times, we would not have dreamt of being successful.

His failure days began right from his childhood. In his early childhood, Jack Ma is reported to have failed three times right during his Middle School exams, before joining Hangzhou Normal University. Just imagine, he have even applied and wrote to Harvard University ten times for getting admission but was rejected each and every time. In fact he said in an interview,

“When KFC came to China, there were 24 people who went for the job. Twenty-three people got the job. I was only person who have been rejected.”

Moreover he was also one of the five applicants who applied for a job in police and he was the only one rejected with the remark that he was no good. Well this did not stop him from dreaming his big dream.

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After finally coming to terms with his rejections and failures, Jack paid a visit to US in 1995 for a Government project on translation to recover a payment. That was the time when he was first introduced to computers and internet. Back in China, computers were rarely seen and given its high cost Internet or E-mails were non-existent. The first word is searched right there on Mosaic Browser was “Beer” and the result was what surprised him. There were results and options from different countries but not a single sign of any Chinese companies there. He then searched with the word “China” and there were not a single result. That was when he thought of the idea to get China and its people on Internet.

He along with his friend created an “ugly” website related to Chine. At 9.40 AM he launched the website and by 12.30 PM, he received emails from various Chinese to wish to know about him. This was the time he realized that Internet has something to offer and change the dimension of everything. In April 1995, Ma along with his wife and a friend collected USD 20,000 to build their first company by the name “China Yellow Pages.” This company was dedicated for creating various websites for companies. Surprisingly, within three years, the company made 5,000,000 Chinese Yuan which in USD is nearly 800,000.

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Initially to get better funding for “Chinapage”, Ma teamed up with one of the government entity which had major control. Well the rigid bureaucracy was surely not preferred as it lead to the loss of many of Ma’s visionary projects and eventually led to the downfall of his endeavor. Well after this, Ma took up a government job in the ministry of foreign trade and economic cooperation in latter half of 1990s. It was here he built important connections with various influential people which in turn affected the Ma’s life. He met the founding member of Yahoo, Jerry Lang who eventually invested USD 1 Billion in Alibaba in the year 2005.

Because of his failed experience with government, Ma never trusted government to be in business with them. Take the example, once the government officials approached Alibaba to solve a day to day crash of the ticket vending system right during the annual spring festival in China but Ma and his team offered to fix the problem without a penny if the government promised them to leave them alone. In fact in an interview, Ma remarked

“Be in love with government but never marry them”.

Alibaba- the company which started in an apartment

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Jack along with wife invited 17 of their friends to their apartment and convinced them to invest in his vision for developing an online marketplace called “Alibaba” This platform allowed exporters to give product listing from which the customers can buy directly. Ma’s unfulfilled dream to make use of internet to develop business activities convinced him to build Alibaba.

In his initial days, Alibaba tried for funds in Silicon Valley, known to be the tech hub in United States but was refused one and all and his business model was criticized for unprofitable various times. However Goldman Sachs and Softbank willingly accepted USD 5 Million and USD 20 Million in Alibaba

Things did not look on the brighter side with Alibaba even in the year 2003 which forced Ma and his team to launch an online auction site by the name “Taobao.com” which charged zero commission and soon overtook the multinational e-commerce giant, eBay, which had a high amount of share in the Chinese online auction market. Winning against eBay was not an easy task but Taobao was determined to do so and so it offered commission-free marketplace for all of its online traders. But this whole procedure did put Alibaba under significant financial strain. But to maintain the business during this time, Ma along with his team started offering peripheral support services to online merchants with very low cost. Defining the difficult times, Jack said

“If eBay were like sharks in the Ocean, we (Alibaba and Taobao) can be called crocodiles in Yangtze River.”

His team won the Chinese market very soon driving eBay out of China and refusing their offer to sell Taobao. Alibaba then strengthen his position in both China and International Domain.

In the year 2005, Jerry Lang invested USD 1 billion for 40% stake in Alibaba. This fund was very crucial for international growth and success of Alibaba. With the span of six years, the company valuation increased to USD 2.5 Billion. In the year 2014, the company raised more than $25 million in offering it in NYSE stock exchange in the states.

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With this Alibaba was made one of the largest 15 year old ecommerce companies with its origins outside the United States measured by capitalization of nearly 200 USD billion.

Jack Ma- The Person he is

In the year 2013, Ma stepped down from the post of CEO opting to stay as executive chairman. The company reported to have gone public on 19th of September. Funny thing is that Ma has not written a single line of code or selling something but he runs one of the biggest E-commerce networks in the world just at the age of 31. Ma is the richest man in China with total worth of $25 billion. In November 2012, Alibaba’s online transaction volume exceeded one trillion yuan which gave Ma the credit of “trillion Hou” which means Trillion Yuan Marquis in Chinese. In the year 2014, he was ranked as 30th most powerful person in the total annual ranking which was published by Forbes magazine. In 2017, Ma ranked second on the list of World’s 50 Greatest Leaders list published by Fortune magazine.

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With the IPO, Ma may be an extremely wealthy man but he is the person who shares very simple hobbies. One of his friend Xiao- Ping Chen said that he has not changed much in the years and till date he likes reading as well as writing kung fu fiction and playing poker and practicing tai chi. In fact whenever he is traveling, he brings his personal trainer.

In his personal life, Ma is very happy and have kept his family life out of spotlight. He married Zhang Ying who was a fellow teacher whom he met at school.They have two children- a daughter and a son who is an undergraduate at UC Berkeley.

Zhang says

“He may not be a handsome man but I fell for him because of his ability to do lot of thing which lots of handsome men cannot do”.

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The name ALIBABA came to Jack while sitting in San Francisco coffee shop from the concept of Alibaba and forty thieves. The company encourages annual talent shows where Ma presents himself as a natural entertainer. In fact at company’s anniversary event, he dressed up as punk rocker giving a performance at 20,000 Alibaba employees.

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Ma had developed an interest in environment following the fact that one of the member of his wife’s family became sick with an illness which was caused by pollution. He has spent funds in natural reserve in China of 27,000 acre in the year 2015. Also in response to the world’s outburst of practice of killing sharks for their fins, Ma along with his family has sworn off shark fin soup for forever. In fact, Alibaba group had banned the selling of shark fins in its entire ecommerce platform.

The Key Takeaway Here

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The extra-ordinary life Jack Ma speaks a lot about inspiration and positive energy. Failures should be taken in a positive way which can propel you to achieve everything you wish to get in your life. He started his growth right thinking about his own country. His story speaks about an Entrepreneur who has changed the face of his country’s business right across the world. His story end with his wonderful quote which says

Go big or Go home – Jack Ma

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Atanu Sarkar is the Chief Executive Office and Founder of the award-winning software development company, Webskitters. Possessing immense interest and great skills in the IT industry, he takes out time from his strictly-maintained schedule, to manage his blogs and to update it on a regular basis. It is through his blogs that he shares his views and insights about the industry with others.

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