Jack Ma is one of the wealthiest and most successful individuals to ever live, having created multiple businesses growing and improving the economy of China as well as donating millions towards improving education, environment and public health. But life hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the now retired business magnate as he came from very humble beginnings. So this is the incredible story of Jack Ma and his rise from a KFC reject to become one of the richest men in the world.
If the tag line “Never give up” was a person, it would probably be Jack Ma. He’s been dismissed and rejected countless times early on in his life, but he never let that steer him away from keep trying and pushing as another no is one just one no closer to a yes. A few examples are Harvard Graduate School, who rejected him no more than ten times. And when KFC launched in China he applied for a position along with 23 other people. 23 people were accepted – He was the only one who was denied. There was also a demand to work for the police and Jack took the opportunity to apply for it with four other guys. Four people got the position and he was the only one who got turned down, because as they put it: “He was no good.”
But despite these rejections he kept his spirit high, and eventually became an English teacher at a Chinese college for six years. And the English language was something that interested him since a very young age, and his way of learning the language is truly remarkable. He learned the language without any real teacher when he was only twelve years old. And he would wake up at 5am every morning to ride his bicycle for 40 minutes until he got to the Hangzhou Hotel. There he would look for foreign tourists that spoke english and give them free tours around the City so that he could develop his own English skills through conversations (This was also where he picked up his American name Jack). And the skill to speak multiple languages has served him very well throughout his life and in creating his businesses.
But being an English teacher was never something he felt passionate about, but was rather forced into the position due to lack of other options. And his salary of $15 dollars a month probably played a part in that as well. But a trip to the U.S would change everything when a friend introduced him to the internet in 1995, and he stumbled upon an opportunity. And no one was in a position to reject his idea but himself. He simply searched for the word “beer” and obviously multiple results of beers from all over the world popped up, except beers from China. He then typed in “Beer China” and was presented with zero results, which startled him. Every time he typed a word combined with China, no results would show up. That’s when he decided to start an internet company and bring the World Wide Web to China.
Although he didn’t really know anything about computers or the internet, he decided to give it a shot. However what has now become one of the greatest businesses in the world, Alibaba, was not the starting point as he went to create other business before that, the first being “ChinaPage” similar to the yellow pages in the US, where they listed Chinese companies and products on the internet. And within the very first day of launching the website, he was contacted by various businesses that wanted to work with him, and that’s when he first realized the immense power of the internet in terms of connectivity and ease of communication. However the ChinaPages would never bring any real financial success and he was forced to abandon the project.
And it wasn’t until 1999 he saw the opportunity to create a platform for small and medium sized businesses to sell and communicate with each other internationally. And in his own words “without a rich father or a powerful uncle”, he borrowed money from relatives and set up an office in his own apartment with 17 other partners he managed to convince to join him. His vision with the company was crystal clear from day one, and he wanted to compete not only with business in China but against the leading tech businesses from The US such as Ebay and Amazon. And in order to do so, he implemented an insane work ethic and abolished the traditional 9-5 working hours and instead opted to work more than that. In the early stages, Alibaba gave its services away for free and expanded rapidly, however without making any money, and came close to folding. But the potential of the business was not only an imagination anymore, and people began to really see the huge opportunity that Jack had envisioned for years. This led to him to being able to convince Goldman Sachs and Softbank to invest a total of $25 million dollars into the business. And after three years of struggling, they were now finally profitable.
After this first taste of real success, Alibaba continued to grow and expand, not only with businesses and customers, but in creating more platforms to further simplify the process of selling and buying in China. Taobao.com is owned by Alibaba and was created in 2003 as an online marketplace that focuses of consumer-to consumer retail, similar to ebay in the US, and is now the world’s biggest e-commerce website and eight most visited website in the world according to Alexa.com. They’ve also created Alipay which is an online payment platform and overtook PayPal for the number one spot in 2013, as their transactions exceeded $150 billion dollars. And the numbers continue to grow to this day, making him one of the most successful people to ever live.
He was the first ever mainland Chinese entrepreneur to feature on the cover of the respected Forbes magazine. Forbes also named him as one of the top 25 most powerful people in the world, and he sits comfortably in the top 10 richest people in tech with people such as Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. And when he first started his internet companies he knew absolutely nothing about coding or computers, but he instead found people who knew more about it and partnered with them. And to this day he actually still know little about computers and has stated that he only knows how to search and send emails, and he first bought his own computer when he was 33 years old. And his lack of tech knowledge became pretty evident when he had a debate recently with Elon Musk about AI, or artificial intelligence. But although the tech side isn’t his strong point, he excels in managing people and understands how to motivate and instill a vision into his employees.
Alibaba has also smashed several records when the stock went public in 2014 and became the largest IPO in history trading at almost $93 dollars. At the end of it’s first day of trading it broke the record in trading volume in the first minutes and raised around $25 billion dollars.
Jack Ma is not only a highly respected business icon in China, but all over the world. And Alibaba was highly instrumental in revolutionizing the country’s e-commerce and international business developments. Before Alibaba came to exist, China was a desert with millions of small and medium sized businesses without any simple way to connect and communicate with each other or customers. Alibaba’s platform have immensely simplified this process and it’s now easier than ever to start a business or grow an existing one because of them. And what’s interesting about Alibaba is that they have always challenged the idea that the desires of the shareholders rank higher than their customers and employees and has opted to do the opposite of that. Their focus is instead of empowering their employees and businesses that use their platform over the shareholders, enabling millions of people to make a living partly because of that.
That is something I respect highly and I have actually used Alibaba’s platform when creating a business I operate from Sweden. To simplify the process, we buy high quality products in bulk from China and ship it over to the US and sell it on amazon for a much higher price point and then take the profits. And I’ve made a video explaining how to do that which I’ll link in the description if you want to know more about it, but I really recommend it if you’re interested in starting a business with low cost, low risk and great upside.
He announced his plans to retire when he turned 55 years old, a promise he has kept and did indeed retire in September of 2019. This announcement was something that sparked debate and even Russian President Vladimir Putin has shared his concerns to Ma, asking him why he would retire when he’s still so young. And it’s been reported that he wants to focus on philanthropy and teaching. But other than that, Ma’s reasoning for retiring is pretty simple. He’s said: I don’t want to die in my office, I wanna die on the beaches. And with a net worth of over $40 billion dollars, I think he’ll enjoy that retirement.