Jack Ma is now arguably if not officially, the richest man in China. The founder and owner of the E-commerce giant that is Alibaba has an estimated net worth of about $25 Billion. Apart from Alibaba, which is huge in its own right, Jack Ma has holdings in Alipay (Alibaba’s sister company and basically the Chinese version of paypal), stakes in a movie studio, stakes in Yahoo! China, voice and messaging apps, taxi-hailing apps, different video streaming sites, online clothing retailers and a host of other venture capital funds and businesses.
It is hard to believe that China’s most influential and world renowned figure was once just a struggling entrepreneur like many out there right now. This is a story of Jack Ma’s success and perseverance.
The story of Jack Ma
In our culture, we often strive to identify with people we believe to be heroes. These are people who defy all the odds to becoming triumphant despite all the disadvantages and obstacles that lay before them. These are the figures that give us hope; figures that lead us to believe that even we can achieve great heights of success if we just work hard and more importantly, work smart. Jack Ma is one such figure.
Failing through to success
If you ask any entrepreneur what the one constant in their life is they will tell you that it is failure. Almost every single successful entrepreneur has failed at something before. That is the hallmark of great people, they try new things and in most cases, they fail at first. What makes the difference is the fact that they learn from their failures and they NEVER, EVER give up. Ma Yun, now known as Jack Ma is no stranger to failure.
Jack Ma’s education
When he was in primary school, Jack Ma failed his examinations twice. He did not stop there, he went ahead and failed his Middle School exams three times. After High School, Jack Ma persevered through three entrance examinations before finally joining Hangzhou Normal University. Despite all this failure, he still had the guts and courage to apply to Harvard University 10 different times. He got rejected each and every single one of those times.
After trying for three painful years to join Hangzhou Normal University, getting in and ending up as an English teacher and student council representative of his city, he finally graduated and started job hunting. That is when most of his rejections started. He applied to more jobs than he can remember and got rejected from every one. In one of his famous interviews, Jack Ma is quoted as having said that out of 24 people who applied for a KFC job, 23 got accepted and he was the only one who got rejected. You can watch the interview in the video below:
This easy going serial entrepreneur went on to apply to join the police force and out of the 5 people who applied alongside him, 4 got accepted and he was told that he was not good enough for the job.
After all this, you would think that Jack Ma would be so dejected that he would wallow in his sorrows and take any opportunity that came his way. He, instead, went on to try and start three different businesses, which all failed before he started Alibaba. And even then, the initial steps were not paved with gold, nor success. That too is a story of Success and perseverance.
The birth of Alibaba and Jack Ma’s success
After failing for years to secure a stable job, Jack Ma relied on his ability to speak English to make a living. He started teaching English in his Alma Mater. It is here that he even had the idea to start offering translation services. In 1995, he had the opportunity to visit the US as a translator attached to a Government project. It was here that he was introduced to computers and the internet for the first time.
One of the very first things he did when he logged in online, he, as any man would, looked up beer. As the myriad of results popped up on his screen, he noticed that there weren’t any result options from China. He even went ahead and specifically Googled China and after no results appeared for the billion strong country, he realized that there was a gap in the market.
He immediately saw just how much potential business the internet could bring to many of the small businesses in China. If they could communicate and do business with the rest of the world, the potential for earnings was incredible.
The failure of ‘Chinapage’
The first inkling of Alibaba was a website called ‘Chinapage’ which Jack Ma created with the help of a few friends. Within a day of creating that website, he received an encouraging number of emails from businesses around the world that wanted to partner with this new Chinese connection. With that success, Jack Ma decided to partner with a Governmental entity that was supposed to pave the way to greater successes and Governmental support. This entity only ended up creating a myriad of red tapes and stifling Ma’s creativity. He even pitched the idea of using the internet to sell Chinese made products to the rest of the world and it was rejected!
After realizing that this was now a very inefficient way of doing business, Jack Ma decided to quit Chinapage and joined the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation as an employee. This is where he made some of his amazing connections, including Jerry Yang (a founding member of Yahoo! China who would, later on, invest $1 Billion in Alibaba)
In 1999, Jack Ma left his Government job and decided to seriously pursue his idea of using the internet to sell Chinese made products to the rest of the world. He gathered a group of 18 people, including his wife, and pitched them the idea. That is how Alibaba was born.
Even after that, he still faced great rejection when he tried to get funding for Silicon Valley. Many people deemed his business idea as unsustainable. He eventually got funding from Goldman Sachs as well as Softbank who invested $5 million and $20 million respectively. After that, it was all systems go. But his Success and perseverance persisted as he struggled to capture the market. Thanks to several ingenious ideas, he managed to kick eBay out of China and win the Chinese market. The rest, as they say, is history. Now as China’s richest man he is smiling all the way to the bank with an idea that was rejected at every turn. Goes to show you how much you can achieve if you just believe and persevere.
Jack Ma has for a long time been one of the most inspirational people to me.
This is in part because when in China, before he was so successful I was also one of the people who thought this guy is a little crazy. Yet he proved everyone wrong. He achieved everything he set out to do. And he defeated every big competitor he said he would.
He is not alone, read about more inspirational people’s stories here. And please share stories you would like me to cover here as well, I’d be super grateful.