I grew up in China during the 90’s.
Although I was super happy, we didn’t have running hot water, heating, and my primary school class consisted of more than 50 students.
Yet, imagining growing up in 1970’s china during the cultural revolution sounds terrifying, especially when you overhear some of the grown ups whisper about things that happened back then.
But Jack Ma, currently the richest man in china, and one of the most inspiring rags to riches stories I learned, didn’t let anything come between him and his dreams.
He founded Alibaba, one of the world’s biggest e-commerce companies, selling more goods online than amazon and ebay combined as well as being a pioneer in chinese fintech, with Alipay and Ant Financial amongst many other successful ventures.
What I find most inspiring about Jack Ma however is his determination, his Iron Will, his perseverance.
Also, there is so many success stories of great chinese entrepreneurs nowadays, yet nobody like Jack was boasting so publicly about the things he’s going to achieve.
The government and the media liked humble entrepreneurs, Jack was anything but.
They nicknamed him Crazy Jack back in the day, I remember even I, when reading some of his interviews in China during the early days of Taobao and Alibaba, was thinking this guy will never accomplish these outlandish things he sets out to do.
Today, nobody calls him crazy anymore.
Jack was born in 1964, in Hangzhou, China.
As a youngster in Hangzhou Jack like many others had difficulty to find proper education.
However he already had an unbelievable drive to achieve his goals.
He failed his Primary School entrance exam twice, Middle School three times, and had to apply and take the College Entry test four times before being admitted to Hangzhou’s Teachers College.
He wanted to learn english even before then, yet found nobody to practice with.
I remember I saw one foreigner during my whole childhood in the 90’s in Shanghai, I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to find some during the 70’s in Hangzhou a much smaller and economically less significant city.
Jack found them, he rode his bicycle 40 minutes to Hangzhou International Hotel and back.
He gave free tours of the city to the travellers and one of them, a friend Jack calls him, actually nicknamed him Jack, because his chinese name, Ma Yun, was too difficult to pronounce for his american friend.
He did this for 9 years, while also looking for work.
Jack Ma applied for countless jobs, amongst them the police who told him he were no good, and even KFC.
When the Colonel opened his first restaurant in Hangzhou, 24 people applied, 23 people got a job, Jack was the only one rejected.
He eventually got hired as a teacher earning a staggering 12 Dollars a month.
In 1995 Jack went to Seattle to work as a translator, at age 31 this was the first time he was exposed to the internet.
He and his wife raised a few thousand dollars from friends and created china yellow pages, a website creating websites for chinese businesses.
China Yellow Pages failed, but again, Jack gathered about 17 friends, pooled together 60’000
And started Alibaba on February 21st 1999.
It took 4 Years for Alibaba to make a profit, famously losing money.
An Entrepreneur once anonymously paid for Jack’s lunch, with a note saying I make a lot of money using Alibaba, I know you don’t, so I paid the bill.
In this interview with Charlie Rose, just 3 months after Alibaba’s IPO, being the outspoken mind he is, Jack also nostalgically remembers trying to raise 3 Million Dollars in the US in 2001, where he got rejected everywhere.
He came back, and raised a little more. 25 Billion Dollars.
Inspiration and motivation in his own words:
Never give up, today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine.
Nobody wanted to believe Jack Ma.
I want to be on a beach somewhere, relaxed. Not working.