Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba group is a business entrepreneur, philosopher, and philanthropist who has revolutionized the commerce and small businesses in China.  He has travelled around the world to share his wisdom with entrepreneurs and well as influencing policy makers to benefit young people, small businesses and female entrepreneurs.  Jack has received numerous awards including several honorary doctorate degrees, recognition on sustainable development goals, and lifetime achievement awards.  

Hearing Jack’s story is refreshing and motivational as it pitches that small businesses and consumers are the forefront for the future of economy.  It gives the small players a chance that they can be successful and impact the economy as much as a large companies has traditionally done.  Jack carries his teaching spirit in his speeches, and genuinely wants aspiring entrepreneurs to succeed through his preaching.  Some of his famous preaching is the concept of incorporating love in business in addition to IQ and EQ, the investment in female entrepreneurs as females tend to care more about customers, and seeing opportunity through challenges and rejection.

Jack has publicly stated that shareholders should be second compared to customers and employees.  This is related to the concept of incorporating love in the business, where treating your customers well and making customers succeed, the company will succeed.  Similarly, treating your employees well will result in your team treating the customers well.  As a result, the end result the shareholders will be happy.  When shareholders are number 1, then the focus will not be on the customer.  

Alibaba group is also one of the pioneers in empowering female leadership as approximately 43% of the Alibaba’s team is female.  Jack’s philosophy is that females tend to care more than men.  When women shop, they are buying products for their partners, their families and their parents, but when men shop, they tend to buy products for themselves.  Also, it is harder to convince women on a vision, but when they are convinced, they will likely be more loyal and committed to the vision.  As a result, the business which they are part of will be more resilient.

Jack frequently shares his story about being rejected from numerous jobs when he was young, such as being the only person from his group to be rejected from a KFC job, and being overlooked for a service job due to his appearance and height.  It enabled him to focus his energy on other aspects that work well for him, such as being a teacher, and funneling his mind to explore and learn from experiences.  It allowed him to meet with tourists in his hometown, Hangzhou, China where we can practice his English, but more importantly learning about the culture from other countries.  These experiences enabled Jack to find his business Alibaba group along with his 18 co-founding colleagues.

Jack has a very strong vision in commerce in China where he sees her being the world’s largest consumer of good, and also importer of goods into China.  As a result, there can be a tremendous opportunity for small businesses.  Alibaba group has developed mechanisms to support small business groups such as Alipay where the unbanked population in China can make and receive payments, and businesses can also receive credit very quickly and efficiently, where traditionally they would have been rejected from the banks.  Alibaba also created a credit rating system, known as the sesame system, where machine learning algorithms can score someone based on their history will Alibaba’s platforms and services.

Jack sees the Internet as an opportunity for small business.  It doesn’t mean selling products on a website, but think about what to design, what company can help manufacture it, what entity can help you deliver and support it.  Examples within Alibaba’s group include creating machine learning, and payment platforms to facilitate commerce in China.  A vision that Jack preaches is buying a product and receiving it within 72 hours.  Jack sees opportunity for entrepreneurs in the supply chain and logistics to help accomplish that.  Jack has openly spoke about governments adopting policies to help support and fund small businesses, young people and female entrepreneurs to accomplish this having reciprocal benefits to the country’s economic and societal benefits.

Jack advises parents to teach kids to be more creative and innovative.  With the advances in technology, artificial intelligence and machine learning, robots will replace jobs.  Machines will be smarter, but humans will always be wiser.  The education system should also need to be reformed.  The traditional education systems focuses on learning quickly, computing faster and memorizing better.  However with technology, these components can be automated and replaced by machines.  Hence, it is important to teach kids on how to reform traditional beliefs and find entrepreneurial opportunities with new technology, the internet and globalization.

Jack’s advice to entrepreneurs wanting to start a business or to enter a market in a foreign market, such as China, include 3 components.

  • Respect the culture, respect the market and respect the customers.  Knowing the culture and customs will help know your customers which can result in more business dealings.
  • Have a strong team that focuses on customers.  Hire a team that loves their jobs, are self motivated and love the customers.  This would reflect in good team dynamics in serving the customers.
  • Be patient.  Having a successful business doesn’t come in 1 day or 1 year.  It may make 3 years or even 10 years.  It is important to have strong vision, learn from your mistakes, adapt, and be optimistic. Alibaba group transformed itself at least 80 times in the past 20 years.     

In closing, Jack advises not to miss the opportunity.  Technology innovation has a lifespan of 50 years.  The first 20 years is about the technology.  The next 30 years is understanding the implications and co-existing with the technology.   Learning from mistakes, being optimistic, and having a solid vision will help pave the way.  This is the opportunity for us as entrepreneurs.

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