In 1999, when Alibaba was founded, the first association people would make was “Ali Baba” from the Arabian literature masterpiece “One Thousand and One Nights”. Jack Ma said he chose it for this reason, it was a name able to resonate in people’s mind all over the world.
In less than 3 years, the name Alibaba populated media all over the world and like the Arabian literary work acquired appeal internationally.
How Jack Ma build his internet empire can be summarized in 4 pillars.
1. The rock star billionnaire
It is hard to find the words to describe the scale of Alibaba Group, the Chinese e-commerce business founded in 1999. It is probably best exemplified by the numbers: Every single day, 200 million people shop on Alibaba’s mobile sites and it sold $550 billion worth of merchandise in its last fiscal year.
In May 2017, Alibaba Group announced annual revenues had gone up 56 percent to almost $23 billion, and in June investors literally gasped as it upped its growth forecast for 2017 from 45 percent to 49 percent. Its 2014 initial public offering (IPO) was the largest in history, raising $25 billion on the New York stock exchange.
At the head of it all is Ma Yun, the 53-year-old entrepreneur known as Jack Ma, who started the company with 17 others and $50,000 in his apartment in Hangzhou, a mid-sized city near China’s east coast, known for its green hills and West Lake.
But Ma’s childhood was frugal: he was born to a family that had very little, sharing an income of just $7 a month between six. He was 6-years-old when President Richard Nixon met Chairman Mao Zedong in 1972, a “geopolitical earthquake” event ,which opened up China to the U.S. and led to it becoming the world power it is today. It was also the start of Ma’s Chinese dream.
His journey from rags to rock star billionaire – Ma appeared on stage dressed as Michael Jackson at Alibaba’s 18th birthday party in September 2017 in front of an audience of 40,000 – is beset with failure and rejection. Ma said he was a “loser” in his thirties, insists he is not a tech expert and was rejected from a job at KFC and as a hotel waiter and was turned down three times when he applied to university. He also claims to have little tech expertise.
Ma’s secret? His understanding of the power of the internet in putting buyers and sellers together, and his obsession with helping small companies, via eBay-like marketplace Taobao, bulk supplier 1688.com and Alibaba.com, a business-to-business site for wholesalers. The group also has marketing services and a financial lending affiliate including PayPal-like Alipay, which has 520 million users around the world.
Other ventures include a 51 percent stake in delivery company Cainiao, which ships an astonishing 55 million packages a day, and Alibaba Pictures, a joint venture with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners.
2. A small business vision
The first time Jack Ma went online was in 1995. He was at a friend’s home in Seattle and he approached the computer gingerly.
So Ma — then an English teacher — read U.S. business books to learn about GE, Microsoft, IBM and Wal-mart. “I was so interested in English. People read books, my school mates, they read English just for learning English. I read English, because I learned so many interesting American ideas,” Ma told CNBC’s “The Brave Ones.”
Four years after his first U.S. trip he founded Alibaba, but only three of his coworkers knew anything about technology. “I called myself at that time like a blind man riding on the back of blind tigers. Without knowing anything about technology or computer(s), we start the first company,” Ma said, speaking at an Asia Society event in 2009.
Ma would travel across China on road shows where 100 or 200 people would turn up to listen to him, in a kind of “mass movement” to talk to business owners about why they needed to get online.
3. Ma’s Chinese Dream
Jack Ma was long inspired by Yahoo founder Jerry Yang and the two met when Ma was assigned by his then government employer to show him around Beijing in the 1990s.
Ma built his vision on the American companies he saw succeeding like Yahoo and eBay, and moved its main operations to Silicon Valley around the year 2000 because he had been convinced that was the best way to build a global business.
“Because it is so difficult to hire people who know trade in the Silicon Valley, San Francisco. So instead we hire people from New York, Miami, all arriving in San Francisco. After one month or two months, we realized that something (was) wrong …. because those people, they know trade, but they don not know anything about internet. Those people that do not know internet, they do not know anything about trade,” Ma said in an interview.
(Source: CNBC )