They might have called him “Mister Rejected” but destiny was in love with the effort, though no one was aware of that yet.
There are two kinds of people; the dreamers (believers), who believe that the stone in front of any cave would move when they call “Open sesame!” and then there are the other kind.
Among those dreamers, the ones who believe that fairy tales can be real, one came to establish one of the largest e-commerce companies in the world without any knowledge in code writing or, simply, technology: the mischievous bicycle boy of China!”
I’m talking about Jack Ma, the richest man in China and the 20th in the world, with a fortune of 40 billion dollars. Jack Ma is the founder of Alibaba, which has a yearly turnover of almost 500 billion dollars. I wonder what you’ll be thinking of him at the end of this article. Would persistence bring success or is it simply inevitable destiny? Are failures actually godsend to course-correct you towards your future victory?
CONFUSED WITH NO PATHS TO FOLLOW
Ma Youn was born to a poor musician family in Hangzhou in 1964. Yes, this is his actual name. And yes, no one in China prospered anyway. As a little child, Ma Youn loved chatting with tourists in the city centre. He learned from them about different worlds and the language of English. The name Jack was given to him by the tourists. Guiding tourists for free may be the first investment he did for himself… He would jump on his bicycle and pedal for hours.
Different learning methods were always an attraction for Jack Ma. Tourists were teaching him the huge world outside of China, and also he was learning whatever he could from the films he watched.
He wasn’t a good student. He was so incapable that he failed a class in primary school. He failed another class in secondary school. He failed university exams twice. In the third year he tried, he managed to enroll to a two-year undergraduate course (Hangzhou Teachers’ Institute, Department of English Language) but he failed to finish that in two years too. When he finished school, it was almost as if fate smiled upon him. Among 500 students he was the only one who stayed to continue in the university as a teacher. He made 12 dollars a month. Maybe it was early to say that his luck was changed. In those years, he married Zhang Ying, a friend of his friend from university.
He applied for a job in the police department. There were five applicants and four of them were admitted. The fifth applicant, Jack Ma was refused. When KFC started operating in China, 24 people applied for a job. 23 were hired. And I think you might guess who the 24th was. He kept the tradition of being refused alive in Harvard too. The university turned down all 10 of his applications.
THE FIRST WORD HE SEARCHED ON THE INTERNET: BEER
In 1995 he went to US for a road construction project on behalf of Chinese Government. In Seattle, he used the Internet for the first time in a friend’s office. With such an excitement he started to search for things. The first word he searched was “beer”, the second being “China”. He was confused when the Internet couldn’t come up with any results about China. He set up a website called “China Pages”. He met someone in those pages, with whom he then developed the idea of “doing some things” in China.
That idea may have never come to life, because he barely survived an event later in life… We’ll come to that in the succeeding lines.
When eating at a restaurant in Seattle, Jack Ma thought of a name for the company he and his friend were planning to establish in China. He then thought of the tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. The doors which would open to “Open sesame!” and the good heart of Ali Baba… Lost in thought, he came eye to eye with the waiter and called out to him:
“Do you know about Ali Baba?”
“Of course I do. Open sesame!” when he heard this he ran off to the street and asked the same question to first 20 people who he came across. Yes! Everybody knew about Alibaba and all of them reacted positively when they heard the name.
At last he could now go back to China and start working for his dream. Nobody really understood the idea of establishing e-commerce in China, so he had a difficult time finding any investors. None of them thought that anyone in China would be interested in online shopping so they didn’t give him a chance. With about 100,000 dollars borrowed from 17 of his friends, Jack Ma founded Alibaba.com in 1999. The first few years the page only published advertorial information because required payment infrastructure for shopping online wasn’t available yet at that time. The banks weren’t interested in the idea either. Think of it, you found an e-commerce site but you have no means for payment. You have an e-commerce site where you can’t e-commerce. This means that your project is garbage. Jack and his friend weren’t able to establish their own payment system either since they didn’t have the necessary license. Soon Jack was running out of patience. He ordered his staff to start operating no matter what. If someone was to go to jail because of this it would be him. There, he took his first big risk.
Jack Ma remembers those first years he started operating as the times of difficulty. No money, no plans, no technology, no nothing! By the year 2002, Alibaba could manage to gain only one dollar of profit.
AT 35 HE FOUNDED THE COMPANY. AT 48 HE QUIT AS CEO
The success that Alibaba had was a revelation for the whole world. Jack then founded the online auction site “Taobao” in 2003. Following on were investments such as Alipay, their own payment system, and then Aliexpress.
He was nominated as the person of the year in 2004 by Time magazine. He made it to final stage, but wasn’t selected.
In 2005, he sold 40% of all Alibaba shares to Yahoo for 1 billion dollars. This meant a change for everything.
And when he quit as the CEO in 2013 he said; “I am now 48. I am not young enough any more to keep running a business such as this, which grows so fast. When I was 35 I was filled with lots of energy and fresh ideas.”. This was a great indication that he didn’t lack self esteem at all, but he was a business leader that wouldn’t hold on to his seat forever because he loves himself and his ideas.
No later than one year Alibaba got listed in stock exchange collecting 25 billion dollars in total, which became the largest public listing in the world.
Jack Ma is now preparing to quit the chairman of the executive board position by 10 September 2019. There are rumours that his new business card, which he ordered early, will hold the title of “Jack Ma, Teacher” only. You don’t always see someone like Jack Ma in the world of business. He always made sure he was working with people smarter than him. He quit CEO position at the age of 48 and now he’s quitting the chairman of the executive board position at the age of 55 to clear the path for the younger generation.
So, is Jack Ma getting retired? No way! He will be teaching. He announced that he will devote himself to two important causes: Education and the fight against environmental pollution.
Jack Ma taught us many valuable lessons and the most important one among them is to think of your mistakes as chances of gaining insights. “When you don’t give up, you still have a chance” says this extraordinary person, emphasizing that patience is the most important virtue one could have.
DIFFERENT IS THE NEW NORMAL
I think by now it’s clear that Jack Ma is his own kind of boss. “Different” is the new normal nowadays…
Jack Ma is built for the stage… He says he learned how to stand on stage from Whitney Houston in her movie “Bodyguard”. Don’t forget that he is a man who loves different learning techniques.
In Alibaba’s 10th year celebrations he put on a yellow mane and played the Lion King. In 2017 annual party, he accompanied the dancers’ “Billie Jean” and Beyonce’s “Formation” choreographies with a Michael Jackson costume on. He also starred in a Kung Fu film too. Everybody is curious about what he’ll do this year in Alibaba’s 20th year celebrations.
The handful child… Lazy student… Youngster who got refused from any job he applied to… The skinny guy who got the answer “No” from everyone… The Lion King on the stage; Jack Ma… The man who never gave up! Isn’t destiny really in love with effort after all?