A book stood out on the consolidated bookshelf of my co-founders (basically a bunch of our books lined up on the floor in no particular order):
Alibaba – The inside story behind Jack Ma and the creation of the world’s biggest online marketplace
…and I started reading the story behind Jack Ma, Traveloka‘s model entrepreneur. The book seemed to be written in a light manner though I’m sure the stories told are not at all light.
Jack Ma is an ordinary person born in a small city from an average family, not possessing any physical or intellectual advantages (in fact he was considered short and not good looking), but with a strong conviction and relentless perseverance once he strongly believes about something.
1982-1983 – Didn’t pass national college admission 2 years in a row because his math score was so bad. He struggled with various means to improve his math, e.g. by studying math like literature.
1984 – In the 3rd year, finally passed the admission, but with an average grade so he could only choose middle tier universities. He studied at an ordinary college in Hangzhou with foreign language major.
1988 – Started his career by teaching English for 5 years in no name college.
Jack Ma always had a great commitment to persistence and advancing himself. He forced himself to meet foreigners near Hangzhou lakeside to practice his English before he entered college. During his teaching job he opened another English night course for businessmen, during which he got to learn all the things business and build his network.
1994 – Opened an English translation agency to make use of his good English skills. Got in contact with Americans customers.
1995 – Flew to America and saw Internet for the first time.
Jack Ma sensed something really big about the Internet so he came back to China and tried to advertise to Chinese businesses about putting ads on “the information superhighway” somewhere in America. Of course no one believes him because the Chinese at that time didn’t know what Internet was. He continued preaching his “Chinese Yellow Pages” idea.
He tried various channels to prove that he was not a liar about this “information superhighway” thing. Through his connections gained access to the government – tried to convinced them about this Internet thing and how it could affect the country. Eventually the government wanted to try out publishing its biggest newspaper online.
1997 – Jack Ma’s “Chinese Yellow Pages” was bought by a big telecom company, but then mismanaged and Jack Ma was soon out of his company.
1998 – Back to work as an employee, creating websites for the Ministry of Foreign Trade.
1999 – Convinced his closest team members to do something big with the Internet in China. He quit his job, moved all his team to work in a small house with his group, combined their own savings to start the company, totaling $2380. The inaugural meeting was held in a house where water leaked from the ceiling. They had nothing at that time but conviction. They chanted songs to keep their spirit high while working with crazy hours in the secrecy of the place. Alibaba was born.
Soon after they got funded, got competitors sprawling up but which they also tackled well. Their office got hit by SARS pandemic which results in quarantining employees who continued working from home.
Alibaba becomes a B2B marketplace for small and medium sized businesses, enabling them to be discoverable by customers and to compete with big ones. Alibaba is a key in democratizing the goods supply chain globally.
2007 – Alibaba had its IPO, the 2nd biggest in size worldwide after Google.
“Small and medium-sized enterprises are like grains of sand on a beach. The Internet can glue them together. It can make them into an invicible force that is able to go up against the big stones. The virtue of the Internet is that it uses small to compete with big, it uses fast to compete with slow.” – Jack Ma
“You go out and charge around… if it doesn’t work, you can always bow out. But if you just think over thousands of things at night and in the morning keep on walking the same old path, you never get anywhere. You don’t grow. You might as well try.” - Jack Ma