5 Secrets Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Alibaba Founder Jack Ma

Online shopping is so big, we’ve even named days after it.

Whether it be Black Friday or Cyber Tuesday, every day is an Alibaba shopping day. Rivalling Amazon for ubiquity and as one of the biggest online shopping conglomerates in the world with the biggest ever IPO, Alibaba founder Jack Ma certainly has some lessons for budding entrepreneurs.

Whether you are an SME or aspiring global magnate, or startup entrepreneur here are 5 lessons you can from Mr. Ma.

1.Harness the power of connectivity

There is power in numbers, and this is multiplied with partnering up with global tradeseekers. Ma and his friends began by offering a simple business and products website directory called “Chinapage.” It literally took off overnight and led to worldwide partnership requests. Think globally, act globally – a WiFi connection crosses oceans as well as currencies, and all you have to do is use it is a launchpad to network, gain visibility and momentum for your business idea.

2.Start with what you can do and be open to growth possibilities

As a former school teacher, Ma began his foray into entrepreneurship with a translation business in 1995 . The game changing moment came when a friend introduced him to this newfangled thing called the World Wide Web. He saw the potential, and was open to diversifying his platform and catering to a bigger market. It started from there, and Alibaba history was born — starting with a seized opportunity and a small sprinkling of kismet.

3.Failure is not an F word to fear

It really is true that there is no such thing as failure, but only course corrections. Jack Ma took a chance on partnership with a government entity that ended up being a warning sign to not hand over his vision to a bureaucratic body. Of course, the ill-fated partnership dissolved. But, undeterred, Ma moved on to a government job, where he fortuitously connected with Jerry Yang, founder of Yahoo. The result was a $1 billion investment in Alibaba in 2005. Not bad for a failure.

4.When it doesn’t work out, remember -and leverage – the takeaways

The silver-linings to a fluffed partnership can be a role elsewhere that brings you to an influential investor (like Yang), or a key insight into avoiding pitfalls and challenges (like the frustrations of the government partnership Ma experienced). All of it is valuable experience, and can even give you leverage. Take, for example,when Ma was approached by the government later in his Alibaba career for him to look into some technical issues with their crashing vending systems. He took care of the problem gratis and was given free rein by the government to conduct his business without hassles.

5.Future thinking is the key to always moving forward

Entrepreneurship is the long game. Success does not come simply just from implementing a wonderful idea today and waiting for bags of gold to drop from the sky. It means planting the seeds of fruit that will bear richly in the years to come. As Ma says of the tremendous legacy of Alibaba, “we got successful today not because we did a great job today, but because we had a great dream 15 years ago.” Keeping a marathon runner mentality, and not a sprinter’s vision, will also mean you have creative reserves of energy and new ideas to constantly draw upon. Inertia is the enemy – just keep moving, because all ideas, eventually, lead to good ideas.

Business savvy is part wisdom, part vision and a whole lot of willingness to fall flat on your face. Jack Ma became one of the richest men in Asia, from humble beginnings earning $20 a month as an English teacher. Struggle does lead to rewards though, but remember, as ma says, “as entrepreneurs, today is very difficult. Tomorrow is even more difficult. But the day after tomorrow is very beautiful.”


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