Jack Ma once said that your 20s and 30s are for learning, 40s for taking risks and 50s for passing down your knowledge and wisdom to others. Now that Ma turned 54, he appears to be taking his own advice. The CEO of Alibaba announced on Monday that he’ll be handing over the reins and retiring from his company soon.
Growing Up Poor
Jack Ma may be the CEO of Alibaba and second-richest man in China, but he comes from extremely humble beginnings and his success story serves as an inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs around the globe. According to Forbes, Ma has an estimated net worth of around $29 billion including his 7.8 per cent stake in Alibaba, a Chinese version of Amazon.
Ma’s is a true story of rags-to-riches. The billionaire was born and raised in a poor family in communist China. He had very little interest in education and failed his university admission exam twice. Ma faced rejection from dozens of employers including KFC before he finally found success in the form of his third internet company called Alibaba.
Born as Ma Yun, Jack Ma had a number of hobbies as a child, including his fascination with crickets. He would collect these insects in one jar and make them fight. Ma was also able to tell the size and type of cricket by just listening to its sound.
In 1972, Ma’s hometown, Hangzhou, started gaining popularity with the tourists, thanks to a visit from President Nixon. Every morning, he would wake up and go to the main hotel in his city to offer tours to foreigners in return for English lessons. From a very early age, Ma was eager to learn new things and get ahead of children his age, but luck wasn’t on his side.
After failing the college entrance exam twice, he studied really hard and finally succeeded on the third try. In 1988, he graduated from Hangzhou Teachers Institute, but more rejections awaited him in his career. After being rejected from a dozen or more jobs, Ma was finally hired as an English teacher with a salary of $12 per month.
Jack Ma made a shocking revelation at the World Economic Forum in 2016 that he has been rejected from Harvard over 10 times.
Starting a Company
In 1995, Ma was introduced to his first computer and the idea of internet captivated him. Although he had no experience with computer programing or coding, the aspiring entrepreneur was eager to learn more about the vast universe of internet.
The first thing he ever typed in his search engine was ‘beer’, but when no results showed up, that’s when he decided to create his own internet company.
The first two businesses Ma founded failed miserably, but 4 years later he had a brilliant idea to launch an online marketplace that allowed exporters to sell bulk orders to retailers and customers on the internet. He gathered a few of his wealthy friends in his apartment and pitched them the idea and vision for ‘Alibaba’.
The service was launched after an initial round of investment and soon the website was attracting hundreds of thousands of people from around the world. In 1999, the company had gotten the attention of big investment firms like Goldman Sachs and Softbank who invested $5 million and $20 million in Alibaba respectively.
After achieving profitability, Ma decided to launch another company called TaoBao, which is the Chinese answer to eBay. The early 2000s were when Alibaba really began to soar. It secured $1 billion in funding from Yahoo in return for 40 per cent stake in the company. The investment came at a crucial point when Alibaba was trying to beat eBay.
In 2014, the company went public, only a year after Ma stepped down as the CEO – although he still remained as the chairman of the board of executives. The company raised $150 billion form its IPO, in what became the biggest offering in the history of New York Stock Exchange. Yahoo also made a huge profit of $10 billion from its $1 billion investment in the Alibaba.
Ma says that even though he felt like a failure throughout his 20’s, he never lost hope in the face of rejections. In his mind, his only competition was with himself and he went headfirst at the goal he had set for himself 10 years down the line.