What can we learn from Jack Ma?


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7 May 2014: This week, Jack Ma, the son of Chinese performers, is making history with the biggest tech IPO ever seen. Google’s worth at IPO was just over $50 billion. Facebook’s was just over $100 billion. Jack’s Alibaba will be over $200 billion. What can we learn from Jack?

Jack’s whole philosophy has been to get big by dreaming big and focusing small. He failed his entrance exam twice into college. So he decided he had to do more with his hard-won education than to be an English Teacher, and launched Alibaba in 1999 as one of China’s first internet business.

As Jack recalls, “The day we got connected to the Web, I invited friends and TV people over to my house.” Using a very slow dial-up connection, he said “we waited three and a half hours and got half a page…. We drank, watched TV and played cards, waiting… But I was so proud. I proved (to my house guests that) the Internet existed.”

Determined to compete with eBay in China, Jack’s strategy was to focus at niche markets, saying “Ebay is a shark in the ocean. We are a crocodile in the Yangtze river. If we fight in the ocean, we will lose. But if we fight in the river, we will win.”

He also focused at small businesses owners as his main customers, saying “I’ve seen people make a fortune by catching shrimps, but I’ve never seen anyone make a fortune by catching sharks and whales. It’s like Forrest Gump.”

How can you focus like Jack, at the right niche or at the right customers, to be able to compete effectively with even the biggest competitors?

Jack’ announcement this week of an Alibaba IPO puts him in the limelight, as a tech entrepreneur – yet, with Forrest-Gumpish humility says “I know nothing about technology”. So how did he get to this level of success? As he says, “I’m not a tech guy. I’m looking at the technology with the eyes of my customers, normal people’s eyes.”

And a final tip from Jack “The very important thing you should have is patience.” Today, 15 years after that first Internet dial-up from his apartment, Alibaba has more sales than eBay and Amazon combined.

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