Jack Ma – Rejection and Failure to Thriving Billionaire

Jack Ma was born Ma Jun on 15th October 1964 in Hangzhou in China. He came from humble beginnings to be a thriving billionaire. Despite numerous failures and rejections in his early life, he persevered to find success with his third internet company, Alibaba. Bloomberg estimates Jack Ma to be worth $45.4 billion as of August 2017.

The Early Years 

Growing up in communist China, Ma’s family had very little money. Ma knew that the pathway to success would be through education. However, he struggled academically in primary and secondary school. In an interview with Charlie Rose in Davos, he said, “I failed a key primary school test 2 times, I failed the middle school test 3 times, I failed the college entrance exam 2 times and when I graduated, I was rejected for most jobs I applied for out of college. (Ma was the only one out of 5 applicants to the police force to be rejected and the only one of 24 applicants to be a KFC manager to be rejected. “I applied for Harvard ten times, got rejected ten times.”

Glimpse of Opportunity

In 1972 President Nixon visited Hangzhou making it a tourist attraction. Ma seized the opportunity to learn English from the tourists visiting Hangzhou and offered them tours of the city in exchange for English lessons. The lessons paid off, Ma graduated as an English teacher from Hangzhou Teacher’s Training Institute and earned $12 a month as a teacher at the local university. He later went on to become an English and International Trade Lecturer at Hangzhou Dianzi University.

The Internet Sparks New Interest

Despite having very little experience with computers and coding Ma saw an opportunity in the internet when others failed to see its potential. Ma was captivated with the internet when he used it for the first time in the USA to assist a Chinese firm recover a payment. His first online search was for ‘beer’ and was astonished that Chinese beers did not appear in the search results. Realising there was a gap in the market he decided to start an internet company for China. The first two attempts failed but his fortune altered with his third venture, Alibaba. Ma managed to convince 18 friends to start an online marketplace for small and medium sized firms; Alibaba, a one stop shop for businesses to list their products and consumers buy directly online. The concept proved successful as businesses globally enlisted.

“If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.” Jack Ma

To expand the business Ma secured $5 million from Goldman Sachs and $20 million from Softbank, a Japanese software company. The extra funding allowed Ma to reach an additional 240 countries. Ma also ventured into the ebusiness establishing Taobao, Lynx and Ali Mama.

Then in 2005, Yahoo invested $1 billion in Alibaba for a 40% investment in the company, this huge injection of funds allowed Ma to compete with eBay in China. In 2013 aged 48, Ma stepped down as Chief Executive Officer instead taking on the responsibilities of Executive Chairman. In September 2014 Alibaba went public making Ma the richest man in China with an estimated worth of $16 billion.

Down to Earth

Despite the considerable wealth Ma has acquired, he is still known to be very humble. At the core Jack Ma remains the same, a modest man. Ma relied on his instincts to make good business decisions. He never allowed defeat to bring him down. In 2000 whilst at the World’s Internet Convention in Berlin, with 500 attendees, only 3 opted to hear him speak. Disappointing as the attendance was, Ma delivered his speech but vowed next time the auditorium would be packed. Ma had bold ambitions, he never dreamt small, at his staff meetings, the vision for Alibaba was that it would be one of the top 10 websites in the world and an organisation that would last 103 years. Ma never allowed his circumstances to hinder his possibilities, instead he ventured forwards exploring opportunities, opening doors, breaking down barriers, his mission was never to make money but to focus on serving his customers and as a result became an incredibly wealthy businessman.

“They called me crazy Jack. I think crazy is good. We’re crazy but not stupid.” Jack Ma