Clark Duncan reveals the house that Jack built
He had a dream right from the onset. Jack Ma kept saying to whoever cared to listen that his company would take the world – Alibaba. But there were no resources at the time to substantiate this dream. He just had a dream and a plan which he kept improving upon as he gained wisdom through books and personal experiences.
When it was launched by Jack Ma and a few other partners 20 years ago, nobody could imagine that Alibaba would grow to become a multi-billion dollar industry and a household name in just a few short years.
But isn’t that how all great empires are built? No one starts out knowing how one plus one equals two. One thing highly successful people do is dream big, start small, and then keep improving over time.
Impossible is nothing
The fact that Alibaba was once just a dream on paper proves that nothing is impossible
Learning will make you distil time tested principles that, if applied properly will produce desired outcomes. You’ll see this proven in Jack Ma’s life.
Get ready because you’re about to collide with a wealth of information that can change your life forever.
A great mark of success as you will find, is that you never stop learning.
Alibaba’s 3 competitive advantages
Alibaba may be enjoying success in the eyes of the world, but they didn’t just jump into it. After all, they are not the only conglomerate in the world. So, what makes Alibaba stand out this much? Three things, which Jack Ma calls the iron triangle: ecommerce, logistics, and finance. Let’s take a closer look at these one after the other.
- The e–commerce edge
Alibaba group holdings have several websites, but the most popular ones used for e–commerce are Taobao and Tmall. The two sites are similar, but there is a little difference between them.
Firstly, Taobao is accessible to all. Any merchant can sign up, and get a space to sell their product or service — and it’s absolutely free.
Unlike Taobao, Tmall is more like an exotic mall. This site consists mostly of popular luxury local and international brands. Even Amazon has a space on Tmall where they sell imported materials.
- The logistics edge
Nothing makes e–commerce more reliable than a quick and efficient delivery system. Alibaba knows this well. Initially, the conglomerate partnered with top delivery companies in the country, but over time, Alibaba and the top three delivery companies in China — Shentong (STO Express), Yuantong (YTO Express), Zhongtong (ZTO Express), and Yunda — alongside a few others, partnered to invest in a firm called China Smart Logistics or Cainiao. Together, these companies are a force to be reckoned with.
Presently, they handle more than 30 million packages a day and employ more than 1.5 million people across six hundred cities.
- The financial edge
Trust is a big deal in online transactions. The financial edge is the last in Jack Ma’s iron triangle. He came up with Alipay, a PayPal substitute handled directly by him. Alipay is now by far the most popular online payment tool in China. It’s not only used by customers buying from Alibaba. Just like PayPal, the tool can be used for just about any online transaction you can think of.
When buying from Alibaba, there’s a form of escrow developed to earn the trust of customers: when you find a product you like and pay for it, your money goes straight to the Alibaba account and will only be released to the merchant when the product is delivered to you and you like it. If you don’t, you reject the product and get your money back.
Global leadership is not a piece of cake
Jack Ma’s experience growing up had a tremendous impact on his life and career even to this day. He grew up as a poor Chinese boy who had a hard time understanding maths. Because of this, he had to write the pre–college examination severally, but his persistence later won. He passed considerably on the third attempt. The score he got wasn’t enough to get him to elite schools, so Jack Ma had to settle for a teachers’ college where he learnt the English language.
It’s not a surprise that Jack Ma did incredibly well in his studies, he was always fascinated with English. As a child, he regularly volunteered himself as a tour guide for tourists from English speaking countries just so he’d test his English skills on them and also get to learn some new words and phrases.
Jack Ma concluded his studies and began his teaching career. In the beginning, he lectured in high institutions alone, then later began creating a business out of his skill. He was organizing English classes for locals interested in upping their English language. It’s from this little business that his first agency, Hope Translation was born. The agency’s focus was on helping local companies find customers overseas by solving the language barrier through translation. His experience with Hope translation coupled with his childhood experiences and other lessons he learned from people contributed to the philosophy for running Alibaba.
Personality as an asset
Very few companies carry the personalities of their founders, and Alibaba is one of them. From its 6 value system to its work culture, it’s evident that Alibaba is a reflection of Jack Ma’s personality and beliefs. Jack Ma is a jovial person who believes in the power of commitment and persistence. He also abhors complaints but celebrates teamwork any day any time. And this is evident in the work culture obtainable in Alibaba.
If you’re the founder or executive of a company, it will be difficult to separate your personality from the company’s culture. You will always shape and influence the work culture your employees will find themselves in because you’re the major decision maker. As such, it’s necessary to be a person of character. Be inspiring, exciting, positive, and motivating.
Did you know? The “Jack” in Jack Ma’s name was given to him by a tourist he befriended in Hangzhou who couldn’t pronounce Ma Yun properly.
Awareness is the No1 business oxygen
Use any medium and strategy that seems best to you, but be sure to create awareness before you start selling products or services people aren’t familiar with.
For example, when digital currencies like bitcoin were first introduced, its evangelists had to put in a lot of effort in making sure the public understood the value of what they were bringing on board. The bottom line is, people will never do business with you when they can’t see how it will positively affect their lives.
When Jack Ma started China Pages, an internet company that created websites for Chinese businesses, there was literally no internet access in his locality. This made it difficult to attract customers since the potential ones couldn’t see how his online company could project their visibility to the outside world. He resorted to creating massive awareness, and though it was difficult at first, opportunities began to open up. Especially when China started catching up with the information age.
Jack Ma had to leave China Pages after some time due to internal problems, he learnt major lessons from co–running that business — lessons he would later apply in running Alibaba.
3 vital business lessons about dreaming big
Aside from being a relentless man with excellent work ethics, Jack Ma is a visionary. He never dreams small, and he has developed the skills of following through with his dreams until they become a reality. This is demonstrated through his journey of building the great Alibaba business empire.
Lesson #1: Dream and never let go
The first thing to learn from Jack Ma about dreams is you can never go beyond them. If you dream small, you will indefinitely put in small effort and that will lead to small achievements. But big dreams will inspire you to break limits.
All things equal, your big dreams will motivate you to be committed and persistent, and these qualities will help you achieve great success.
Lesson #2: Just start
The second lesson is to start where you are, with the experience and resources that you’ve got. When he started Alibaba, Jack Ma’s competitors in Silicon Valley were focusing on large businesses, but he knew he couldn’t do the same thing. He lacked experience in that area, his experience was in running small businesses, so Jack Ma stuck to his area of strength.
In addition, do not copy your competitors because you don’t know the whole story. Find what works for you and stick to it.
Lesson #3: Don’t be afraid to fight a big competitor
The third lesson is that you should not be scared silly about taking on a big competitor.
In the beginning, Alibaba was an ecommerce platform for B2B transactions, but after a while, Jack Ma realized there was something wrong with that business model.
The business stopped bringing much profit like before. On the basis of that and a few other reasons, Jack Ma decided it was time to branch into consumer e – commerce. That will be a relatively new business model in China. At the time, only one company was known for running that model. But soon, eBay would enter the Chinese market (through EachNet) and become Alibaba’s biggest competitor.
Consistent with his ambitious nature, Jack Ma’s goal right before branching out was to dominate the market, and that meant beating eBay. For someone observing from outside, it would be an impossible task. How can a new company possibly beat a global organization? But Jack Ma had his strategies and he was patient.
4 things set you apart
- Element of surprise
We can learn a couple of things from Jack Ma’s strategy. The first is the element of surprise. Jack Ma started the plan for Taobao, his consumer ecommerce business, underground. He picked a few trusted and experienced Alibaba employees and explained his plan to them then asked them to begin work on creating Taobao. It was two months after the site was up and running that Jack Ma publicly declared Taobao was a part of Alibaba.
- Do things differently
The second lesson from Jack Ma about beating a strong competitor is doing things differently. No one will patronize your new business when they don’t see how it is different from the existing brand that they love and trust. Two things that made Taobao different from eBay are pricing and communication. EBay charged merchants some amount for product listing, whereas Taobao made it free for anyone to put up their product or service on the site.
- Have systems in place
Taobao discovered there was weak communication between buyers and sellers on eBay, so they took advantage of this, too. Jack Ma ensured that systems were in place to facilitate smooth and easy communication between customers and merchants.
With these added advantages, it was only a matter of time and circumstance before Taobao kicked eBay out of China and dominated the market.
- Copy and you die
You should learn from your competitor but do not be a copycat. “Copy and you will soon die. “ – Jack Ma
Never stop dreaming and believing
It takes persistence and grit to found and run a successful company. You will encounter challenges along the way, no doubt, but commitment to your initial dream is what will keep you going during tough times.
Most entrepreneurs start their business without a well-documented business vision. This is a risky thing to do. Challenges and difficult times are bound to come in business, it’s easy to give in when you don’t have a written vision for your business.
The vision you pen down before starting the business is one of the things you will rely on for motivation when the going gets tough.
Just like Jack Ma, you don’t need grand resources or a complete plan to launch out. Far too many people who set this as priority have failed to start their business venture because the reality is, you will never have enough money or have a complete business blueprint. Start where you are, make mistakes, but quickly learn from them.
If you’ve started a business or plan on doing so, there’s one important exercise to carry out. Write down your vision for that business. Make it as detailed as it can be. Next, place it somewhere you can see it regularly. This will help keep you motivated.
Never stop dreaming.