Jack Ma is the founder of Alibaba Group and before he founded Alibaba Group, he was an English teacher earning less than $100 a month at Hangzhou Dianzi University. Today he is one of the richest men in the world and has succeeded in growing Alibaba’s net worth to over $454 Billion as at July 25, 2019 because of his business prowess.
He has a humble beginning and was able to build a successful business despite the challenges that confronted him along the way. Below are 10 great tips on starting up a business by Jack Ma the CEO of Alibaba Group to entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs.
- Before starting a business, know what you are doing
The purpose of being your own boss should not be solely because you are not interested to work for other people, it is also about spotting a business opportunity that will fill gaps in the market.
In 1995, when Jack Ma went to the U.S. to become a translator, his friend showed him how the Internet works. Following that, he searched for the word ‘beer’. He found American beer, German beer, but there was no Chinese beer.
“So I was curious, I searched ‘China’, and all search engines said no China,” Ma said in a documentary. As a result, this led him to starting a web company called China Pages, a yellow pages site which was Jack Ma’s first ever Internet company.
- People need to trust you
From employees to investors, the people who put everything on the line for you, must trust you. He said that trust was an integral part of Alibaba’s success. “It’s the trust that makes us united,” He said that his 18 investors trusted him. And because they trusted him, he has to be very loyal to them and loyal to the mission that they have.”
Jack Ma said this trust in him and the mission of the company is the most valuable thing he could have–going as far as saying he would take the trust over $1 million.
- Forget the competition. Focus on your customers
Jack Ma isn’t really worried about Alibaba’s competition. Everything Alibaba does, he said, depends on the needs of customers. The reason is simple: to sustain in the long term, customer satisfaction should be at the crux of your decision-making. “If our customers say ‘Jack you should build more warehouses,'” Jack Ma explained, “We build warehouses. We do it not because there is money; we do it because it is necessary.”
When asked who he saw as Alibaba’s competitor, Ma said he didn’t know. “As entrepreneurs, don’t look at your neighbour Tom as a competitor,” he said. “Do not focus your eyes on the competitor. You are too small to focus on your neighbour or competitor. Focus on your customers. Making your customers happy is important.”
- Employ smart people, not popular people
As a boss you should look for suitable candidates to join your company in contributing and expanding the company. For instance, during a sharing session in Next Up Asia, Jack Ma shared that when it comes to hiring, an employee should find the right people according to your level and needs.
“When your company is small like a tractor, and you hire the master who has Boeing 747’s engine, your tractor (company) will break when the engine start. Therefore, please do not ask for gorgeous (popular) one when getting people to join your team. Small company should hire smart people with the right mentality.”
- Learn from the failures of others
Often times we only focus on the glamorous side of successful people, and we subconsciously forget through they been through failures and setbacks too. Besides learning successful tips and lessons from successful businesses, Jack Ma remarked that it is the mistakes that business owners should really learn from.
He said, “A lot of people fail for the same reason. If you know why people fail and you learn from that, you can make a correction.”
- Always think about innovation, not just blind acquisition
People often compare Steve Jobs and Jack Ma. Both are dropouts, and they both are the inventors of two most game-changing technologies that they had eyes on way before their peers. For Steve Jobs, it would be the personal laptop and touchscreen smartphone; while for Jack Ma, it is the potential of the Internet.
During an interview with CNBC, Jack Ma had this to share when he was asked about acquiring Ebay. “First, I don’t know if they would sell; and the second, we have to think about one thing—doing business is not as simple as only buying, you have to create something. You have to create something that has never existed, for the future.”
- Think of your business in global terms
For Jack Ma, the future is global. He believes small businesses should operate internationally to survive in the long term. “If you do not try to globalize your business through the Internet, you may not have a business opportunity,” Jack Ma said. He argued that local businesses will only get more and more competitive. He encouraged small businesses to think about how they could sell products across the world.
- Take every risk that’s actually worth taking
Jack Ma started his first Internet business called China Pages. However, it was his failed venture. The business lasted for about a year. Eventually he lost control of China Pages and the company was pressured into doing a joint venture with China Telecom. Although some may consider this as a ‘failure’, it was one that was undertaken by Jack Ma as a calculated risk. In the end, it was still an experience worth learning. This, however, cannot be said about all failures and risks—some are just not worth taking and might even lead to bankruptcy.
Aspiring individuals would know that great entrepreneurs can identify ‘foolish’ risks and will reduce them to the absolute minimal value. There are many ways to do this, such as carry out thorough research about the market and available opportunities; practice patience and avoid rash impulsiveness; trust your gut-feeling; and have a back-up plan by insuring your business. The truth is, people are usually reluctant to endorse the last one. In spite of that, it happens to be one of the ways to suppress a great deal of ‘foolish’ risks.
Business insurances that are provided by certain parties such as AXA SME Smart Business insurance are specially designed to cater the protection needs of the SMEs (especially those with brick-and-mortar stores) who are vulnerable to unexpected events such as fire, flood, burglary, theft, armed robbery, loss of goods, third party bodily injury or property damage, your employees’ dishonesty or if your business is subjected to fraud. So if something unfortunate happens, you immediately have the money you need to pick up the pieces and start over. This way, you can focus on the other risks you can afford and are worth taking.
- The key to success lies in the younger generation
In any business, it’s crucial to plan ahead and one important factor to consider when planning for the future is your customer’s needs and desires. And since most modern businesses now cater to the younger generation, who better than to understand how to shape the company?
Jack Ma, as a visionary, knows that the Internet-savvy generation would be the key to leading a company towards success and thinks that businesses should leverage on this. “The younger generation is always better than (the) last generation,” he said, admitting that although he is objectively better than his own father, his children are now better than he is. “If you want to keep this company innovative, if you want the company to catch the future, keep the vision, rely on the young people.
- Just keep going
Jack Ma’s advice for entrepreneurs reflects his journey with Alibaba: Just keep going. Perseverance, he said, is necessary. “Today is very difficult,” he said “Tomorrow is difficult, but the day after tomorrow is very beautiful.”
These are really insightful. I hope you can pick as much wisdom as you want to make progress in your entrepreneurial journey.