He was described by Forbes magazine as “tiny (5 feet, 3 inches), slight (he weighs just over 100 pounds) and full of coiled energy”. He is the man behind the giant Alibaba – Jack Ma (Ma Yun).
He is a Chinese business magnate and philanthropist. He is the founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, a family of successful Internet-based businesses. He is the first mainland Chinese entrepreneur to appear on the cover of Forbes. As of November 2014, he is the richest man in China and 18th richest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of $24.1 billion according to Forbes. If you don’t know much about Jack Ma, it’s time you learned!
Here are nine interesting things you probably didn?t know about Jack Ma:
1. How Jack Ma named his multibillion-dollar company
Alibaba was very small when it was first established, but Jack Ma positioned the future Alibaba as a global company. So the name of the company had to be loud and global. One day, Jack Ma went to a restaurant in the U.S. and asked the waitress if she had ever heard of Alibaba, she replied yes and told him the story of ?open sesame?. Then Ma asked people in different places the same question and realized that the Alibaba story is globally known and the pronunciations of Alibaba in different languages all sound the same.
The domain name “Alibaba.com” was already registered, so Jack Ma spent $10,000 to purchase it from the original owner. Not a terrible investment! Jack Ma also believes the ?open sesame? story parallels how Alibaba opens the door for small and medium companies.
Jack Ma also registered Alimama.com (mama in Chinese means mother and baba in Chinese means father), and Alibaby.com. He said Alibaba, Alimama and Alibaby are supposed to be a family. He planned the business for the long run.
2. He believes failures are more important than wins.
Jack Ma learned English by giving tourists free tours and practicing English with them. He was confident in his English speaking abilities, but a teacher of his gave him a 59% on an English exam. He felt angry, depressed and resentful at the time?
Looking back he said he was grateful for failing that exam. “Sometimes scars are more precious than medals and what?s most important is your attitude towards the scars.? What a beautiful way to say that learning from your failures is even more important than all of the wins you achieve.
3. Jack Ma dealt with constant rejection in his education and career
Ma applied to study at Harvard ten times and was rejected each time!
He was interviewed by Charlie Rose, and revealed a unique insight into the story behind his success. Ma said he has had to deal with rejection many times in his life: He failed the entry exams for college in China three times and was turned down by the prestigious Harvard 10 times after applying.
He was also rejected for 30 jobs in China. There were five people applying police jobs and four of them passed.. but he failed. He then applied for a job at KFC where 27 people applied for the job and 26 of them got the job and Jack Ma failed again due to his appearance.
Even after being rejected so many times, he is one of the most successful people in the world. Think about that next time you don’t get that job you want!
4. Jack Ma isn’t afraid to joke about himself.
People always joke about Jack Ma?s looks and he never takes it seriously. Instead, he jokes about himself on his Weibo (Chinese version of Facebook).
?At the first sight of this little kid, I first thought my family members uploaded my childhood photo. What a valiant look, I feel like looking at the mirror. However I used to hold “brick” and everyday I dressed neat with 5 buttons when going out and came back with no more than 2 buttons..”.
I actually thought this is Jack Ma’s childhood photo as well but it turned out Jack Ma just made a joke out of himself and indicated he used to fight with other kids everyday when he was a kid.
Jack Ma appeared onstage at a company event dressed in leathers, shades and a wig to the sounds of Disney’s The Lion King. He sang “You Are So Beautiful” to thousands of cheering employees to celebrate a company anniversary.
And he commented on his Weibo:”I didn’t scare the audience away even if I dressed like this, what else should I be worried about? Yes, we need to be ourself! The real ourself is the happy ourself. There is a famous Chinese saying: There are all kinds of birds in the big woods. Actually I think if the birds are getting big enough they can find any woods!”
“When I am getting old I wish I could be half as relaxed as this old man. Hopefully one day when I have no teeth I could go back to childhood familiar places, having some yellow rice wine and food, wandering on the street, watching cloud rolling, flower blooming and fading…”.
Again, Jack Ma joked about himself by posting an old man who looks like an old version of himself. Jack Ma has a big heart, is extremely approachable, and he is not afraid of laughing at himself. Meanwhile he attracts huge attention by joking about himself which brings more attention to Alibaba as well.
5. He cares about the environment
Jack Ma donates .3% of Alibaba?s revenue every year to help the environment.
Jack Ma recently said in a speech he gave in Paris, “The smog on earth is horrible, I wish I was an alien so I can go back to my own planet” (Jack has been given the nickname “alien”…remember he’s not afraid to make fun of himself!).
When attending APEC seminar in Philippine this November, Barack Obama had an interview with Jack Ma. Obama asked Ma why he is so passionate about environment. Jack Ma told Obama his own story, ?It?s not passion, it?s concern! When I was 12, I was swimming in a lake and almost drown myself because the lake is much deeper than I expected and 5 years later I went back to the same place but the lake already dry out. Many young people die of cancer while no one heard about cancer 20 years ago.
If we don?t have a healthy environment, no matter how much money we make we will still face the environmental disaster. That?s our concern. Since six years ago, Alibaba group donates .3% of revenue every year to encourage young people find innovative resolution to the environmental issue. We should take action together.?
6. Jack Ma’s plan is to make Alibaba bigger than Walmart
When interviewed by Charlie Rose in Davos after Alibaba went IPO, Jack Ma said, ?In 10 years, we will be bigger than Walmart.” Jack Ma said his goal is to serve 2 billion consumers and to help 10 million small businesses outside China sell their products through the Internet.
7. He doesn’t read business books–but he’s crazy about martial arts novels
When he first started Taobao as a way to fend off eBay from dominating China, Jack Ma’s friend recommended that he read a book by eBay called “Perfect Marketing” (the story of how eBay beat Yahoo). Jack Ma refused to read the book and instead he said ?one day I want them to read the book called ‘How Taobao beat Ebay’.”
Taobao eventually DID push Ebay out of Chinese market. Jack Ma encourages young people to read books that they are interested instead of what other people are reading. He said himself loves Jin Yong?s WuXia novels about martial arts and chivalry. He (along with Alibaba’s core values) was influenced by WuXia novels and WuXia culture.
8. Jack Ma loves Tai Chi and compares it to business.
Jack Ma mentioned he practices Tai Chi when interviewed by Charlie Rose. He said, ?I love Tai ChiTai Chi is a philosophy about how you balance. When people asked me if we hated eBay, I said no. eBay is a giant company, and if he hits me here I will hit him there, he comes and I go, I am smaller than him so I can jump while he can?t.?
He applies Tai Chi philosophy which is ?Keep calm, and you will find a way out. Competition is interesting. Business is not a battlefield. It?s not necessary that I will be alive after you die? to his professional and business life, using it to draw inspiration about how to compete in the market.
9. He believes Alibaba is the apple tree to Amazon’s apple
Jack Ma told Bloomberg in an interview, “If Amazon is a great apple, we?re an apple tree. We believe every company can be Amazon. We want to enable every company to be an ecommerce [business]. So I don’t think Amazon and us will compete.”
Amazon is more akin to a massive retailer that sells stuff out of its own inventory, while Alibaba doesn’t sell anything directly, simply serving as a middleman to connect buyers and sellers.
Amazon does have its own third party marketplace, but it’s slightly different in the way it makes money too. Amazon takes a small commission for every item sold, but Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace doesn’t charge anything for the transactions, instead making money through advertising.
Jack Ma is definitely a bizarre entrepreneur comparing to most entrepreneurs. Jack said if he were to write a book about Alibaba the title would be 1,001 mistakes. Even if he is one of the richest entrepreneurs in the world he is still extremely approachable and give back what he has to the world.
Matt Clark is the Chairman and Co-Founder of Amazing.com, a serial entrepreneur, and investor. He’s been featured on Forbes, CNBC, and Entrepreneur.com.