This month’s entrepreneur spotlight is one of inspiration and perseverance. It is the story of Jack Ma, a 54-year old Chinese businessman worth approximately US$34.7 billion. He hasn’t always been a success story, however. Jack Ma grew up very poor and suffered a great deal of rejection prior to his rise to fame.
Claim to Fame: Alibaba Group
Ma began his career with a visit to the United States in 1995. It was here that some friends introduced him to the internet. Ma was immediately fascinated and perplexed. He couldn’t find any websites relating to China during his online searches. Recognizing an opportunity, he created one that would attract several investors in the span of a few hours. He set out to create a Chinese internet company but, unfortunately, this attempt (and the next one) would fail.
Four years later, in 1999, Jack Ma would host the meeting that began the company responsible for his success: Alibaba Group. The company would be the Chinese equivalent of a modern-day Amazon — an online marketplace of sorts. Ma and 17 of his friends worked hard and by October of 1999, they had raised more than USD$25 million to be used for the improvement of World Trade Organization challenges.
Alibaba would continue to experience growth throughout the early 2000s and actually became profitable in 2002 but they were not unchallenged. eBay had appeared on the scene and although Alibaba attempted to keep up with their own version called Taobao, the competition was proving fierce. Eventually, Taobao would attract the attention of eBay and an offer to purchase would be made. Jack Ma, a businessman at heart, rejected the offer choosing to partner with another investor instead.
Yahoo agreed to invest USD$1 billion in exchange for a 40% share in Jack Ma’s company. This move would prove to be the catalyst that propelled Alibaba into fame. Ma would remain CEO of the Alibaba Group over the next eight years. He stepped down in 2013 but remained an integral part of the company as he took on the role of executive chairman.
In 2014, the company went public which is significant for two reasons. First, it created the “largest offering for a US-listed company in the history of the New York Stock Exchange.” Second, it made Jack Ma the richest man in China, although this particular title would be temporary.
Jack Ma’s entrepreneurial story demonstrates the importance of perseverance and a positive attitude. He did not let more than 20 job rejections and 2 failed entrepreneurial ventures beat him. He kept going.
Today, Jack Ma is devoted to entertainment, philanthropy, and trade.