Post Written by Jean Khoo
The idea of building a business is exciting and the outcome can be extremely rewarding. Take Jack Ma for example, before he founded Alibaba Group, he was an English teacher making around USD12 a month at a local university. Today he is one of the wealthiest men in the world, with an estimated net worth of USD22.5 billion.
As cliché as it is, most successful businessmen have their humble beginnings; the same goes to Ma. Here is a collection of some valuable lessons from him that aspiring entrepreneurs should take note of.
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 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 Ma’s first ever Internet company.
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, 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.”
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, 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.”
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, 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.”
5. Take every risk—that’s actually worth taking.
Ma started his first Internet business called China Pages. However, it was his failed venture. The business lasted for about a year. Eventually Ma 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 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.
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.