Jack-Ma is a true rags-to-riches story. He grew up poor in communist China, failed his college entrance exam twice, and was rejected from dozens of jobs, including one at KFC, before finding success with his third internet company, Alibaba.
This is the story of the life of a man who has impacted the entire economy and internet industry of China almost single-handedly. His life is nothing less than the story of Robert, The Bruce and the Spider, that we were taught as kindergartens. This is the story of Jack Ma.
Jack Ma was born and raised in Hangzhou, in China’s Zhejiang Province. He was born and raised along with an elder brother and a younger sister during the rise of communist China and its isolation from the Western regions. His parents were traditional Musicians-Storytellers and they didn’t make enough to be even considered as middle class during those days.
Ma failed his primary school examination twice, his middle school exams thrice, and his university entrance exams thrice before joining Hangzhou Normal University.
Jack, after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in English, worked as an English teacher at Hangzhou Dianzi University with a pay of $12 a month
Rejected, But not failure
Jack failed twice to join college. In the third time he barely passed after doing extraordinary preparation effort. He tried to get a job at a restaurant but most of them didn’t want him in. He failed to get a job at KFC. He recollects in his interview,
“When KFC came to China, 24 people went for the job. Twenty-three people were accepted. I was the only guy who wasn’t.” He also one of the 5 applicants to a job in Police force and was the only one getting rejected after being told, “No, you’re no good.”
He wrote to Harvard 10 times and was rejected every single time. Anyone else would have felt dejected by then, but Jack Ma used these rejections as an opportunity to learn.
In 1999, Ma created Alibaba with a group of friends but couldn’t convince Silicon Valley to fund it. At one point, Alibaba was just 18 months away from bankruptcy. For the first three years, Alibaba made zero revenue. In September 2014, Alibaba went public at $92.70 per share, making it the biggest US IPO in history.
Having started his first successful company at the age of 31 and even after never having written a single line of code or selling something to anyone, Jack Ma runs one of the biggest E-commerce networks in the world. The company went on to grow rapidly, expanding all across the world, quickly growing out of its China shell. Only second to Walmart now in terms of sales per year, Alibaba has become the E-commerce giant that Jack Ma has envisioned for it.
In 2009 and 2014, Ma was named one of Time‘s 100 most influential people. He was also chosen as one of ‘China’s Most Powerful People’ by Business Week. Ma is the first mainland Chinese entrepreneur to appear on the cover of Forbes.
In Jack Ma’s own words “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”
Lessons to learn from Jack Ma’s story
- 1) Its possible !: Its possible to start from scratch and become a billionaire (not just a millionaire). Jack Ma is another example of people who started from below zero and made it to the list of richest people in the world. (see also The ultimate guide to becoming rich)
- 2) It can be done fast: Its not a rule but it can be done fast. Jack ma achieved success at his late thirties (quite a young age) and he got many of his awards at his early forties.
- 3) When the dream is big enough facts don’t count: Ma was living a tough life, he didn’t have the luxury of having a car or a bank account but he proved to the world that resources won’t matter if the dream was big enough (see also Believe in yourself to do the impossible)