Changemakers // Entrepreneurship: Not For the Faint Hearted – Lessons from Jack Ma

Changemakers // Entrepreneurship: Not For the Faint Hearted – Lessons from Jack Ma

Starting up a business is difficult and there are a lot of factors to take into account such as feasibility, financial sustainability, skills and time availability.

Entrepreneurship isn’t for the faint-hearted. To be successful, you need vision, and faith in yourself and your ideas. You have to be prepared to put your bank account and your time on the line, all with full knowledge that you still might fail entirely. Very often, we only hear about success stories without hearing about the harsh reality of start-up failures and the hardships that entrepreneurs face. We can learn a few valuable lessons from Jack Ma, the richest man in China, and the founder and CEO of e-commerce company Alibaba.

  1. Have a unique vision.

Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba founded his B2B (business to business) company 15 years ago and today, he is the richest man in China with the largest IPO in history at $US25 billion. Key to his business’s success? He had a clear vision and a clear strategy. Comparing and analysing similar online business companies and their business models, Ma discovered that the US and Chinese market were very different from each other. The US market focussed mainly on aiding big businesses, Jack Ma’s vision on the other hand was to help small businesses become more profitable. By doing preliminary research, he was confident enough to find willing investors and poured in $60,000 to set up the company.

You should learn from your competitor, but never copy. Copy and you die.~ Jack Ma

  1. Learning from your mistakes (Big problems lead to big opportunities).

It is essential to reflect on the mistakes that you have made and learn from them so that you will have a clearer sense of direction of where your business is going to head in future. Jack called Alibaba “1001 mistakes”. One of the largest mistakes the company made was expanding much faster than it should’ve been, causing them to cut a huge amount of jobs when the dot-com bubble burst. At that time, free members using the site have soared but Alibaba had no strategy to monetise. Because of this problem, they came up with a model for Chinese exporters to interact with American buyers online, which rescued their business and enabled them to start making profits again by 2002.  Although you may be struck with innumerable problems and challenges when starting up your business, with the right strategy, a positive mindset and perseverance, you will be able to overcome them and turn a crisis into an opportunity as the Chinese saying goes, “危機就是轉機”.

The lessons I learned from the dark days at Alibaba are that you’ve got to make your team have value, innovation, and vision. Also, if you don’t give up, you still have a chance. And, when you are small, you have to be very focused and rely on your brain, not your strength. ~ Jack Ma

  1. Don’t be afraid of failures.

What distinguishes successful entrepreneurs from the rest of the pack is their ability to take risks and accept that failure is simply a part of that journey. It is easy to become despondent if things aren’t going well. Who likes to fail? Nobody, but as Denis Watley puts it, “Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing.” Failure is what inches us closer to success because without experiencing it, we will never grow as a person or as a business. Jack Ma didn’t immediately obtain success. He failed innumerable times, thrice during Middle School exams, got rejected by Harvard University 10 times, failed to get a job after graduation 20 times and failed 2 of his initial ventures. His ability to pick himself up each time he failed and keep chasing his dreams is inspiring. It’s something we can all take away – even if we’re not keen on being an entrepreneur.

Never give up. Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine.  ~ Jack Ma


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