Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built – Duncan Clark

Here are my comments on the book:

What can we learn from Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba (China’s eBay equivalent)? Despite the challenges and odds against he faced, he was still able to create a company that’s currently valued at $226 billion. So how did he do it? Jack Ma is a man of persistence, vision, passion, and a strong dedication to always putting customers first. Jack Ma greatly emphasised the importance of the ladder and was able to deliver a service that demonstrated this. In a market like China where there’s a population of 1.357 billion people (at the time of writing this), delivering more than expected to customers was a key ingredient that lead him to his success. Here are some of the points to the book:

 

1. Keep the end goal in mind. It doesn’t matter what your current situation is as long as you have a vision and a plan that you execute on. If you’re not exactly in the best time of your life, forget what others are saying about you as that’ll only drag you down. For those who can’t see your vision that you’ve laid out for yourself, they’re not worth your time. Live your life the way you want to and cut out the rest of the noise. I first met Jack in the summer of 1999, a few months after he founded Alibaba in a small apartment in Hangzhou, some hundred miles southwest of Shanghai. On my first visit, I could count the number of cofounders by the toothbrushes jammed into mugs on a shelf in the bathroom. In addition to Jack, there included his wife, Cathy, and sixteen others. Jack and Cathy had wagered everything they owned on the company, including their home. Jack’s ambition then, as it remains today, was breathtaking. He talked of building an Internet company that would last eighty years—the typical span of a human life. A few years later, he extended Alibaba’s life expectancy to ‘a hundred and two’ years, so that the company would span three centuries from 1999. From the very beginning, he vowed to take on and topple the giants of Silicon Valley. Within the confines of that modest apartment this should have seemed delusional. Yet there was something about his passion for the venture that made it sound entirely credible.

 

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2. For those of you who run your own business, always put your customers first. A customer is worth more than meets the eye. In the book The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz, there’s a part where he talks about how an employee didn’t want to spend his/her time helping a customer find an item as it wasn’t worth the employee’s time to find such a cheap item. The book then addresses that a customer is worth more than the face value of their purchase as they may be repeat customers and bring in even more money. Deliver to your customers more than they expect as it’ll get them to come back to purchase more. Perhaps the most famous lesson of Jack the teacher is known by heart by every Alibaba employee: ‘Customers first, employees second, and shareholders third.’ Jack describes this as Alibaba’s philosophy. Customers, especially the ‘shrimp,’ come first in his mantra. When asked by the journalist Charlie Rose if he saw himself as an ‘apostle for small business,’ Jack agreed, ‘I’m a strong believer. It’s my religion.’ Many small businesses in China don’t just use Alibaba’s websites as a marketing channel, they depend entirely on them to make a living. Jack has always insisted on offering most of Alibaba’s services for free.

 

3. There’s a notion that successful people got lucky because of the right opportunities that came their way; this is an idea that I used to subscribe to as well. I believe this is kind of true but the difference now is that I don’t believe that luck comes first though. I believe that hard work and dedication precedes opportunity. In order to be able to capitalise on opportunities that come your way, you would have needed to have some sort of capability to do so prior to that opportunity. In the case with Jack Ma, I believe that one of the reasons why he was able to become as successful as he is is because of his dedication and hard work to learning English on his own which later on became a huge asset for him. In 1978, only 728 foreign tourists visited Hangzhou. But the following year more than forty thousand came to the city. Jack relished any opportunity to practice his English. He started waking up before dawn and riding his bicycle for forty minutes to the Hangzhou Hotel to greet foreign tourists. As he recalled, ‘Every morning from five o’clock I would read English in front of the hotel. A lot of foreign visitors came from the USA, from Europe. I’d give them a free tour of West Lake, and they taught me English. For nine years! And I practiced my English every morning, no matter if it snowed or rained.’ An American tourist whose father and husband were named Jack suggested the name and Ma Yun became known in English henceforth as Jack. He is dismissive of the quality of his English: ‘I just make myself understood. The grammar is terrible.’ But Jack never dismisses how much learning the language has helped him in life: ‘English helps me a lot. It makes me understand the world better, helps me to meet the best CEOs and leaders in the world, and makes me understand the distance between China and the world.’”

 

By Ryan Timothy Lee

 

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My rating:

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Check out the book here:

Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK

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