Jack Ma of Alibaba on Entrepreneurship

September 26, 2010
Jack Ma speaks during The Future of the Global...

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Indian internet entrepreneurs usually follow the US market and are usually very well acquainted with the key players. However, Chinese market is seldom followed and rarely understood. Its a pity given that it is the single largest market on Internet. Its also a market where the US majors have failed to make inroads and the indigenous companies dominate. Initially it had to do with language difficulties but now it seems more and more about understanding of the market. I am very interested in the Chinese market for two reasons. First, in terms of stage of evolution and historical background, China has similarities with the Indian market. Thus, there are perhaps lessons one can learn. Second, its a large market and therefore offers opportunities.

One of the greatest successful internet entrepreneurs from China is Jack Ma who founded Alibaba. Alibaba started out as a B2B exchange but today includes online retailer Taobao (190 Million users) and online payment service Alipay (300 million users compared to PayPal’s 223 million accounts) amongst other businesses. In spite of such success, very little is known about Alibaba or Jack Ma outside of China.

Here are some interesting quotes form Jack’s interview by Charlie Rose. I’ve selected the ones which show a marked difference in opinion. Do watch/read the whole interview. Quite instructive for Indian entrepreneurs.

(Our core competence is) culture.  It’s not the technology.  I think technology is a tool.

We believe customer number one, employee number two, shareholder three.

it still takes a long time for China to catch up (with US) — the technology is easy, but to catch up with the culture, the innovation, the system takes some time.

We have a couple of million, you’re a rich guy.  We have 10 to 20 million, it’s a capital.  We have over a hundred million, that’s the social resources.

Its also interesting that he characterizes the China opportunity as new solutions and not as just the sheer size of consumer class. I think the same holds true for the Indian opportunity too. Yet another remarkable aspect is that he wants to use his wealth to create 200 Million more jobs and “create hope”. This is quite different from the stance taken by people such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Jack says that he can do a better job of it than the Chinese Govt. If an entrepreneur can say that in China, why not India!

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