Jack Ma. The founder of Alibaba. The son of rural musician-storytellers. Now one of the wealthiest men on the planet, Jack Ma was born in modest circumstances in an isolated downtrodden village of communist China. It was not through privilege, or luck, or money that he was able to establish the lasting legacy he will no doubt leave. Rather, it was through a nearly unparalleled resiliency of spirit, an insatiable craving for success, and an unadulterated wish for something better.
As a small boy, Ma had a slighter build that often invited bullying, teasing, and hostility. Yet, by being forced to acclimate to less than ideal circumstances, Ma was able to develop a mentality that warded off negativity. Essentially, he bolstered his mental endurance and fortified his drive. In coping with said inherent obstacles at such a young age, adversity became the norm for Ma. Rather than become discouraged by potential obstacles and looming failure, he learned to embrace the hardship, to accept it, and more importantly, to use it to his advantage.
In 1972, Richard Nixon paid a visit to Hangzhou, Ma’s hometown. Suddenly, Hangzhou became a tourist attraction for foreigners whereas before it was just another agricultural technologically deficient town without much to offer. With the new influx of opportunity/activity, Ma decided to learn English by waking up in early in the morning to get down to the main hotel. There, he would offer visitors tours of his city so long as they helped him with his English. Funny enough, it was here that he was actually dubbed “Jack,” for his actual name proved too difficult for visitors to properly pronounce.
Understanding he would not be able to get ahead using money or personal connections (since he didn’t have any of either), Jack knew he would have to educate himself in order to succeed. Soon, he began studying for a college admission test, a college admission test that he would then go on to fail twice before passing.
After the third time, he was admitted to the Hangzhou Teacher’s institute. Upon graduation, he applied to as many jobs as possible and was repeatedly, consistently, and dishearteningly turned down again and again. Literally receiving over a dozen rejections, one of which was actually from KFC (believe it or not), he eventually found a position teaching English at a school for a measly 12 dollars a month. He loved it.
After a trip to America in 1995, Ma was exposed to the internet for the first time. Instantly wholly captivated, he started searching for products related to China, only to find that they didn’t exist on the soon-to-be information superhighway. As a result, he created his first website centering around China.
However, as seems to be a common theme throughout Ma’s life, he failed. Then he founded another internet venture. Then he failed again. Then he created another—Alibaba, an online marketplace for China. By as early as October of 1999, Alibaba had tremendously secured an astounding five million dollars from Goldman Sachs and twenty million dollars from SoftBank, A Japanese corporation that invests venture capital in various technology companies.
Come mid-2000’s, Yahoo was investing a billion dollars as well. It soon paid off, literally. In September of 2014, Alibaba emerged as the largest IPO in the history of the world at an amazing 25 billion dollars, immediately making Jack Ma the wealthiest man in China.
From the some of the humblest beginnings imaginable rose one of the most powerful men on the planet. To understand his story is to fathom the limitless realm of possibility that lies before each and every one of us.