Through the Chinese e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba Group, Jack Ma rose to become China’s top billionaire and eventually Asia’s richest man. With an estimated worth of $37.4 billion (P1.9 trillion) based on Forbes’ latest information (as of August 2017), the Chinese billionaire is currently the 18th richest businessman in the world.
But not many people know that before he became a multibillion-dollar guy, Jack Ma has failed numerous times since his childhood years. His own father warned him about his ‘dangerous’ ideas and he has been rejected so many times in the corporate world for his ‘crazy’ ways.
Born in 1964 in Hangzhou at a time when his family was in crisis (his grandparents were being persecuted then for involvement with the Nationalist Party that opposed the then rising Communist Party). As he recalled in an interview in Davos, he failed key primary school test twice, middle school test thrice, and college entrance exam twice.
Rejection as a norm
Out of college, his job applications were rejected numerous times. In fact, he was the sole unlucky one in a batch of five applicants who was never hired for the police force and the only one out of 24 applicants to never make it to take a KFC managerial position.
Frustrated with his serial failure in winning employment opportunities in the early 1990s, he used his English speaking skills to teach the language at a local university. He eventually started a small translation service business. When he visited the U.S. in 1995 as part of his translator job, he discovered the advent of the internet and was shocked to learn that there was no beer from China that can be discovered online. He saw a potential business opportunity there.
Traumatic business experience
When he returned home, he convinced some of his friends to join him in putting up Chinapage, a website that would showcase Chinese products online. In just a day, he was overwhelmed by warm reception from investors from all across the globe. But Chinapage got into a problem when it partnered with a government agency, which forced him to leave the company and instead be hired by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation by the later part of 1990s.
In 1999, he founded Alibaba at his own home and formed a group of 18 people with the aim to use the internet to facilitate transactions in behalf of local small businesses. He then tried to raise funds in tech hub Silicon Valley but failed to convince most investors there. But after a long period, he persuaded U.S.-based Softbank and Goldman Sachs to invest $20 million and $5 million in Alibaba, respectively.
After four years of non-profitability, the group launched Taobao.com, an online auction site based in China. It charges zero commission in an effort to convince local businesses to use the portal instead of the then top player in the Chinese market eBay. Within five years, the team reorganized its operations, won the local market patronage, and succeeded in pushing eBay out of the Chinese market.
The years that followed saw Jack Ma expanding Alibaba’s international presence, which has proven to be a real success. In 2005, Yahoo invested $1 billion to take a 40% interest in the group.
Richest man in China and Asia
In 2014, Jack Ma successfully listed Alibaba in the New York Stock Exchange and raised $20 billion for the company in the U.S. That made the company among the world’s biggest businesses based on market capitalization (about $200 billion). Alibaba has become a holding group that aggressively acquires tech businesses around the world.
Jack Ma’s financial technology firm Ant Financial Services Group acquired a 45% stake in the Philippine-based Globe Telecom Inc’s Globe Fintech innovations Inc (Mynt), which in turn currently operates micro-payment service GCash.