Lessons from Asia’s Self-Made Billionaire about Achieving Success

Jhemmylrut Teng

Jack Ma, Chinese business magnate, investor, and philanthropist(Source: CNBC)

Most of the time, we get to read and hear stories of western nations’ success stories. These influential businesspeople seem to dominate our concept of prosperity. But there’s no monopoly in success; it varies.

In the eastern hemisphere, there’s Jack Ma's story, a self-made billionaire that also found success through digital innovation and e-commerce.

Currently, Jack Ma’s worth is sitting at 50 Billion U.S. dollars, which puts him in the 22nd spot on Forbes real-time billionaires list.

Jack Ma’s success was a combination of rags-to-riches with a touch of a David and Goliath narrative. No wonder his rise to the global market was more relatable and somewhat attainable to those striving to achieve greatness.

Learn this Chinese mogul’s story, oriental practices, and unconventional thoughts that can influence and reshape your concept of success.

“We have to get used to being rejected. We’re not that good.”

Jack came from a humble beginning. He was born into a low-income family and grew up when China was in a cultural revolution.

Jack believed then that the only way he would get out of poverty if he had a good education, but he was rejected countless times because the Chinese entrance exams are only held once a year, and it took him three years to pass the test.

Jack attended Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute and graduated in 1988 with a Bachelor of Arts in English. If getting into college was hard for him, applying for a job was even more problematic.

He applied as a service crew at Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), but he was the only one that turned down out of the 24 applicants.

Jack became immune to rejection as many companies told him, “you’re no good.” Still, he kept on applying.

For Jack, rejection is inevitable; instead of dwelling on it, he sucks it up. Accepting the reality that rejection is a normal thing, the more comfortable we get to move on and try again.

“Opportunities lies where the complaints are”

In 1995, Jack had an offer for a translator job in the United States. Therefore, he flew to Los Angeles for a dream of a lifetime. But when he got there, he found out that the job was a scam.

However, his friend then introduced him to the Internet, and he then searched for the word “beer.” All information that popped up was various kinds of beer from the U.S.A, Germany, and Japan, but none from China.

He followed his search by typing “China” and got no result. Right there and then, Jack saw an opportunity to build his Chinese translation webpage, the “Hope Translation Agency.”

After a couple of hours, he received five customer emails overseas.

At that moment, Jack immediately realized that there are always opportunities in challenging situations. And that most of the time, the solution to our problems lies within ourselves. So, if we want to see change, then let us be that change.

“You need the right people with you, not the best people.”

When Jack Ma was exposed to the power of the internet, his wife and a good friend collected $2,000 to pioneer China’s first internet company, the “China’s Yellow Pages,” where they create an English online directory of Chinese companies.

Although his initial venture did not take off because the Chinese government strictly controlled media communication thus, the Chinese officials had no idea what the internet was then. So, Jack had to rest his venture for a while for four years.

In 1999, the internet bubble hit Wall Street. Jack was a government employee working at the trade ministry at that time. So, he decided to give his internet business another try.

Jack gathered his friends in his apartment and laid out his plans to compete with U.S. e-commerce titans. They built Alibaba.com from that huddle, the company that killed eBay in China, East Asia, and Southeast Asia.

Suppose Jack still tried seeking acceptance and approval from the government’s best people, a considerable possibility that his dreams will never be feasible. But Jack was supported by his wife and friends, the right people who believed and made his visions came true.

“Intelligent people need the fool to lead them. When the team’s all a bunch of scientists, it is best to have a peasant lead the way. His way of thinking is different. It’s easier to win if you have people seeing things from different perspectives.”

Jack Ma was an English teacher in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, back in 1998. Despite being in the digital e-commerce sector. Jack has minimal tech knowledge, and he has been blunt about that fact.

However, his academic mindset was the hallmark of his entrepreneurial career because he is always curious. His curiosity about the internet’s services made his desire and vision transformed into a multi-billion dollar empire.

In one of his media interviews, Jack emphasized he doesn’t think like a tech guy, but he thinks like their customers.

Therefore, Alibaba and its affiliated businesses ensure to serve their customers properly with satisfaction guaranteed.

For Jack, great minds think alike, but that’s what makes it dangerous. If you are all identical, nothing is special anymore, making the team a mediocre and a “lousy one.”

To have more innovative concepts, ask someone outside of your circle, and get their opinions. Their thoughts might be unconventional, but it provides a new perspective to improve your businesses or services.

Having such a palpable difference makes the organization stands apart from the competition.

“If you want to win in the 21st century, you have to empower others, making sure other people are better than you are. Then you will be successful.”

When Jack Ma created Alibaba, his goal was to use small businesses to get a fair share and exposure in the global market through the internet.

So, instead of hiring millions of people to do the delivery services for them. Alibaba created job opportunities through third-party sellers. That, in turn, has allowed millions of people to open up their own businesses to join the market.

Jack’s proposition has always been “customer first, employee second, and shareholders third.” In his speaking engagement at the World Economic Forum, he mentioned that his focus was not to have a neck-in-neck with Amazon.

Jeff Bezos’s empire controls everything from the conceptualization of the products up to the delivery. Meanwhile, Alibaba aims to solve the needs of many by giving small businesses a chance to grow and thrive.

Jack has always believed that in these modern times, gone are the days that you hoard your knowledge. Instead of seeing others who are also trying to succeed as competitors, help them. By doing so, you will receive not only success but people’s respect.

“No matter how tough the chase is, you should always have the dream you saw on the first day. It’ll keep you motivated and rescue you.”

If it weren’t for Jack Ma’s big dream, he would possibly still be teaching at a small local school in China.

Instead of settling on his routine and staying on the safe side, Jack allowed himself to dream big and turn those dreams into reality.

When Alibaba started entering the U.S. market in 2000, he was labeled as “Crazy Jack” by Time Magazine because of his massive ambition to create one million jobs in the U.S. in the next five years.

His dream was mocked because not many Americans then were familiar with Alibaba. However, he said, “we may be crazy but not stupid.”

Instead of focusing on discouragement, he focuses on new projects and goals that require more significant planning, commitment, and hard work while he sets his eyes on the next big dream.

From a humble beginning, fighting giant corporations, to becoming an empire, Jack Ma’s hard work paid off, which makes his name resonates not just in Asia but in the world.

Jack always reminds himself of the fire he had on day one as it reminds him of his purpose, keeps him grounded, and moves not only forward but onward.

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I am a PR officer and a professional journalist with a master's degree in international development. I write history, geopolitics, food, and culture. Since I am a member of the API community, I make sure to highlight our stories to promote diversity and create awareness for cultural understanding.


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