How did someone who failed his entrance exams, got rejected by KFC, by the police academy, and by Harvard become the richest man in China and ranked 21st in Forbes’ List of the Wealthiest People in the World?
Jack Ma (Chinese name Ma Yun), was born on 10 September 1964 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China. He didn’t grow up in a rich family so he had no money or connections to help him get through in life. He knew that the only way he can make something out of himself is thru education, but this wasn’t easy for him. He failed Primary School two times and Middle School three times. Jack Ma was a small and skinny kid and he often got into fights with his classmates but said that he was never afraid of his opponents, no matter how bigger they are than him.
As a kid, he liked collecting crickets and one of his talents was the ability to tell the size and classification of a cricket basing only on the sounds they made. When he reached 12 years old, he always woke up at 5 am and would walk or ride his bike to Hangzhou’s main hotel and practice his English speaking skills by conversing with foreign tourists. He did this for a period of 9 years and within those years, he acted as a tour guide to foreigners visiting the city. In college, he applied to Hangzhou Teachers Institute, a local university in his hometown but failed the entrance exam… twice. He tried to take the exam again and on his third attempt, he finally passed. He graduated in 1988 with a degree in Bachelor of Arts in English.
After he graduated, he applied to any job he can get. He received DOZENS OF REJECTIONS which included the following:
- 5 applicants (including him) applied to the police academy but only 4 got accepted. He got rejected and was told that he was “no good”
- 24 applicants (including him) applied to KFC and he was the only one who did not get accepted
- He applied to Harvard 10 times and got rejected every time
Amidst all these rejections, he did not let these failures stop him from working towards his goals. He applied to a local university and got hired as an English teacher wherein taught for 5 years and earned $12 – $15 a month. This was when he had the idea of starting a company wherein people wouldn’t have to leave their houses in order to go shopping. He proposed his ideas but got laughed on and has been called “Crazy Jack” because according to them, who would want to shop for things online?
But he was determined. So, he called 17 of his friends, pitched his ideas to them, and convinced them to believe in him and in the vision that he has – an online marketplace he called Alibaba. They were able to raise $60,000 and with this, they were able to start a website which allowed people to post product listings and customers can buy from them through the internet.
Here is a video of Jack Ma’s original pitch back in 1999.
After years of losses, the company started to make a profit and in 2005, Yahoo invested $1 billion in Alibaba for a 40% share in the said company. In 2013, he stepped down as the company’s CEO but he remains to be its Executive Chairman. In 2019, he was named as one of Asia’s Heroes of Philanthropy for supporting the less privileged communities in Africa, Australia, China, and in the Middle East. As of July 24, 2020, Jack Ma is the second richest person in China and the 21st Wealthiest Person in the World as released by Forbes.
Here are some of the lessons in business and in life that we learned from Jack Ma: