7 Ways to Jumpstart Your Business According to Alibaba Founder Jack Ma

Once a tour guide, teacher, and three-time entrance exam taker, Jack Ma seems to have struggled a lot early in life. But when people look at the man now, they see a multi-billionaire, Alibaba’s founder, and arguably China’s most famous and well-loved entrepreneur.

Too often, people highlight the beginning and the end of rags-to-riches stories. You have to think a little differently to see that the in-between is full of lessons and exciting moments as well. It’s true not only for Jack Ma but also for others who lacked certain privileges when they were younger.

Certainly, you can take a page from the life of the e-commerce mogul and apply the lessons to your business. Here are seven ways for starters. You’ll never know which ones will work for you.

Turn people’s complaints into opportunities

Almost five years ago, Ma said 80% of China’s industries presented business opportunities, particularly those related to the environment. So keep an eye on local industries. Also, listen to what people are complaining about, according to him. You may find your next idea there.

Better yet, look into what bothers you. Ma created Alibaba because no Chinese beers came up when he searched for ‘beers’ on the internet. He has since been known for introducing services, such as Alipay, that turned out to fulfill huge gaps in his country’s economy.

See the future

What is next for technology? The billionaire places his bet on Artificial Intelligence (AI). “The new wave is coming. Jobs will be taken away,” Ma told CNBC at the Gateway ‘17 Conference, referring to the rise of AI. Job automation is a subject that looms in the horizon wherever in the world you may happen to be.

Imagine a future in which machines can do what humans can't. What are the possibilities? And of course, what can you build to integrate or support these machines?

Improve your products and services

The Chinese entrepreneur puts a premium on listening to the feedback of both customers and employees. By tuning in to what people are saying, you’ll be able to gather ideas that will help you improve your products and services.

The same goes for brands who have been engaging their customers on social media. Let the data speak for itself. Understand what the shares, likes, comments, and statuses are telling you. Then build a strategy around what you learn.

Do not be afraid of competition

Business Insider shared what Ma said in the book Alibaba by Liu Shiying and Martha Avery: “I was never afraid of opponents who were bigger than I.” He often got into fights with his classmates when he was younger. It seems that he has kept the never-back-down attitude, which proved to be useful in his days as a startup founder. 

Avoid starting a business with friends

Instead, work on becoming good friends with the cofounder/s you have chosen, Ma said. The point here is not to avoid future confrontations with friends but to find someone who can share with you the burdens and joys of starting a business. That person has to have the same vision and tenacity. In reality, that person may exist outside of your intimate circles.

Be stubborn

Be relentless. It can be that there is only one person who believes your idea will work out and 23 who don’t. This situation is not your cue to quit. Ma persevered. He didn’t give up on his desire to create a business based on the internet, even if only one among 24 friends thought his idea was possible. You have to follow in the master's footsteps, my friend.

Stay curious

Well, that’s a Steve Jobs line. But Jack Ma has also lived the quote it might as well be his. Back in 1994, when he was 30, the then-college teacher Ma went to the United States and discovered the internet. He didn’t quite understand it but still resolved to do a startup on this curious thing. He tried to explain his plans to the school president, who was a Stanford graduate, and some of his friends. But they did not quite get it, too. The 30-year-old submitted his resignation and went on to build internet companies. The first two didn’t pan out, while the third became the big online marketplace that we know now, Alibaba.