Once in your life, try something. Work hard at something. Try to change. Nothing bad can happen.
Jack Ma, Founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group
You may or may not have heard the name Jack Ma before. He is the richest man in China, but he didn’t come from a rich background.
Jack Ma was born in Hangzhou in 1964 to a poor family in Communist China. At this time, China was increasingly isolated from the West due to its extreme Communist leadership. Things changed for the better in Hangzhou in 1972, when Richard Nixon, who was the President of the United States at the time, visited the city.
Tourists flocked to the city in droves, and Ma took this opportunity to advance his skills. He would wake up early and go to the city’s main hotel, where he would offer tours of the city to tourists in exchange for English lessons from them. Once he finished high school, he wanted to go on to college, but failed his entry exam twice. After passing on his third attempt, Ma attended Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute.
Ma graduated in 1988 and started applying for jobs, with little success. Ma got rejected from more than a dozen jobs, but didn’t give up. He was eventually successful and started a job as an English teacher. Although he loved the job and was very talented at it, it only paid $12 per month.
After the birth of the internet, Ma got the chance to use it for the first time while visiting the US in 1995 to recover a payment for the translation business he had started. Although he had no prior experience with computers, he became fascinated. While playing around with the internet, the first online search he conducted was for “beer”. After no Chinese beers showed up in the results, Ma had the idea to create an internet company dedicated to China.
His idea didn’t lead to instant success, with his first two ventures failing, but four years later he secured investments from some of his friends to fund his idea for a new online marketplace – Alibaba. By October 1999, Alibaba had gained $25 million worth of funding from Goldman Sachs and SoftBank.
As the company grew and grew to even greater success, it started to attract more industry attention. In 2005, Yahoo invested $1 billion into the company in exchange for a 40% share. This proved to be a highly profitable partnership for both parties. Ma has since stepped down as CEO of Alibaba, but still stays on board as an executive chairman. He is today worth approximately $25 billion.