On Tuesday, October 11, 2016, Alibaba magnate Jack Ma made his appearance to address the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bangkok, Thailand. Around 300 Thai people also attended the one-and-a-half hour live session, “A Conversation with Jack Ma on Entrepreneurship and Inclusive Globalization,” chaired by Mr. Chutintorn Kongsak, Director-General for the Department of International Economic Affairs, during which Mr. Ma delivered many words of powerful advice to entrepreneurs and the younger generation and also to Thailand as a country. Our Techsauce team has summarized the key points of the event right here, classifying topics from the session and Q&A as follows:
- Alibaba’s concept & mentality
- Advice for young people & educational development
- Jack Ma’s vision for technology
- Advice for entrepreneurs
- Comments and suggestions for Thailand
- Jack Ma’s personal philosophy
Alibaba’s concept & mentality
- I never intended to build Alibaba into an empire. History teaches us that no empire never collapses. But my philosophy is to create Alibaba as an Ecosystem. We want those people and SMEs who use our platform to achieve success.
- So, if you ask how Alibaba measures its success as an organization, I can say right away that we measure it from three things:
- How many jobs has our company created for the country?
- How many SMEs has our platform helped to grow?
- How many people has our platform delivered its services to?
Income and profit are not what I use to measure success.
Jack Ma’s advice on career development & education for the younger generation
- Remember, nobody can develop your career, whether it’s your teacher or professor or your parents. Only you can develop your career. Don’t expect your boss is going to develop your career. You develop yourself.
- With the technology revolution, I don’t think any senior guys can give you career development. Think about who can develop your career. It’s you, when you seek knowledge and wisdom for yourself.
- Knowledge is what you learn.
Wisdom is what you experience.
Young people should be brave and ready to take the challenge; the younger you are, the braver you need to be.
- Do not complain. I used to be a complainer. I complained about this and that before I started my business, until I realized it’s no use to complain. The more you complain, the more unhappy you are. I started to change myself. Twenty years later, I saw many of my friends are still complaining, and now they are exactly where they used to be.”
“Where are the opportunities? Guess what, opportunity only lies hidden inside those complaints. If you can solve the complaint, you have the opportunity. The bigger the complaint you solve, the bigger the opportunity.”
- We need to transform the educational system. Our educational system seeks only ‘Smart’ people, while the future of our world lies with machines that will be even smarter than people – additionally, they are not forgetful like humans. (laughs) So I really think education should place more importance on creating ‘Imaginative’ and ‘Innovative’ people.
Jack Ma’s vision for technology
- Every technology has about 50 years. The first 20 years is all about technology revolution, it’s all about engineering technology companies. Next 30 years is about implications of the technology.
“The first technology revolution in Europe took 50 years. The second technology revolution in America took 50 years. This Internet technology revolution, another 50 years. The past 20 years, it’s been about Google, about Yahoo, Amazon, Alibaba, Facebook – the technology companies. The next 30 years, these technologies will spread everywhere.”
- In the next 30 years, a lot of jobs are going to be destroyed. BUT, a lot of new jobs are going to be created.
In the past 20 years, we made people like machines. In the next 20 years, we will make machines like people.
- Don’t fear machines like the older generation; embrace them now while we’re young.
Jack Ma’s response when questioned on the future of e-money (electronic money):
- What you get when you use e-money is “Data Collection” and “Transparency” – because of all the data collected, the systems are very transparent.
- A benefit of this is that individuals and SMEs will be able to obtain financing more easily, as opposed to the past, when financial institutions didn’t recognize the little people and lacked confidence in them. Now that everyone has their history of spending attached to them, the big institutions will know you more, and dare to trust you more.
- When we mention Data Collection, most people ask about privacy. I tell you, our society today has less privacy than it did before, and it’s becoming more and more common. If you ask me whether I’d rather give my personal data to a machine or a human, I would say giving it to people is a lot more scary. (laughs) It’s like some stories that you don’t want to share with your friends, but you tell it to a doctor in the hospital.
- Prior to the era of banking institutions, people didn’t trust banks, and they didn’t want to deposit their money in banks. Later, they learned that putting your money in a bank is better than keeping it in a jar or under a pillow. So it is with e-money – what you should do is adapt and familiarize yourself with it.
- The government and banks, should work on a system to have inclusive financing, making sure those people who need money can find it.
His advice for entrepreneurs
- When asked how small businesses can convince others to believe in them and back them up financially, Jack Ma responded:
Don’t try to convince the big organizations who have already succeeded (because they think they’ve already succeeded). Instead, convince those who want to succeed. When I first did Alibaba, I tried to sell my vision to a lot of big companies but none of them bought it. So my alternative method was to reach out to the new generation.
- I don’t think that entrepreneurs are created in schools or even in MBA programs. “Entrepreneurship can be discovered and developed but not educated” – this is what I believe.
“A customer base doesn’t materialize overnight. It takes time to build one. I always say don’t build a Marketing team or a Sales team but a Service team and instead persuade your customers to become your vessels for Marketing and Sales.”
Jack Ma’s opinion and words of advice for Thailand
When asked about agricultural e-commerce:
- The farmers may not know how to use computers, but today many of them are already accustomed to mobile. So I think it’s not too difficult to educate them to buy and sell agricultural products on an e-commerce platform. But I think several other components are required, such as an e-payment system and also to encourage the export of goods on the platform. All parties including the government should cooperate on this issue to systemize the processes.
- I think agriculture is very interesting, and it is the hallmark of Thailand. Even us Chinese really enjoy Thai fruits.
“Typically we’ve only seen B2C models where businesses sell to the general public. But I think now in the future we will see C2B models where farmers or the general public can sell to the business sector.”
Jack Ma’s personal philosophy
“I would say, don’t trust the books. There are about 50 books written about us, and I’m shy of reading them because I know a lot of them are not true. I remember once I was in China on the airplane. I found a magazine, and I was reading about some great young people doing something. And I said, “Wow, that’s a great guy!” And then I realized it was talking about me.”
- You don’t need to read those books about me. They write about me from the perspective of success, but in reality I’m a person who’s failed countless times.
“People never see – for every 5 successful companies we made, we made more than 5000 mistakes.”
- I tried applying for more than 30 jobs, and never got accepted. I got used to rejection and failure.
- I’m lucky that I wasn’t highly educated, or born good looking. (laughs) That’s why I met really good friends, friends who believe in me – the real me.
- I remember when I started my business. My parents did not like it. They said, “You’re a teacher, you’re a lecturer in a university. Why are you giving up, doing something that never existed before in history?” Even my wife doubted about it. All of my friends – I invited 24 of my friends – to discuss in my home (that was the year 1995), telling them about something I wanted to do in the future. After I talked for about 2 hours, 23 of them said NO, forget about it. Only one person said, “Ah, well, if you really want to do it, then maybe try for a couple of years – and then go back to school.”
- A lot of things you want to do, people may not like. But you have to believe in them. When you start to do them, the things that people don’t like and don’t understand, surely you will not get a lot of support.
- I don’t know technology – I’m not a technology background guy. But because I don’t know technology, I also know that a lot of businesses – small businesses, SMEs, are scared of technology – so, [my question was,] how can we make technology very simple? I was the product tester. Anything my engineers made, I would try it. If I could not use it, forget it – 80% of people cannot use it.
- We should learn from those people in the neighborhood. They open a small restaurant. With great business. These are the people we should learn from. Start little by little, and you can do better things.
I’m thankful for the small businesses. And I respect the small business entrepreneurs. When I talk to them, I feel excited. I can talk with them for hours on end. I always learn a lot from them, because SMEs, their eyes are full of hope. Full of passion. But when I talk to big businesses, their eyes are full of money, competition.
As entrepreneurs, think about how you can help others. Not others help you. No one wants to make friends with people full of money. People love to make friends with you because you have inspiration, dreams, you have hope, you have passion. It’s not about money. If you have these things, money will follow.
Jack Ma’s 3 general words of advice:
- Always use your brain to think. When people say Yes, when everybody says Yes, just stop one minute, think about it – why it is Yes? Is it a possible No? When everybody doesn’t like it, take one minute, think about it. There may be something right about it. So, always use your mind to think independently. Do not follow the general thinking. If, after 2 or 3 minutes, you think Yes, most people are right, then follow.
- Be Optimistic. When you’re small, you should have a big heart. When you’re big, you should do small deeds. There are about 10,000 times I might have given up. But every time I would say, just for three more days, another three days, I may survive. So, magic always stays for the next three days. If you give up – in this world, the EASIEST thing is to give up – but it’s so difficult to come back.
“Today is difficult. And tomorrow is much more difficult. The day after tomorrow is beautiful, but most people die tomorrow evening. So if you want to see the sunshine of the day after tomorrow, you have to work very hard. If you’re not ready for the future, if you’re not ready to take the sufferings for today, you will never have a bright future.”
- Partner with others. Nothing can be achieved by yourself. You have to find good partners, and that takes time. Everything takes time before you will see results. Be patient, and magic will happen.
Personal philosophy on money:
- Back in 1999, at the start of Alibaba, I told my team that even if no one invested in us or funded us, we wouldn’t borrow money from our parents or friends. I said to them, “Nobody is allowed to borrow money from your parents because I don’t want to spend your parents’ pension. Nobody is allowed to borrow money from friends, because we’re all young people, we should take responsibility for what we committed.” Eighteen of us put our pocket money on the table. It was $50,000 US dollars. For $50,000, we would last for about 10 months. My team and I fought alone. We agreed that if we’d used up the money 10 months later and nobody invested in us, we would all go looking for a new job together.
- Financing is a problem to any company, whether you are small or big. Big companies also say, I need more money, right? So financing is always a problem! When you want to borrow money, banks do not give you money. If you ask for money, there is no money. That is very natural. If you ask for help, nobody helps you! That is very natural. If everybody helps you, this is NOT normal.
- Spend money carefully. And, convince people. Convince those people who trust in you. And be responsible for their trust.
“I heard a lot of young people say, “If I have money, I’m going to achieve this.” Haha. I don’t like these kind of young people. I love to talk to those entrepreneurs who say, “I don’t have money – but I still can make this thing happening.” This is entrepreneurship.”
“Today many companies are having trouble not because they don’t have money, but because they have too much money. When you don’t have money, everything you do, you’re very careful. You think, if I don’t do it right, I’ll go bankrupt tomorrow. When you have a lot of money, you start to do stupid things. When you don’t have money, you don’t have a chance to do stupid things.”
- I have a lot of money. Although, I believe this money does not belong to me. My philosophy of money is that when you have 1 million or 2 million dollars, you are the happiest guy in the world. When you have 100 million or 200 million dollars, or 10 million or 20 million dollars, you have a problem. You start thing about the valuation and devaluation of money, should you put it in the bank, or should you buy the stocks, or invest, a lot of problems come. When you have 1 billion dollars, that’s not your money. That’s the trust that society’s given to you. Because the society believes you can spend money smarter and wiser than most people. It’s a responsibility. How many beds you can sleep in? One bed. How many dinners you can eat everyday? Maybe three dinners. (chuckles) How many clothes you can wear? People like me, I don’t need good clothes. Whether I have good clothes, I’m good looking. Bad clothes, still good looking. So, forget about that! (laughs) Think about what money is. Money is responsibility. Money is the trust that people give you. Money is a blessing.
- Experience means more to me than Power or Money.
To this day, I’m still scared to speak in public. That’s why I say only the things I believe in.
At the end of the session, Jack Ma was asked one final question: “Today you are accepted as a very successful person, and everyone knows you. Is there any achievement that you still want for your life?” He revealed the following:
“I want to go back to teaching. I love teaching, and I have already built a school.”
“This past time has been a time for me to gather money, but now is time for me to live – relax, chill at the beach. I want to go to Phuket,” he laughed.
“I want to die peacefully in the classroom or at the beach, not in my office,” Jack Ma concluded, to the sound of laughter around the room. It was apparent that everyone had been filled to the brim with inspiration and ideas, and the good humor of this man. Even if he stated that to this day he’s still afraid of public speaking, Jack Ma just demonstrated to us clearly that aside from being an outstanding entrepreneur, he is also an excellent public speaker.
We would like to thank the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs and all related agencies for arranging this special event.