Jack Ma applied for 30 different jobs and got rejected by all of them. "I went for a job with the police; they said, 'you're no good,'" Ma told interviewer Charlie Rose. He even applied for work in KFC but as he said was the only one out of 24 candidates to be rejected. In addition to this, he applied ten times to Harvard Business School (HBS) and got rejected.
Frustrated with this situation after graduation in the early 1990s, Ma relied on his English to teach at the local university he had attended a few years before starting a translation service business. Upon his first visit to the United States in 1995 as a translator, Ma became aware of the internet. After doing a search for beer from various countries, he was shocked to learn that there was no information about China online. Ma immediately saw business opportunities of the internet and how it could facilitate the way small and medium Chinese businesses could do business with the rest of the world.
Ma and his friends decided to launch a site about China and its goods known as "Chinapage", it listed Chinese businesses and their products. Although Ma received inquiries from around the world, the interest was marginal enough that Chinapage struggled. Hoping for better financing, Ma decided to partner with a government, giving away most of control of Chinapage in the process to them. Unfortunately, this partnership brought along rigid bureaucracy, limiting Ma's control and his ability to execute his vision for the company, so Ma decided to leave the company.
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Following the Chinapage fiasco, Ma took up a government job, working for a short period at the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation in the second half of the 1990s. It was in this role that Ma met Jerry Yang, a co-founder of Yahoo. They became friends, and Jerry would eventually help Ma to get an investment.
Thanks to his experience in the government and his failed partnership surrounding Chinapage, Ma developed a general distaste for governmental bureaucracy. Later, speaking about this period of his life, Ma cautioned young entrepreneurs to "be in love with the governments, but do not marry them." However, Ma's experience would prove valuable to Alibaba later on. When government officials asked Alibaba for help solving a crashing ticket selling system, Ma and his team offered to help fix the problem free, but in exchange, government agencies had to leave them alone.
In 1999, after leaving the government job, Ma again tried himself at internet-based business ventures. He gathered a group of potential investors at his home and sold them on his idea to find Alibaba with the goal of lightening international trade for small and medium ventures based in China. Alibaba was born out of Ma's unfulfilled dream of using the internet to ease business activities for Chinese SMEs and frustration with the bureaucrats who gained control over Chinapage. Earlier his idea to use the internet as means to facilitate the trade of Chinese-made products in the international market was unsuccessful, Alibaba, on the other hand, was successful and made his dreams come true.
In the early stages of the Alibaba, Ma attempted to raise funds in the Silicon Valley. He was mostly unsuccessful, receiving criticism of his business model at the time. However, by late 1999 Ma had succeeded in appealing Goldman Sachs and SoftBank to invest $5 million and $20 Million in Alibaba.
In 2003, still unprofitable with Alibaba, Ma and his team launched an online auction site named "Taobao.com", which charged no commission, aiming to take on multinational e-commerce giant eBay, which already had the lion's share of the Chinese online auction market. Intended to win against eBay, Taobao remained a commission-free marketplace for millions of online traders, putting the fledgling Alibaba under even bigger financial strain.
To stay afloat while maintaining the platform's commission-free policy, Ma with his team began offering value-added extra support services, such as custom webpages for online traders, for a low price. Taobao eventually gained suction in the Chinese market, and eBay subsequently withdrew from China. Ma reflected on this difficult period later, suggesting that "if eBay are the sharks in the ocean, we are the crocodiles in the Yangtze River." Taobao was the first successful branch of Alibaba, with many additional to follow in subsequent years.
As the dotcom boom came to an end after 2000, Alibaba faced serious challenges due to its aggressive expansion into foreign markets. Jack Ma successfully reorganized the company's operations, including closing many international subsidiaries and focusing on strengthening Alibaba's position in the Chinese market. Later on, Ma widened the services of Alibaba and reengaged its global expansion strategy.
After Alibaba reorganized its operations and made its mark by successfully overtaking eBay in the Chinese market, and with the help of Jerry Yang, Ma successfully convinced Yahoo to invest $1 billion in exchange for a 40% share in Alibaba in 2005. Additionally to securing crucial funds necessary to help Alibaba execute its international growth strategy, that investment earned Alibaba a valuation of $2.5 billion at just six years of age. The gamble paid off for Yahoo as well, it earned about $10 billion during Alibaba's IPO.
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