25 Things You Might Not Know About Jack Ma And Alibaba

Before Jack Ma was China’s richest man, he was first an English teacher who failed to land a job in KFC.

His rags to riches story has inspired entrepreneurs all over the world to make a difference regardless of their circumstances. Here are 25 things that you might not know about him and his company:



1. Picked up English as a teenager in Hangzhou by cycling 40 minutes every day to the city centre to act as a free tour guide to foreigners. Mr Ma said: “I practised my English every morning, no matter if it snows or rains.”

2. Found himself on Hangzhou TV in 1995, after he was the only person brave enough to take on some burly men stealing well covers. The TV station staged the theft to find chivalrous passers-by.

3. Dreamed of studying at Peking University but didn’t make it to the prestigious university

4. Flunked his college exams twice and had to settle for a low-ranked teacher’s institute in his hometown.

5. After graduating, he taught English at a university for five years. His pay was a meagre 100 to 120 yuan (S$20 to S$25) a month.

6. Once applied to be secretary to the general manager of a KFC outlet, but was rejected.

7. His first two start-ups, a translation business and an online Chinese version of the Yellow Pages, flopped.

8. Got the idea to start a website in Seattle, where he was a trade delegation’s interpreter. Exposed to the Internet for the first time, he searched for “beer”, and found that there was no data about China.

9. At that point, he had never touched a keyboard, and didn’t know anything about computers or e-mail.

10. From the looks of it, he still isn’t a tech whiz. Mr Ma said in an interview that he “knows nothing about technology”, and that he only uses his computer for e-mail and to surf the web. He even gets a colleague to help him load American television shows into his iPad.



1. Mr Ma, his wife and 16 friends pooled together US$60,000 to set up Alibaba out of his Hangzhou apartment in 1999.

2. The dial-up connection was so spotty in the early days of the company that it took three and a half hours to load half a web page.

3. Alibaba means “opens sesame for small- to medium-sized companies”, Mr Ma told CNN in 2006.

4. The company founder said the name came to him at a coffee shop in San Francisco. He asked the waitress and 30 people on the street, if they knew it, and they all did. He chose this name also because it is easy to pronounce in all languages.

5. In 2002, Alibaba had only enough money to stay in business for 18 months. It turned things around by creating a product to let Chinese exporters meet US buyers online.

6. The company fought off eBay with its online marketplace Taobao by offering free listings to sellers. Mr Ma told Forbes magazine in 2005: “eBay may be a shark in the ocean, but I’m a crocodile in the Yangtze River. If we fight in the ocean, we lose, but if we fight in the river, we win.”

7. Unlike US giant Amazon, Alibaba connects small- and medium-sized Chinese sellers with a wide audience.

8. Alibaba is now responsible for 80 per cent of online sales in China.

9. Alibaba makes most of its revenue from fees and commissions that it receives from Taobao and the smaller but more up market Tmall.

10. It also has stakes in Chinese payment services, video streaming and cloud computing.

11. Together, Alibaba’s marketplaces sold US$296 billion worth of goods in the 12 months through the end of June, which is estimated to be more than Amazon and eBay combined.

12. In the second quarter, Alibaba made a staggering 43 cents of operating profit for every dollar of revenue.

13. The company remains largely unknown in the United States with an Ipsos poll finding that 88 per cent of Americans have never heard of it.

14. But that could change as Alibaba ramps up its investments in the US. Recently it has invested hundreds of millions in US start-ups, including Uber ride-sharing competitor Lyft, delivery service ShopRunner and video-gaming venture Kabam. It has recently invested in mobile browsers, social media and film production. This year, Alibaba launched the invite-only shopping site 11Main.com, aimed at American buyers.

15. In a letter included in the IPO prospectus, Mr Ma said: “Customers first, employees second, and shareholders third.”


Image Credits: online.thatsmags.com
Sources: The Straits Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Inc.com, CNN, Reuters, Forbes, The New York Times,Washington Post, Businessweek

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