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Alibaba Group: How Persistence Creates Success


What does one man do after his vision is rejected dozens of times?

In the case of Jack Ma, he pushes through every obstacle and becomes one of the most famous businessmen in the world.

Getting rejected from Harvard almost a dozen times, not having anyone to support his business model, and struggling to make it profitable - all of these are just small pieces of Ma's puzzle

From a modest family and a poor childhood to a multimillion CEO of the well-known Alibaba Group - Jack Ma's journey portrays how persistence is key to any success story.

But what did it take?

The Roots Of a Young Fighter

Not every success story comes from a prestigious academic background and pre-given privilege.

Jack Ma is one of today's most influential businessmen in the world, but he didn't grow up in an environment that would imply his future success. Born in Hangzhou, Jack's parents couldn't provide a luxurious life for their family, and his upbringing was like any other in a 1964 communist China. Living in a country that was isolated from the West, Jack didn't grow up seeing the world develop outside his borders. Instead, he would indulge in typical social activities with the rest of his peers. Jack is described to have been a scrawny child who wouldn't back down any fight - a personal trait that would benefit him immensely later in life.

It was clear from a young age that Jack was sharp and quick to get into new things. In 1972, after a visit from President Richard Nixon, the tourism in Hangzhou bloomed. The 8-year-old Jack Yun used to go to the center of the city daily and offer tourist-guide services in exchange for English lessons. Although he showed interest in acquiring new skills, he experienced multiple failures in his educational journey.

Remember, we're talking about a person who failed his graduation exams 3 times and got rejected from Harvard 10 times before signing up to the Hangzhou Normal University for a Degree in English.

Nevertheless, these rejections didn't stop him from pushing towards his full potential.

The Start of a New Chapter

After his catastrophic period of rejections, Jack started working as an English teacher at a local university. He was adored and admired by all his students, and soon he became aware that the English language was one of his strong suits. So, he decided to go back to his childhood roots and start his first business, offering translation services.

This job took him all the way to the USA in 1995. What was supposed to be a normal business trip, turned into one of the most significant journeys in Jack's life. That's when he first experienced the Internet. Jack's first search on the web was 'Chinese beer', and to his surprise, there were no results. Knowing the market in his country, he saw what business opportunities the internet could offer for small and medium Chinese enterprises, so as soon as he got back from the business trip, Jack wrote down his vision of how he could help place these enterprises on foreign markets.

Jack and a couple of his friends created a simple website called 'Chinapage' where they listed different Chinese products for sale. The same day, they received 5 emails from different companies that showed interest in collaborating with them. At the time, Jack didn't even know what an email was, but he was aware that his vision was a seed that would grow into success. Unfortunately though, besides restless efforts, the team didn't manage to get funding and the website got shut down.

This was yet another failure for Jack, but the child who didn't back down a fight still lived inside him - and he was ready for more!

Alibaba and The Start of Internet Domination

Jack seized the opportunity to work in the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation. There, he networked and built many relationships that would later impact his business ventures. He didn't stick to his government job for too long, leaving it to take another bite from the internet business.

Jack thought the name 'Alibaba' was a great fit for his business. He even went around on the streets asking people if they knew who Alibaba was, referring to a character from a Middle-Eastern folklore collection "Arabian Nights". To his fortune, everyone knew the character as 'the person who opened the doors', and ultimately that's what Jack wanted to achieve - name recognition!

When working on the business model, Jack and 17 of his friends and students wanted to create a platform that would improve the domestic e-commerce market, as well as perfect modern e-commerce systems for Chinese enterprises. This meant giving small and medium enterprises the chance to market their products on the global market.

Jack knew and believed in the potential of this model, but others didn't. Yet again, he faced denial by many institutions that wouldn't invest in the platform, mainly because they thought it was set to fail. But Jack was used to denial and failure at this point, and that didn't stop him from trying to find a way to turn his vision into reality.

The same year, Goldman Sachs and SoftBank invested $25 million in, allowing them to scale up their work. It wasn't until 2002 that Alibaba started working for profit. Jack didn't stop here - he wanted to improve the global e-commerce system as well. That's when he launched Taobao Marketplace, Alipay,, and Lynx.

In 2003, eBay had the effort to expand in China and tried to buy out Alibaba's Taobao Marketplace. Jack turned down their offer, seeing the other platform as competition and like his childhood days - he didn't back down from the fight. Soon, with renewed vigor, the Alibaba subsidiary Taobao outperformed eBay, forcing it out of the Chinese market. This was just the beginning of many more victories, and many more notches on his belt!

Alibaba Group in The Present

From the hard, bootstrapped beginning, until today - Alibaba Group has been one of the most successful enterprises in the world, and Jack Ma one of the most influential businessmen in the world. Today Alibaba Group consists of multiple subsidiaries including:

  • AlibabaCloud
  • AliExpress
  • AliOS
  • AliPay
  • AliGenie
  • Taobao
  • Tmall

Jack Ma's vision of creating a platform for the Chinese market grew into one of the biggest corporations of today that offer fintech, e-commerce, and many other services, as well as entertainment and cloud services. In 2016, Taobao and Tmall achieved a total transactional volume of $478 billion. To this day, Alibaba continues to smash groundbreaking records in the e-commerce industry.

Although Jack has achieved incomprehensible success, he hasn't forgotten where he came from. During the years, he's always shown his humain spirit - fighting against climate change as part of The Nature Conservancy's China program. His love for philanthropy, fighting environmental causes and educational work has led to him leaving Alibaba in 2018.

Jack Ma is living proof that persistence and consistency can lead to colossal success. Even after numerous failures, he kept fighting for what he believed in - and at the end of the day, his story is a lesson: our ambitions can become reality - but only with a lot of hard work and persistence!