Get ready to make sacrifices if you want to be an entrepreneur, Alibaba founder Jack Ma said at the grand final of the Jumpstarter 2017 start-up competition in Hong Kong.
Ma had plenty of advice for budding entrepreneurs during a fireside chat with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, drawing from experience gained from his 18-year journey turning Alibaba into one of the biggest technology companies in the world. Here are five of his tips.
Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.
1. A great entrepreneur is always optimistic
Get those negative thoughts out of your head – an entrepreneur should be optimistic, Ma insisted.
“You should be optimistic. Always optimistic. A great entrepreneur is optimistic for the future. And you have to ask what problem you can solve, and how you solve it is different from the others,” he said.
Ask yourself why you can do better than everyone else trying the same thing, Ma added.
2. The people you surround yourself with can change everything
No one is an island, so get together with like-minded people and chase your dream. Ma elaborated: “You have to find a group of people working together with you. Those people believe the same vision. Those people come in to join you not because it’s a job. It’s because they believe the dream, they believe the mission, and they believe the vision.”
That doesn’t mean hunting high and low for top talent.
“You don’t have to find the best people in the world; the best people are always working with you in your team,” he explained. “Train the team, work with the team, the team also will train you.”
3. Know that you will have to make sacrifices
The path to success will not come easily, Ma warns. “Do not think ‘what I will get’. You have to ask ‘what I will give’. Will I win in three years or 10 years? If you have a great idea, prepare for 10 years. You’re lucky if you win in one year – but most people will not have this opportunity.”
There’s no such thing as a quick win, Ma stressed. “Don’t say I want to win next month, I want to succeed next year. Impossible. Forget about it. If you think I will win this in three years, prepare for five years.
“Only when you know what will you give up, then you will get something.”
He shared his experience with Alibaba: “My first round [of] money, I gathered from 18 founders — US$50,000.
“We thought this US$50,000 could last for 10 months. We even counted every cent we spent, but it lasted less than four months and we were almost bankrupt.”
4. Don’t focus on things that are hot
Why did Alibaba succeed? One reason was that the internet was not yet ubiquitous, Ma said.
He went on: “E-commerce was so cold. Nobody believed in it, but we believed in it. We didn’t care what other people said. We thought it had a future, we thought it would help people, so we started.”
Instead of doing what everyone else is doing, be unique.
“When everybody says yes, there’s no chance for you – so be unique. Use your mind, think why you can do better, why you can do different, why you can last for 10 years while the other people can only last for one year,” Ma said.
5. Don’t wait for everything to be ready for you
Move early, and move fast, Ma suggested – don’t wait for things to be ready.
“Don’t wait for the environment to be ready. Don’t wait for the policy to be ready. When everything’s ready, there’s no opportunity for you,” he explained.
What should you do, then, if authorities have laid the groundwork for your big plans? Look elsewhere, Ma said.
“If the government says ‘everything’s ready’, you should move to the other area, because there’s no chance for you,” he said.