July 6, 2023

The Story of Jack Ma

An entrepreneurial mind is a rare gift that less than 5% of the human population has. Yet, entrepreneurs play a fundamental role in socio-economic and technological developments worldwide. These highly skilled and determined individuals put everything on the line to achieve their goals.

Some are luckier than others, having come from wealthy and stable backgrounds, including the likes of Elon Musk, Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerberg. On the flip side, we have those who started dirt-poor and slowly transitioned from rags to rich after years of continuous hard work.

In this post, we’ll share the incredible story of Jack Ma, one of the most popular Chinese entrepreneurs worldwide.

About Jack Ma

Jack Ma is a renowned Chinese business magnate popularly known as the founder of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, a Chinese multinational tech giant specializing in B2B commerce, retail, and cloud computing. He is the mastermind behind several top-ranking Chinese websites, including Taobao.com, 11main.com, and Tmall.com.

Ma’s story is a prime example of a rags-to-riches transformation. The self-made billionaire came from a poor background, failed his college entrance twice, and was rejected by several employers when he moved to the United States.

According to Forbes, he is the fourth richest man in China, with an estimated net worth of $22.1 billion.

Early Life and Education

Ma Yun, popularly known as Jack Ma, was born on September 10, 1964, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, South-East China. Jack grew up in a poor background with his older brother and younger sister. Moreover, he was born in Communist China, so his family was isolated from the West.

However, Ma was fascinated with the English language as a young boy, especially after US President Nixon visited Hangzhou in 1972, which turned his hometown into a popular tourist destination. Jack started working as a tour guide at the city’s main hotels to improve his speaking skills. The name “Jack” was given to him by a tourist he became friends with when he was a teenager.

Ma wasn’t the brightest of students and struggled in many subjects, especially mathematics. He applied for Hangzhou Teachers College twice but failed the entrance exams twice. However, he didn’t give up and applied for the third time.

This time, he got in. Four years later, he graduated from Hangzhou Teachers College with a bachelor’s degree in English. Following his graduation in 1988, he applied for the post of English teacher at the Hangzhou Institute of Electronics and Engineering (currently known as Hangzhou Dianzi University). He taught there for the next five years before commencing his entrepreneurial journey.


Jack Ma struggled during the early phase of his career, especially before joining Hangzhou Dianzi University. He applied for several jobs and even got rejected by KFC. However, Jack was making just over $12 a month at the university and wanted to change his life around.

In 1994, he started his first venture – an English translation and interpretation service called Haibo Translation Agency using his savings. Just a year later, Jack traveled to the United States on an Hangzhou city government-sponsored trip. Here, he experienced computers and the internet for the first time and was blown away by the potential.

He quickly found a huge gap in the Chinese digital market following a simple keyword search, “Beer.” To his surprise, he couldn’t find one search result showing a Chinese company. Therefore, on his return to his home country, he closed Haibo Translation Agency and founded China Pages – one of the country’s first internet companies specializing in website development.

However, as the internet became more popular, Jack couldn’t compete with communications giants like Hangzhou Telecom, which launched Chinesepage. Therefore, he left China Pages after just two years and joined a governed-owned Internet company in Beijing.

However, he knew he was wasting his time here because he wanted to pursue more economic opportunities the internet offered. Though his first two ventures had failed, he didn’t give up and was more determined than ever before.

So, he persuaded his team at the ministry to accompany him to Hangzhou and convinced them to invest in his vision. Thus, the Alibaba group was born – China’s first B2B commerce site catering to small businesses.

Ma believed the B2B market had even more potential and less competition than the B2C market. Plus, his operating model was simple. Small businesses simply had to pay a small membership fee to sell their value offerings internationally.

Ma founded Alipay in 2003 to enable third-party transactions. By 2005, Alibaba had grown exponentially and attracted several investors, including Internet giant Yahoo! After selling nearly 40% worth of stake to Yahoo!, Alibaba decided to go public and applied for an IPO in Hong Kong. Within weeks, it raised nearly $1.8 billion.

To diversify Alibaba’s value offerings, Ma created another company called Taobao. Taobao was an online marketplace for direct consumers, not businesses, unlike the parent company. However, he knew he was competing with eBay’s counterpart in China called EachNet, which has over 80% of the market share.

Ma used online advertising as its major revenue stream to gain success and didn’t charge a transaction fee for services. Within a year, Taobao grabbed the majority of the market share. In 2014, the Alibaba Group joined the New York Stock Exchange and raised over $22 billion following its IPO debut.

In 2019, Jack Ma stepped down as CEO and chairman of the Alibaba Group, which had achieved a market capitalization of $168 billion. However, he has remained on the board since then.

Personal Life

Jack Ma has always tried to keep his personal life out of the spotlight throughout his career. He married Zhang Ying, whom he met in the late ‘80s while in school. Together, they have two children – a son and a daughter.

Wrapping Up

Jack Ma is regarded as one of the greatest entrepreneurial minds in the 21st century. He is one of the pioneers of the eCommerce industry and is a celebrity in China. His incredible transition from rags to riches is a prime example of the attributes and skills any aspiring entrepreneur needs to succeed, regardless of their background or financial circumstances.

by Bobby J Davidson

I love our companies  and we love what we do.  For more information on the Davidson Family of Companies, visit www.bobbydavidson.com/about.  Sign up for my Newsletter at the bottom of this page.