The Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, real name Ma Yun, is the CEO of the Alibaba group that controls 80% of the Chinese online business. As the most representative icon of modern China, he just met Donald Trump, promising him that his group could create a million jobs in the US.
The former English teacher has become one of the main ambassadors of the innovative China open to globalization: a more sympathetic face to the West than the communist regime. The charismatic Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce platform Alibaba, is even praised by the new American president Donal Trump who is usually very critical about China.
“Jack Ma is a great, great entrepreneur, one of the best in the world. Jack and I are going to do great things together” said Trump in a recent interview.
Jack Ma said he has never been seeking wealth with Alibaba and his only goal was innovation. His challenge was to create a tool that would change people’s lives, which made him one of the few popular Chinese billionaires in home country.
After failing twice to enroll university, he has been an English teacher for five years in Hangzhou, the capital of the industrial province of Zhejiang, not far from Shanghai. In 1994, he set up a translation agency called Haibo.
On a trip with a delegation of officials to Seattle in 1995, he discovered the Internet. When doing a search on a search engine with the word “China”, he found no results. He then came back with the conviction that China should open up to the Web.
Ma said to his friend “why not creating something about China?” They created a very ugly page for Ma’s translation agency. The next morning, he received five emails from three different countries: the United States, Japan and Germany. Ma understood there was something to do to open China to the Internet.
It will take years to Jack Ma to find the concept of Alibaba. The beginnings of Jack Ma in the web industry are not great. He created a directory where Chinese companies could register and gain visibility but most of them did not see the need to appear on a directory without readers, in a country where internet is still very rare.
Jack Ma is quickly overtaken by other Chinese entrepreneurs better equipped than him, sometimes graduates from Standford or other prestigious American universities, and who are immediately successful with the creation of portals, a very popular niche in the late 90’s: this was the beginning of Sina and Sohu.
In 1999, Ma created Alibaba. In order to distinguish his portal to other Chinese portals, Ma decided to focus on small businesses and international demand. The main concept was to connect local and foreign companies to Chinese suppliers. This was the first Chinese web platform translated into English. As China’s economy surges in early 2000’s, the Chinese Internet along with the B-to-B platform Alibaba experience a rapid growth.
When Alibaba was launched In early 1999, there were only one million Internet users in China. But this figure was expected to double in the following six months, reaching 17 million in the summer of 2000. Today, China has the largest number of Internet users in the world with about 700 million users.