What Jack Ma wants to teach aspiring entrepreneurs

Founder and Chairman of Alibaba Group, Jack Ma, gives a speech at the 'Ma Yun Rural Teachers Prize' on January 22th, 2018 in Sanya , Hainan province, China.
Wang HE | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Jack Ma, the iconic co-founder of Chinese tech giant Alibaba, said he's returning to teaching after stepping down as chairman of the company. And he has his lesson plan drawn up.

Ma is no stranger to education: He was an English teacher before setting up Alibaba and under his watch, the company has been running programs that teach e-commerce and entrepreneurship.

And the billionaire has plenty to teach aspiring, young entrepreneurs. After all, his transition from a cash-strapped amateur businessman into one of the richest men in the world is a one that many would want to emulate.

Ma, speaking at the Indonesian island resort of Bali last week, outlined the lessons he wants to impart in the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Don't wait for society to be ready

Often, people don't act on their ideas because they think society isn't ready for what they have in mind. But it's precisely because there are gaps in the world that entrepreneurs exist, Ma said.

"If everything is ready, you have no value," Ma said last week at the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Bali, Indonesia.

It's a lesson that the billionaire himself knew well. When he set up Alibaba in 1999, few people had access to the Internet, much less going online to buy and sell things. Now, the company has become one of the largest tech companies in the world, with businesses in e-commerce, digital payment, social media and many more.

Life isn't supposed to be easy

Entrepreneurs should get used to rejections, Ma said. Learning to handle rejections sets one up to be fearless, which is an important trait that they should have, he explained. Being fearless also makes people more optimistic, which keeps them going when life turns difficult, he added.

Ma himself has recounted many stories about rejections he's faced in life, such as when he was turned down for a job at fast-food chain KFC.

But how does one develop fearlessness? According to Ma, that requires some mindset shift.

"As a salesperson, you go out to sell something. You should tell yourself: 'Today I go to 10 customers, they will all say no, which is usual.' So, you will come back happy. If you sell to one of them, you should be extremely happy, you're better than you think," he said.

Don't learn to be successful

Ma's journey in building Alibaba into one of the largest tech firms in the world could be called a success story.

But what he did right to be successful is not something he'd want to share with budding entrepreneurs, Ma said.

"We will never teach people how to be successful. Harvard, Yale teach people how to be successful ... When people learn too many successful stories, they think they can be successful easily," he said.

Instead, he wants to teach others how to overcome challenges so that they're prepared for the tough entrepreneurial life.

"We want to share with people what kind of mistakes we make. It's the mistakes, lessons we learn that we make progress," he said.

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