The ability to stay the course can make or break a business — and that's something that self-made billionaire Jack Ma knows well.
Ma's track record comes at a time when statistics point to a sobering reality about the survival rate of young businesses: 70 percent of start-ups fail around 20 months after raising their first funding, according to an August report by research firm CB Insights.
One of the top reasons why those companies fail, according to CB Insights, is a loss of focus.
"Whether young people, old people, ask three questions," the billionaire told a packed conference hall in Bali, Indonesia.
"I keep asking myself these three questions," he said:
Many people usually fail to ask themselves what they are willing to give up because they tend to think they don't have much to start with, Ma said.
But it's inevitable that sacrifices must be made in the long run, said the teacher and entrepreneur. And recognizing that helps people to commit to their ambitions over the long term, which is often what's needed to produce results, he said.
"Don't think you will succeed next year; you have to prepare for 10 years," he said, pointing out that Alibaba didn't take just a year or two to get to where it is today.
Ma said his founding team didn't have much money, knowledge or industry contacts when they set up the company. But they have proven that they could succeed "by working hard, believe in the future, believe in the vision day after day to improve ourselves."
To keep those beliefs alive, one has to ask those three questions frequently, Ma said.
"Always think about these questions, and then you'll be fearless, you'll be optimistic, you will know what you want," he said. "When you're going on that, you'll never get lost."
Like this story? Like CNBC Make It on Facebook