Ma said that when he first started Alibaba in 1999, he believed that the prices charged by such large companies were making it difficult for start-ups, like his own then-tiny Chinese e-commerce company, to gain access to technology.
But, he went on to say, he soon realized it was not Gates or any of the other major names that were at fault. Rather, he was blocking his own opportunities by using a common excuse that holds back many would-be entrepreneurs.
"Most people keep on complaining," Ma noted. "But if you can solve the complaining, if you solve the problems, then that is the opportunity."
For Ma, that meant coming up with a simpler, cheaper technology that could be used by Alibaba and the millions of small businesses he hoped to add to the platform.
"The cost of using this IT was too expensive for us, so we had to innovate," said Ma. "We had to design a technology that was simple enough."
"That's it. We were forced," he said.
Indeed, most innovations happen "not because people want to, but because they were forced," Ma continued.
Since coming to that realization almost two decades ago, Ma has developed a close relationship with Gates, often citing the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as an inspiration for his own charitable endeavors.
However, a little healthy competition remains between the two tech tycoons.
Last month, when Ma announced his forthcoming departure as chairman of Alibaba, he insisted that he would do one thing better than his billionaire peer.
"I can never be as rich, but one thing I can do better is to retire earlier," Ma said.