‘See opportunities in problems’ he told a mass of enthusiastic entrepreneurs in Nairobi
By Caroline Mwendwa
Kenya’s entrepreneurs are an aggressive lot. Meet a business enthusiast and he knows it all about exemplary business people, either from books traded locally, media publicity or even business meetings where names of astounding entrepreneurs are hoisted for emulation.
But talk of one such magnate as Jack Ma, CEO and Founder of Alibaba Group; the richest man in Asia, and ranking fourteenth richest in the world making an appearance in Nairobi and the entire town is lit with anticipation.
That is exactly what happened when word went round that Ma Yun, alias Jack Ma would be making his way to Kenya to splash his wealth of entrepreneurial acumen to the ordinary Kenyan entrepreneurs. It was a long wait of baited breath and when he finally jetted into the country, accompanied by 38 other Chinese billionaires, it was a bell ringing moment. Mr Ma had various meetings with the country leaders and culminated his journey with entrepreneurs at the University of Nairobi grounds on Thursday the 20th July 2017. When he took to the podium of the auditorium packed with business enthusiasts of all walks of life, he absorbed the audience with his impassioned speech. What a moment of redefining success in business as he rolled out one point after another from his aptitude as an icon of success in business.
“I remember how I started, in my apartment, with eight people and I had an idea, I wanted us to invest in internet, provide a solution through which people can trade globally and conveniently,” he begun. This idea was however met with resistance as internet at the time was so slow and not as common as it is today. But Ma’s dream survived the resistance.
His involvement in business has taught him that when people disagree with you on a business idea, there lies a ripe opportunity, for if many people find your idea viable, then the competition will be stiff, and there are chances of defeat. “I pushed my idea, turning every challenge into an opportunity to solve a problem and here I am today.”
Ma told of his struggles to break even in the market. “Once we had jumped all hurdles to build an e-commerce platform, I faced another hitch, people were too cautious to use it and so for the first two months, only members of my staff posted items in it and bought among themselves just to prove its viability. However, just as the nadir of the long wait was approaching, the field was rife with harvest. People begun to appreciate the solution this new platform was offering to their problems. It was condensing distance in trade. In no time, the group was breaking records of sales. By 2016, it had transacted in goods valued at more than $550 billion. Today, the company delivers more than 65 million packages daily globally. With this breakthrough, Mr Ma has ranked high in the entire world as one of the richest people. He is valued by the Forbes Magazine at $41.8 billion. However, the 53 year old said that no one thought he would be rich, not even his family. “They said I don’t have genes for being wealthy.” Mr Ma has however lived life wanting to be respected more than being wealthy.
Many people fear failure. Good students are considered to be those that don’t fail. But Jack Ma asserted that failure is to be faced. “I have failed so many times until I have gotten used to it. Failure no longer perplexes me, it’s my greatest teacher and I am always learning.” He recounted searching for several jobs in vain as part of his journey. “I was very unlucky with jobs, every time I sent an application alongside others, I would be left out.” He told his audience how he had applied for 30 jobs, including KFC when it opened in his home city of Hangzhou but was rejected by all of them.
His insistence on sighting opportunities in problems rather than complaining echoed in every statement he made. Ma has confessed to having been a poor student but one who had the proclivity to bring people together towards a cause. He struggled to go to college. He failed the entrance exam three times, but when he got to college to train as a high school teacher, he became a student leader. “I served as a leader while a student because I was always after solving problems.” When he graduated he was picked to teach at a university where he was rated the best teacher. Ma’s practice as a university lecturer opened him to a lifelong value. That when you work with people hope and prepare them to be better than you and that is how you perform the best.
Ma’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is that they should plan on solving future problems and money will find them at it. He advised the audience to earn respect before yearning to amass wealth.
While most African countries look up to the first world nations to follow their footsteps, Ma’s advice to Africa is that it need not follow the steps of those who have gone before. “Look at China, it is the world’s kitchen, where all the manufacturing and construction is happening, but the environment is a mess.” The businessman challenged Africa to tailor its solutions on a different model, minding the environment. “It is possible to bring down a building but once an animal is extinct, you cannot call it back. The beautiful nature in Africa is something that pulls people from all over the world,” he asserted.
“Even as technology advances faster than expected, the other continents are getting worried, but Africa has very little to worry about. It’s an opportunity, seize it.”
Ma called upon entrepreneurs to harness internet and put their businesses on the global map further saying that in a few years to come, 80 to 90 percent of the world’s business would be online.He also called on African governments to invest in the internet infrastructure.
His view on successful business is one that supports people. “Many people in China don’t like me because they say I have destroyed their businesses, but you don’t do business just to benefit yourself but to also help and support the people you serve,” this was the message he kept reminding his audience.
The conference at the University of Nairobi was also attended by Industry, Trade and Cooperatives Cabinet Secretary Adan Mohamed, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Secretary General Mukhisa Kituyi and several other dignitaries.