Business Lessons From Alibaba Founder, Jack Ma – Strategy With RS

Many of us admire Jack Ma & Alibaba, the company he has built.

I want to share with you the universal lessons that we can learn from Jack Ma. He implemented them while building Alibaba. Result? It catapulted it into becoming a valuable company.

Disclosure: I have sourced these lessons from a fascinating book I had the privilege of reading– Alibaba’s World by Porter Erisman:

1. Never underestimate yourself: Jack Ma was trained to be a teacher not a CEO. But through hard work, self-education & openness to new ideas he metamorphosed into a world class CEO. If you want to know where talent resides, then all you have to do is look into the mirror & believe in what it reflects back! Yes we all have the potential to transform into a world class professional if we work hard, keep on learning everyday & are open to new ideas.

2. Never overestimate your competitor: Just as we should not underestimate our self, similarly we should not overestimate our competitors.

3. Bigger the problem bigger the opportunity: The problem with opportunity is that it always comes disguised as hard work. When Alibaba opened for business, in China; there were many insurmountable problems for e-commerce to take off . But Jack Ma took it up as a challenge & built an e-commerce infrastructure from grounds up & positioned Alibaba to capture a great share of the rewards – & it did.

4. Today is tough but day after tomorrow is beautiful: This is among Jack Ma’s favorite quote. It helps people in Alibaba stay focused on long term because it makes them realize that just as joy is a part of a start-up company so is pain – the only way to building something enduring is to endure a lot of pain & struggle. It is a tested way to secure the future of the company

5. Focus on the customers & rest will follow: Alibaba credo is, “Customers first, employees second & investors third.’ Contrast this with conventional wisdom which places shareholders interest first!

6. Learn from competitors but never copy them. Copy them you will die: This is what Jack Ma professes. Ignoring this maxim, will get a company to become competitor obsessed. Result? The company’s face will be facing the competitors’ and the back will be towards the customers!

7. Chase one rabbit – at a time: Rabbit is a metaphor for opportunity. If you chase too many rabbits (opportunities), all the rabbits will escape. A prudent wolf chooses to chase one rabbit at a time … if he chases many rabbits simultaneously then chances are good that all of them will escape!

8. Do not change rabbit in between the chase: If you decide to change the rabbit you wish to chase then chances are both rabbits – the one you were chasing & the one you wish to chase now will both escape. How can businesses implement this axiom? Good businesses have a clearly crafted mission statement, which define the reason why they exist. Once defined, a business has to relentlessly pursue it. But if a company keeps on changing its mission midway, it will be akin to changing the rabbit you wish to pursue in the middle of the pursuit.

9. Be as fast as a rabbit but have patience as a turtle: An entrepreneur has to work on 2 different track at the same time – take decisions which will pay off in the long term – this requires patience, as well as to take decisions which will bear fruits in the short term – fast. This keeps the company balanced!

10. It is more important to be best than first: Many entrepreneurs panic when they realize that somebody has already launched a similar product. This should not worry them. To overcome this anxiety, let me share with you Steve Jobs advice he offered himself & others who found themselves in the similar situation – leapfrog the competition by launching a better product with which people will fall in love! This can happen when you build a better product!

11. Buy an Umbrella when you do not need it: The best time, according to Jack Ma to get funds when you do not need it. The converse – you go scouting for funds when you need it badly then the lender will extract their pound of flesh by capitalising on your misfortune.





In this series, Rajesh Srivastava, Business Strategist and Visiting Faculty at IIM Indore gives you a regular dose of strategy case studies to help you think and keep you one step ahead as a professional as compared to your peers. Rajesh is an alumnus of IIM Bangalore and IIT Kanpur and has over 2 decades of experience in the FMCG industry. All previous Strategy with RS posts can be found here.



Rajesh Srivastava

Ramji, yes we should practice these leanings …only then will they become ours!

Rajesh Srivastava

Ravikumar indeed they are great lessons to learn … and of course to practice.


” buy an umbrella, when you don’t need it “. But don’t you think so that adding funds early and keeping them spare would add to the cost.
Since definitely the company would have taken it in advance for a short period of time, hence kept as retained earnings.
A good option would be to take in advance for a longer period and reinvest them such that they can withdraw it as and when needed.

Rajesh Srivastava

1. The essence of this principle is to get funds commitment … you may draw upon them at a later date … there are several ways in which fund/s can be raised which do not lead to payment of interest
2. Retained earning is a different concept …

Akhil Agarwal

Rajesh Sir …Can you please elaborate the Umbrella part.Accumulating the funds when you don’t need it ,will only bring misfortune to the company as you have to pay the interest on it.
And many times due to large funding we may take hasty decisions which consequently result in a loss

Rajesh Srivastava

Akhil take Over Draft facility that a company may have with a bank. The company has to pay interest on the drawn amount only when it draws from the OD facility. If it does not draw then it has to pay any charge, not even commitment charge!

Rajesh Srivastava

Akshay I agree. But we face similar dilemma in our personal lives also – when we have to choose our life partner.