Besides sharing Alibaba’s sneak peek into the future of e-commerce in China, Jack Ma’s keynote at AliFest 2012 was also largely about who he call “netrepreneurs.” And the veteran Chinese entrepreneur has much to say about entrepreneurship.
The point Ma is driving at, I believe, is to urge entrepreneurs to act in business the way think is right – follow the market and listen to consumers. In his usual amusing fashion, Ma says that if entrepreneurs were to listen to economists, then half of them will be gone. He went on to elaborate his point (translations are mine):
Economists are mathematicians and their analyses are based on the past, not the future. But entrepreneurs are people who look into the future.
Ma also said that “small is beautiful” in today’s business age. He shared an experience in Japan where he saw a small shop that is 147 years old and still surviving. Ma described that the business looks small but remains profitable – because it does its thing very well. He says that entrepreneurs who want to grow their businesses too big are crazy. (He says that Alibaba is about the right size.)
He then used height as a quirky example, stating that it is weird if you are taller than Yao Ming. Plugging in another joke, Ma says that it is also weird for folks to be smaller than his tiny frame.
Seriously guys, size is subjective and I’m sure Alibaba is “too big” a company to some of you. It is, after all, China’s biggest e-commerce platform in many sectors. But I think Ma’s point is to keep the company agile, lively, and always ready for the changing market.
To Ma, great entrepreneurs aren’t necessarily from elite colleges like Beijing or Qinghua University. He asked the audience of netrepreneurs if anyone is from such a prestigious university; few raised their hands. Ma then asked if anyone is from his more modest alma mater, Hangzhou Normal University, just a few miles from Alibaba HQ. A handful of hands were seen and the crowd clapped wildly. He added that most great businesses come from graduates of very regular universities – to yet more cheers from the audience.
His last point on entrepreneurship is about quality and profitability. And he aptly uses the recent e-commerce price war (between 360buy, Suning, and Gome) as an example, stating (translations are mine):
I disagree with the price war. Companies who don’t make money can’t be a healthy company, and they can’t grow continually and they can’t serve customers well. Instead of price, we should compete on quality. Making money is ethical and we make money because we want to serve more people in the future.