Jack Ma Predicts Internet’s Future Without A Crystal Ball

China Daily, Beijing / Asia News Network

Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, one of the largest Internet companies in the world, believes the next three decades will see an explosion of Internet-enabled opportunities and enterprises.

“History shows that it takes about 50 years to complete a technological revolution. The Internet era is just two decades old,” said the executive chairman of the group at a recent meeting with college students in Beijing. “The next three decades will be the prime time for the Internet to grow.”

A self-made man who started his Internet empire from an apartment in 1999, Ma said innovation will be the key in future as the Internet plays a more central role in driving growth.

“In the next three decades, traditional businesses and Internet companies will be fully integrated and they will rely on innovation to push forward,” he said.

This year, the e-commerce giant established a HK$10 billion fund ($1.3 billion) in Hong Kong and a 20 billion yuan ($3.17 billion) fund in Taiwan to encourage local startups. In May, it also revealed plans to set up a special fund for women entrepreneurs.

But Ma, who stepped down as Alibaba’s CEO two years ago, also acknowledged the extremely high rate of failure in entrepreneurship, predicting that among 100 budding entrepreneurs, 95 will fail even before they take off. “The winner in the end will be the one who loves what he or she is on, has a good team, is persistent and willing to take time to grow the business,” Ma said.

The following are edited excerpts of Ma’s answers to questions from the audience at the Beijing Union University.

Q: How will the Internet shape the next three decades of mankind?

A: The next three decades will see the full integration of traditional industries and the Internet. Knowledge, innovation and creation will be the key words.

If in the past three or five decades, the world has been revolving around manufacturing, then innovation will be the focus of future.

More successful enterprises will emerge and the number of rich people will exceed that of today. It depends on whether you are brave enough to take the step.

Q: Currently most of the industries are scrambling to jump onto the Internet Plus bandwagon. How do you see this initiative?

A: Neither Internet companies nor traditional businesses can thrive in the next 20 years unless they join hands. Internet companies which only focus on the Internet sector will degrade into traditional businesses and finally be driven out of the market.

In fact, no traditional industries will die out, because there is nothing called bad industry. There are only poorly performing enterprises.

Just like entrepreneurs who would rather use manpower than electricity-powered machines, they can survive but they must work very hard and are less likely to survive.

If traditional enterprises don’t embrace the Internet, chances are fewer for them to succeed.

Also, if they do, they are not guaranteed with success, but they are more likely to survive and prevail.

Q: How can traditional media innovate themselves?

A: Media should embrace the market and make good use of the Internet. Traditional media organisations are under heavy pressure but Internet media are also struggling.

Very few of them are profitable. The two groups need to work together to figure a way out.

Q: How do you see the current innovative tide?

A: No one succeeds simply through an idea. We tried at least 1,000 ideas and only one of them proved to be right. Every time when my idea or project failed, I made adjustments and gave it another try. I believe that is how most entrepreneurs run their businesses.

Never try to hit the market with just an idea. In fact, the financing environment now is far better.

In the past, we thought 2 million yuan was enough to take care of everything in our entire lives but now it is kind of embarrassing if a company can’t raise over $1 billion.

Q: Do you consider yourself as a man of many ideas?

A: Not so many. It is just that our ideas work for a certain direction. The top priority for starting a business is doing what you really love.

Secondly, start with what you are most good at and that is the easiest part. Never dream that tackling the toughest part will help you succeed forever.

Q: What do you think is necessary to tackle problems like funding?
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A: Many thought that I can tackle the problem as long as I get money. But that is not the case.
When Alibaba was founded in 1999, we were short of money. Everyone contributed a little and we got 500,000 yuan ($78,000).
We thought the money was enough for a year but it lasted just three months. So we had strict plans of how to spend each and every penny.

That is also the reason why starting a business in the garage is more likely to succeed. Rich kids often fail because they have easy access to money.

Funding is important, but it is not the key to success. Teams, ideas, speed and persistence are all important.

Q: The Internet market in China is dominated by Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. What do you think of this industry pattern?

A: If BAT still dominates the Internet market in 2020, then some problems will have occurred in the industry as well as within BAT. I believe a number of businesses, which no one has ever heard of, will emerge in the next decade, defying conventional wisdom.

Q: How would you define success?

A: I believe success is more about the inner world. Real success means that your hard work benefits your colleagues, friends and the society. Some may see me as a successful man, but I don’t think so.

I am more stressed and work harder than what people imagine. They say I have money but I don’t have time to spend my money.

Success is doing something interesting with someone you like and making some difference.

Q: How can you ensure that you will not make mistakes?

A: No one can say for sure that he or she won’t make mistakes.

Our success is made out of mistakes. What matters is how to learn from blunders.

We want to publish a book featuring Alibaba’s 1,000 mistakes.

But never make fatal mistakes. You should know what you want, what you have and what you have to give up.

Age: 51
1988: Bachelor’s degree in English from Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute in Zhejiang province
May 2013 onwards: Executive chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd
1999: CEO and executive chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd
1997: Developed websites for the ministry of foreign trade and economic cooperation
1995: Set up an online information website-the Chinese yellow pages-to help promote Chinese enterprises.

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