“Speed up, but don’t try to copy China!” and other advice Jack Ma has for African entrepreneurs

L.S.M Kabweza Avatar

As you may know, Asia’s richest man and founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma, visited Africa for the first time about two weeks ago as part of his role as a special adviser on youth entrepreneurship to the UN. There he spoke about about building Alibaba and the things he learned and especially those that African entrepreneurs can learn from. 

I finally watched the video and thought it would be worth sharing here for those of you that have watch it yet.

I’m guessing however that not all of you have the 40 minutes to watch it, so here’s a summary of notes from his presentation:

  • Starting Alibaba, I didn’t target to become rich. I just wanted to become a respectable person and teach from experience at the university.
  • A high IQ is not necessarily important. What matters more is caring about other people. You have to be able to work with other people well by caring about them.
  • People have a lot of stupid complaints in life. I had them too. I complained about big global companies taking all our jobs in China. But eventually I realised complaints don’t work. And it’s wrong to feel entitled to help. Why should people help you?
  • Learn to accept rejection and failure. Before starting Alibaba I applied for more than 30 jobs and got rejected. It was painful but you need to get used to failure and rejection. If you can’t get used to failure, how can you win? It’s like boxing, if you don’t get used to getting punched, how do you win?
  • Even in business, at Alibaba I shared stories of my failure with staff. Failure stories help people get used to to failure. Teach people so they know how to face failure when trouble eventually comes.
  • If your government is clueless about the opportunities, don’t complain. That’s usually a sign of opportunity. If people you talk to don’t agree with you and can’t work with you/partner you, stop complaining, because that’s an opportunity.
  • In China, I said “I believe the internet will be the future. I believe China will have ecommerce!” They said, “but there’s no payment!” I said “well, let’s build the payments”. And they said, “but there’s no logistics.” I said, “let’s build the logistics”. “No government support!” I said, “It’s good, they’ll support us one day”
  • Through this thinking we have created more than 33 million jobs in China. We deliver 65 million packages daily via our ecommerce.
  • The world is changing very fast. I’m not trying to scare you guys but we’re facing a third technology revolution as humans.
    The first tech revolution was just before World War 1 and it was about human energy. We realised humans were not as strong as machines. The second tech revolution was just before World War 2 and it was about human speed. We realised we could not run faster than planes and trains. This 3rd tech revolution is very important and it’s about human brains. Don’t be scared but machines will be smarter than we are.
  • Past 20 years we were making people like machines, in the future we make the machines like people. Data, Internet, Artificial Intelligence, Machine learning. The world is facing big challenges. All the jobs we know are going to disappear. It’s a challenge and it’s also the best opportunity. People are complaining about this and it means that’s a big opportunity.
  • As CEO I think of the future. What will the world look like in 5 to 20 years. What problems will China and the world face and how do we solve them. Opportunities always exist in the places where people complain. If you can solve the problems that’s the opportunity.
  • I’m a stronger believer of globalisation. In the past global trade was controlled by a few companies. The internet is changing this so we are very lucky people right now and Africa has a huge opportunity. I’m not telling you this to inspire you. I’m just telling you the truth.
  • America and Europe have a lot to lose into their future and they worry too much about losing. In Africa you I don’t think you have anything to lose. But I hear a lot of complaints about African problems. Those are the opportunities.
  • Don’t try to copy China. China is is now the kitchen of the world. Very dirty with air pollution. In Africa you build your future in your own way. Using technologies that preserve the environment. It’s easy to build buildings but it’s difficult to call the animals back when they are gone.
  • Think in a different way. It is impossible to copy China. But even if you try to copy China, it means you have no future. Because the world is shifting from B2C to C2B. China grew in a world where businesses create mass produced assembly line products and sell to consumers. In the future, products will be very smart and tailor made to individuals. You have to think about that and see what you’re good at as Africa.
  • Young age is the best opportunity. Take advantage of it. The internet is an opportunity for countries like us; China and Africa. Don’t worry too much. Europe has no successful ecommerce companies because they worry too much. They worry about privacy, security, laws, government this, government that. When you worry too much, you’re scared to move forward. Don’t worry too much. Make mistakes and try again.
  • If you would like to build a successful company: Put customers at number 1, employee at number 2 and shareholder at number 3.
  • Final advice to Africa is speed up.

Featured Image credit: Wikipedia


  1. webmaster


  2. taraz

    Thanx LSM for taking time to compile all those significant pressure points…

  3. Fortune Mutete

    Inspirationally true

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