Jack Ma: Firms should compete on value rather than prices

Wednesday August 2 2017

Jack Ma, executive chairman of the Alibaba

Jack Ma, executive chairman of the Alibaba Group. He says entrepreneurs should not wait for empowerment from government. A real entrepreneur never waits. PHOTO FILE | NATION 

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Age: 52

Net worth:$35.3 billion

The business: Jack Ma has built e-commerce firm Alibaba into a behemoth. Its IPO in New York in 2014 set a record as the world’s biggest public stock offering.

A record $463 billion of business transactions were conducted on Alibaba’s retail platforms in the fiscal year through March 2016. The company has set a goal of creating 10 million profitable businesses and 100 million jobs in the next 20 years.

Beyond e-commerce, in October 2016, Alibaba’s film unit forged an alliance with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners, giving a potential boost to a struggling effort in the entertainment industry.

The mobile and online payments service, AliPay, has been hugely successful in China. Any chance of AliPay coming to Africa?

Yes. But our model is not about globalising Alibaba but globalising e-commerce. We want to enable everybody to sell, buy, pay, deliver and travel globally.

Alibaba is definitely interested in Africa and Kenya, but we are looking for partners to help them with the technology, the knowhow and the funding.

We want the payment service to be run by a Kenyan company, not Alibaba, because this is the only way can we create value for the local companies.

Agriculture accounts for 15 per cent of Africa’s GDP, or $100 billion. How can agriculture benefit from e-commerce?

One of the challenges facing agriculture is middlemen. There are too many middlemen involved in acquiring fertilisers and seeds, and reaching the market is even more complicated.

E-commerce can help farmers reach consumers without going through brokers, hence getting the best value for their produce.

Chinese companies have increasingly been setting up operations in Africa. What’s your advice on how to do better and stay in foreign markets?

Make your customers happy. Do something that the local companies don’t want to do. Most companies going into different markets think about making money: Getting more resources and cheap labour.

But foreign companies should focus on creating jobs, paying taxes to the host government and enriching and creating value for local people.

What opportunities does Alibaba’s Institute of Data and Technology have for start-ups?

Africa has many great entrepreneurs and good infrastructure. The only thing lacking is knowhow. We will invite about African 500 entrepreneurs to China and train them in e-commerce, Internet, data and technology and send them back to train the others.

We will partner with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and universities to have more training programme for entrepreneurs in Africa.

Many young entrepreneurs wait for governments to empower them. What would you advise them?

This is a problem affecting all young entrepreneurs in the world today. Entrepreneurs should not wait for empowerment from government. A real entrepreneur never waits. Think about the local problems that exist and how you can solve them at a personal level.

Many businesses fail soon after their launch. How have you survived this long?

I fail a lot of times, but I never stop, as I have no choice. The loser always finds an excuse, the successful a way. I believe there is always a way. If I fail, there must be something wrong with me, not others.

Business ideas are replicated by business people every day, resulting in competition. How have you been dealing with competition?

If you are scared of competition do not start the business — that’s the rule. Competition is the most profound part of a business. The only way to stay above the competition is in investing in people and improving your services. Don’t compete on prices, compete on value.