Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built by Duncan Clark


Finished listening to Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built by Duncan Clark in Audible. I would recommend this book highly if you want to know how software giants got built outside of Silicon Valley. This book does give a great deal of insight into Jack’s personality, his work ethic, how he motivates his employees as well as gains the trust of business clients and customers. How he dealt with his competitors – Yahoo and eBay, for example – as they tried to break into the Chinese market. The growth of e-commerce as in turn, the government loosened control on financial institutions as well as on business opportunities. I was struck by Jack’s ability to persevere through difficult circumstances countless times.

Some key take-aways from this book are – 

  • It is mostly unfavorable for foreign companies like eBay and Yahoo to enter into the China market, mainly due to government hindrance, information censorship and approaches to localize their products or websites.
  • There are several equivalently important factors contributing to Alibaba’s success: timing, leadership, the ability to seize opportunities, business connections, and government policy.
  • The difficulties to explore other business opportunities when Alibaba is at its peak in recent years, especially after its IPO. Exploiting different business strategies such as M&A and develop new business lines is not positioning Alibaba to crack Tencent’s dominance. Instead of competing with each other, coalitions or partnerships are a better option. 
  • I thought much of what was said in the book about other Chinese internet startups was not helpful, as Clark was not able to effectively draw out the differences between Alibaba and these startups. Learning about why these startups failed could have been potentially valuable to readers in understanding Alibaba’s success, but I felt that the book lacked depth in this area.

And here are some quotes –

  • Alibaba changed China in the past 15 years. We hope in the next 15 years, the world will change because of Alibaba.
  • Today is brutal, tomorrow is more brutal, but the day after tomorrow is beautiful. However, the majority of people will die tomorrow night.
  • Many people think of Alibaba as a story. It’s not just a story, it’s a strategy.
  • A private tycoon once said, In the eyes of a government, we are nothing but cockroaches. If he wants to kill you, he kills you. If he wants to let you live, he lets you live.
  • In traditional Chinese society, people have three dreams. The first is a wise emperor. People hope to have a good leader so that they can have peace in the country. The second dream is clean officials. If there are no clean officials, then comes the third dream, chivalrous heroes. People hope that heroes could stand for them, kill the greedy officials, and bring justice back to society. However, if there are no heroes, people can only seek comfort from martial arts fiction. That’s why many Chinese people like kung fu novels.
  • As a business, if you cannot change the law, follow the law… Respect the local government. WE’re not interested in politics. We’re just focused on e-commerce.
  • Come up with an idea, make it fun, and breathe some magic into it which otherwise is still just an idea. That’s Jack Magic for you.
  • When you are managing a platform with nine million merchants on it, you’re running a country.
  • American B2B sites are whales. But 85 percent of the fish in the sea are shrimp-sized. I don’t know anyone who makes money from whales, but I’ve seen many making money from shrimp.
  • At that time, my slogan was ‘Be the last man standing.’ Be the last person to fall down. Even on my knees, I had to be the last man collapsing. I also believed firmly at that time that if I had difficulties, there must be someone who had worse difficulties; if I had a hard time, my opponents had an even harder time. Those who can stand and manage will win eventually.
  • If you can’t tolerate your opponents as enemies, you have already lost the beginning of the game. If you hang your opponent as a target, and practice throwing darts at him every day, you are only able to fight this one enemy, not others. Competition is the greatest joy. When you compete with others, and find that it brings you more and more agony, there must be something wrong with your competition strategy.
  • I believe that we should give opportunities to young people in China, sharing the future with them… I believe [in] customers first, employees second, shareholders third. We wouldn’t have this company without our staff.
  • It is not necessary to study an MBA. Most MBA graduates are not useful… Unless they come back from their MBA studies and forget what they’ve learned at school, then they will be useful. Because schools teach knowledge, while starting businesses requires wisdom. Wisdom is acquired through experience. Knowledge can be acquired through hard work.

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