Making Money

Jack Ma – Early Retirement: How the Alibaba chief is retiring early and what can we learn from him.

Jack Ma certainly knows how to make an announcement! On his 54th birthday he announced to the market, and the world, that in exactly 1 year, so on his 55th birthday, he would walk away from the corporate world to focus on the dreams he still wants to pursue, notably working again in education. Is this the ultimate case of retiring at the top of your game? Who is Jack Ma and how did he orchestrate his early retirement, coming from nothing to amass a fortune? More importantly, what can we learn from it?


Who is Jack Ma?


Jack Ma is the founder and Chairman of a Chinese Company called Alibaba, which he founded in 1999 with a group of friends.

Jack Ma was, by his own account, not a star student. He managed to get into a University on his third attempt, in what he terms as “my city’s worst university”. It was a teacher’s college and when he graduated Jack Ma went on to lecture English.

It was his early interest in English which would prove decisive to his career. He recalls that he tried to get into Harvard 10 times and was refused on all of those 10 attempts.

Jack Ma had a strong interest in English, which started when he was around 12 year’s old. So determined was he to learn English that he would take his bike and ride for 40 minutes every day, no matter the weather, to an international hotel and supply his services as a free-guide to practice his English with the visiting tourists. This was in the mid-1970s and China was only slightly opening up to international trade and tourism. He got his nickname “Jack” from one of those encounters with a visiting tourist.

In 1995, thanks again to his English, Jack Ma went on a Chinese delegation trip to Seattle, as an interpreter. On that trip, in the US, he discovered the internet for the first time and the fact that when he searched, using the internet, no Chinese pages came up. At that time, he knew nothing about computers or the internet. However, the wonder of his interaction with the computer and the internet and the lack of Chinese pages got him thinking and set him off on an amazing path. Of course, he could always have smiled at the Americans showing him the internet, returned home and continued to forge a career in English education.

But he didn’t.

He chose another path and it is way more interesting.


What is Alibaba?


With only $60.000 as seed money, Alibaba was founded in 1999, 4 years after Jack Ma discovered the internet. Alibaba was originally an online market place, where businesses could sell their goods to consumers on-line.

Today Alibaba is a technology conglomerate providing sales services business-to-business, business-to-consumer, consumer-to-consumer as well as online payments, search engines, cloud services and messaging.

Alibaba has a market capitalization of $420 billion and Jack Ma owns 7% of that.


Wealth Creation


Let’s take a moment to reflect on the timeline and amounts of money here.

Jack Ma founded Alibaba in 1999, that’s 19 year’s ago. At the time he knew very little about the internet, and with only $60.000 in seed money was venturing into a new world with very little capital.

Prior to that he had run a small e-commerce business, that he started with $2.000 and absolutely no knowledge as to how the internet or e-commerce worked. He was earning very little at the time and had to borrow the money.

Now at the point he has announced his retirement he is worth upwards of $30 billion and Alibaba employs over 66.000 people.

That growth and those numbers are staggering, but it is more than the numbers and the timeline that is impressive, it is what we can learn from Jack Ma.


1. Having a vision and a dream


“My dream was to set up my own e-commerce company.”

“My vision is to build an e-commerce ecosystem that allows consumers and businesses to do all aspects of business online.”

“I want to create one million jobs, change China’s social and economic environment, and make it the largest Internet market in the world.”


Jack Ma had set himself a lofty dream that incorporated business and social aspects. He wanted to employ lots of people and have his company make a social and economic impact on his country. He was also acutely aware of his vision for the company. All important traits in building success.

2. Learning from failures


“I call Alibaba “1,001 mistakes”.”


Jack Ma went into the venture with a dream and a vision. Alibaba was started with 18 friends and by all accounts, not in a country that was business friendly and without a significant knowledge of how the internet and computer’s worked. However, he knew that we learn from our mistakes. And so, he harnessed the power of failure to ensure he team continually learnt and corrected their course.

It is not by chance that Jack Ma is known as “Teacher Ma” in his company.


3. Success is amplified by a group


Companies are not about one person, just like Alibaba is not Jack Ma.


“Alibaba was never about Jack Ma”


Success is about team work, about opposing views, about diversification of thought and origin. Successful teams are not all alike and it is only through working together can we can pursue higher and higher goals. Going it alone is a myth.


4. Taking risks and sticking with it


“If you don’t give up, you still have a chance.”


Jack Ma clearly teaches us that taking risks can lead to large payoffs. I doubt it was easy for him. I am certain he doubted himself on regular occasions and went through many a dark night, but he stuck with it. I call this the power of long-term thinking, and Jack Ma definitely displays this attribute.

Thinking Long-Term is a key skill to harness, and one which can help you overcome your short-term difficulties and doubts. It is not an easy skill.

Overcoming your doubts and fears, especially with a family to feed, is never easy. Jack Ma is married and has 2 children. Going from a steady paycheck as an English lecturer to starting a business on a borrowed $2.000 would not have been an easy step for anyone, let alone doing this in China. But Jack Ma took the plunge and was all the better for it.


5. Keep on dreaming, but act now


“The world is big, and I am still young, so I want to try new things—because what if new dreams can be realized?”


Jack Ma decided to retire early. Certainly, he has the amassed wealth to make his retirement relatively safe, even if you apply the 4% rule. However, he continues to dream, continues to think about the future, which means retirement is not about stopping to smell the roses.

When we get stuck in a rut and keep turning in circles we achieve nothing. The future is not about repeating the same thing day after day.

The future is about going out there and making it happen. And Jack Ma is showing us again that there is power from just doing it!


Jack Ma is not just a Chinese success story. Jack Ma is a lesson. A lesson in having a dream, having a vision and taking the plunge. As you sit there at your desk, on your couch, on the train or the plane, reading this, ask yourself this question:


“Are you creating your tomorrow, now?”


Are you relentlessly pursuing your dreams or are you coasting by, hoping that your dreams will fall out of the sky and onto your head? What are you doing about your life? If you’re not satisfied with where you are and what you are doing, stop your inaction and go do something about it.


Be like Jack Ma and learn what he is showing us.




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