24 October 2019
We’re just two months away from entering a new year. And if you are looking for some inspiration to chart your journey into 2020 as a business leader par excellence, this is the story you want to read. Learn how Jack Ma, co-founder of the Alibaba Group, didn’t just dream big, but made it happen. He has rewritten the rules of the e-commerce game, become ‘China’s richest man’ and has gone on to become ‘the most flamboyant tech founder on the planet’.
Jack Ma – A man with great emphasis on learning
Born Ma Yun on 10th September 1964 in Hangzhou, China, Ma worked as a tourist guide for nine years so that he could practice spoken English. Interestingly, it was an American tourist who nicknamed him Jack when they were pen-pals. Although he was Head of the Student Council in school, college was not easy. He struggled to obtain his degree and then enrolled himself at a teaching institute to become a lecturer in English at Hangzhou Dianzi University.
In 1994, Ma started his first company, Hangzhou Haibo Translation Agency. The following year, he visited the US with his friends for a better understanding of the World Wide Web. There he realised that China and Chinese products found no mention on the internet. This motivated him to start his second company, chinapages.com, which he registered in the US. In three years, the company earned about USD 800,000!
The birth of Ali Baba – A global inspiration
For the next few years, Ma headed an IT company established by the China International Electronic Commerce Center, a department of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation. He quit in 1999 to return to Hangzhou with his team to found Alibaba, China’s answer to Amazon. Ma firmly believed in an open market economy that caters to customer needs. Soon, his company revealed the mega potential of small and mid-sized (SMEs) businesses across the globe. In 2014, Alibaba raised USD 25 billion, the largest initial public offering in US financial history to become one of the world’s most profitable technology companies.
The rejections en route – A tale of extraordinary perseverance
Ma’s parents worked as musical storytellers and growing up, he had little exposure to the world of business. Life threw him his fair share of rejections and failures, teaching the entrepreneur important lessons in patience and perseverance. His first tryst with failure was during college graduation, when he could not succeed in clearing the Chinese entrance exams until his fifth attempt!
He applied 10 times to Harvard Business School; he was rejected every time. Ma also applied for 30 different jobs, including one at KFC, but failed to hear back from any of them! The failures only strengthened his tenacity and will to succeed. Today, he inspires people with his stories urging them to remain steadfast in the face of obstacles. An entertainer at heart, Ma enjoys singing and dancing. Did you know that he made his acting debut in 2017 with a Kung Fu short film?
The richest man in China – More than a serial entrepreneur
Four years after Alibaba received the USD 25 billion funding, Ma announced his plans for retirement as Executive Chairman to pursue educational work. He is seen as a global ambassador for Chinese business, and a role model for start-ups.
As of October 2019, Ma is one of China’s richest men, with a net worth of USD 37.9 billion. He also featured in the Forbes’ list of World’s Most Powerful People and World’s Greatest Leaders. However, he remains frugal in his daily life, with humble hobbies like meditation, reading and Tai Chi.
In 2015, he launched Alibaba Hong Kong Young Entrepreneurs Foundation to support entrepreneurs in Hong Kong. The same year, the company funded the rebuilding of 10,000 houses damaged by the earthquake-hit in Nepal. This year, the Foundation launched the Netpreneur initiative that grants a million US dollars each to 10 African entrepreneurs annually, and launched a fund with USD 14.6 million to develop education in Tibet.
19 September 2019
Even as you juggle multiple deadlines through the day, chances are you are checking your phone every other minute to treat your tired senses to a visual euphoria. Over time, Instagram has replaced the office water cooler; it’s where you find fodder for fashion gossip, discover updates about the outside world, and get updates about your colleagues’ personal lives. However, this wasn’t always the case. From a social platform that once best served aesthetic snobs, Instagram has come a long way. But have you ever wondered about what went into its making and how it became an overnight sensation? Read on to know.
The road to entrepreneurship
Instagram founder and CEO, Kevin Systrom, was a child prodigy who got into coding early in his childhood. He graduated from Stanford University in 2006 and went to work for Google as an Associate Product Marketing Manager. However, Kevin always had the itch to do something with the social space and so, in 2009, he joined Nextstop.com, an online travel recommender, as their Product Manager. Nextstop.com is where he realized that entrepreneurship is his calling, and this is where it all began!
Burbn, Instagram’s predecessor
While at Nextstop.com, Systrom took out time to work on an idea that he had in his mind for quite some time. It was a location-based photo sharing app that he chose to call Burbn because of his love for the namesake drink. He got the prototype ready and presented it to Baseline Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz at a party in January 2010. He quit Nextstop.com soon after, leaving the rest to luck, which didn’t disappoint. Within 2 weeks of quitting, he got a seed funding of $500,000 from both, Baseline Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz.
But before he could go full-throttle, he knew that he had to find a co-founder. Mike Krieger, a fellow Stanford graduate, was excited about the idea and the duo built Burbn together. Burbn allowed users to check-in to locations, make plans, earn points for hanging out with friends, post pictures, etc.
The birth of Instagram
Burbn was a failure; people were using the app to just share photos and didn’t want anything to do with the host of other features that it offered. When it came to sharing pics, users naturally preferred already existing apps like Facebook and Hipstamatic.
This failure led to the birth of Instagram as we know it. The duo decided to strip Burbn off every other feature and focus only on photo sharing. They began by studying the competition in the market. Although Hipstamatic had really cool filters, it was a task to share photos on the app, and Facebook’s iPhone app didn’t have a great photo-sharing feature. The duo saw an opportunity here; they decided to develop an easy-to-use app that made social photo-sharing simple, interactive and fun.
After eight weeks of experimenting and prototyping over countless bottles of Red Bull, Instagram was finally born on October 12, 2010.
The overnight success
Within just two hours of Instagram’s launch, its servers started crashing because of an incredible rush of traffic. Kevin and Mike had to burn the night oil to get the servers back up and keep them running. If rumours are to be believed, more than 250,000 people had signed up on Instagram within 24 hours of its launch!
Users loved the entire presentation of Instagram. They got hooked to the way the app allowed them to make their photographs unique without having to give out too much personal information or going through the hassles of building a network of friends. Users just had to follow others and share pictures, which made Instagram an instant hit! Instagram reached a record-breaking 7 million users just within 9 months, including some highly influential celebrities like Justin Bieber and Ryan Seacrest.
The acquisition by Facebook
While most people signed up on Instagram to share cool pictures, they eventually ended up trading likes and comments, making for a whole new social graph. This made Mark Zuckerberg notice the rising popularity of the app. In fact, Facebook saw an alarming decline in the number of people using the app to post photos; they were sharing pics via their Instagram handles instead. This bothered Mark and that’s when he thought of acquiring Instagram. He went to Kevin with the proposal.
Incidentally, during the same time, Kevin received an offer from Jack Dorsey (now CEO of Twitter) to buy Instagram for $500 million. Moreover, Kevin was also being offered a great amount of funds from Sequoia Capital, which he was more inclined towards. But Mark wasn’t someone to take no for an answer and he finally floated an offer to buy Instagram for $1 billion in cash and stock, in April 2012. Even after the acquisition, Instagram would remain an independently managed company.
Had the co-founders not tasted failures initially, Instagram would never have existed, and who knows what the future of Burbn would have been? In the words of Systrom himself, “It’s about going through false starts. Burbn was a false start. The best companies in the world have all had predecessors. YouTube was a dating site. You always have to evolve into something else.”
20 August 2019
The world’s largest democracy, India has seen the rise of quite a few entrepreneurs over the decades. Their passion, vision, and commitment to their dream, despite all setbacks, has inspired and continues to inspire generations. At times when market volatility was at the mercy of a completely different set of socio-economic variables, these entrepreneurs went all in to create history and write the score for the stable Indian economy we know of today. We celebrate 7 such Indian entrepreneurs who redefined the notions of doing business in the country. Read on.
Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata (1904-1993)
Who doesn’t know the pioneer businessman and Bharat Ratna awardee, JRD Tata?His unparalleled business acumen along with his humanitarian works have earned him respect worldwide. He will always be remembered as a benevolent and ethical businessman who put the interests of his company and its people before his self. Not to mention his legendary ability to take risks and think out of the box! Who else would have thought of venturing into civil aviation in 1932 when the world around was reeling under war and the technology market was hot? You guessed it right; no one else did, and that’s how Tata Airlines (now Air India) was born!
Dhirubhai Ambani (1932-2002)
Dhirubhai Ambani, the man behind Reliance Industries, needs no introduction. His commitment to the shareholders’ interests and his marketing vision will keep inspiring generations to come. His keen eye for identifying opportunities, howsoever small, and converting them into hugely profitable ventures at times when the environment wasn’t very business-friendly, hasn’t been matched so far. He literally shaped India’s stock market by bringing in hordes of retail investors in an otherwise monopolised marketplace. His success story is proof of the fact that with the right attitude and a keen eye, every challenge is an opportunity for growth.
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (1953-present)
One of the first women entrepreneurs of post-independent India, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is a name to be reckoned with. She came in as a rookie in a largely male-dominated business world and pioneered the field of biotechnology in India with her company, Biocon Limited, which she launched in 1978. Despite facing credibility challenges, owing to her young age and an unheard-of business model, her indomitable spirit is what kept her going. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is worth $2.4 billion today and is a living testimony of how unwavering commitment to creating a nichein an otherwise hostile environment can go a long way in crafting success.
Sunil Mittal (1957-present)
The founder and chairman of Bharati Enterprises, Sunil Mittal has scripted one of the most inspiring and enduring success stories. Bharati Enterprises faced several failures in his initial years, but Mittal patiently waited for his moment for almost 20 years to eventually incorporate Airtel in 1995, and the rest is history. His incredible growth, despite the roller-coaster journey, to become one of the richest Indians is an example of the fact that perseverance can move mountains.
NR Narayana Murthy (1946-present)
TIME magazine has described him as the father of the Indian IT sector; need we say more? NR Narayana Murthy’s success story is underlined by humility, patience, and a customer-centric approach. In the words of the man himself, “If we wanted to create a great company, we should be optimistic.”He launched Infosys in 1981, at a time when India wasn’t even an open economy and still made it possible to outsource IT services; that’s the kind of vision and courage he possessed!Not to mention how crucial he was to the design and implementation of the Global Delivery Model of IT services that actually keptthe Indian economy from falling apart.
Vijay Shekhar Sharma (1978-present)
Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of India’s most successful mobile payments company, Paytm. From going bankrupt in 2005 to being named as India’s youngest billionaire by Forbes magazine in 2017, Vijay’s journey is nothing short of awe-inspiring. His belief in himself and his passion for crafting unique solutions is what held him back from calling it quits. In his own words, “There is no fun in doing what others ask you to do, the real fun is in doing what people say you can’t do.”
Bhavish Aggarwal (1985-present)
A tech prodigy, Bhavish Aggarwal launched Ola Cabs in 2011 in an attempt to capitalize on the then nascent M-commerce market. He had the clarity in vision to identify the gaps in the market and release a product that would allay the pain points of the customers in a simple and effective manner. Today, Ola is the most popular digital cab aggregator service in India with a net market worth of $6.2 billion. This only goes on to prove how implementing scalable models is crucial to business success in the present market scenario. According to Bhavish, one of the best and safest models one should adopt is running a business with zero inventory.
The road to success is quite often set with a lot of setbacks and hurdles, and it takes unwavering determination and belief in oneself to make it to the end. As JRD Tata has rightly put, “Nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without deep thought and hard work.”