Alibaba founder Jack Ma's three tips for small business owners

Joe Hall
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Jack Ma is the visionary behind Alibaba's rapid growth (Source: Getty)

If there's one person small business owners would want to learn from, the richest man of the world's second-largest economy who was also the guiding force behind the biggest IPO in history wouldn't be far down the last.

Luckily, Jack Ma has shared his three tips for small business owners in a conversation with American Express chief executive Ken Chenault.

Ma, the founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, said after being rejected for so many jobs and businesses as a graduate, he recognised the internet as an empowering tool for small businesses.

Even his company's name, taken from the parable of Ali Baba who used the phrase "open sesame" to get to thieves' treasure, was chosen as Ma believed the internet was a "treasure island" for small businesses.

The executive shared lessons from his experience of growing a company from small to big businesses, including the importance of employing women, which he described as a "secret source"of Alibaba's success.

"We have 33 per cent of our senior management and 49 per cent of employees are women," Ma explained. "Women care about others more than they care about themselves... they can make the product so user-friendly. They consider the customer more."

Read more: In 1999 Alibaba founder Jack Ma told team to ditch 8-5pm work ethic

Ma's three top tips for small businesses:

1. Learn why people fail

Try to learn from as many mistakes as possible. Don't learn from the successful stories. The MBA teaches successful cases but we should learn from failure stories - why people fail.

Lots of people fail for the same reasons. If you know why people fail and you learn that - you make progress.

2. Listen to your next door neighbour

Do not learn from Bill Gates or Jack Ma. Learn from the people, your next door neighbour - he does the same thing but much better. Why is that?

3. Fix the roof while the sun is shining

My philosophy is repair the roof while it is still sunshine. When the company is good, change the company. When the company is in trouble, be careful, don't move. If the storm comes, you don't go up and repair the roof - you'll be destroyed.

Every time when I feel something good, when my team says 'wow we've had a wonderful year' - I know that's the signal we have to change. That will make you totally different. At a small company, you can never have a wonderful day to enjoy for long.

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