“I Was Rejected From Harvard 10 Times”, Alibaba Founder Jack Ma On Persistence
— Updated on 4 August 2020

“I Was Rejected From Harvard 10 Times”, Alibaba Founder Jack Ma On Persistence

— Updated on 4 August 2020
Daning Wang
Daning Wang

Jack Ma, the wealthiest man in China, spoke at the Davos World Economic Forum about his journey founding Alibaba; a Chinese e-commerce website that currently handles more traffic than eBay and Amazon combined – and having recently sold over $2 billion of goods in just 96 seconds.

In the video below, he offered a few interesting tips on his success.

Jack Ma On Persistence After Harvard Rejections

1. Make it a daily habit.

In order to learn English, a teenage Jack Ma with limited resources decided to visit the Shangri-La Hotel every morning and pick up Western tourists. Ma exchanged free tours around his home town HangZhou in return for English lessons and a bit of practice. He did this every morning for 9 years, rain, hail, or shine.

2. Do not give up.

Rejection is something Jack Ma is extremely familiar with and it does not seem to faze him one bit. He failed his university entrance exam 3 times. He applied to 30 jobs when he was looking for work and was rejected from all of them, including a job at KFC where 24 people applied and they hired everyone but him. He wrote to Harvard a total of 10 times and was knocked back every single time.

When asked about his failed applications to Harvard during the interview, he replied: “Someday I should go teach there maybe”.

Jack Ma

3. Take the initiative and make it happen.

The first word that Jack Ma searched on the internet in the early 90s was ‘beer’. Upon seeing all different types of beer on the net, the second word he searched was ‘China’ and it returned no results. This gave him the idea to begin his first internet business.

4. Have no fear.

That first internet business was called ‘China Pages’, in which he and his wife borrowed $2,000 to set up the company. When asked about this venture, he replied:

“I knew nothing about personal computers or e-mails. I had never touched a keyboard before that. That’s why I call myself a blind man riding on the back of a blind tiger.”

5. Trust yourself.

When he first had the idea of starting Alibaba, he gathered 17 of his friends in his apartment and spoke for hours about the vision that he had. When he finished speaking, all but one of his friends told him it was a stupid idea. Jack thought about his idea for that entire night and the next day – and he decided to start his company.

6. Make no enemies.

His main philosophy when it comes to dealing with his competitors is that he doesn’t see them as enemies, but rather as people that he can learn from. “A real businessman or entrepreneur has no enemies. Once he understands this, then the sky’s the limit.”

7. Take responsibility.

In order to start an e-commerce website with a payment system in China at the time, Jack Ma needed a license from the Chinese government. Obtaining a license proved difficult and doing so without one would be illegal. After listening to a leadership panel, he phoned his staff back at his apartment and told them: “Do it, now, immediately. If something’s wrong and the government isn’t happy about [Alibaba], if somebody has to go to prison, Jack Ma goes to prison”.

Jack Ma

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Daning Wang


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