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Jack Ma to Young Entrepreneurs: Stop Complaining

By Susan Wang | Alizila

Alibaba Group on Sunday said it had set up a HK$1 billion foundation to back businesses started by young Hong Kong entrepreneurs. On Monday, Alibaba Group Executive Chairman Jack Ma offered the city’s youth something that might be more valuable than cash: advice from China’s most successful Internet entrepreneur.

In a speech entitled “Transforming Dreams Into Successful Business” at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Center, Ma shared insights and encouragement with a crowd of some 7,000 people, many of them college students. Here are some of the highlights:

Stop complaining. Ma said he had met many top business leaders and they are always optimistic, persistent and positive. If you must whine, turn it your advantage. Complaints can be opportunities in disguise. Ma said Alibaba was founded to tackle the complaint that Chinese exporters lacked global sales channels.

Don’t be afraid to change. Adaptability is key to success in fast-changing markets. Companies that are successful one day can fail the next if the business environment shifts, unless they are willing to shift with it. “When the wind is blowing even a pig can fly,” Ma said, “but when wind is gone, it falls to die. The pig hasn’t changed itself at all … you change yourself, and then you change the world.”

Have fun. Tech titans Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Jerry Yang started their empires while still in college. Ma, who twice failed college entrance exams, said he had no problem if students mixed business with study–but only if enterprises are “just for fun,” a way to test one’s business acumen and gain experience. There’s no shame if you discover you are not cut out to be an entrepreneur. After all, “there is only one Bill Gates and one Jerry Yang,“ Ma said. "For college students, study is your key responsibility.”

Believe in yourself. Ma says he recently interviewed eight students who want to study at Lakeside College, a business school he opened last month in his hometown of Hangzhou, China. He came away impressed by the students’ breadth of knowledge and sophistication. “Young people today are much more capable than we were,” Ma said. “I feel lucky that I started my business 15 years ago. I would be defeated badly if I started today.“ Bottom line: don’t be intimidated, not even by Jack Ma. “All you need is to be confident in yourself and your partners when others are against you,” he said.

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