He started to study English at a young age and practiced English daily by conversing with English-speakers at Hangzhou international hotel, a 70 min bike ride from his home.
He would give them tours around the city for free to improve his English. He did this for nine years. He became pen pals with one of those foreigners, who nicknamed him “Jack” because he found it hard to pronounce his Chinese name.
Later in his youth, Ma struggled to attend college.
The Chinese entrance exams are held only once a year and it took Ma four years to pass. After that, Ma attended Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute (currently known as Hangzhou Normal University) and graduated in 1988 with a B.A. in English.
While at school, Ma was head of the student council.
After graduation, he became a lecturer of English and International Trade at Hangzhou Dianzi University.
He later enrolled at Beijing-based Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB) and graduated in 2006.
Jack Ma applied for 30 different jobs and got rejected by all. “I went for a job with the police; they said, ‘you’re no good,'” Ma told interviewer Charlie Rose. “I even went to KFC when it came to my city.
Twenty-four people went for the job. Twenty-three were accepted.
I was the only guy…” In addition he applied 10 times for Harvard and got rejected.
In 1994, Ma heard about the Internet. In early 1995, he went to the US and with his friends’ help he got introduced to the Internet. During his first encounter he searched the word “beer”. Although he found information related to beer from many countries, he was surprised to find none from China.
Further, he tried to search for general information about China and again was surprised to find none.
So he and his friend created an “ugly” website related to China. He launched the website at 9:40 AM and by 12:30 PM he had received emails from some Chinese wishing to know about him. This is when Ma realized that the Internet had something great to offer.
In April 1995, Ma, his wife and a friend went around, asked for USD 20,000, and started their first company. Their company was dedicated to creating websites for companies. He named their company “China Yellow Pages.” Within three years, his company had made 5,000,000 Chinese Yuan which was equivalent to USD 800,000.
Ma began building websites for Chinese companies with the help of friends in the US.
He has said that “the day we got connected to the Web, I invited friends and TV people over to my house,” and on a very slow dial-up connection, “we waited three and a half hours and got half a page…. We drank, watched TV and played cards, waiting. But I was so proud. I proved (to my house guests that) the Internet existed.”
At a conference in 2010, Ma revealed that he has never actually written a line of code nor made one sale to a customer. He acquired a computer for the first time at the age of 33
From 1998 to 1999, Ma headed an information technology company established by the China International Electronic Commerce Center, a department of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation.
In 1999, he quit and returned to Hangzhou with his team to found Alibaba, a China-based business-to-business marketplace site in his apartment with a group of 18 friends. He started a new round of venture development with 500,000 yuan.
In October 1999 and January 2000, Alibaba twice won a total of a $25 million foreign venture capital investment.
The program was expected to improve the domestic e-commerce market and perfect an e-commerce platform for Chinese enterprises, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to address World Trade Organization (WTO) challenges.
Ma wanted to improve the global e-commerce system and from 2003 he founded Taobao Marketplace, Alipay, Ali Mama and Lynx. After the rapid rise of Taobao, eBay offered to purchase the company. However, Ma rejected their offer, instead garnering support from Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang with a $1 billion investment.
In September 2014 it was reported Alibaba was raising over $25 billion in an initial public offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange.
Alibaba became one of the most valuable tech companies in the world after raising $25 billion, the largest initial public offering in US financial history.
Ma now serves as executive chairman of Alibaba Group, which is a holding company with nine major subsidiaries: Alibaba.com, Taobao Marketplace, Tmall, eTao, Alibaba Cloud Computing, Juhuasuan, 1688.com, AliExpress.com and Alipay.
In November 2012, Alibaba’s online transaction volume exceeded one trillion yuan. Ma was thus labeled “trillion Hou”, meaning literally “Trillion Yuan Marquis” in Chinese.
Ma has often been invited to lecture at universities such as the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Peking University.
As of 2016, Ma is the owner of Château de Sours in Bordeaux, Chateau Guerry in Côtes de Bourg and Château Perenne in Blaye, Côtes de Bordeaux.
On January 9, 2017, Ma talked with United States President Donald Trump at Trump Tower about how to create 1 million US jobs in five years.
Jack Ma is married to Zhang Ying.
They have a son and a daughter.
Ma met his wife when they were studying at Hangzhou Normal University.
They married shortly after graduating in the late 1980s.
Both began working as teachers.
According to Ma and his assistant, Ma had been studying and practicing Chen-style Tai Chi Chuan, a Chinese martial arts form, in Hangzhou for some time when in 2009 he began studying with Wáng Xī’an, a well-known martial arts master and teacher.
In 2011, Ma hired several tournament-winning Tai Chi players to teach at Alibaba.
Wang, Jet Li, and Ma teach regular classes at Alibaba, at which attendance by employees is mandatory. Ma’s vision, according to his assistant, is that one day people will remember him above all as a Tai Chi master, rather than solely as the founder of China’s largest internet company and online shopping website.
Jack Ma is currently the richest person in Asia with a net worth of US$38.3 billion, as of August 2017.
He has become a global icon in business and entrepreneurship, one of the world’s most influential businessmen, and a philanthropist known for expounding his philosophy of business.
He was ranked 2nd in Fortune’s 2017 “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” list.