Six takeaways from Jack Ma and his speech to African tech entrepreneurs

Featured image: Alibaba Group via Twitter

Last week, Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma spoke at what is arguably one of the most important tech events to have taken place so far this year on the continent.

In his speech on Wednesday in Johannesburg, Ma challenged African entrepreneurs to look at problems as opportunities, called on governments to create tax policies that are favourable for startups and entrepreneurs and announced plans for his $10-million African Netpreneur Prize initiative.

In case you missed his speech (which can still be streamed online), here’s what stood out:

1.When everything is ready, it’s too late

One of the main highlights of Ma’s speech was the recurring theme on the opportunities available for African entrepreneurs on the continent.

Read more: Jack Ma challenges Africans to seize opportunities, announces $10m prize

Acknowledging that African tech entrepreneurs are facing issues similar to what he had faced when starting Alibaba in the 90s — mainly around internet access and logistics, and payments infrastructure — Ma encouraged innovators to work around the issues, which he said were the “opportunities” and come up with solutions.

“I always believe when everything is ready it’s too late. Entrepreneurs do the things before everything is ready, he said.

“Opportunities always lies in the place where people complain. When people complain you go solve the problem. The bigger the problem you solve, the bigger the company is,” explained Ma who believes Africa “is full of problems but full of opportunities”.

2.Don’t learn from how people succeed, learn from how people fail

Ma, who said he’d made “thousands of mistakes” at Alibaba, also spoke on the topic of failure. “When you’re an entrepreneur get used to failure,” he said.

“As an entrepreneur, don’t learn from other people how they succeed. Learn from how these people fail,” he added. Ma explained that most of the companies he had talked to had made the same mistakes.

“Most of the (reason’s for) reasons, you don’t know, there are different reasons,” Ma pointed out. Learning from mistakes, he advised, helps entrepreneurs face and deal with the same issues.

3.Put your customers first

Ma urged entrepreneurs to put customers first, followed by employees and then the shareholders.

“The customer is the most important, if you serve them well, they pay you the money,” he said. “If the customer is happy, the employees are happy, the shareholders will be happy,” he added.

4.Don’t think about your own country, think about the whole world

Ma encouraged African entrepreneurs to adopt a global perspective and stop concentrating on serving and solving for their own communities.

“Do not think about your own country, think about the whole Africa, think about the whole world,” he said. “If you only think about your own country, there’s no difference between thinking about your own country and your own village. The internet connects everywhere” he added.

5.Don’t think you’ll be successful next month or next year

Ma also cautioned entrepreneurs looking to launch startups against being too optimistic. He advised them to expect success after “at least five years”.

“Don’t think you”ll be successful next month, or next year, think about at least five years. Because if something can be successful next month, then why you?” he asked.

He advised entrepreneurs to set five and 10-year goals, in anticipating how the world will change, how other people’s visions will change, and how customer needs will change.

“If you prepare for five years and 10 years, if you have a good team, and always do before the government do. If you’re waiting for government, you have no chance,” he said.

6.Three questions every entrepreneur should ask

Ma urged all entrepreneurs to ask themselves three questions. “What do you have, what do you want, and what will you give up,” said Ma.

These questions, he explained would help entrepreneurs focus their businesses and solutions.

Read more: Here’s all you need to know about Jack Ma’s Africa Netpreneur Prize

Featured image: Alibaba Group via Twitter

Daniel Mpala


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