在阿里巴巴，我们首先要做造梦者（Dream Maker），我们需要梦想，需要对明天充满愿景。我们同时也要做造风者（Future Shaper），不仅不跟风，还要创造未来。不要试图追赶上一班车，而要思考如何创造下一波风口。
When people ask me to talk about this topic (of innovation), I think actually it’s good to tie back to Alibaba’s history and what has happened in the past 20 years at Alibaba. I think we are one of the good examples about hot to elaborate about how to look at innovation, how to incubate innovation. But, as Dean Bai said in his remarks, I totally agree that when we look at innovation, we always look at from the real products, and when we talk about entrepreneurship, it grows from the real business, from real products. But how do you find the general principles. I think it’s a very good thing to elaborate on and explore. I think that’s why Tsinghua CEMS invited me to come here, and I also want to share with you my personal thoughts about innovation and entrepreneurship.
First of all, I find from my personal experience at Alibaba that innovation is always coming from looking for the opportunity for future society. Everybody knows Alibaba was founded in 1999, and the world tried a new thing, called the Internet. And our founder, Jack Ma, famous Jack Ma, paid a visit to Seattle. It was the first time he saw the internet on a PC. He searched and found some beers, globally. Then he had an idea. Why not go back to China and help Chinese businesses use this Internet to get trading opportunities all over the world. If people can search the Internet, people can find things globally. So why can’t we show all the Chinese products online, so China can have more exporting opportunities. Because, at that time, it was just the beginning of the WTO for China. China just opened its door and joined the WTO’s big family, and Chinese exporters wanted more opportunity to go outside China. So, that’s the beginning. I think to think about the opportunity, how to use something new to resolve today’s problem, to give the opportunity to a particular group of clients is the beginning of innovation.
But that isn’t enough. Every day, we can find many opportunities. And some small, some big. But I want to emphasize from my real experiences, that when we look at all the opportunities, many of them are not true opportunities. But how do you prioritize this? How do you identify some real ones to do this? Then, my experience tells me it’s not only about today’s opportunities. It’s about tomorrow. We don’t always have to look at today’s opportunities. And yes, this is good and what the market needs. If you can see it, many other people can see it. A real entrepreneur, they may identify some opportunities not only for today, but also for tomorrow. Some people cannot see it or believe it today, but only the first-mover who sees this opportunity, then they go ahead and try new things and try to resolve the issues for tomorrow.
At Alibaba, we have a very famous story about Alibaba Cloud. We started to invest a cloud business in 2009. At that time, few people believed in cloud. Even in the organization, in the Alibaba family, we had a lot of debate. Our first-class engineers and team leaders thought, why do we need a cloud? We have such a good buisnesss in wholesale, retail, Taobao, Tmall. Why do we need a cloud? But when the leadership team came together, what we discussed was ‘what about tomorrow?’ Yes, maybe today, in 2009, it’s not the right time to have a big cloud business, but how about tomorrow. Then, we shared the vision that tomorrow, data will become the energy of the new economy. But how can you create value from the data. Then, we had a consensus that if we wanted to create value from data, we needed computing power. How to get the big computing power, but with efficient cost? Then, maybe the world needs cloud computing. So, today, when most people talk about cloud computing and big data, people see them together. But I would say these are two different things. Big data is big data, but how do you create value from big data? It’s all about computing power. Sure, you can have a lot of computing power, but how about the cost. Can you have a reasonable cost to computing the data and create value and feed back to your real business? So, that was the starting point when we thought about cloud. If people asked me, do you really believe this? Do you have a very clear picture of the future, at that time? My answer would be, ‘no!’
I think it’s all about the vision. We think it will happen. If the world will go to the digital world, do we really believe that? We believe? What does ‘digital world’ mean? Which means data will be the energy of the new economy. Do you believe that? We believe that. If that’s the case, that brings us to the next question: How do you utilize that data? Then, cloud computing will become a utility, to computing the data, creating value from the data and growing the future business. That’s all about how to think about tomorrow’s problem and identify the opportunity, not only from today, but from tomorrow. So, that’s my first learning from my Alibaba life. That’s my so-called first general principle.
The second one I want to share with you is when you have a vision, a very clear goal, how you execute. Innovation is not only about the big picture. It’s about detail. Innovation is about how you resolve the pain point of the real customers. So, we always say that if we can identify the real pain point of the customers, then you have opportunity. But the key thing is how can you resolve this? And especially, again, in the market, there are a lot of smart entrepreneurs, a lot of smart business there. How can you not only identify the opportunity and identify the pain point, but also how can you find the right solution. Especially in a very intensive competition landscape. My learning from my Alibaba life is that we should think differently. I think thinking differently is the key of innovation, especially in this new economy world. And people all believe this is a fundamental change of how to run a business. It’s a revolution of the whole society. If everybody sees this and goes to that direction, can you really capture that opportunity? You have to think differently.
One early example in Alibaba history is a famous Alibaba vs. Ebay competition. At that time, eBay was already in China. And they were very powerful. They occupied 90% of the market. But, we realized this 90% of the pie, at the time, was very small. And we believed, that this also ties back to my first point, about tomorrow, ‘how about tomorrow?’ Tomorrow the pie should be very, very big - much, much bigger than it was in 2003. But, at that time, when we looked at eBay, they were so successful that our team did a lot of research, and found they have a very efficient way to do their marketplace business. But when we think to start our business, we think we should go the other way. What does ‘the other way’ mean? It means eBay, actually, at that time, they are doing a bidding business. They are an auction business. Because this auction business is more like secondhand trading, people bidding on the site to get the best price, and they get the deal. But we realize there is a pain point there. In China, when we go to this area, if they are doing this bidding and what bidding means is no talk, only bid, only action – no conversation. But we believed, that in China, the Internet was a new thing. And online shopping is a new thing to most of the people at that time. So, how can customers trade on the Internet without communication between buyers and sellers. It’s very dangerous. There was a lack of trust. So, how do you encourage people to communicate? How do you enable them to communicate, to facilitate the trading, became our thinking. So, that’s why, from the very beginning, we introduced live chatting, at that time, PC live-chatting, in the shopping process. Today, all the sellers on the platform, all the buyers…Here, many of the students, the participants are customers, or even our sellers, and you use this live-chatting tool not only as a communications tool. It’s more like a customer-service tool. I think we have to think differently about competition, about innovation. If our competitors go, I always share with my team, don’t try to find a perfect solution, especially in a very competitive landscape. If you have a strong competitor, if they go east, then the only chance you have is to go west. In this very fast-changing world, we say, don’t miss the train. When mobile Internet comes, people say don’t miss the mobile Internet. Then, today all people are talking about 5G, about IoT, but all of us realize that the revolution comes more and more frequently and change comes more and more often. So, I shared with my team, we try not to miss one train, but don’t try to catch the train if you’re the last one.
In this case, why don’t you turn around and think about what’s the next train. Be well-prepared for the next train. I think it’s much better than working very hard and trying to copy other people’s models and follow other people to take the train. That’s why, at Alibaba, we start with my first point, ‘we need to be a dream-maker. We need a dream. We need to think about tomorrow. We need a great vision to think about tomorrow.’ The second point I share with you, at Alibaba, we say ‘we want to be a future-shaper.’ So, we are not trying to be a follower, but how do you shape the future, create the next trend, rather than just follow the next trend. That’s a very, very interesting learning from my real life.
The third general principle I learned from my life at Alibaba is how to trust young people. When we talk about this great vision, this dream, we need a maker. When we talk about the
shape, we need a shaper, when we talk about the future, we need a shaper. So, where are they? I think all the makers, all the shapers, come from the young generation. Why don’t we give them some flexibility, some space to try new things. In Alibaba’s history, we have a lot of very important moments. One of the moments we experienced about six years ago was mobile. And as I said, when mobile internet came, in about 2012 or 2013, all the people were discussing the mobile internet. And also, mobile-driven internet shopping. But how do you upgrade your business? We talked a lot, and suddenly, everyone realized the mobile transition would come a lot faster than anyone imagined. Overnight, the price of smartphones was reduced to under RMB1000. Everybody had a smartphone, everybody could get a very fast 4G connection, and the mobile internet changed the whole life of the customers.
But at that time, Taobao, our leading platform, was still PC-driven. That was 2013. Then, we had a lot of trials. We tried to mobilize the best-in-class team, with a lot of Taobao experience, and do this upgrading. Finally, we realized that it wasn’t good. Because all of these people, even though they are very young, were very young at that time, were very experienced, they grew up together with Taobao in the previous 10 years, they still had a lot of legacies. Legacies of thoughts. They thought of things from the PC, oh because this a shopping journey, this is a consumer journey, I have to define it like this. I need a search. I need a category tree, so people can find things like that, like people used to on a PC. Then, finally, I decided to trust some young people. Young people without any Taobao experience. Young people generated and who grew up and worked on mobile phones. Today, this guy has become the president of Taobao, six years later, and now, is only 35 years old.
I would say new opportunities need new people. Maybe we have a lot of people with good experience, including me. This is always the challenge for me. When I have discussions with my team, I always listen first. Sometimes, I remind myself to not comment right away. If I, as the CEO of the company, I comment, it means you’ve made a judgment. Why not not comment in a hurry. Just give people some time to try. Maybe they will give you some big surprise. Yes, you have to pay some costs. People will say, ‘yes, this is very expensive.’ But I would say the biggest cost in the real business, in innovation, is the opportunity cost. If you don’t try, you’ll never know what’s right and what’s wrong. So, when we talk about innovation, we always say let’s have a think about what the market needs, what is the opportunity. Then, we have the business plan, then we follow the business plan. My experience tells me that that’s not true. Day One, you do need a business plan. Day One, you do need to market survey, you do need to understand the customer. When you start to execute, it’s all about correction. You make a lot of mistakes. But the key thing is how efficiently you can correct this mistake. It’s not about how to make mistakes. Nevertheless, you have to make some mistakes. So, give young people some opportunities to make mistakes. Then, they will find the right way to get to the destination. That’s my third learning, my third general principle: ‘Learn from real experiences.’
Last, but not least, I’d like to talk about entrepreneurship. I think today, when we talk about innovation, when we talk about start-ups, I think most people care about the business opportunity, the skill set. How are we able to capture this opportunity? But I would say, if we want to be a real entrepreneur, to be a great business, we have to resolve problems throughout the whole society. If you look around the world, you can find that the bigger the problem you can solve for all of society, the greater your business. Yes, maybe we can create, maybe resolve some small issues, just like in Shanghai, on a campus, about 10 years ago, there was a start-up food-delivery business. Now, this business, Ele.me, became part of Alibaba. This food delivery business resolved a problem on campus about how to get the food box. You need food delivery. Now, I think on every single campus in China, all the students need this food-delivery business. But that’s not all. Yes, the whole society and all citizens, they need some lunch boxes, and in the office and at home. So, how do you think about the issues, the pain points of the whole society? If you can identify this and do it, not only for ourselves, but with some real social responsibility, I think you can be a great businessman. And you can be a real entrepreneur. And not only for you, yourself, but for the whole society. So, that’s why Alibaba, I always say, that why we can become what we are today is because our main driver is our mission. Jack and the founding team at Alibaba set a great mission for us at Alibaba 20 years ago, which is ‘make it easy to do business anywhere.’ So, we do our business always following this mission. We are not doing this business for ourselves. We are doing the business to enable, to facilitate, other business people to do business in an easier way. That’s how we think about entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is about ownership, about responsibility. Not only for his own business, but for all of society. That’s some pieces of the thoughts I want to share with you. It’s such a big topic, and we could take a whole day to discuss it. But I also want to take this opportunity to listen to all the others’ comments. Thank you.