The highlight of day one at the Web 2.0 conference was without doubt, the interview with Jack Ma, the founder and CEO of Alibaba.com in China. I knew who he was but this was the first time I heard him speak. What a character; self-made, streetwise arrogant and aggressive. Surely he is the Antonio Montana of the Internet. That’s Scarface, for those of you who don’t remember; an immortal character played by Al Pacino, and I confess, an inspiration for all 1st generation immigrants in America.
He’s built China’s biggest ecommerce site and auction site and sold 40% ownership to Yahoo last year for $1B, and took over Yahoo China. He’s also beat Ebay in China owning 70% of the auction market. He was asked “Is Ebay dead?” His answer was “Ebay is not dead, Ebay China is half dead. Ebay USA is not dead…yet” He was asked “Do you really think you can take on Ebay USA” and the answer was inspiring “you have to believe you can otherwise its not worth it” If that doesn’t sound like Antonio Montana I don’t know what does.
He was offered John Batelle’s book about Google and Jack said he refuses to read it. “If I read it, I will be influenced by them and think like them. I have to form my own opinions. I want to be the influencer. I want somebody to write the book about Alibaba” We are not used to hearing people talk like this and it is refreshing. Henry Kissinger was like this. He would not read opinion articles, only facts. He used to say, “I just want to get the facts, and I can form my own opinions myself.” This is not arrogance, this is self-confidence in its finest. But Jack is arrogant as well.
He is arrogant because he referred to himself in the third person a number of times. He said “to beat Alibaba in China you need to find a tough guy like Jack”. This is surprising because I thought Chinese people regarded humility is a virtue. In any case, don’t be fooled, anybody who refers to himself in the third person is an egomaniac. Baris is right on this, it takes one to know one :-)
The most interesting comment though, was one of the last. He was asked “so will you invade the US?” He said “invade? That’s a big word. We are coming to help you.” This is probably what the Brits told the Chinese many years ago.