This article is part of the series of learnings I have received during the 12 days at Alibaba during eFounders Fellowship.
To be successful, it’s important to define your mission, vision and values.
To give you an example, my company (and personal) mission is:
To make entrepreneurship enjoyable and inclusive.
So, now you have the mission, how to make it a reality?
1. Truly believe in it yourself… seriously!
In the early days of Alibaba, no one really understood what Jack Ma was trying to accomplish but partly thanks to his conviction, his 18 co-founders decided to follow him anyway.
This is the screenshot of one of the first meetings Jack hosted that lasted for three hours. You can see the confusion and doubts in the faces of the co-founders who now millionaires, if not billionaires. Jianhang Jin, one of the 18 co-founders and former President of Alibaba Group said it himself: “When I watch this video today, I see the same confusion in my colleagues’ eyes … all those years ago.”
“I didn’t quite understand what he was saying, and I thought the whole thing was impossible” — Lucy Peng
That’s what Lucy Peng, co-founder and partner of Alibaba Group, CEO of Ant Financial, and Chairwoman of Lazada Group, reflected on her reaction when she first heard of Jack Ma’s idea to create an e-commerce website in China.
So, if you’re a founder or executive who’s trying to convince the world, your team or even your own co-founder about the new opportunity, vision and mission that you have, you must first really believe in it yourself. And, remember it’s okay that others won’t understand what you were talking about!
2. Think about ‘when’ and ‘why’ they should believe in it instead of ‘whether or not’
It takes time for other people to internalize the mission. People will believe in your mission when:
- They see that plans are actually being executed and objectives are met.
- They see you are consistently promoting your mission.
- A few others will start believing, too.
- You won’t give up within six months.
- The company gets its first users;
- The company starts making money.
But more importantly, you should also ask yourself why others should bother thinking about your mission. Does it truly align with their values? Does it motivate them? If not, they might not be the right person onboard.
Think about my company’s mission for a second (to make entrepreneurship enjoyable and inclusive), a person who has only worked in the corporate world and has never worked with an entrepreneur before may not be the best fit for my team.
3. Repetition is key
Even though we joked about how often things were repeated at Alibaba, I admire the consistency of this. In order to move a company of 100,000+ employees, you really need to make sure everyone understands this message and direction.
During my 12 days at the programme, I have seen the mission of Alibaba’s “To make it easy to do business anywhere” appeared in most, if not all, presentations in some forms: by putting it in slides, inserting it in questions, as well as using it as a reference to talk about a certain decision.
The Alibaba team even challenged us to walk around campus and asked any of the Aliren (Alibaba employees) about the company’s mission; the team was confident all the employees would be able to provide the correct answer without hesitation. Can all your employees do the same?
4. Use numbers
Trying to base a strategy on some advanced and complex theory might sound cool in Western philosophy, but if you’re talking about execution and memory, Alibaba does it best … using simple numbers.
Take Alibaba’s performance review system of 361 or 271. It might look like a strange random set of numbers but once you know that it stands for how Alibaba ranks its employees, it’s very memorable. For 361:
- 30 per cent of employees should be stars (or top performers)
- 60 per cent of employees could be improved either regarding the business performance or aligning with Alibaba culture and values
- 10 per cent should be placed under the development plan or be eliminated
Take another example: 5 Yuan & 1 Yuan
- ¥5 means at Alibaba you should think about helping turn customers’ ¥5 to become ¥50 first before you can take their ¥5.
- ¥1 means breakeven. Many Aliren didn’t take business or accounting class, so they don’t even understand what breakeven means. So, if the company makes ¥1 of profit, it means it’s breakeven, it’s as simple as that!
And for Alibaba’s vision of lasting 102 years:
- Jack wanted the company to last for a long time, so he picked 102 years. It’s catchy but also has the meaning. Alibaba was founded in 1999, so in order for the company to last three centuries, the company would have to last 102 years, not just 100 years.
Now, think about your own company and find a way to implement this numbering technique. But, please, don’t overuse it.
5. Find a cash-cow business to support your mission
This is what most startups get wrong. To support their mission, many burn a lot of money to get there (sometimes unsustainably). But the reason why most big companies can operate and experiment with many innovative products is that they have a cash-cow business.
Think of Google for example. They have room to experiment because they can pull in money from advertising. In 2018, 70 per cent of its revenue still comes from ads, so profits should be a lot more. This gives them room to do things that might not make money.
Alibaba is similar, they have B2B business that keeps pulling in money, so when they create a new business, they can say “we won’t be thinking about making money for the next 10 years.” Now, find your cash cow!
Hope this was helpful to founders and executives out there to believe in your own mission, and think about when and why others should follow. Once those are done, repeat your goals, use numbers to help and construct your money-making machine!
Note: I was able to learn about all this as part of Alibaba x UNCTAD eFounders Fellowship at Alibaba Xixi Campus in Hangzhou. We’re always looking for amazing platform entrepreneurs out there to join our fellowship. If you are from Southeast Asia, Class 8 application is open, here (feel free to reach out). If you are from Africa, our recent application just closed but stay tuned via here. Feel free to reach out to me to chat more!
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