Creating the Future

Posted: October 26, 2014 by Chuck Matthews in Startup

Inveniet viam aut faciet.Lucias Annaeus Seneca

Dr. Chuck MatthewsAs summer morphs into fall, there is quite a bit of excitement surrounding the much anticipated initial public offering (IPO) for Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce business. It has been an interesting journey for Alibaba’s chief architect and founder, Jack Ma, (his Chinese name is Ma Yun) to go from pretty much dead in the water in 1995, to the biggest IPO in U.S. history raising nearly $21.8 billion USD in 2014. Watching this remarkable journey unfold over the past 19 years, it reminded me of the Seneca quote I learned from Fr. Schumacher, SJ my freshman year high school Latin teacher, “Inveniet viam aut faciet” or “He [Hercules] will find a way or make one.”

A slight variation of this quote “I will find a way or make one” could serve as the official motto for all entrepreneurs. While the diminutive Jack Ma is not going to be mistaken for the physical Hercules, he personifies the very essence of drive, determination, and dedication that it takes to turn an idea into a billion dollar venture.

Of course, to truly understand entrepreneurship we need not only see the success of the journey, but the process that transpires over time which brings the journey to the present. This conundrum of entrepreneurship can be quite perplexing as we tend to over focus on the $21 billion valuation and not the 21 years it took to get there.

What lessons can we take away from Jack Ma and Alibaba’s journey that informs the entrepreneurship process? Moreover, how can we use these lessons in our new venture pursuits? Here are five tips to help you create your future beginning with this fall.

Failure is part of success. Every successful entrepreneur has either personally experienced or been directly associated with failure in the course of achieving success. For Jack Ma, in 1995, his initial attempts to bring the Internet to China were met with indifference at best and outright hostility at worst. Even his attempts to tie his vision to China’s hosting of the Olympic games in 2008, were unsuccessful. He intuitively knew China could not ignore the e-commerce tsunami on the horizon, but he also knew that his initial failure only strengthened his resolve.

Action takes patience. It is only human to want something sooner than later, but invariably taking action also takes patience. The mythical character Ali Baba waits patiently to reap the treasures of the Sesame cave. Jack Ma knows that patience is born in planning that establishes objectives and goals against which benchmarks and milestones can be measured.

Change is inevitable. While there is always going to be natural tendency to resist change, it is inevitable. The key is to make change work for you and not against you. This is especially true when it comes to technology in all its various manifestations. Entrepreneurs are very skilled at recognizing how change facilitates the process of “creative destruction” and thus opens new market opportunities for goods and services. Jack Ma used the lessons from his early attempts, considered the changing global landscape, and patiently applied them to the next iteration of what would become the Alibaba we see today.

Implement, implement, implement. Often overlooked in the cycle of ideation, conceptualization, and formulation of new ventures is the vital role that implementation plays. The key to implementation is creating a very transparent process for facilitating the exchange of value between your venture and the customer. Establishing a continuous evaluation, review, and feedback mechanism is critical. Jack Ma skillfully used the feedback along his journey to inform his next steps all the way to IPO.

Look to others. While Jack Ma is the leader who has provided the foundation and inspiration for the success of Alibaba, he is the first to acknowledge the extraordinary contribution of his advisors and team. In the early stages of new venture creation, entrepreneurs can often feel that they are isolated and alone since they don’t have an organization surrounding them. There is strength in building networks that become your trusted source of information, advice, and counsel.

What are you doing today to create your future? Tomorrow starts today. Till next time, all the best for continued entrepreneurial success!

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