iPrice embarked on a study to find out how Ma met his founders. Source: Shutterstock

The unexpected ways Jack Ma met his founders

ON 10 September 2018, Jack Ma announced his successor and plans to retire from Alibaba Group in 2019 at the age of 54.

In a 19 year-in-the-making the success, Ma has led the company from his humble beginnings back in his apartment, to now what is known as an e-commerce giant worth US$420 billion today.

Along with the announcement, Daniel Zhang was named the successor of Ma as Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group.

Jack Ma is notably the face of Alibaba, however, there are in fact, 17 other significant individuals that co-founded the e-commerce giant since its inception in 1999.

But who are they? To uncover the 18 founding members of Alibaba Group, we embarked on a study to find out how Ma met his founders and how he got them on board to realize the e-commerce vision.

Ma’s exceptional networking capabilities that led to the unparalleled rise of Alibaba Group

From this report, we found several unique insights on how Ma met his founders. Among the key findings was that Ma’s connections were established through his avenues such as his ex-students, ex-colleagues, mutual friends and like-minded entrepreneurs.

Additionally, the founders had prior experience in diverse industries such as journalism, investment banking, web developers, education and many others.

The diverse number of expertise in Alibaba’s founding team was hugely beneficial in the long run and was unlike other successful tech giants where they usually had three or fewer number of founders.

As such, Ma’s 18-person team of founders were able to achieve success at a rapid pace, making them the 2nd most valuable companies in Asia in 2018.

Ma’s big vision for e-commerce was highly convincing as well because he was able to persuade a number of exceptional individuals to join him in his risky venture.

Ma was able to persuade a number of exceptional individuals to join his business. Source: Shutterstock

Among the founders was an investment banker, Joseph Tsai, who took a major pay cut from a US$700k annual salary to a US$50 monthly salary to join Ma’s business venture.

Over time, his move proved to be the best decision as Tsai is now the Vice Executive Chairman and co-founder of Alibaba Group and ranks as the second-largest individual shareholder after chairman Jack Ma.

Amongst the 18 founders were six women who now hold top-level management roles, such as Lucy Peng.

She was recently appointed as the CEO of Lazada in March 2018 while a majority of women founders’ members still hold significant roles within Alibaba and its subsidiaries today.

Ma has publicly stated “one of the secret sauces of Alibaba is we have a lot of women”. Previously, Ma stated that 47 percent of Alibaba’s staff consisted of women and 33 percent of them held senior roles.

More importantly, the stories mentioned above were just a few of the many unique stories of how Ma met his fellow founders prior to the infamous apartment meeting in 1999.

Who are Alibaba’s founders? Source: iPrice Group

Jack Ma – Executive Chairman, Alibaba Group

  • Ma was born on September 10, 1964, in Hangzhou, China, at the time of communism. In 1988, Ma successfully earned his degree in English from Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute. Later, Ma even became an English and International Trade lecturer at the Hangzhou Dianzi University. Eventually, he ventured into business and founded China Yellow Pages, the first Internet company in the country. Ma also managed an information technology company for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Trade and Commerce. Later in 1999, Ma initiated a meeting in his apartment together with his 17 founders to develop their first eCommerce venture which is now known to be the giant Alibaba Group.
  • Today, Ma is the CEO and Chairman of Alibaba which has grown exponentially since its inception in 1999. Currently, Alibaba has more than 79 million users in 240 countries with six active subsidiaries namely: Alibaba.com, Tmall.com, eTao, Alibaba Cloud Computing, Taobao Marketplace, and Yahoo! China.
  • At age 54, Ma announced his retirement as Chairman of Alibaba Group in one year to concentrate his efforts in philanthropy and education, passing the baton to Daniel Zhang.

Jin Jianhang – President, Alibaba Group

  • Jin Jianhang was a top performing student from Fudan Journalism School and has worked at numerous Chinese Media such as Zhejiang Daily and Intl. Business Daily.
  • Jin first encountered Ma during an interview with him back when he was with China Yellow Pages.
  • Later in 1999, Ma started Alibaba Group along with his trusted friends where Jianhang decided to get on board the Alibaba venture.

Joseph Tsai – Executive Vice Chairman, Alibaba Group

  • Tsai has an undergraduate degree in Economics and East Asian studies and a law degree. Prior to meeting Ma, Tsai was an investment banker earning approximately US$700k annually.
  • Deeply inspired by Jack’s charisma and his idea for Alibaba, he made a daring move to give up his high-end job to join Alibaba in 1999 and earned only US$50 monthly.
  • Today Tsai is the Vice Executive Chairman and co-founder of Alibaba Group and ranks as its second-largest individual shareholder after chairman Jack Ma.

Lucy Peng – CEO, Lazada

  • Similar to Ma, Peng began her career as a teacher at the Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics. She married Sun Tongyu, in 1997.
  • Peng quit teaching in 1999 to join her husband, Sun Tongyu as part of the 18-strong Alibaba founding team.
  • She was recently assigned as the CEO of Lazada following Alibaba’s investment of an additional US$2 billion into the marketplace.

Cathy Zhang – Married to Jack Ma, a full-time homemaker

  • Zhang first met Ma at the Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute. Soon after graduation, they got married.
  • In 1999, Jack told Zhang about his plan for Alibaba and along with other partners began working towards the vision.
  • Zhang was in Alibaba’s management team and now dedicates her time raising a family with Ma.

Eddie Wu – Chairman, AliHealth

  • Wu graduated with a Computer Science degree from the Zhejiang University of Technology in 1996 and later joined China Yellow Pages where he was acquainted with Jack Ma.
  • Following Ma’s footsteps, Wu joined Ma in building Alibaba Group as the first programmer out of the 18 founders.

James Sheng – Managing Director, Alibaba Singapore

  • Sheng began learning traditional art at an early age. He turned to commercial art and started his career as a designer. He was acquainted with Jack Ma when James’ company was hired to design China Yellow Pages’ website.
  • Sheng joined Jack Ma’s meeting in his apartment and became one of the 18 founding members of Alibaba in 1999.
  • Today, Sheng is known to be the man behind Alibaba’s smile logo and is the Co-founder and Senior Vice President of the Alibaba Group.

Simon Xie – Vice President, Alibaba China Investment Team

  • Xie obtained his degree in Financial Management from the Shenyang University of Technology and later worked for the China National Air Separation Engineering Co. Ltd. With a high interest in computing, he developed his skills in Information Technology and pursued a career in the tech sector.
  • In 1996, Xie met Ma while he was at China Yellow Pages. Attracted by Ma’s unique aura, Xie gave up his high paying job in finance and decided to follow Ma’s ventures in 1999.

Other founders with little to no information about their current role at Alibaba Group

Lou Wensheng

  • Lou and Ma were university mates at the Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute. Lou eventually became one of Ma’s closest supporter.
  • Lou decided to join Chinese Yellow Pages after seeing a feature of the company in 1995 Oriental Horizon TV documentary.

Jin Yuanying

  • Jin was Ma’s student at the Hangzhou Dianzi University and later was encouraged by fellow founders Jane Jiang and Han Min to join Alibaba Group.

Zhou Yuehong

  • Ma was his teacher at the Hangzhou Dianzi University back in 1988. With his expertise as a Java Architect, Zhou developed the core code of MVC framework – WebX, which was used on Taobao during its early days.

Shi Yufeng

  • In 1999, Shi was originally employed by the Central Weather Bureau.
  • Eddie Wu, one Alibaba founders, noted Shi’s works on the internet. Wu introduced Shi to Ma and Shi was immediately attracted by Ma’s passion for Alibaba and decided to join the e-commerce company.


Expert article, contributed by the iPrice Group