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Book Review: The Day After Tomorrow

For readers who are curious to learn about Alibaba, which in 2014 raised $25 billion in the world’s biggest IPO ever and who want to understand how the Internet evolved in China, the book is well worth a read

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Duncan Clark has narrated a highly entertaining story about not only Alibaba and the man who created it, Jack Ma, but also about entrepreneurship in China and the creation of the Chinese Internet.

Clark is a consultant who lives in Beijing. He has worked in China for more than 20 years and has seen the birth and development of the Internet in China from up close. As an advisor to Alibaba in its early days and with access to company insiders over the years, Clark manages to provide a unique insight into both the company and its founder, Jack Ma.

There have been plenty of books written about tech legends, from Steve Jobs to Elon Musk to Jeff Bezos that give detailed accounts of their extraordinary talents and the great companies they have built. Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built chronicles, almost for the first time, the journey of a tech entrepreneur and a company that are not American and are “one hundred percent Made in China.”

Unlike, Jeff Bezos, who went to Princeton and worked on Wall Street, Jack Ma came from a very modest background, was not good at Math and barely made it into a local college. While at times adulatory, the author provides a lively account of Jack’s rags-to-riches story, which started in Hangzhou, a city 200 km Southwest of Shanghai. His mother was a factory worker while his dad was a photographer. He was not a good student in a conventional sense but he was passionate about learning English and he did that by showing tourists around his hometown as a tour guide. He established a special bond with an Australian family on one of their trips to Hangzhou. The family not only helped him hone his English skills but also helped him financially during his college years.

According to the Clark, this friendship was instrumental in unlocking opportunities for Jack that have made him what he is today. Jack Ma began his career as an English teacher but he was inspired to become an entrepreneur during Deng Xiaoping’s famous “southern tour” in 1992 where the Chinese leader made the famous statement that “to get rich is glorious.” Jack started a small translation company to help local Chinese companies that sought to do business with the West. One of his projects led him to visit the US where he was introduced to the Internet for the first time. Jack was very intrigued and the idea for an online yellow pages for Chinese companies was born.

For aspiring entrepreneurs in India, looking for inspiration and start-up gyaan, this book would be a very rewarding read. The book is peppered with quotes from Jack, which in themselves provide great entrepreneurial lessons. Jack’s famous quote “Today is brutal, tomorrow is more brutal but the day after tomorrow is beautiful. However, the majority of people will die tomorrow night”, teaches an important lesson of perseverance that tech entrepreneurs would do well to remember especially given the tough times they are currently facing.

The book also gives the reader a good sense of the challenges faced by Jack and other Chinese internet pioneers along with the reasons for their success. In a country where internet penetration was low when Jack started his first online venture and where the government was grappling with the dichotomy of encouraging the growth of the internet while still maintaining government control, the challenges were especially daunting. One of the big reasons for the success of some of the homegrown internet ventures in China was the failure of global internet companies to make any impact in the country.

For readers who are curious to learn about Alibaba, which in 2014 raised $25 billion in the world’s biggest IPO ever and who want to understand how the Internet evolved in China, the book is well worth a read.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Dhruv Agarwala

Agarwala is CEO and Founder of PropTiger

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