Every day, we can find lots of opportunities. Some small, some big. But when we take a closer look, many of them are not true opportunities. So, the key is how to prioritise and identify the best of them.
It is not about finding today’s opportunities. If you can see the opportunities today, your competitors can, too. A real entrepreneur can identify the opportunities of tomorrow. Maybe many people won’t believe you, but that’s just a part of being a first-mover. So, try something new and you just might resolve the issues of tomorrow.
Anticipate the Future
Don’t try to find a perfect solution, especially in a competitive landscape. In this fast-changing world, we always say, “don’t miss the train.” Just don’t be the last one on board. In that case, prepare for the next train. Be the first person on that one. It’s better to be ready for the future than playing catch up with your competitors.
A company needs to have a dream and a great vision to think of tomorrow, you want to create the next train, not follow it. To start a business, you need a business plan, market surveys, and you do need to understand your customers. But when you start to execute, it is all about corrections. You’ll make lots of mistakes, but the key is how efficiently you can correct them. So, give young people opportunities to make mistakes, then they will find the right way to get to the destination.
Of course, there are costs in taking these calculated risks. The biggest cost in innovation is opportunity cost. But if you don’t try, you will never know what works and what doesn’t. And what does work will put you ahead of your competitors.
Innovation is not only about the big picture. It’s about details. Innovation is about how to resolve the pain points faced by customers. So, we always say that if we can identify these pain points, then that is where we’ll find opportunity.
Most people care about business opportunities, but if you want to be a real entrepreneur, you have to resolve problems for all of society. Look around the world, the bigger problem you resolve for the society, the bigger the business you will have.
Value, not Valuation
Start-ups should focus on value creation, not valuation. Many people have great ideas, so they create a great Power Point presentation. Then, based on that, they get their first round of funding. They burn the money building the business to scale, then do it all again for another round of funding. But was there any value created? If the answer is yes, then customers will stay with you. If not, they’ll leave.
The most important part of my role and responsibility is people. We have a great business and a great platform. But it is all about the people. If you have the right people, you have the right innovation. It is not just about having ideas. It is about having people with vision and the ability to execute.
There are some young people who are passionate and creative, but they don’t know how to be good leaders.
When I have discussions with my team, I always listen first. Sometimes I remind myself to not comment right away. Because, as CEO, when I comment, it means I’m making a judgement. Just give people time to work things out themselves. They may surprise you.
About Daniel Zhang
Alibaba Chief Executive Officer Daniel Zhang, who joined the group in 2007, has been the engineer of some of Alibaba’s best-known achievements, such as the annual 11.11 Global Shopping Festival, which generated over $30.8 billion in gross merchandise volume last year. The 47-year-old former accountant is also a key proponent of Alibaba’s push to blend technology and e-commerce to create a “New Retail” model in China. Moreover, he has long been an advocate of cultivating the next generation of talent at Alibaba by offering young people an opportunity to air out and try out their ideas.