Much of the tech world is in Barcelona for this week’s Mobile World Congress, but not Jack Ma. Jack’s at Yabuli, a ski resort in Northeastern China, for this year’s China Entrepreneurs Forum. He’s had quite a bit to say there, but perhaps his most interesting thought so far has been his take on how founders should handle their shareholders and investors.
After Ma’s keynote, he took a question from Club Med CEO Henri Giscard d’Estaing about how to handle the conflict between client and investor satisfaction. For example, d’Estaing said, a client will be very satisfied if you can deliver a low priced bottle of water to their house in under an hour, but this may not be worth it for the company.
Here’s Ma’s response (our translation):
From its first day of founding through the IPO and up to today, Alibaba has for 16 years persisted in putting customers first, employees second, and investors third.
You can only have innovation when you’re satisfying customers’ needs and your employees are happy. So when clients are satisfied and employees are satisfied, investors will be satisfied too.
Don’t believe what investors say to you. [As a founder] I’m looking at the long-term good, because investors can sell your shares and get something new today if they want. But this [startup] is your son, and you’ve got to stick with it as it grows up.
So, first I want to say that Alibaba still feels that because customers pay us money, so only by serving them well can we ensure we have a livelihood. And only employees can create value, so only with happy employees is it possible to have happy investors. So that’s the definition that Alibaba has made.
Wall Street thinks investors are number one, but if you put investors first that’s a huge problem. Today they want this, tomorrow they want that. If things are like that then you’re basically screwed, because most investors won’t understand your strategy, and most investors won’t understand your pain. Most investors just analyze you from data, but it is you who understand yourself the best.
So I want to tell everyone: don’t assume your investors are always right. Listen to them respectfully, but the final decision is still yours.