The Alibaba experience – 10 days of learning to propel my next 10 years

On 24th March 2018 – 36 entrepreneurs including myself from 7 different countries made our way to Alibaba campus in Hangzhou to learn more about its business units and the impact it has created for the Chinese society as a whole.

The experience?


It’s amazing to see how Alibaba has literally changed lives and provided an ecosystem for small and medium businesses to thrive.

The course also allowed me to remove myself from company operations just a little bit and focus on a more macro view.

Something entrepreneurs probably need to do from time to time – you get too engrossed with the nitty-gritty that you forget to look at the bigger picture.

Key notes, learnings, experiences and observations throughout the programme:

1) Alibaba has transformed itself from a from a simple B2B e-commerce platform in 1999 to a juggernaut spanning across e-commerce, finance, logistics, cloud, technology, entertainment, media and health.

2) Quite simply, they have built an ECOSYSTEM of platforms to accomplish their mission of “make it easy to do business, anytime, anywhere.”

3) They no longer see themselves as an e-commerce company, rather a data sharing platform. Data is the new oil as Jack Ma said.

4) It might seem that they run completely unrelated businesses under one roof – but if you look at it closely – they are all complementary products made for the SMEs. For example, SMEs can use / AliExpress to sell outside China, Taobao to sell within China, to source products wholesale, Ant Financial to grab quick financing, promote/market products via Weibo + Youku + Alimama and power company websites with AliCloud.


5) One of Alibaba’s key success factors is actually its culture. They have a way of doing things that other companies/organisation will find hard to replicate. We had one session just on the power of culture.



6) Alibaba’s employees are rated based on how their work values conform with Alibaba’s values and culture.


7) South East Asia is definitely part of Alibaba’s expansion strategy. Why here and not places like Europe/Africa/CIS? One of the main reasons is that we share similar values and culture with them. Appointing Lucy Peng, one of Alibaba’s 18 founders, as Lazada’s CEO, proves how serious they are on SEA.

8) Alipay has made cash obsolete. I brought my wallet to sessions in the first few days but kept it in the hotel after day 4. You can do EVERYTHING with Alipay – pay at any retail shop, transfer money to a friend, split bills seamlessly, topup phone credits, pay bills, invest, play games … everything.

9) I really hope the Alipay + Touch N Go deal will allow us to do the same.

10) Heard so many success stories thanks to Alibaba’s platforms. One student – who is part of Alibaba Business School’s incubator programme does over RMB 90 million in sales per year …. selling fruits.

11) A small kampung 80km from Hangzhou has 4 families that do well over RMB 20 million per year in revenue selling walnuts. The cool thing is 80% of the inhabitants that run businesses in this kampung are young people. It’s inverse in Malaysian kampung where probably 80% of its inhabitants are seniors.

12) In 2003, another student, who was dirt poor from some kampung, was given a beca by his professor to earn a living. He started a business with the professor’s guidane, rode the e-commerce wave and in 2008 did over RMB 150 million in sales. I asked the professor what did he sell? “All kinds of things”.

13) These stories have sparked an existential crisis (Hann of Ringgitplus’ favourite words) within me. These students are earning millions selling the most random things and I’m doing something apparently canggih and no where near their level of revenue & profitability.

14) However it did give me the idea that Malaysians should look at how to sell to Chinese consumers. We’ve always talked about how to buy FROM China. But I rarely hear a push to sell TO China. With the population they have – if you can really find something that the Chinese would love – you are pretty much set.

15) Btw – some crazy statistic I just found out – only 100 million Chinese people have passports. Imagine if the other 1.3 billion people had passports too. If you do inbound and serve Chinese tourists – you will do well.

16) Learning, living, socialising and working with other entrepreneurs is probably one of the top reasons why I love this course so much. We all speak the same ‘language’, have the same pain points and work tirelessly to build businesses. Put them all in one room for 2 weeks and you’ll get amazing multiplier effects.

17) I will commit to run a “mini” version of this programme in some shape or form. I think it would benefit our young entrepreneurs.

18) You would think that the initiatives that Alibaba is doing in Malaysia are of low priority. The inverse is true. They are very much into eWTP & DFTZ and often quote these initiatives as a key component of their global strategy.

19) I laud MDEC’s efforts in working very closely together with Alibaba to develop our digital economy. Working with MNCs is definitely not an easy feat and to do it at breakneck speed is absolutely commendable.

20) Some fear-mongers might see this partnership as some form of ‘colonisation’ by China. However – I beg to differ as I think we have much to learn from them. Any imports of best practices & technology would create multiplier effects of epic proportions for Malaysia’s digital economy.

21) All in all, I think I have 3x my knowledge on Alibaba & China, have some ideas on how to 2x my business, 3x my Mandarin (low base), made 35 new friends and had priceless new experiences.

22) I would also like to thank MDEC for recommending myself and other Malaysians for this course. I will not forget this, ever.


Nadhir Ashafiq

On AirAsia D7303 bound for KUL

6th April 2018




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