Jack Ma’s Shrimp

I was reading about the history of Alibaba and its founder Jack Ma. He’s a fascinating character. Though he runs one of–if not THE most–successful e-commerce sites in the world, his background is not what you would expect. What did he do before Alibaba? Education. Yeah, Jack Ma was an english teacher.

Though China is still a communist country, and consumer spending only made up around 1/3 of the economy in 2015, there is a massive shift in the consumer culture with predictions of consumer spending reaching 44% of the GDP by 2020.

Spearheading the consumerism shift is Alibaba. In 2014, when Alibaba went public it broke records as the largest IPO in history. So what is the key to this company’s success? Great customer service: “Another success factor of Alibaba is called “Xiaoer.” Xiaoer is literally a team of customer service representatives who have the power to mediate any disputes. They also have the authority to manage and control vendor’s performance and invite top performing vendors to participate in the new marketing campaigns.”(SupplyChainOPZ). Having a large team of openly available customer servant reps keeps the focus on the consumer and reduces the space between the consumer and the vendor. From what I understand, vendors can adapt to consumers on an almost individual basis, and are able to haggle with them and capture a larger surplus.

Alibaba’s philosophy is “Customers first, employees second, and shareholders third.” A different approach to what we see in most publicly traded American companies that put shareholders above all else. Ma’s reasoning for this priority list is keeping happy customers and happy employees will make a better company, which will in turn help shareholders. Now, a company like Alibaba earns billions in annual revenue. How are they supposed to keep their customer’s happy? This is where we get back to the title of this post. Shrimp. At the time Duncan Clark’s book on Alibaba published in 2016 he wrote how Jack Ma was able to please an overwhelming majority of his consumer base by focusing on keeping his smallest customers happy. By maintaining Alibaba’s free and affordable services they never lost the foundation of their consumer base.

Now, obviously a person could write more on Alibaba and its successes. As mentioned in the above paragraph there’s an entire book on Jack Ma and the history of Alibaba, but I just wanted to focus on his shrimp. His commitment to never forget the individual who did not have the largest means to spend on his site. By maintaining, and building on what made him successful in the first place, and never forgetting his core values (the mantra stated at the start of the paragraph above) Alibaba has become one of the largest and most successful companies in the world.

Write Around Full Time

Yesterday at 11 am I finished my latest rough draft. It’s not particularly long, clocking in at around 230 pages and it needs a lot of work but the first draft is done and now I have a foundation to build on. I started writing this manuscript at the start of June, just before my move to New Orleans and benefited from only working part time for the first half of it.

When I got down here though, everything changed. I couldn’t afford to spend my entire morning alternating between five page sprints and personal errands; I couldn’t write in consistent increments building towards large word count goals. I had to spend most of my day in an office or going to meetings. My writing was still a priority to me, but I had to find time to do it, I couldn’t build my day around it.

By the time I got down here I still had around 25k words left to write. Rather than hitting my 3-4k word count goals daily, I was hitting 1500 on two separate projects. Having to start and stop throughout the day, working in a couple hundred words during lunch or the hour I had at home before an evening networking event gave me the opportunity to hit smaller word count goals before the end of the night. The small windows of writing added up to anywhere from 1000-1500 words.

Late evenings were when I did the bulk of my work, usually ending the night with an additional 1000-2500 burst before going to bed. On off days I would get a little writing done in the morning but my top priority for mornings is the gym. It’s easy to find motivation to write after a long day; it’s not as easy to find the same motivation for fitness. The gym also helps me maintain a clear head throughout the day so I can balance my work life and my creative life.

It will be interesting to figure out my editing process down here. I expect most of my editing to be done late at night. It’s more difficult to start and stop editing than it is to write a first draft. Rough drafts have the benefit of building from scratch. If you only have ten minutes you can at the very least plan out a scene. Editing is a little more focused.

My tangible advice for anyone reading this and looking to pursue writing (or other creative endeavors) while working full time is this:

*Give yourself a daily goal. Not something to do all at once but a place to reach by the end of the day (or week if you work better with weekly goals).

*Don’t be afraid to be productive in small windows. 10 minutes may not feel like a long time but if you’re flexible and give yourself a specific assignment those 10 minutes can help build towards your daily goal.

*Don’t be afraid to ask for personal space. If you don’t have the luxury of having a quiet area, ask for one. Find a way to eliminate distractions so you can be productive.

*This is the last and least concrete piece of advice I have: Be flexible. Things will not always go according to plan but humans by nature can always find a way to adapt. It may not always be comfortable, but the time is there for you to take if you’re open to it. I heard Toni Morrison give a lecture at the end of 2017 and she spoke about how she started writing when she was working a traditional 9-5 job. She said she got most of her work done on the weekends and the pre-dawn hours of the day.

Time is a funny thing. Years go by in seconds, but you can stretch a few minutes a day into an entire book.

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” –Mark Twain