Running your business the Alibaba Way, with JC Bisnar

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1. Being a leader isn’t about you. (1:18-1:47, 14:15-14:24, 15:25-15:36)
JC Bisnar used to believe that being a founder or CEO was all about the fame and fortune. Eventually, he realized that it entailed a more meaningful responsibility.

“As you grow your company, and you realize that you’re taking care of more people and customers or making an impact on the community, you’re going to realize that it’s not about your own success,” he said. “It’s about enabling your people.”

Consider the two paths to success: The diva and the mama-san. You could be the former, hogging all of the attention and profits. Or you could be the latter, staying quietly at the side, pulling strings among various networks for widespread benefit.

“The mama-san takes care of everyone. That’s leadership. The mama-san gets a cut from everyone. That’s a platform business,” he said. “[Investors] don’t see the network effects, the ability to scale, the power that you have when you reach out to all the users and you’re the top mama-san.”




2. Think big from the start. (18:02-18:19, 18:33-19:01)
With this kind of leadership, your startup has the opportunity to touch lives on a grand scale. This is only possible if you dream big about your impact from the get-go.

“The top businesses in the world… they have the ability to think long-term and focus on impact-building. And that’s why in the region, they forego the initial profits or the initial temptation, they stick to their long-term vision, and that’s where they scale.”

One way to support this is through your mode of funding. “Talk to all of the VCs here, that’s cool, but then talk to the regional VCs. Because in the region, they have higher valuations,” said Bisnar. “So it would be better if Filipino startups can peg themselves as a global company rather than just having a presence in the Philippines. Because [investors] would look down on us, that’s the reality.”

3. Remember the value of 9-9-6. (5:26-5:56)
While trying to reach such lofty goals may at times feel overwhelming for you and your team, the focus should be on the positive impact that your startup can create once they’re achieved. Once your team is able to take your mission into heart, the motivation to work even harder will just come naturally.

Take the principle of 9-9-6, which describes how the Alibaba staff often work from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM for 6 days a week. “It’s not forced… but with the gravity of their goals, that’s the reason why they’ve gotten into this scale,” said Bisnar. “They put that extraordinary effort to reach that extraordinary goal. “So us Filipino founders, you can see the operational excellence in there. Do we just want to confirm to the ordinary corporate rules? Or do we want to put our hearts into it, the extra effort?”

4. Suffer optimistically — and grow stronger — together. (2:58-3:14)
Unfortunately, such noble pursuits can’t stop challenges from being thrown at your startup everyday. While it’s important to keep your team’s morale afloat, it’s just as vital to remain grounded by the reality of your problems.

During this time, train your team members to remain tenacious through difficult times.

“It’s not just about the founders being strong, it’s about the founders developing a strong team,” said Bisnar.

“While you have to be optimistic, leading them to the vision, you also have to pull them down with, ‘Hey, this is the reality. If we want to make this happen, then we better toughen up.”

5. “Feedback is a gift.” (8:37-8:55, 10:18-10:32, 11:08-11:20)
Speaking of being tough, this trait is just as crucial when it comes to giving feedback.

Filipinos are notorious for beating around the bush, crafting long-winded criticism to avoid hurting a colleague.
To turn this around, startups can try the 3-6-1 practice of feedback.

● Round 1: 10 team members will give feedback to each other. The leader will simply facilitate the process.

● Round 2: Each team member gives their feedback of their teammates to the leader.

● Round 3: The team leader gives feedback to each member. During this time, they will also give out scores transparently: Three will receive a 3.75 (“above expectations”), Six will receive a 3.5 (“meets expectations”), and one will receive a 3.25 (“below expectations”).

“The way that you have to explain it to your people is that, ‘Hey, feedback is a gift.’” said Bisnar. “Because oftentimes, the ones who are on the lowest scores, they transform that feedback and become the best versions of themselves.”

Living proof is Brian Wong, whose 3.25 score inspired him to work even harder. Eventually, this drive propelled him to the vice president position at the Alibaba Group.

“Appreciate the feedback because it’s rare where people will care enough to give you real talk that isn’t offensive, but is built enough to help you grow as a person,” said Bisnar.

Those interested in applying for the Alibaba eFounders Program can find more information at this link. The upcoming program class will take place from Dec 2 to 12. The deadline for applications is on Oct 7.



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