This CEO banned his first employees from living more than 15 minutes from work via YouTube

This CEO banned his first employees from living more than 15 minutes from work Featured

A new book on the Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba has revealed that founder Jack Ma insisted that his first employees reside only minutes from work.


Alibaba — now a thriving $200 billion company — began in 1999 as a humble start-up based in Ma’s apartment in Hangzhou, China. In “Alibaba: The House that Jack Ma Built, author Duncan Clark recalls the company’s roots and the demanding culture that contributed to Alibaba’s success.

“The earliest hires earned barely $50 per month,” Clark wrote. “They worked seven days a week, often sixteen hours a day. Jack even required them to find a place to live no more than 10 minutes from the office so they wouldn’t waste precious time commuting.”

The revelation is a reminder of the demanding cultures common at start-ups, and the sacrifices employees must often make.


“The start-up is in a race against time,” said Anil Gupta, a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, who believes that physical proximity between a company’s premises and where employees live is crucial. “In almost every opportunity space, you can bet that there will be several start-ups, all aiming for the same customer and all funded by competing [investors]. If you slow down, you risk being overtaken.”


Gupta said this explains why so many start-ups provide on-site meals and services to employees, which subtly encourages them to linger at work. Gupta recalled the story of a chief executive who admitted that he ordered in dinner so that employees would work till 9 p.m., not 5 or 6 p.m.


An Alibaba spokesman confirmed that in its early days Ma required new hires to move no more than 10 or 15 minutes from the office. According to the spokesman, employees worked so late that it wasn’t considered safe to make a long commute. Also employees needed to be on call at all times. If anything urgent happened, everyone needed to be able to go back to the office as soon as possible. As Alibaba grew larger, the policy was phased out.


Some say adopting Alibaba’s requirement to live close to work would be unwise for most start-ups. It is something that would only work in China, where there is more of a culture of deferring to authorities, according to Kochan.


“You want to imprint a culture that says we are going to recruit the best talent and recognize that young people today really want to control their work schedules,” said Thomas Kochan, co-director of MIT’s Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research. “They don’t want to be controlled in a bureaucratic way, that’s part of the allure of start-ups that they can be more flexible.”


Kochan sees Alibaba’s success as an exception to the best practices that will help a start-up thrive.


While start-up life is increasingly glamorized with shows such as ABC’s “Shark Tank” and HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” Alibaba’s demanding beginnings are a reminder of a long-standing reality.


“If you value time away from work or would like to strike a better work-life balance, [a start-up] may not be for you,” said Bhaskar Chakravorti, a dean of international business at Tufts University. “On the other hand, if working intensely and insanely long with a small tight group of like-minded people mobilized around an exciting start-up idea gets you excited — go for a company that tries to get people to live close by.”



Leave a comment

Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.

back to top


Boldstart Founder Launches Hyperledger Fabric's First Blockchain Accelerator

The founder of VC firm Boldstart Ventures is launching the first accelerator dedicated exclusively to startups building on the Hyperledger Fabric blockchain.

CNN launches daily news show on Snapchat

CNN on Monday began streaming "The Update," a daily show on Snapchat featuring at least five news stories each episode from reporters and bureaus around the world, to attract younger viewers.

Quora now launches retargeting for advertisers

Quora’s newly launched ads platform now supports retargeting ads on the question-and-answer network.

Facebook faces scare that teens are going to Snapchat and Instagram. Again.

 Now playing on the internet: the episode in which everyone freaks out that young people are abandoning Facebook in favor of hot new social media services like Snap and Instagram.

IBM partners with Walmart, Unilever, Nestlé, and other food giants, to apply blockchain tech to food supply chains

They will be aiming to use blockchains to maintain secure digital records and improve the traceability of their foodstuffs

Blockchain can make social networks more private — and profitable for you

Fact: You’re going to spend a total of five years of your life on social media. But- is blockchain answer to everything?

The HuffPost’s tabloid-style homepage is paying dividends

The move was designed to deliver what Polgreen described as “a visceral snapshot of the day.”

Dashbot’s codeless Twitter Integration is now live!

Integrate your DM bot without code and in 10 seconds.

50 Bitcoin Exchanges Have Filed with the Japanese Financial Authority

In April, the Japanese government amended its fund settlement law to recognize bitcoin as a legal means of payment

Billionaire Calvin Ayre Acquires Crypto Media Outlet Coingeek

  The plan is for to continue to cover Bitcoin news as it relates to the gaming industry

Asus Debuts Specialized Motherboard for Cryptocurrency Miners

"Cryptocurrency and blockchain are here to stay"

Chatbot That Helps Users Appeal Parking Tickets Comes To U.S.

A chatbot called DoNotPay that helps users appeal parking tickets for free in the U.K. is now available in the United States.

How TD Ameritrade tackles security in Facebook Messenger chatbot

Chatbot is designed to answer faster than a human could.

How Blockchain Is Monetizing User’s Experience and Skills

Generating value is the key concept sustaining the explosion of Blockchain offerings in 2017.

Bezos on Amazon’s AI and Machine Learning Strategy

[It's all about] enabling other organizations to leverage the game-changer that is machine learning.

Mongolia's Hottest New Social App Is All About Horses

Although cowboy culture is mostly nostalgia in the United States these days, many rural Mongolians still rely on their horses in daily life. In Mongolia, horsemanship is one of the most celebrated aspects of their culture, even on social media. "If we...

Startups could be key to fixing tech's diversity problem

Silicon Valley companies are learning a hard lesson: They can't escape their attitude problems.

Android Oreo released by Google

Google has released the latest version of its Android mobile operating system (OS), which will be named after Oreo chocolate biscuits.

How RBC is using a blockchain to overhaul its loyalty program

“We see loyalty as a great use case for blockchain to allow us to provide customers more real-time access to rewards points to provide an almost Starbucks-like experience.”

Why finance brands are so hot on content marketing

Content is one way to make people return to their site to see new updates, buy new products and invest more money.

Reddit now allows users to upload videos

Videos are coming to Reddit, thanks to a new feature that allows users to upload video clips directly to the service.

Sharp sues Hisense over a foreign “gag order”

Sharp, a Japanese electronics manufacturer, has filed a lawsuit challenging a foreign gag order that company lawyers say prevents Sharp from talking about its own brand.

How A Police Body Camera Company Is Becoming An Artificial Intelligence Company

Like most technology companies today, Axon’s goal is to collect data; the free body camera trial is just another avenue to generate and collect more of it.

Mic Lays Off Dozens Just a Week After Promising Not To

A number of online outlets, including Mashable, Vice, and MTV News, have recently slashed their writing staffs to focus on producing visual content

Kit Kat accused of copying Atari game

Kit Kat's maker Nestle has been accused of copying Breakout, the 1970s computer game, in a marketing campaign.

YouTube TV expands to 14 new markets

YouTube is broadening access to live TV streaming as younger viewers increasingly watch shows online and traditional broadcast networks grapple with aging demographics among viewers.

Hyundai looks to build a >300-mile-range electric car

More carmakers are looking toward electric vehicles as fuel cell falters

Why Bancor Wants To Become The YouTube Of Cryptocurrency

If Bancor overcomes the initial scandals (it shortchanges its users' by rounding token values) Bancor could reshape the cryptocurrency marketplace as we know it.

The best of Siri: 11 funny responses from the iPhone's virtual assistant

Since its launch in 2011, Siri has become increasingly intelligent, and can now hold basic two-way conversations with users.

How Yogscast built a media empire

The newer generation doesn’t want to be told how to do things, they want to see it.

Skype’s new look arrives on the desktop in preview form

The chat-focused update comes with new features for messaging and calls.

Subscribe to the Business Brief Newsletter

Get our complimentary briefing, featuring news & analysis of the business trends and practices.
Terms and Conditions