Elon Musk and Jack Ma: Comparing Two Serial Entrepreneurs

by / ⠀Entrepreneurship / August 25, 2022
comparing two serial entrepreneurs

Two of the most interesting and powerful businessmen in the world are Elon Musk and Jack Ma. These two men have changed the business world forever. Whether that is for good or for bad, time will tell. But, these two entrepreneurs do have some things in common. Let’s take a look and compare these two serial entrepreneurs and see how their lives are both different and similar to one another.


A serial entrepreneur is someone who has started multiple businesses at one point or another in their life.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk was born in June 1971 in the country of South Africa. He came from a wealthy family thanks to his father, Errol Musk. But, his parents divorced when he was a young age and he decided to live with his father. He later regretted doing this. Despite the divorce, Musk’s interests included video games and computers. By the age of 12, he had learned how to program a computer. Later, for $500, he sold the code to a video game he had created.


During his educational years, he went to both the United States and Canada. Musk was able to secure an internship in the tech-focused area of Silicon Valley back in 1994. Just a year later in 1995, he went to Stanford but decided to drop out because the Internet was new and he wanted in on the action by creating his very own startup.


With his brother and a friend named Greg Kouri, he started Zip2. The purpose of the company was to provide a guide to cities, all on the internet. These men put all of their money into making this work, so much so that the Musk brothers and Kouri had to rent a small office space to sleep in. They showered at the local YMCA.

Musk, being the ambitious person that he is, sold Zip2 and later in 1999, formed X.com. This was a financial service and payment business. But, in 2001, the company changed leadership and was remade into PayPal.

Inspired by the sciences of outer space, Musk goes on to join Mars Society, a nonprofit with the internet of colonizing Mars. Because of the money he made in the prior decade, he was able to fund his startup known as SpaceX in May of 2002.

He would go on to found other companies such as The Boring Company, Neuralink, and OpenAI. Musk is also a member of the car company Tesla Inc and is one of the richest men in the world with a whopping $265 billion in his name.

Jack Ma

While not a household name in the United States, Jack Ma is well known in China. He was born in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China. As a child, he studied English and for nine years gave tourists bicycle tours to help practice his English. He ended up friends with one of these tourists who nicknamed him “Jack.”


Ma had a difficult time with college. He failed the entrance exam twice because of his poor math skills. The Chinese entrance exams can be taken every year and it took him three years to pass. Ma would later graduate from Hangzhou Normal University (Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute, at the time) with a Bachelor of the Arts in English. After college, he became a lecturer in English and international trade at Hangzhou Dianzi University. Ma has also made the claim that he attempted to apply to Harvard ten times, but failed.


Ma applied to over 30 jobs after college and was rejected every time, even at KFC. But, in 1994, he heard of the Internet and started his own company called Hangzhou Haibo Translation Agency. He discovered that there was little information about his home country of China. So, he and his friends made an “ugly” website that had information about China. It had launched at 9:40 AM and by 12:30 PM, he had gotten emails from Chinese investors. Ma then started China Pages, his second company in the mid-1990s. Within three years it made the equivalent of $800,000 at the time.

Interestingly, he has never written a line of code nor has he ever sold something to a customer. He even got his first computer at 33. With 18 of his friends, they formed Alibaba, a marketplace site. They met success in 1999 and 2000 when they acquired $25 million in foreign venture capital investment from both Softbank and Goldman Sachs. Ma, wanting to improve global e-commerce, founded Taobao Marketplace, Alipay, Ali Mama, and Lynx.

Eventually, Ma stepped down from Alibaba in October 2020. Since then, he rarely has been seen. He has had two public appearances. Some theorize that because he criticized the Chinese banks, he may have gone into forced disappearance or he is lying low. One of his last appearances was October 2021 in Hong Kong.

Similarities and Differences

To compare these two serial entrepreneurs, Musk and Ma both started their ventures with the Internet. Since then, both of them have made numerous startup companies and have been chairmen of huge companies.

Musk seems more interested in space, cars, and tech in general. He has accumulated a large fanbase online and has also been the subject of numerous controversies.

Ma, on the other hand, has had a focus on trade, e-commerce, and translation. Ma is well-known for his philanthropy for education, climate change, and public health. But, his criticism of his country’s economy has caused him to disappear from the public eye.

In comparing these two serial entrepreneurs, they have had a similar start, but their lives are very different from one another in the long run.

About The Author

Tristan Anderson

Hello! My name is Tristan Anderson and I live in Manhattan, Kansas. I enjoy being in nature and animals. I am also a huge geek who loves Star Wars and has a growing collection.