“The cost of using this IT was too expensive for us, so we had to innovate,” said Ma. “We had to design a technology that was simple enough.”

“That’s it. We were forced,” he said.

Indeed, most innovations happen “not because people want to, but because they were forced,” Ma continued.

Since coming to that realization almost two decades ago, Ma has developed a close relationship with Gates, often citing the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as an inspiration for his own charitable endeavors.

However, a little healthy competition remains between the two tech tycoons.

Last month, when Ma announced his forthcoming departure as chairman of Alibaba, he insisted that he would do one thing better than his billionaire peer.

“I can never be as rich, but one thing I can do better is to retire earlier,” Ma said.

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