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  • Writer's pictureStar Magnolia Capital

A Romance Beginning in a Toilet: My Meeting with Jack Ma

Last week, I went to Shenzhen to participate in an annual meeting of a private equity firm founded by Jack Ma and his co-founder in 2010. After leaving Alibaba, Jack Ma is focusing on his old passion: education, and I wanted to speak with him directly about our investment education initiative using manga (comic book), Investor Z (English version:

We are currently working on a new initiative to draw comic (manga) episodes of Chinese entrepreneurs as an extension of the original Investor Z series. Just like everybody loves reading Steve Jobs’ success stories, I think there is a great value of creating a new generation contents based on those entrepreneurs. For fundamental investment education, everybody should start with understanding business models, rather than financial techniques, because it’s more fun and useful. Understanding the business models is a very good starting point to learn investing.

The root of Japan’s manga cultures goes back more than 300 years and found in Japan’s pop culture called ukiyoe, a colorful wooden print. It was so popular that Japanese people didn’t consider it as art. On the other hand, many French painters, for example, Van Gogh, were so intrigued by this oriental miracle and kept many original ukiyoe. That’s why we can only find well-preserved ukiyoe in museums in France, UK and US, but not in Japan.

Do you know what is common in Keyence and Nidec? Unless you invest in Japanese stock markets for a long time, you’ve never heard of these niche engineering leaders. They are not small business: Keyence’s market cap is JPY 9 trillion, or $83 bn, and Nidec JPY 4.8 trillion, or $44 bn. Since Jan 1990, the peak of Japan’s notorious housing bubble, Nikkei 225 was down nearly 40%, but during the same period, both Keyence and Nidec were up more than 2000%, generating 11.9% and 11.1% annualized return. You may wonder why you have never heard of these businesses before. I think a simple reason is both Keyence and Nidec have always been VERY expensive. Today, they are trading at 40x P/E. They are not internet companies; they are boring engineering businesses.

Interestingly, both Keyence and Nidec use manga for their business. Keyence is known for its aggressive, but effective business developments. The main products are electronic components used to build manufacturing and production lines. Keyence uses manga to educate its customers to understand how these components improve their production lines dramatically. Nidec uses manga in a different way. Its outspoken founder, Shigenobu Nagamori, created a manga version of his biography and post on the corporate website so that his passion and mission are delivered to his investors effectively. His biography manga is available in Japanese, English and Chinese.

Keyence: Read Manga and Understand All About the Basics of 3D Printer

Nidec: CEO’s Message

Not surprisingly, after his hour-long conversation with David, Jack left the room quickly. Despite I was sitting right behind him (it is my habit to sit very close to the stage so that I can focus on the discussion), I had no luck to catch him… that’s what I thought.

As Mark Twain says, truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t. Rather disappointedly, I went to wash my hands and, then, I bumped into Jack. This time, I didn’t waste my time and asked him what he thinks about investing education using manga. Apparently, he was surprised by this stranger asking a random question, but he quietly listened to my pitch and finally said “yes, yes, I really like the idea. I think it’s really good.” I wanted to ask one more question, “can I actually write your story in manga”, but my luck ran out as he was taken away by his bodyguard. If it’s fiction, a romance can happen from a toilet. Maybe this is just a beginning.


By the way, Jack actually published his manga a while ago, but it was commercially not very successful. He needs Japanese know-how to create a better manga.

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