One of my favorite words in Chinese is Yuanfen (緣分), meaning "destiny, luck as conditioned by one's past," "natural affinity among friends," or simply "fateful coincidence."
And nothing really encompasses this word more than the story of the picture in my post.
It was taken in 1997 at the Great Wall of China. It shows Jack Ma (the founder of Alibaba) and Jerry Yang (the founder of Yahoo).
Two years before the picture was taken, Jerry Yang had founded Yahoo and had become an internet sensation around the world. As a 10-year old emigrant from Taiwan, Jerry had never visited China, but was invited to do so in 1997. The translator who was assigned to him was a junior staffer at the economic ministry – a guy called Jack Ma.
Jerry still talks about meeting Jack that day and how struck he was by his inquisitiveness. Jack wanted to know everything about Yahoo and the internet – at a time when China had no more than 7M internet users. They connected really well, but didn't stay in touch.
Two years after this encounter, in 1999, Jack Ma went on and founded Alibaba. A few years later, when Jerry heard for the first time about Alibaba and its founder named Jack Ma, he remembered his tour guide who had the same name and wondered whether they would be the same person – which they turned out to be.
Jerry and Jack reconnected, and seven years after their first encounter at the Great Wall, in 2005, Jerry Yang made a $1B investment in Alibaba for 40% of its stake – an investment that would arguably become one of the most lucrative business deals in history when Alibaba grew to become a company with a market cap of $500B+.
Now the full story is much longer and more complex. And as great as the investments sounds, Yahoo actually made some bad decisions along the way (like selling half of its shares back to Alibaba for $13 apiece while the company later IPOed at $90 apiece).
Still, it's fascinating to think that these two men met under such unlikely circumstances and would later become two of the world's most successful internet entrepreneurs.