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Friday, 5 September 2014

Jack Ma - The Man Who Built Online E-Commerce Business Alibaba

Meet Jack Ma, the Chinese entrepreneur behind Alibaba Group, a family of highly successful Internet-based businesses. He is also the first mainland Chinese entrepreneur to appear on the cover of Forbes Magazine and ranks as one of the world’s billionaires. The company primarily operates in China and in March 2013 was estimated to have a valuation between $55 billion to more than $120 billion.

But Alibaba founder Ma, was never supposed to be a billionaire. Harvard snubbed him. He flunked college entrance exams twice. Investors thought the serial entrepreneur was crazy when he started building an e-commerce site in China. But he proved them all wrong. Alibaba, which he launched in 1999 from his tiny Hangzhou apartment, is set for one of the largest IPOs in U.S. history.

Analysts estimate that Alibaba could be valued at $200 billion. So how did an English teacher with a modest translation business become a technology titan? It all began with a drink. While searching for "beer" and "China" during his first use of the Internet in 1995, Ma found nothing. But there was plenty of information about American beer. And German beer. Sensing an opportunity, Ma built a Chinese-language webpage. Within hours of launch, he was receiving enquiries from around the world. A few years later, was born, a website to connect exporters with foreign buyers.

The firm quickly outgrew Ma's apartment, eventually becoming the dominant tech company in China.
Ma, 49, has always been proud of his humble roots. When Alibaba launched, Ma had no money, no tech experience and a haphazard management style. But he did have plenty of charisma. Former executives say Ma's infectious optimism and his talent with languages helped sell the dream. "He's funny! He can do stand-up in Chinese or English," said Duncan Clark, a former Alibaba consultant. "He can adapt to the audience ... he has the ability to make everybody in the room feel as if he's talking to just one person."

Ma, who is married with 2 kids, is also known to rely on gut instinct. "He cares more about what is in someone's heart than what is on their resume," said Porter Erisman, a former executive who made a documentary about the company. "Look at the senior managers -- at Alibaba, a lot of them had no prior business experience."

Ma is also a ferocious competitor, and steadfast in his belief that Chinese firms can take on international rivals. "Chinese brains are just as good ... this is the reason we dare to compete with Americans," Ma told his fellow co-founders in 1999. "We can beat government agencies and big famous companies, because of our innovative spirit." It was this conviction that led Ma to challenge eBay in 2003 when the Silicon Valley firm was expanding its China operation.

Spoiling for a fight, Ma sent a team back to his apartment to devise the next big thing. "EBay is a shark in the ocean; we are a crocodile in the Yangtze River," he said. "If we fight in the ocean, we will lose, but if we fight in the river, we will win." The team came back with a product called Taobao, or "searching for treasure," in Chinese. The platform was similar to eBay, but better suited to the local market. Yahoo invested $1 billion in the venture. Within a few years, Taobao squeezed eBay out of China. The marketplace handled $177 billion in sales in 2013.

Alibaba is a global company with 22,000 employees and 90 offices. Its popular sites, Taobao and, account for 80% of China's online retail sales, and receive more than 100 million visitors a day. Ma stepped down as CEO in 2013, and now pursues philanthropic endeavors. But he remains chief strategist at Alibaba, and the public face of the company. "I never thought I would be where I am today," Ma said in a speech last year. "I never thought Alibaba would be where it is today."

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