Seeing the Alibaba IPO in the headlines, I wanted to share these excerpts from a 2006 CNN interview of Jack Ma:
About his firm’s name:
“One day I was in San Francisco in a coffee shop, and I was thinking Alibaba is a good name. And then a waitress came, and I said do you know about Alibaba? And she said yes. I said what do you know about Alibaba, and she said ‘Open Sesame.’ And I said yes, this is the name! Then I went onto the street and found 30 people and asked them, ‘Do you know Alilbaba’? People from India, people from Germany, people from Tokyo and China… They all knew about Alibaba. Alibaba — open sesame. Alibaba — 40 thieves. Alibaba is not a thief. Alibaba is a kind, smart business person, and he helped the village. So…easy to spell, and global know. Alibaba opens sesame for small- to medium-sized companies. We also registered the name AliMama, in case someone wants to marry us!”
Getting his first investment:
As Mr. Ma recalls, the year was 1999 when he gathered a group of his friends at his home to describe his business idea. “…we’re going to build up a company called Alibaba.com. I don’t know what it’s going to be, but just to helping the small and medium sized companies in the world. I said let’s put our pocket money on the table. I give all my money on the table.” The $60,000 he wound up with was the beginning of Alibaba.
When he said “no” to an IPO:
“Now I can bring Alibaba public anytime, and I suddenly realized that, no too early…E-commerce, we think, e-commerce time has not arrived yet. It is still a pre-mature time. And second that our team is so young, average age is 26 years old. The whole company is 7 years of history, and there are so many things in the system that needs to be built up…We’re not in a hurry, since we’re not short of cash.”
On learning English:
“There is a Hangzhou hotel. Many foreign tourists stay in that hotel so every morning from five o’ clock, I would read English in front of the hotel and a lot of foreign visitors from USA, from Europe, they came. So I’d give them the free tour of the West Lake, and they taught me English. For nine years! And I practiced my English every morning, no matter if it snows or rains. So my English is like an oral English; I just make myself understood. The grammar is terrible, but I think English help me a lot…And then also because I know English, I know how poorly those American business people know about China. So that’s the thing. If you know both sides, you know the best way.”
Commenting on how Kung Fu books have influenced him:
“Even when competing with Ebay, I used a lot of this. So that’s why people cannot understand why TaoBao fighting with Ebay this way! Because I learn from Kung Fu books! You can never learn from Harvard Business School!”
Our econlife bottom line? More art than science, the characteristics of an entrepreneur are tough to quantify. But you know it when you see it.
And finally, we should note some Alibaba facts:
- 20,884 full-time employees
- 2 of Alibaba’s websites (2012) had $170 billion in sales–more than Amazon+eBay
- 60% of packages delivered in China from Alibaba
- 231 million “active buyers”
- 36.7 million registered users from more than 240 countries; 2.8 million supplier “storefronts”
- Jack Ma owns 8.9% of firm
At Business Insider (source of above facts), you can enlarge the following:
Sources and Resources: There is a wealth of Alibaba information that is fascinating.
1. To see Jack Ma, firsthand, you might enjoy this Charlie Rose interview:
2. Including animation and infographics, WSJ has an excellent sequence of visuals.
3. The Jack Ma quotes above came from a CNN 2006 interview while, looking at Singles Day in China, econlife conveyed more about Alibaba’s business and then for comparison, about Jeff Bezos.