In September 2014, a Chinese company that most Americans had never heard of held the largest IPO in history – bigger than Google, Facebook and Twitter combined. Alibaba, now the world's largest e-commerce company, mostly escaped Western notice for over ten years, while building a customer base more than twice the size of Amazon's, and handling the bulk of e-commerce transactions in China. How did it happen? And what was it like to be along for such a revolutionary ride?
In Alibaba's World, author Porter Erisman, one of Alibaba's first Western employees and its head of international marketing from 2000 to 2008, shows how Jack Ma, a Chinese schoolteacher who twice failed his college entrance exams, rose from obscurity to found Alibaba and lead it from struggling startup to the world's most dominant e-commerce player. He shares stories of weathering the dotcom crash, facing down eBay and Google, negotiating with the unpredictable Chinese government, and enduring the misguided advice of foreign experts, all to build the behemoth that's poised to sweep the ecommerce world today. And he analyzes Alibaba's role as a harbinger of the new global business landscape—with its focus on the East rather than the West, emerging markets over developed ones, and the nimble entrepreneur over the industry titan. As we face this near future, the story of Alibaba—and its inevitable descendants—is both essential and instructive.
When Alibaba went public in September 2014, many Americans first became aware of this international trade behemoth's true size and potential. Erisman's comprehensive account of "how a schoolteacher rose from obscurity to build the world's largest e-commerce company" provides a dizzying look at this company's startling birth, growth, and success. Erisman was an Alibaba v-p from 2000 to 2008, during which time he collected 200 hours of footage for his documentary, Crocodile in the Yangtze; this detail is evident in the book. The star of the story is CEO Jack Ma, an unlikely Internet hero who twice failed his college entrance exams and started an online business when less than 1% of China's population had Internet access. Alibaba began as a message board for companies to post trade leads, later declaring "war on eBay" by creating a rival Internet marketplace, Taobao. Ma went on to purchase Yahoo! China and to work with Google, all while dealing with the Chinese government and the Great Firewall. Within a few years, Alibaba had surpassed Amazon and eBay's sales combined, and by the time of the IPO, it was the largest Internet company in China and the fifth most valuable in the world. This is a fascinating insider's look at the digital opening of China.