Business and Management
Submitted By Alexmengyou
What will he do with this information?
A DOZEN big screens hang on the wall. Maps flash. Numbers stream by. The Alibaba Group’s “live data monitoring room” offers a snapshot of frantic activity: Chinese firms trading with foreign ones; Chinese individuals buying clothes from each other. Perhaps half a billion people use Alibaba’s various online services. The group’s diminutive founder, Jack Ma, smiles that business is “pretty good”. Yet he is far from satisfied.
In a country where tycoons are often the children of politicians, Mr Ma stands out. He failed twice to get into college. He learned English from the radio. He stumbled on the internet during a trip to America as an interpreter in the mid-1990s. He typed the phrase “Chinese beer” into a search engine. No results appeared. He saw an opportunity.
He started Alibaba in 1999, to help small firms find customers and suppliers without going through costly middlemen. Alibaba.com now claims to have 57m users, including some in nearly every country. It is sometimes likened to eBay, but is more like an online Yellow Pages.
* Science and technology
Another venture, Taobao.com, sells to consumers. It has 300m customers and shifted $29 billion-worth of goods in 2009. It is like a scrappy cross between Amazon and eBay: it operates an online mall where vetted sellers can hawk their wares, and a site where anyone with a Chinese identity number can sell anything legal to anyone. It generates money through advertising.
Alibaba’s staff boast of the businesses they have nurtured. One Chinese village had a stack of rabbit meat, having skinned the creatures for fur. The chief asked for suggestions. A villager sold the lot on Alibaba.com. More commonly, clients are small firms that want to link cheaply to the global...