What is Alibaba?

O pen sesame,” a person on a San Francisco street said to Jack Ma. “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” a waitress in the city’s coffee shop told him.

Rather than a study of Persian literature, the Chinese school teacher-turned businessman was testing out what he would name his new company. His previous company, China Pages, had flopped. Of the nearly three dozen people he asked that day about the poor woodcutter Ali Baba who stumbled upon hidden treasures from the Arabic-language tales One Thousand and One Nights, he said everyone knew what it meant.

“Ali Baba is a kind, smart business person, and he helped the village,” Ma later recounted. “So … easy to spell, and globally known. Alibaba opens sesame for small- to medium-sized companies.”

Started in 1999, Alibaba would grow from a Hangzhou, China-based company that helped small, local businesses sell their products online to a behemoth in the world of e-commerce. It’s a web of related companies and Internet properties that would come by 2013 to facilitate the sale of $248 billion worth of merchandise — double what Amazon did in the same year, according to Bloomberg.

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. made its American public debut Sept. 19 on the New York Stock Exchange, in what is expected be the largest IPO in history. The conglomerate includes business to business shops, business to consumers shops, wholesalers, music sharing, and an online-payment system, and is valued at $160 billion.

‘Crocodile in the Yangtze’ documentary looks at Alibaba’s rise


Alibaba 101

Alibaba.com is a large business-to-business retail shop, connecting buyers and suppliers. The range can be dizzying — Gala apples, electronic cigarettes, water bowls for baby chickens, solar water heaters, hair removal epilators. Alibaba.com mostly deals in bulk — meaning you can get a two ounce essential oil bottle for only $0.098, but your minimum order would have to be 10,000 bottles.

But the Alibaba Group is made up of many entities, including Alibaba.com. Here’s a way to get a sense of what some of them do, via comparisons to western companies they’re kind of like in what they deal in:



A dossier of Alibaba’s who’s-who

Click on a name for their dossier.


Company timeline

Alibaba Group is established

Alibaba Group is established by its 18 founders, led by Jack Ma, working out of Jack Ma’s apartment in Hangzhou. Its first website is English-language Alibaba.com, a global wholesale marketplace.


Alibaba Group launches China marketplace

Alibaba Group launches a China marketplace (currently known as 1688.com) for domestic wholesale trade.


Alibaba.com surpasses one million registered users

December 2001

Taobao Marketplace founded

Online shopping website Taobao Marketplace is founded, again in Jack Ma’s apartment.

May 2003

Inaugural Netreprenuer Summit

Alibaba Group organizes its first Netrepreneur Summit, a gathering of Internet entrepreneurs, and honors the first 10 Netrepreneurs of the Year.

June 2004

Aliwangwang launched on Taobao Marketplace

Aliwangwang, a personal computer-based instant messaging tool that facilitates text, audio and video communication between buyers and sellers, is launched on Taobao Marketplace.

July 2004

Alipay launched

Alipay, currently a related company of Alibaba Group, is launched as a third-party online payment platform.

December 2004

Alibaba Group forms a strategic partnership with Yahoo!.

August 2005

Alibaba Group takes over the operations of China Yahoo!

October 2005

Taobao Marketplace founded

The Taobao University program is launched, providing e-commerce training and education to buyers and sellers.

July 2006

Alibaba completes IPO on SEHK

Alibaba.com completes its initial public offering on the Main Board of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

November 2007

Alibaba Group launches Alimama

Alibaba Group launches Alimama, an online marketing technology platform.

November 2007

Taobao Mall is introduced

Taobao Mall (currently known as Tmall.com), a dedicated platform for third-party brands and retailers, is introduced to complement Taobao Marketplace.

April 2008

Alibaba Cloud Computing established

Alibaba Cloud Computing is established in conjunction with Alibaba Group’s 10th anniversary celebration.

September 2009

Alibaba acquires HiChina

Alibaba.com announces the acquisition of HiChina, China’s leading Internet infrastructure service provider.

September 2009

Taobao Marketplace introduces online group buying marketplace Juhuasuan.

March 2010

Mobile Taobao app launched

August 2010

Juhuasun spun off

Juhuasuan is spun off from Taobao Marketplace as an independent platform.

October 2011

Alibaba Foundation Established

Alibaba Group establishes the Alibaba Foundation with a sizeable fund dedicated to social causes.

January 2012

Taobao celebrates 10th Anniversary

Taobao’s 10th anniversary is marked with a global gathering of Alibaba Group employees in Hangzhou.

Read more
May 2013

Alibaba Group unveils the Alibaba Smart TV OS.

July 2013

Alibaba Group officially launches its mobile social networking app, Laiwang.

September 2013

Alibaba goes public and goes big

After its first day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange, BABA broke the record for the largest-ever intital public offering, earning $25 billion.

September 2014


Alibaba in America

Alibaba has been on an investor ‘spending spree’ for Silicon Valley companies. Experts say its U.S. investments are vital to its strategy to become the world’s top e-tailer.

How to Alibaba CCTV America’s Owen Fairclough gets a ‘walk-through’ of Alibaba, how it’s different than Amazon, and how Americans can use it.

Danielle Bailey, research director at L-Two, a business research firm with a focus on branding, explains Alibaba’s expansion plans in Europe and U.S.


The U.S. IPO

Alibaba is likely to break all IPO records. Friday’s closing price gave the company a value of $231.44 billion, compared with $150 billion for Amazon and $67 billion for eBay.

For context, Forbes notes Amazon has a market capitalization of around $150 billion.

Alibaba offered 320.1 million shares for a total offering size of $21.77 billion. Underwriters have a 30-day option to buy up to 48 million more shares. Jack Ma has said he will sell 12.75 million of his own shares, roughly 6 percent of what he owns. After the sale, Ma will still retain more than 8 percent ownership.

Alibaba co-founder Joseph Tsai said he will sell 4.25 million of the 83.5 million shares he owns, and Yahoo, which owns just over a fifth of the company, will sell 121 million shares.

A group of 27 managers dubbed the “Alibaba Partnership” will have the power to nominate a majority of board members, a structure that was unpalatable to Hong Kong’s stock market and resulted in Alibaba deciding to list in New York.

Alibaba says the arrangement will preserve its innovative culture in a fast-developing industry and reduce distractions from financial market fluctuations. The plan echoes tech founders in China and abroad who say they need to retain control to keep alive the creative energy of their startup days and launch new initiatives, even if that lowers short-term profits.

As the countdown to the Alibaba IPO commences, CCTV America was joined by Dan Stefan, Senior IPO analyst with Privco. He shared some of investment advises to would-be investors.

No more than two months after Alibaba bought a film company, it asked for the stock to be suspended.

2014 has been a record year for companies choosing to go public. The United States is getting ready for one of its biggest listings, Alibaba.

Alibaba is slated to go public in the U.S. on Friday. Demand has been so high that it has boosted its price range to $66 to $68 a share, up from $60 to $66. There hasn’t been so much hype for an IPO since Facebook’s in 2012.

The U.S. leg of Alibaba’s roadshow is in full swing. The e-commerce giant’s top executives and underwriters are here in New York meeting with investors.

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba says it expects to price its initial public offering at between $60 and $66 per a share. According to its regulatory filing, Alibaba’s listing would be the biggest U.S. IPO ever.

More and more foreign companies that want to go public are going to New York. Alibaba is preparing to list on The New York Stock Exchange in what could become the biggest tech sector IPO in U.S. history.

Could the Alibaba IPO be one of the biggest ever? Alibaba is expected to start trading on the New York Stock Exchange around September 19th. Bloomberg has valued Alibaba at a little less than $200 billion. For an in depth look at the stock market launch, Matt Turplip, senior analyst at financial researchers PrivCo, sat down with CCTV America’s Michelle Makori.

Alibaba announces changes to IPO We spoke to Michael Moe, CEO and the CIO at GSV Asset Management in San Diego.

Alibaba’s Asian leg of US IPO roadshow begins in Hong Kong Alibaba started its Asia roadshow from Hong Kong Monday, for its IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. The company’s founder, Jack Ma, highlighted Alibaba’s plans of becoming a global company by expanding into the U.S. and European markets after its listing.


…we have insisted that normal people can do extraordinary things.

Jack Ma – May, 2014 Letter to employees prior to SEC filing

Investing FAQ (Frequently-asked Alibaba Questions)

Now that Alibaba is trading on the New York Stock Exchange, can regular investors get a bite of the action? Adviser Investments CEO Daniel P. Wiener answered some common questions about investing in the e-commerce conglomerate.

Can a non-U.S. investor buy Alibaba stock?

What’s the difference between buying a share of Alibaba vs. buying a share of Amazon?

Will I actually have ownership in Alibaba if I buy stock?

Would you, the expert, buy Alibaba stock the day it goes public?

Can I get Alibaba stock at its IPO price on the first day?

Can Alibaba become a trillion dollar company?


Comparing Alibaba’s IPO

Alibaba Group’s initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange was the largest in history.

Roll over each bar to see how much the top ten companies raised on their market debut day.

Data: Associated Press, Wall Street Journal


The Filing

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba files for US IPO

More and more foreign companies that want to go public are going to New York. Alibaba is preparing to list on The New York Stock Exchange in what could become the biggest tech sector IPO in U.S. history.

Investors say Alibaba IPO filing leaves many questions unanswered The much-anticipated IPO by Alibaba could become the biggest in U.S. history, but its debut comes at a time when internet and tech stocks are stumbling.

NYSE and Nasdaq battle for Alibaba The New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq are battling it out for one the biggest Initial Public Offerings ever as Alibaba is preparing to go public with a valuation of around $150 billion.


Our proposition is simple: we want to help small businesses grow by solving their problems through Internet technology. We fight for the little guy.

Jack Ma – SEC filing letter

Jack Ma

J ack Ma is the richest person in China and No. 35 in the world. Executive chairman of Alibaba Group and one of the company’s co-founders, Ma was born in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China. From when he was 12 through 20 years old, he would ride his bike for 40 minutes to Hangzhou’s West Lake district to practice English as a tour guide for tourists.

Ma graduated with a degree in English from Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute in 1988. He became a teacher making 100 to 120 renminbi, about $12 to $15 a month, after being rejected for a job at Kentucky Fried Chicken. His first venture into business, China Pages, was a flop.

Alibaba was born in 1999 in Ma’s Hangzhou, China apartment. His ownership in the company was worth roughly $18.2 billion, after Alibaba’s closing share price on its first day trading on the NYSE. That doesn’t include the shares he sold in the IPO, which are worth another $867 million, and his other investments.

He’s known for a strong affinity to martial arts novels, and, according to Bloomberg, asks employees to chose their work name and identity as a character from popular fantasy books. The one he chose? Fictional kung fu guru Feng Quingyang.

But Ma said his biggest hero wasn’t one of the Chinese warriors, rather, it’s Forrest Gump.

“I really like that guy,” Ma said during an interview with business channel CNBC. “Every time I’m frustrated, I watch the movie. (The movie tells) me that no matter whatever changed, you are you.”

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eBay is a shark in the ocean. We are a crocodile in the Yangtze River. If we fight in the ocean, we will lose. But if we fight in the river, we will win.

Jack Ma