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