In 2014, Amazon overtook Wal-Mart as the largest retailer—not just online retailer—in the entire world. Of course, Amazon had dominated online commerce for the majority of its 20-year history. The one-time bookseller had moved on to feature just about every product under the sun. To many, it seemed as though Amazon had captured a throne it would never give up. Then came Alibaba.
Like Amazon, Alibaba took a long time to grow into a massive behemoth. Back in 1998, it was just the brainchild of Jack Ma (Ma Yun in Chinese). Three years prior, a trip to Seattle changed his life when he was introduced to the Internet – his first search “beer.” However, despite the fact that he was told you could find anything online, Ma discovered that products from his homeland of China were virtually nowhere to be found. Upon his return, Ma got busy starting China Pages, arguably the first Chinese online business ever. Though it failed, four years later he would try again with Alibaba.
Despite the fact that they occupy similar spaces, Alibaba and Amazon are actually quite different. By the time its record-setting $25 billion IPO came out on May 6th, 2014, Alibaba had significantly added to its resume. At first, Ma’s idea was simply to create an online marketplace where exporters from China could list their products for potential buyers around the world. Today, there are nearly 20 companies under the Alibaba umbrella or affiliated with the company. This includes Taobao, a company that was created to be the Chinese eBay and is now one of the top-20 most visited sites in the entire world.
Why Is It Called Alibaba?
The name came to Ma when he was sitting in a coffee shop in San Francisco. However, if it hadn’t been for a certain waitress, the now-famous “Alibaba” brand name may have fallen by the wayside.
According to Ma: “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 globally known. Alibaba opens sesame for small- to medium-sized companies.” Ma also registered “Alimama”, just in case, “someone [wanted] to marry us!”
SEE ALSO: Why is it called Amazon?
An Unlikely Founder & CEO
All of this success is impressive in and of itself, but it’s all the more unbelievable when you consider Jack Ma’s initial trajectory. Originally, he wanted to become a teacher, a goal that would see him fail the college entrance exam twice before finally gaining entry. To this day, Ma still doesn’t know how to code either. However, those who have known him since before his days as a tech icon have said he has always had an infectious personality and a proclivity for breaking the mold. Ma got his idea off the ground by bringing 17 friends into his apartment and convincing them off his vision. When his company finally hit profitability, he provided a can of Silly String to each of his employees and told them to have at it. Once a year, his company still throws a talent show for its employees. Hosted in a giant soccer stadium that can hold thousands, participants put weeks into practicing their routines.
With growing operational and logistical complexities Ma officially stepped down as CEO on May 10, 2013 to focus his efforts on environmental protection and education. He wrote “At 48, I am no longer ‘young’ for the Internet business. “The next generation of Alibaba people are better equipped to manage an Internet ecosystem like ours. I believe they understand the future better than I do.”
With Ma out of the day-to-day operations, do you think Alibaba will continue to innovate and maintain their dominate marketshare? Comment below. Thanks for reading Why is Alibaba Called Alibaba!
John Greving is the newest contributor at Rewind & Capture. He has a degree in English and a background in storytelling, crafting content and freelancing for a variety of clients.