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Book Notes: ‘Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built,’ by Duncan Clark

Alibaba: The House that Jack Ma Built

From time to time I share notes about the books I’ve been reading, or have revisited recently after many years.

These posts are meant to help me remember what I’ve learned, and to point out titles I think are worth consulting.

They’re neither formal book reviews nor comprehensive book summaries, but I hope you find them useful. For previous postings, see my Book Notes category.

Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built

Published: 2016
ISBN: 9780062413406
Amazon link

Brief Summary

The story — told by China expert, former investment banker, and onetime Alibaba advisor — of how Jack Ma founded the country’s online shopping juggernaut and built it into a growing global force.

My Three Key Takeaways

  1. Jack Ma is unlike founders of other global tech titans. He’s not a graduate (or even a dropout) of a top university. He’s not a technical whiz. He doesn’t come from a privileged background — his mother was a factory worker and his father was a photographer. He was never an engineer or a banker, but instead worked for some time as an English teacher before launching various businesses.

    But he is a curious person, a big believer in the power of the internet, and a quirky and charismatic leader — he is known for “Jack Magic“: his ability, like Steve Jobs’s “reality distortion field,” to inspire and win people over.
  2. Alibaba wasn’t built as a clone of Amazon or eBay any other e-commerce equivalent, exactly. It was designed to connect sellers to buyers, and designed specifically for China.

    Ma’s understanding of what Chinese consumers and merchants want has allowed him to outlast other rivals.
  3. Ma thinks long-term, but it’s unclear how his more recent bets (forging into cloud computing, sports, media) will pay off.
  4. Some notable quotations (all emphasis mine)

    • “Jack, more than any other, is the face of the new China. Already something of a folk hero at home, he stands at the intersection of China’s newfound cults of consumerism and entrepreneurship.” (Introduction, p. xii.)
    • “China’s e-commerce market differs in important ways from the United States and other Western economies, the legacy of decades of state planning and the important role still played by state-owned enterprises. Alibaba has sought out and exploited the inefficiencies these have created, first in e-commerce, now in media and e-commerce.” (Introduction, p. xv.)
    • Household spending in the United States drives two-thirds of the economy, but in China it barely accounts for one-third. (p. 3.)
    • “Alibaba has a much greater impact on China’s retail sector than Amazon does in the United States. Thanks to Taobao and its sister site, Tmall, Alibaba is effectively China’s largest retailer. Amazon, by contrast, only became one the top ten retailers in America in 2013.” (p. 4)
    • “In the same way Alibaba has exploited the inefficiency of offline retail, offline banking has proved a ripe fruit for it to pick.” (p. 19)
    • “When he was asked which person had most inspired him, Jack replied without hesitation, ‘Forrest Gump.’ His interviewer paused, then said, ‘You know he’s a fictional character?'” (p. 25)
    • “Perhaps the most famous lesson of Jack the teacher is known by heart by every Alibaba employee: ‘Customers first, employees second, and shareholders third.’ Jack describes this as Alibaba’s philosophy.” (p. 27)
    • “Alibaba has been a team effort from the start. Jack doled out much more equity, and at an earlier stage, than many of his Internet founder peers. But he has kept a firm control on the company through his gift for communicating and his lofty ambitions.” (p. 35)
    • “Although it sickened thousands and killed almost eight hundred people, the outbreak had a curiously beneficial impact on the Chinese Internet sector, including Alibaba. SARS validated digital mobile telephony and the internet, and so came to represent the turning point when the internet emerged as a truly mass medium in China…Crucially for Alibaba, SARS convinced millions of people, afraid to go outside, to try shopping online instead.” (p. 159)
    • “The tide was turning against eBay. From a market share of more than 90 percent in 2003, eBay’s market share fell by half the following year — barely ahead of Taobao.” (p. 173)
    • “At the entrance to its VIP visitor suite there is a photo from July 2007 of Jack welcoming Xi Jinping to Alibaba. Xi today of course is president of China but back then he was Communist Party secretary of Shanghai.” (p. 239)
Categories
Journalism Tech

Alibaba Bets Another $2 Billion on Southeast Asia

2018-03-21_alibaba_lazada

That’s the headline of a story I wrote with my colleague Liza Liz, which ran on Monday. It begins:

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Executive Chairman Jack Ma is doubling down on Southeast Asia, investing another $2 billion in e-commerce subsidiary Lazada Group and naming trusted confidante Lucy Peng as its chief executive.

The investment announced Monday comes on top of the $2 billion the Chinese e-commerce giant has poured into Lazada since buying a majority stake in 2016.

Singapore-based Lazada operates online marketplaces in six Southeast Asian countries including Indonesia, selling everything from lipstick and car wax to instant coffee and smartphones.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
India Journalism Tech

A Browser You’ve Never Heard of Is Dethroning Google in Asia

Uc browser

That’s the headline of my newest story, out today. It begins:

JAKARTA, Indonesia—A mobile browser rarely used in the West has outflanked Google’s Chrome in some of Asia’s fastest-growing markets, giving owner Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. an advantage in the race among technology giants to capture the next generation of internet users.

Hundreds of millions of people in India, Indonesia and other emerging markets getting online for the first time are picking UC Browser, owned by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, over ones made by U.S. rivals. Users say UC Browser works better in countries dominated by low-end smartphones and spotty mobile service.

“It’s faster, it takes up less memory, and it looks better” than Chrome, said Rizky Ari Prasetya, a 20-year-old Jakarta resident who recently ditched Chrome for UC Browser.

India and Indonesia are among the last, great untapped markets for internet users. Just 30% of India’s 1.3 billion people are online, and only 25% of Indonesia’s 260 million use the web, according to the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations body.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
Journalism

By Me Today: China Tech Firms are Leading Asia’s Mobile Money Race

2017-09-22smartphone

The story begins:

NEW DELHI—Silicon Valley is home to the world’s most influential consumer-tech firms, but China’s online corporate titans are way ahead in the race to build mobile-payment services in many of the world’s fastest-growing consumer markets.

China’s digital-payments market, by far the world’s largest, is dominated by e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and social-media champ Tencent Holdings Ltd. Now these giants have started transferring money, product advice and technical know-how to mobile money startups in other Asian markets, from Indonesia to India.

As people across Asia increasingly move from cash to smartphone apps for buying goods and transferring money between individuals, U.S. firms remain “still very focused on their home market” and trying to increase usage there, said Shiv Putcha, an analyst at research firm IDC in Mumbai.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
Newley's Notes

Newley’s Notes 85: Me Talking Trump and Visas; BBC’s Viral Classic; Barca: Amazing; Micro-meteorites

2017 03 13NN

Edition 85 of my email newsletter, Newley’s Notes, went out to subscribers Saturday.

To get these weekly dispatches delivered to your inbox before I post them, enter your email address here. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s brief, and few people unsubscribe.


Hi friends, thanks for reading Newley’s Notes.

Apologies for the delay in sending this edition out. I missed a week, so this NN is even more action-packed than usual.

WHAT I WROTE IN THE WSJ:

I story I’d been working on for some time ran recently, and has provoked a strong response online, with more than 450 comments on The WSJ site, and more than 800 reactions, 230 shares and 150 comments on Facebook:

Indian Workers in U.S. Fear Trump H-1B Visa Crackdown.

TLDR: Foreign tech workers are concerned that under Pres. Trump, changes to the program might suddenly force them to pack up and leave the country. Many have put down roots in the U.S., buying homes and sending kids to school. I spoke with dozens of folks for this story. Please give it a read.

Other stories:

More on H-1B stuff: Indian Outsourcing Firms Look to Get Ahead of Immigration Curbs. The story begins:

Under pressure from President Donald Trump’s administration, Indian outsourcing firms are working behind the scenes to prevent potential immigration curbs in the U.S., their most important market.

India’s big IT services firms employ millions of people and contribute significantly to the Indian economy. And the U.S. is their biggest market, so a tightening of visa rules is a real threat to their business models.

Meanwhile a colleague and I on Fri. held a Facebook Live video chat on H-1B issues. We took questions from viewers and I discussed some of my recent stories. The video has been watched more than 85,000 times already.

And finally, in other news, I wrote this piece: Alibaba Raises Stake in India’s Crowded E-Commerce Market. It begins:

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. is placing a big bet on India’s hotly contested e-commerce market, pouring $177 million more into Paytm as the Chinese tech titan chases growth beyond its shores.

5 ITEMS THAT ARE WORTH YOUR TIME THIS WEEK:

1) What will surely become of the most viral videos of all time was recorded yesterday. Yes, I’m referring to the kids interrupting the guy giving the BBC interview.. <– Give it a watch if you’re one of the few people who hasn’t seen it yet.

In my view, the video was an instant hit because it involved these key elements:

  • A live TV #fail. Who doesn’t love one of those?
  • A gif-able, funny, toddler strut
  • The woman, apparently his wife, rushing in frantically
  • The older kid yelping when run over by the younger kid
  • The crawling door close
  • The guy — the telegenic Robert E. Kelly, a professor at a university in S. Korea — trying to maintain a straight face
  • Brevity — all of this happened within 45 seconds!

2) Barcelona staged one of the most amazing comebacks ever seen on a football field. Down 4-0 in the first leg of a Champions League round of 16 game, the Spanish side came back to beat Paris Saint-Germain 6-1 Wednesday, scoring three goals in the final seven minutes.

Here’ the NYT write-up. And The Guardian has a good roundup of the celebrations and reaction online.

3) Project Stardust: A well known jazz musician in Norway has pioneered, in a new book, methods for collecting cosmic dust in places like rooftops. Click through for the context.

Here’s more on the book and the man, Jon Larsen.

4) India PM Narendra Modi: MicroManager-in-Chief. My very talented WSJ colleagues here in New Delhi have written a fascinating deep dive with behind-the-scenes details on how the most powerful Indian leader in a generation goes about governing.

Highly recommended for those interested in India and South Asian politics.

5) “Jimmy Buffett Launching Margaritaville Retirement Homes.” That’s the headline on this Hollywood Reporter story:

According to the website for Latitude Margaritavile, the first of the communities is being planned in Daytona Beach, Fla., and it promises that the party will continue well into the golden years.

Amazing.

What’d I miss? Send me links, rants, raves, juicy news scoops and anything else! My email: n@newley.com

Thanks for reading.

Love,
Newley