Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, just laid out his vision for the future of the company while speaking at a luncheon with the Economic Club of New York on Tuesday.
Ma made one thing clear — branching out of China is key for the company’s future. Specifically, Ma wants small businesses from the United States to buy and sell their products on Alibaba.com.
Right now, Alibaba.com mainly features Chinese exporters selling to people in other parts of the world (and there’s some admittedly weird stuff on there).
“My purpose coming here is we need more American products in China,” he said. “We have a hungry 100 million people coming to buy everyday. We did not come here to compete. We came here to bring small business.”
Ma is positioning Alibaba has an attractive option for small businesses in America to tap into the giant e-commerce market in China. He pointed out that big companies established in the United States already have a presence in China, but it’s not as easy for smaller companies to flourish in China.
That’s where Alibaba comes in. E-commerce is huge in China, Ma says, simply because it’s the best way to buy products in the country.
“[The] infrastructure in China was too bad,” Ma said. “Here you have Walmart, etc. In China we have nothing, nowhere. [In America] e-commerce is the dessert, it’s complementary [to brick and mortar shopping]. In China, it’s the main course.”
Ma also addressed the constant comparisons made in the US between Alibaba and Amazon and eBay. Ma doesn’t see Alibaba as a competitor to either of those platforms, mostly because Alibaba is a destination for small businesses to sell goods online. (The company also operates two Chinese-language sites: Tmall and Taobao, which have more similarities with Amazon and eBay than Alibaba.com, and 11 Main, an English-language site launched in the US last year to sell American goods).
Like Amazon, Alibaba.com serves as a shopping destination for millions of consumers, but Alibaba doesn’t have any of its own warehouses or products. Instead, it helps small companies manage their respective warehouses.
“We do not buy and sell,” Ma said. “We help small businesses buy and sell.”
Now, Ma wants to focus popularising small American businesses in China through Alibaba. China has been set on exporting goods for the past 20 years, but now Ma thinks it’s time to turn that around.
He acknowledged that it wouldn’t be easy, but the value Alibaba could bring to Chinese consumers and American businesses would be worth it.
“We know the way is not easy,” he said. Then, paraphrasing one of his favourite catchphrases, “In the past 20 years, doing internet business in China, today is difficult. Tomorrow is more difficult. But the day after tomorrow is beautiful.”