Since going public in the US last year, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has continued its explosive growth. Today, it’s on track to become bigger than Wal-Mart.
Former vice president Porter Erisman, who worked at the company for 8 years, can still remember the day he realised how big a deal Alibaba was going to be.
It was November 7, 2006, he writes in his new book “Alibaba World,” and company founder Jack Ma was giving a speech at a conference in San Francisco.
Known for his enthusiastic speeches and colourful quotes, Ma described himself as “like a blind man riding on the back of a blind tiger,” since he founded a technology company without knowing anything about computers.
But he also added one piece of advice that apparently ended up being very influential to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
“Believe in your dreams, find good people, and make sure the customer is happy,” Ma said. “I see a lot of US companies sending professional managers to China. They are making their boss in the US happy, but not the Chinese customer.”
Erisman says he couldn’t believe his eyes when he noticed Bezos sitting in the back of the auditorium, furiously writing down what Ma was saying. Alibaba had long admired Amazon and Bezos, and had adopted some of the American company’s ideas.
The two founders ended up meeting after the presentation to chat briefly.
“You made some great points up there, Jack!” Bezos told Ma.
It became clear exactly how good Bezos thought those points were seven months later when Erisman read a Wall Street Journal article where, in an interview, Bezos described how he would avoid the problems other tech companies had faced in China.
Other companies struggled, he said, “because the Chinese management team is busy trying to keep their American bosses happy, instead of trying to keep their Chinese customers happy. And that’s a mistake we will not make.”
Seeing Ma’s quote more-or-less copied by Bezos was a big moment for Erisman. And only a few years later, Alibaba’s sales volume would be bigger than eBay and Amazon’s combined, he writes.
Fast-forward to today, and using Ma’s advice didn’t seem to work for Amazon. The American e-commerce company has been struggling to take on Alibaba in its native country — winning just 1.3% marketshare in Q3 2014, down from 15.1% in Q3 2008, according to The Wall Street Journal. Amazon did, however, recently opened up a store on Alibaba’s shopping site Tmall.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.