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I Visited Alibaba, The $100 Billion Chinese Internet Company Where 24,000 People Are Making Marissa Mayer Look Good

Marissa Mayer took over Yahoo in July 2012.

I Visited Alibaba, The $100 Billion Chinese Internet Company Where 24,000 People Are Making Marissa Mayer Look Good
Tech1 min read

Since then, the stock has exploded. But, really, much of the credit goes to Alibaba – a Yahoo investment in China that has performed exceptionally well.

Since then, the stock has exploded. But, really, much of the credit goes to Alibaba – a Yahoo investment in China that has performed exceptionally well.

But what's Alibaba?

But what

Alibaba was founded in 1999 by this guy, Jack Ma.

Alibaba was founded in 1999 by this guy, Jack Ma.

Alibaba is based in Hangzhou, a two hour flight from my base in Beijing

Alibaba is based in Hangzhou, a two hour flight from my base in Beijing

In China, Hangzhou is best known as a tourist destination, thanks to a beautiful lake called West Lake.

In China, Hangzhou is best known as a tourist destination, thanks to a beautiful lake called West Lake.

I flew to Hangzhou on a Monday morning.

I flew to Hangzhou on a Monday morning.

Hangzhou has three million people, making it a small city for China. On the drive from the airport to the campus, I saw a homes like this one.

Hangzhou has three million people, making it a small city for China. On the drive from the airport to the campus, I saw a homes like this one.

After a 25 minute drive, I arrived on campus. Check out the cool parking structures out front.

After a 25 minute drive, I arrived on campus. Check out the cool parking structures out front.

Just like in Silicon Valley, lots of employees come to work on bikes.

Just like in Silicon Valley, lots of employees come to work on bikes.

As we entered the campus through a shadowed passageway, I wondered what it would look like…

As we entered the campus through a shadowed passageway, I wondered what it would look like…

…it turned out to be a huge, massive complex.

…it turned out to be a huge, massive complex.

There were little trucks ferrying things about.

There were little trucks ferrying things about.

There were little trams for moving people around, too.

There were little trams for moving people around, too.

The place was similar to Yahoo's Sunnyvale campus or the Googleplex in Mountain View, except…

The place was similar to Yahoo

…everything felt new…

…everything felt new…

…or still under construction.

…or still under construction.

Clearly, the place is growing fast.

Clearly, the place is growing fast.

In the middle of the campus, there is an estuary with walking paths through it.

In the middle of the campus, there is an estuary with walking paths through it.

We took this one.

We took this one.

In the middle of November, the temperature was in the 70s.

In the middle of November, the temperature was in the 70s.

Just like Google with its Android statues, Alibaba has its own corporate mascots all over campus.

Just like Google with its Android statues, Alibaba has its own corporate mascots all over campus.

Here's one.

Here

Here's another.

Here

When we finally entered a building, we found this Lambourgini replica, built entirely from parts bought on Taobao.

When we finally entered a building, we found this Lambourgini replica, built entirely from parts bought on Taobao.

My guide took me to a top floor to get a view of the whole campus.

My guide took me to a top floor to get a view of the whole campus.

24,000 people work for Alibaba – more than Yahoo and Facebook combined.

24,000 people work for Alibaba – more than Yahoo and Facebook combined.

We went to a room with this big array of monitors, giving live updates on traffic

We went to a room with this big array of monitors, giving live updates on traffic

Obviously, I don't know what most of the monitors were showing.

Obviously, I don

Here's a closer look at one, which seemed to show where in China usage was coming from.

Here

These are some of the brands using Tmall to sell goods

These are some of the brands using Tmall to sell goods

We left the building, and walked through this pleasant courtyard.

We left the building, and walked through this pleasant courtyard.

Then we went into the middle building on this picture.

Then we went into the middle building on this picture.

The floors are so shiny because there was a guy constantly mopping them.

The floors are so shiny because there was a guy constantly mopping them.

Inside this building, there was a very popular Starbucks

Inside this building, there was a very popular Starbucks

It looked like any Starbucks in the world.

It looked like any Starbucks in the world.

There was also a gift shop…

There was also a gift shop…

…and this florist.

…and this florist.

Finally, we saw some Alibaba employees at work. The place was quiet.

Finally, we saw some Alibaba employees at work. The place was quiet.

On the walls, there were photos from company events – like the annual wedding ceremony held at Alibaba HQ…

On the walls, there were photos from company events – like the annual wedding ceremony held at Alibaba HQ…

…or scenes from the company's annual employee talent show, held at a local stadium.

…or scenes from the company

Big company-wide events are much more common in China than the US.

Big company-wide events are much more common in China than the US.

Here's another shot from the talent show. It's a big deal.

Here

Employees rehearse for weeks.

Employees rehearse for weeks.

This is a photo from when Jack Ma stepped down from the CEO job earlier this year.

This is a photo from when Jack Ma stepped down from the CEO job earlier this year.

Finally, I sat with a few executives and learned about the company.

Finally, I sat with a few executives and learned about the company.

Alibaba's main businesses are Taobao, a site where almost anyone can buy and sell goods…

Alibaba

…and Tmall, where offline brands can set up stores to sell to Chinese consumers.

…and Tmall, where offline brands can set up stores to sell to Chinese consumers.

There are two secrets to its success. The first is that Taobao is entirely free to use. There are no fees for buyers or sellers.

There are two secrets to its success. The first is that Taobao is entirely free to use. There are no fees for buyers or sellers.

The second is that Alibaba blocks China's most popular search engine, Baidu, from searching Taobao and Tmall

The second is that Alibaba blocks China

That means if Chinese consumers want to shop, they start with searches on Taobao and Tmall.

That means if Chinese consumers want to shop, they start with searches on Taobao and Tmall.

Then, Alibaba monetizes those eyeballs, by selling search ads on Taobao and Tmall.

Then, Alibaba monetizes those eyeballs, by selling search ads on Taobao and Tmall.

In a way, Taobao/Tmall is more like Google than eBay or Amazon. (Google makes all its money from commercial searches.)

In a way, Taobao/Tmall is more like Google than eBay or Amazon. (Google makes all its money from commercial searches.)

Alibaba's biggest vulnerability is mobile. Until recently, it was developing mostly for the Web. Now it's building its own mobile OS and all products are mobile first.

Alibaba

That was it for my tour of Alibaba. This was my last view of the place.

That was it for my tour of Alibaba. This was my last view of the place.
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