In just a decade and a half, Jack Ma, a man from modest beginnings who started out as an English teacher, founded Alibaba and built it into one of the world's largest companies, an e-commerce empire on which hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers depend. Alibaba's $25 billion IPO in 2014 was the largest global IPO ever. A Rockefeller of his age who is courted by CEOs and presidents around the world, Jack is an icon for China's booming private sector and the gatekeeper to hundreds of millions of middle-class consumers.
Duncan Clark first met Jack in 1999 in the small apartment where Jack founded Alibaba. Granted unprecedented access to a wealth of new material including exclusive interviews, Clark draws on his own experience as an early advisor to Alibaba and two decades in China chronicling the Internet's impact on the country to create an authoritative, compelling narrative account of Alibaba's rise.
How did Jack overcome his humble origins and early failures to achieve massive success with Alibaba? How did he outsmart rival entrepreneurs from China and Silicon Valley? Can Alibaba maintain its 80 percent market share? As it forges ahead into finance and entertainment, are there limits to Alibaba's ambitions? How does the Chinese government view its rise? Will Alibaba expand further overseas, including in the US?
Clark tells Alibaba's tale in the context of China's momentous economic and social changes, illuminating an unlikely corporate titan as never before.
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By Tristan on 02-09-16
Strange: Best part of story happens "off-screen"
"Alibaba" is a good book despite a near-fatal flaw. The author is an investor and he cares about what investors care about: deal-making, IPO's, threats to valuations, etc. Sometimes he lets that interest overshadow the actual storytelling.
One example is so flagrant it is hilarious. Most of the launch of Alibaba—surely the critical turning point of Jack Ma's life—happens "off-screen." We learn about some deal-making that went into convincing the first employees to join the project. A page or two later we learn about a deal with some early investors, and as a note in that deal Clark mentions Alibaba had by then gained over 250,000 customers. Nothing worth mentioning went into getting their first quarter million customers?
Such moments of early launch play a central role in Isaacson's "Steve Jobs" and Vance's "Elon Musk." In this book, it was left out. The omission leaves a big question open. Clark notes that Ma runs a technology company despite knowing nothing about coding or the internet's machinery . How did he do that? I would like to know. The book skipped over that part.
Clark makes other strange choices. He describes the life story and character of multiple Chinese entrepreneurs and then never returns to them.
And yet, despite all this, it's a good book and it's worth reading. The perspective of an investor on one of the world's highest valued companies is interesting. He appears to do a great job conveying what it's like to do business in China and the history of entrepreneurship in the country. Jack Ma's life makes for a compelling story—despite some of the odd choices in focus.
Should you read Alibaba? Yes. Chinese technology firms are starting to overtake silicon valley ones in a number of arenas. It's a good idea to understand what they are all about, and it's a fun book to do it with. Just join me at rolling your eyes at Clark's investor-myopia.
23 of 24 people found this review helpful
By Nathan on 30-04-16
Terrible narration if you know Chinese mars good book
The book itself is both interesting and insightful. As somebody engaged in the China Internet space for work, and consequently very familiar with the content I found learned quite a bit about personalities and backstory delivered in engaging prose. True the book is very pro Jack and BABA but this is not a surprise, and does not obscure facts.
But if you know any Chinese, preparing to spend the entire book alternating between cringing and puzzling over the generally incomprehensible narration of every single Chinese word other than Alibaba, Ma, and Tsai. The inability to select a Chinese speaker to conduct narration on a book about China is inexplicable and disappointing.
42 of 48 people found this review helpful