Friday, October 16, 2015

Book review: Alibaba's world by Porter Erisman



I am currently on holiday and then I take time to read a few books. One of them is the book “Alibaba’s world” written by Porter Erisman. Funny now I write this down, I realise “Porter” is his first name. While reading the book, I constantly thought that everybody called him Porter just by his last name..:)

Reading the book Alibaba's world from Porter Erisman
Reading the book together with my friend, the seagull


I decided to buy this book because I am interested in international e-commerce especially the Chinese and eastern e-commerce developments as this is where innovation is coming from.



The book starts off with an introduction about Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba. When China opened up and foreigners visited China, Jack was curious and started to talk with them. This is how he learned English and how the world beyond China look liked.
For another job, Jack was sent to Seattle and one of his friends introduced him to the internet. Jack searched for the word “China” but there were no results. Jack said “This is something interesting, if we can take companies in China and make a homepage for them, this could be something big”!

So Jack went to China and set up China’s first internet company. China pages. Some kind of dictionary, like there were a lot back then. It had some success and this is how he got connected to the government helping small business with e-commerce. Jack wanted to empower Chinese companies with e-commerce and not control them, like the government wanted. He started Alibaba to do so.




The book continuous when Porter tells how he got to work at Alibaba in the early days. People who are hired at Alibaba back then are not there for earning fast money, they had given op their large expat compensation packages and are there for the adventure.
It’s like entering a family with a shared goal.

I had the feeling all the time, but the book confirmed it to me. Western companies or area's where the "new economy" is not really new anymore, are often too arrogant in e-commerce.

An example is the Hong Kong department of Alibaba in the early days that has had lot’s of expat staff who worked for multinationals in their careers and were used to manage the local staff , not the other way around as what was happening in the Hangzhou department of Alibaba. But the same can be seen in the battle between ebay and alibaba.

A nice thing to read is also that Alibaba was not setup by a team of senior managers and professionals but by a group of people that had a common bond and experience in working in China.

The company was many times very low on budget. Staff often slept and worked out of tiny apartments, and there was even an period where they did not do paid marketing activities. But no one complained about these conditions, there was a shared sense of ownership among everybody, both management and employees as nearly everybody in the company had stock options.

A large part of the book is about the war with Ebay in China.

Ebay at that time was the largest e-commerce business in the world and was already active in China, Jack decided to start the competition by introducing Taobao, meaning search for treasure. It is interesting to read how the competition goes on and becomes tougher and tougher, and especially ebay make it themselves far more difficult then that would have been necessary, they were ignoring or had difficulties understanding in what Chinese consumers and businesses really wanted. Alibaba made the competition fun, by being creative and thinking out of the box. There is a very nice story in the book about ebay not allowing Alibaba at one of their events, they were previously invited to. At the eleventh hour ebay reversed their decision to invite Alibaba. But Alibaba stroke back with making everything around the venue that Ebay organised Alibaba orange and they rented two presidential suites close to the venue where people could come and watch presentations about Alibaba.

A few screenshots from the book, that is a very good read, after reading you really wish you were there in that time , to be part of this adventure.., at least I had that feeling very strongly!

It seems like a non arrogant and open company where working is fun, jokes can be made, it is not all about money, but about creating something new, about an adventure, about adding value for customers and helping to improve the country.

The book helped me understand the Chinese e-commerce market better and helped in understanding more strategic questions and how to solve them.

Innovation comes from the east!

Below I will add a few screenshots from the book, to give you some insights..but go ahead and buy the book. It is really worth it.

Alibaba Creating value for the country and the Chinese customers


Localisation in crossborder ecommerce is important like this example from Alibaba





Jack Ma "Learn from competitors, but never copy them! Copy them and you will die! "I like that phrase, keep on being creative, listen to your customers and make services and products they like. Solve their problems. Go beyond your competition. 




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