Duncan Clark, author and founder and chairman of China Internet consultancy BDA China, talked about his newest book, “Alibaba: The House that Jack Ma Built”, at an FCC lunch on June 7. Clark first met Ma in 1999 in the small apartment where Ma had just founded Alibaba. He said Ma has an outsized personality and a large public following, but he has been careful not to fall foul of the authorities. If anything, he has positioned Alibaba as a useful ally as the government attempts to put Chinese consumers in the driving seat. Spend more, save less is the new mantra.
Alibaba, which was founded 17 years ago and now employs over 38,000 people, has experienced lots of ups and downs, both as a private and a public company, and gone through many reorganisations. Clark said Alibaba is more of a commerce company than a tech company, although its future is increasingly one in which technology plays a leading role. Ma himself does not have a tech background but he does have colleagues who do.
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 running BDA China. Initially he helped raise money for the likes of telecom operators China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, then went to co-founder or early-stage invest in a number of technology ventures including AppAnnie, Student.com and Radish Fiction.