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alibaba: The Inside Story Behind Jack Ma and the Creation of the World's Biggest Online Marketplace [Hardcover]

Liu Shiying , Martha Avery
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

15 Mar 2009

The first in-depth look at the multibillion-dollar company—known to many as "China's eBay"—and the inspirational story behind the man who created it.

A bestseller in China and now translated into English and updated with recent events, Alibaba by Liu Shiying and Martha Avery tells the remarkable story behind the Internet phenomenon and its founder Jack Ma, a man Barron's named one of the World's Top 30 CEOs in 2008. Ma's rise to prominence presents a riveting story: Despite growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution—in a period of total state control of the economy—he developed the keen entrepreneurial instincts that propelled him to billionaire status and enabled him to build a company outside the usual government channels. These instincts and habits incorporated martial arts training and allowed him to recognize, early on, that the Internet could leverage his company to rapid growth and also transform the way business is done around the world., where businesses can buy and sell everything from air beds to zippers, started with a modest initial investment of $60,000 and has grown exponentially since its founding in 1999 to become the world's biggest business-to-business Web site. In 2007 it became the second largest IPO in history (after Google), and Fast Company has named it one of the world's most innovative companies. As a result, smart investors and technology insiders will be keeping a close eye on Alibaba for years to come. Whether you're seeking to understand China's meteoric rise, or just searching for the next Google, Yahoo!, or Amazon, Alibaba is crucial reading.

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alibaba: The Inside Story Behind Jack Ma and the Creation of the World's Biggest Online Marketplace + The Official Success Guide: Insider Tips and Strategies for Sourcing Products from the World's Largest B2B Marketplace
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: HarperBusiness; 1st Collins Ed edition (15 Mar 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006167219X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061672194
  • Product Dimensions: 2.2 x 15.1 x 23.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 182,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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“[Alibaba is] entertaining. Avery occasionally gives the story a mystical air with allusions to proverbs and martial art…Avery has turned the reverential original into a highly readable tale.” (Financial Times)

“The story of how he built his fortune is not well known. Inevitably, Liu Shiying and Martha Avery, the authors of “Alibaba,” tell us as much about how business works in China as about Mr. Ma’s entrepreneurial achievement.” (Wall Street Journal)

“Ma’s rise is worth digesting. How he progressed quickly from ignorance of the Internet to mastery of the new technology — to overcoming official Chinese resistance — will help American readers realize how surreal establishing capitalism in a quasi-Communist nation can feel.” (USA Today)

“This business history discusses one of the most successful global Internet companies, and, to make it even more interesting, it is also a biography of Alibaba’s eccentric founder, the visionary, and entrepreneurial risk take, Jack Ma… [an] accessible inside look at Chinese e-commerce.” (Library Journal)

“[A]n inspirational story of perseverance.” (Booklist)

About the Author

Liu Shiying is a journalist, CEO of Guangtian Xiangshi Culture Company, and chairman of the board of GT-SUNSTONE, a company that focuses on media consulting. He also serves as deputy secretary general of the Asian Capital Forum and is a consultant for the CCTV program Winning in China. Author of several business publications, he is working closely with CITIC Press and CCTV on a series of books and programs about major business personalities in China. He lives in Beijing.

Martha Avery is president of Avery Press, Inc., which works with CITIC Press in bringing Chinese intellectual property to a Western market as well as bringing Western authors and their works to China. She holds a BA in Chinese and Japanese languages, an MBA from the Wharton School, and has worked for years in publishing and related media business in Japan, Hong Kong, China, and Mongolia. Ms. Avery is also co-editor-in-chief of a forthcoming volume on Chinese banking and finance published by John Wiley & Sons.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read 9 Mar 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
There are very few books which captures so much. If you want to read the history of Alibaba and Jack Ma - read this book. It is very detailed and interesting.

From the early days, how and why it was named Alibaba and how the domain was acquired by the startup.

I strongly recommend this book, and wished similar were there for Amazon, EBay and Google. If you know any, please tell me in the comment.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2.8 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book about building an internet business in a communist country 19 May 2009
By D. J Najarian - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Alibaba" is the tale of how Jack Ma founded Alibaba group--a privately and publicly held internet commerce conglomerate in China. To my knowledge, there is no comparable company in the US--and perhaps the world...and it is worth reading about how Jack Ma created this business.

Alibaba group comprises several companies, including the Chinese equivalent of Ebay (privately held Taobao), Paypal (privately held Alipay), and it's own unique business to business commerce site:, which is publicly traded on the Hong Kong stock exchange (ticker: 1688:HK), but probably more easily accessible to American shareholders on the pink sheets (ticker: is an important company. It has attracted the attention of famous American investors like Jim Rogers, who reportedly bought into the company during its ipo. Jim Rogers reviews the company in his book "A Bull in China." For those who have never seen what a b to b internet commerce company is--just go to take a look! It's fascinating. offers companies a way to instantly "glance" around the world and find a supplier of choice for any product they may need. Want to find a supplier of shoes in Vietnam--you'll find 88 different entries advertising products. Just for fun, type "spices" into the's search engine, and learn about the world's suppliers of spices.'s most important function is to audit the suppliers (for a price) and bless the trustworthy ones. Global trade and Adam Smith's invisible hand will drive the growth of well into the future.

One lesson to be learned by reading this book: don't compete with alibaba group. Jack Ma has brilliantly cultivated relationships with his government that promise to help shield his company (and other home grown Chinese companies) from foreign competition (e.g. Paypal). Moreover, Jack Ma is willing to "dump" his product on the market to undercut the competition (Taobao charges no fees, allowing taobao to destroy Ebay's franchise in China), and he can wait for years before needing to make a profit. In any case, read this book to learn how business is done in China, where many of the world's most important companies now operate...

addendum: 2/5/10 In the past few months, has created "AliExpress." Essentially, is transforming itself into an internet retailer, akin to Alibaba is now attempting to make money on individual transactions between Chinese wholesalers and purchasers throughout the world, using their own "Alipay" service to mediate the transactions. In 10 years this service will be huge. Look out.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Boring, unbalanced and outdated 9 April 2013
By E. Sander - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
After watching the 'Crocodile in the Yangtze' documentary on Alibaba and Jack Ma I bought this book because I wanted to know more about the company and it's background. I have to say it has been a rather disappointing read for several reasons.

First of all, the book is seriously dated. It covers the Alibaba history up to 2008 and is therefore missing the most recent developments in the company and market. It also feels like an incomplete story because at the end of the book Alibaba is still fiercely competing with eBay and integrating Yahoo! in it's organisation. What's more, there's a large extract from a 2008 report on the state of the Internet in China. The statistics are interesting but basically useless since they are 5 years old.

Second, although I liked the first part of the book, which is more about Jack Ma personally and his unexpected accomplishments, the second half of the book is mainly about financial investments, shares, IPOs, organisational reorganisations, etc. Rather dry stuff at best. I'm personally more interested in the marketing aspect of Alibaba and have not found a lot of interesting material in this book.

Third, I have found the book to be overtly positive on anything that happens with Ma and Alibaba. The writing often has an almost revering tone to it proclaiming almost anything Jack Ma and the company does as extremely smart and even justifying the bigger mistakes made. It also fails to mention some of the criticism the company has received during the years. As such, the book reads more like a PR document for Alibaba than an objective report.

Finally, the book was clearly written for the Chinese market and some things just don't translate well. There's a lot of use of Chinese proverbs in the narration of the story that just seem strange to westerners. Also, some concepts like Jack Ma's fascination with Chinese martial arts and the implementation of it's concept into his management style is described in such depth and detail that most western readers will be lost. Finally, it describes some of the more protectionist aspects of the Chinese economy that have played a role in Alibaba's success in a rather inapprpropiate positive way.

All in all I found this to be a relatively boring, unbalanced and outdated account of an exciting story. I would urge anyone to watch 'Crocodile n the Yangtze' instead of reading this book.
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book to learn about Alibaba and Jack Ma 28 Dec 2009
By Apellicon - Published on
Alibaba is a global leader in business-to-business e-commerce. Its founder Jack Ma is not your typical business executive. For one, he failed multiple times to enter top Chinese Universities. He later utilized his strong english skills to become an english teacher which helped with his transition into business. He was a visionary and saw early on the potential of the internet. He risked big, failed big, but never gave up until he transformed alibaba into a dominant internet company. Visit
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Inspired by Jack Ma 27 Jan 2013
By K. Chen - Published on
This book is very inspiring for the young generations. It encourages them to go after their dreams. Sometimes, education encourages students to go step by step. But in reality, it may not be the case all the time. Nobody could tell Jack Ma, who failed the college entrance exam twice, would become one of the most important figures in the Internet era.

Alibaba, of course, is a success. Ma found the market and enlarged it. Jack Ma is such an inspiring person. Two quotes are very inspiring from Ma:

1. "Entrepreneurs must know the answers to the two question. First question is, What do you want to do? It's not what your parents want you to do, or what your colleagues tell you to do. It's not what others are doing but what you want to do indeed. Second question is, What do you need to do? You must understand that this is not about what you can do. Instead, it's what you should do."

2. "There's no way back on entrepreneurship. The biggest failure is to give it up."

I wrote a blog about it: [...]

If you have a dream, go after it.
1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Alibaba Multi-function hair curler coil generating blower comb 20 July 2013
By foley - Published on
I was looking for a hair blower with curler brushes and found this site and this product. It looked great. Cost me $65 and 6 weeks waiting period to get the product. When it arrived I immediately made sure it was all there and it worked,and it did! I have used it on and off for the past 2 months (there is a 30 day return policy) and after about 6 uses it stopped working. The thing doesn't come on.

I could fight and try to get my money back, but it's not worth the time and trouble. A $65.00 lesson learned.
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