Book Excerpt: Seeds Of Alibaba’s IPO Planted In 2004 Battle With eBay

In light of Alibaba’s upcoming IPO, I thought it would be appropriate to run a series of excerpts from my book The Chinese Dream, which documents Alibaba’s humble beginning, its triumph over eBay, and Jack Ma’s legendary story.

The first episode is set in 2004. eBay just entered China and planned to dominate China’s nascent online market. An unknown Chinese company, Alibaba, started a sister site called Taobao to compete with eBay. Everyone thought this was a crazy idea. However, Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder and CEO, was undeterred. He asked his team to stand upside down so that they could look at the world from a totally new perspective.

He said, “EBay may be famous in the United States, but in China, if you ask one hundred people whether they’ve heard about eBay, I believe that less than 10 percent have heard of it. But if you ask one hundred people whether they’ve heard about Alibaba, 90 percent know about us…. I believe we have a chance.”

Read the full story on Forbes.com.

McDonald and Coca Cola’s New Mobile App Lures Consumers

Recently, McDonald and Coca Cola launched a new app that encourages people stay engaged with each other rather then being distracted by constant phone calls and messages. As featured in Trendwatching’s July newsletter:

In May 2014, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola partnered in the Philippines to launch BFF Timeout, an app that rewards users for not using their phones. Once individuals in a group have all opened the app, the timeout begins and points are earned for every moment the phones are left alone. As soon as anyone uses their phone, the timeout ends. Users’ scores are ranked on a public leaderboard, and prizes include trips to Japan and Singapore.

I believe that the next wave of innovation in mobile-commerce and social-commerce will come from Asia. Companies need to pay close attention in this area in order to stay ahead of the curve.

SAIC Taking Wrong Approach to Build Its Brands

China’s number 1 auto maker, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. (SAIC), is setting up a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley to tap advanced technology for its automobile brands back home. As Rose Yu writes in the WSJ’s China Real Time blog:

Chinese car companies, including SAIC, could do with all the help they can get, as the majority of Chinese consumers prefer foreign-branded cars. Chinese domestic brands’ market share in the country’s passenger-vehicle market fell to 36.5% in May from 39.4% in the year-earlier period, the ninth-consecutive month of decline, according to data from a government-backed industry group.

“Building a brand is an arduous job,” said Chen Hong, Chairman of SAIC Motors. “Chinese car makers must go upscale, otherwise the situation will be worse.

“In terms of sales, SAIC is a big car company. But when it comes to core technologies, we are far from strong enough,” said Mr. Chen, who became chairman in May. “Silicon Valley houses a number of emerging-technology companies. Having a footprint there will help improve our innovation ability.”

But how could “having a footprint in Silicon Valley” help improve their innovation ability? It’s not like breathing the Silicon Valley air will automatically make a company more innovative. Money isn’t only the way to acquire new technologies. The best innovations happen where the problems need to be solved. SAIC doesn’t need to look farther than China to find these.

Speaking at Carlsberg Global Leadership Conference

I had the honor to speak at Carlsberg global leadership conference in Chongqing recently. The Danish brewing company has made heavy investments in Western China, betting on the growing Chinese middle class.

Every other year, the company brings its top CEOs and senior executives from around the world in a two-day meeting to re-focus its growth strategy. This is the first time that Carlsberg held its global leadership conference in China, or in Asia for that matter. This shows how important the China market is for multinationals such as Carlsberg.

As part of the two-day program, Carlsberg had a banquet party “China Night” on May 14th, where Chinese singers and dancers performed various traditional shows. My favorite is always the “face-changing” performance. In a Tibetan ethnic dance, I was pulled on the stage along with other Carlsberg executives and was dancing with the performers. That was a lot of fun!

Previously, I had an opportunity to speak at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati on a similar subject as well.