In 1999, in a small apartment in Hangzhou, China (about 2.5-hour drive from Shanghai) Jack Ma and 17 friends launched the company we know today as Alibaba.

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Jack Ma and the other founders meeting in his Hangzhou apartment. Circa 1999.

The company was founded with the vision of helping small entrepreneurs sell their products on a global scale. After raising 25 million from investors, it only took three years, and Alibaba had positive cash-flow.

As a child, growing up in communist China, Jack Ma learned how to speak English by offering tours of Hangzhou to tourists in exchange for English lessons. As he grew, he became more and more interested in the internet and how it could help small businesses. That’s when, as an English teacher making $12 a month, Jack and friends came together to form Alibaba.

 

From 1999-2014, Alibaba remained relatively unknown in North American households, although it was a massive name in China and India. It was in 2014 when the company famously IPO’d with the largest public offering of all time, raising $25 Billion. 

In 2005, Yahoo bought 30% of the company for $1 billion. They later sold half of their stake in 2012.

Today, the company is worth around $468 billion and has over 103,000 employees. Jack Ma, officially stepped down as company CEO in September of 2018 to focus more intently on philanthropy efforts. He is still in control of 11.7% of the company’s shares and retains significant power on the board.

Although Alibaba is relatively new to North America, on a global scale, they are a behemoth.