Founder Jack Ma Lays Out Alibaba’s US Strategy

Founder and executive chairman Jack Ma said there’s a big opportunity for Alibaba in the United States: “Alibaba was founded in China, but it was created for the world.”

Ma spoke today at The Economic Club of New York, and he made similar points in a new op-ed for The Wall Street Journal (paywall). He said that as Alibaba has grown, and especially after it had the largest IPO over, he’s been constantly asked when Alibaba is coming to the U.S.: “When are you going to compete with Amazon? When are you going to compete with eBay?”

“We show great respect for eBay and Amazon,” he said. “I think the opportunity and the strategy for us is helping small business in America go to China, sell their products to China.”

He went on to note that China’s middle class is now the size of the entire population of the United States, and he predicted it will grow to half a billion in the next decade. China will need to import products to serve that middle class, particularly since domestic manufacturing has already strained the country’s resources and created problems with pollution.

“We need more American products,” he said.

Ma added that Alibaba already works with large global companies like Nokia, but he wants to do the same for small and medium-sized businesses in the U.S. This ties into his global vision — in 10 or 20 years, he said Alibaba should offer a simple promise: “You buy it anywhere, you sell it anywhere.” That means any online shopper anywhere in the world should be able to buy a product through Alibaba and receive it in 72 hours (and any shopper in China should get it in 24 hours).

Alibaba isn’t particularly well-understood in the United States, Ma admitted. He said it’s often compared to Amazon, but Alibaba doesn’t buy or sell products itself. Instead, it helps small businesses buy and sell their own goods: “We do not deliver our packages ourselves, though we have more than 2 million people helping us deliver over 30 million packages per day. We do not own warehouses but we manage tens of thousands of warehouses for small- and medium-sized delivery companies.”

That resulted in $390 billion in sales last year, and Ma said that globally, Alibaba could be larger than Walmart this year. Eventually, he hopes to reach $1 trillion in sales.

During the question-and-answer session, Ma was also asked about the challenges of working with the Chinese government. Yes, he said, U.S. companies have had problems in China, but Chinese companies have had problems working with the U.S. government, too. The key is to be patient and take the long view.

“In the next 10, 20 years, I bet there will be a lot of U.S. Internet companies successful in China — because you cannot stop it,” he said.