Image via Alibaba
Recently, I had the pleasure of attending Alibaba’s Gateway ‘17, a two day conference in Detroit targeted at educating small to medium American businesses about the virtues of selling to China via Alibaba’s various platforms, such as TMall, Taobao, etc., and to generally promulgate the Alibaba-branded dream.
Presided over by Lisa Ling, the conference featured a panoply of American celebrities and entrepreneurs, with notable addresses by Martha Stewart, Charlie Rose, Marcus Lemonis, and, of course, Alibaba founder and Internet visionary, Jack Ma.
Born in Hangzhou, China, Jack Ma left his job as a teacher in the early ‘90s after coming into contact with the latent pre-Internet in Seattle. From there, Jack founded the now defunct China Pages, which listed Chinese businesses on the Internet. The venture eventually morphed into what Alibaba is today – host to the preeminent B2C and C2C platforms in China … and keeper of a crucial ecosystem of interrelated services, viz., Alipay and Aliyun (its cloud-based services).
Ma’s presentations had themes that are consistent with his overarching business and life philosophy. First, the theme of overcoming failure. Ma was rejected repeatedly in his youth – even from the likes of KFC. Yet, he surmounted all obstacles and sprang back from his setbacks. His message of perseverance resonates not only with Chinese audiences, but also with global spectators.
Second, he emphasized the notion of a customer-centric business philosophy. For Jack, happy and satisfied customers are his most important stakeholders (followed by employees and then, lastly, shareholders) and he stressed how all new products and realms into which Alibaba expands must stem from what his companies learn from customer needs. Jack attributes the success of Alibaba to the fact that it puts its customers first. In fact, Alibaba is so successful it will have the fifth largest GDP, nation-wise, by the year 2036.
Thirdly, Jack encouraged small to medium American businesses to jump into the China market, sans hesitation, via Alibaba’s platforms. In fact, this was the very reason the conference was held, and in Detroit nonetheless, —to show American entrepreneurs that they could greatly expand their consumer base and overall revenues by tapping into the China market. This often elusive market was presented as completely accessible via partnering with Alibaba.
Post-presentations, the conference featured a variety of breakout panels highlighting different key topics on U.S.-China export-import businesses, such as Fashion and Apparel, Fresh Food, establishing a brand in China, and how to find a wholesale distributor. Additionally, the conference featured ample opportunity for networking and business card distribution.
All in all, Gateway ‘17 represented an impressive effort on behalf of Alibaba to further woo the American market. Just how many small to medium American manufacturers set up shop on Taobao Global remains, of course, to be seen…… China’s cross-border e-commerce sales will reach $150 billion by 2020, and the lionshare will, realistically, be seized by Alibaba with its ever-expanding and ever-innovating reach.