Alibaba's IPO architect lays out blueprint for e-commerce empire

Wed Apr 2, 2014 5:48pm EDT
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By Paul Carsten and Matthew Miller

HONG KONG/BEIJING (Reuters) - Alibaba, the world's biggest e-commerce company, changed how China shops. Now the man driving its blockbuster U.S. stock sale wants to transform the rest of the country's services industry, adding new users to the giant's 300 million customers.

Joe Tsai, executive vice chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, sees an Alibaba future that stretches from banking to education, travel to entertainment. Customers will buy mutual funds using Alibaba mobile applications, safeguard homes with Alibaba insurance, and use Alibaba virtual credit cards to order goods from U.S. websites that will arrive on China's doorsteps in 10 days.

On March 16, Alibaba said it's planning an initial public offering in the U.S. Analysts say it could be worth more than $16 billion. That would surpass Facebook Inc's 2012 listing, valuing Alibaba at over $140 billion.

"In five to 10 years we're still going to be an e-commerce business, but the kind of things we sell on our platform will be a lot more diverse than just physical products," said Tsai in an interview with Reuters days before the IPO announcement.

"We're going to be selling digital content, there's going to be services that will flow through our platforms," he said. "Our vision is to become more a part of people's lives and fulfill all of their needs."

Alibaba already accounts for about 80 percent of all online shopping by individual consumers in China, which iResearch expects to reach 2.45 trillion yuan ($394 billion) this year.

If Alibaba has seemed unstoppable in its 15-year rise, an IPO that could make it one of the world's most important technology companies comes as the firm faces its most serious challenges so far.

Chief rival Tencent Holdings Ltd has the upper hand in mobile services, now the most important battleground for Chinese Internet companies. Alibaba's strategy of building a global e-commerce empire with its own financial services is attracting close scrutiny from China's regulators and resistance from the country's banks.   Continued...

A worker walks past a logo of Alibaba Group at its headquarters on the outskirts of Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, August 24, 2013. REUTERS/China Daily