Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba is only three days into its two-week roadshow ahead of listing on the New York stock exchange and already Reuters is reporting that it is fully subscribed.
Alibaba initially said it plans to list the shares in the $60-$66 US price range. But the popularity of the stock may push that price higher before Sept. 18, when it has said it will set the final price, before beginning trading on the 19th.
At the top end of expectations, the Alibaba IPO would raise $21.1 billion US, making it the largest technology IPO ever, ahead of Facebook Inc's $16 billion listing in 2012.
The projected stock price already values Alibaba at $162 billion. The reported success of the offering, gives it potential to raise even more money with a higher price.
While it is not yet a household name in North America, Alibaba is the biggest e-commerce company in the world — bigger than Amazon and eBay combined.
Its founder, entrepreneur Jack Ma, is the richest man in China and has successfully tapped into the rise of the Chinese middle-class and the power of the internet to create a huge and extremely successful enterprise.
"People keep on asking me what's the difference between Amazon, eBay and Alibaba. I would say Amazon and eBay are e-commerce companies and Alibaba is not an e-commerce company,” Ma said as he kicked off the roadshow to raise capital.
“Alibaba helps others to do e-commerce. We do not sell things. We call ourself a company designing a platform, a company that is running an ecosystem."
With the capital he raises, Ma will be able to build a profile in North America that could make his company a household name here as well.
For investors, the lure of the company is the potential for growth in a company that already dominates the e-commerce market in China.
'China sees him as great ambassador for brand China' - consultant Michael Zakkour
“It’s the massive revenue that it facilitates which is over $200 billion, which exceeds Amazon and eBay,” says Brad Stone, a writer for BusinessWeek. “It’s generating an enormous sales volume and the growth of that sales volume is tremendous.”
That’s because Alibaba doesn’t just link buyer and seller as does eBay, or sell to consumers like Amazon or orchestrate payment like Paypal — it fulfills all those functions.
“With Alipay they’ve got the credit information of millions of Chinese,” Stone said in an interview with CBC’s The Current.
Despite its large volume of sales, Alibaba’s revenue at $8.4 billion a year is smaller than Amazon and it’s unlikely to present a direct threat to U.S. brands such as Amazon, eBay and Paypal, Stone said.
Capital to buy companies
But most of its growth in the past few years has been from buying existing companies and after its IPO, it will have an enormous war chest to continue buying.
Just recently, Ma has bought a soccer team, a bank and a money management firm in his native China.
- THE CURRENT: Alibaba is China's answer to Amazon, eBay and PayPal and it's heading for the biggest stock offering in US history
Stone expects Alibaba to continue its expansion into cross-border trade worldwide. The company actually began as a means for small Chinese companies to showcase their products on the internet to global consumers.
It may choose emerging markets for expansion, he said.
“India is a huge battleground. Amazon just announced they’re going to spend $2 bilion to compete there. Alibaba will definitely look for growth, not necessary in the West, but in the economies whose internet economies are just beginning to accelerate,” Stone said.
Ma was an English teacher who first was exposed to the internet in the West in the 1990s. Seeing its potential, he formed Alibaba in 1999, tapping technology talent then just emerging in China.
For the past 15 years, he has managed to ride the wave of internet trends, from e-commerce for consumers on his internet malls Taobao and Tmall to the recent advent of mobile payment.
Like all savvy business leaders in China, Ma is well-connected in the Chinese government.
Well-connected in China
Michael Zakkour, China/Asia Pacific practice leader at consulting companyTompkins International believes China has cultivated domestic business heroes such as Ma.
“China sees him as great ambassador for brand China,” Zakkour said in an interview from Shanghai.
China has few brand names known in the West, and China hopes Alibaba will be one of the first, he added.
The emergence of a mass consumer population in China is a remarkable change to that country’s culture that Ma has been fortunate to tap, Zakkour said. That consumer population is 300 million now and growing.
Alibaba’s success is “a testament to the explosion of disposable income and the growth of the Chinese consumer market,” he said.