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商业 - 科技

老朋友古永锵谈阿里IPO:马云知道自己的极限

Verne Kopytoff 2014年05月07日

阿里巴巴今天正式申请上市,创始人马云再次成为聚光灯下的焦点。早在阿里巴巴未创办之前已认识马云的优酷CEO古永锵对《财富》表示,马云是一位开拓者和梦想家,但他成功的秘诀在于清楚自己的极限。

    中国在线零售商阿里巴巴集团(Alibaba Group)的联合创始人马云一向很愿意跟听众们分享自己创业之初的艰辛。

    2011年,在斯坦福大学(Stanford University)演讲时,他回忆说:“我们是一家非常幸运的公司。当时我们生存下来的机会微乎其微。我没有家庭背景,既不是富二代,也没有靠山。”

    如今,阿里巴巴已经成为电子商务领域的庞然大物,相当于eBay、贝宝(PayPal)和亚马逊(Amazon.com)的结合体。周二,阿里巴巴申请首次公开募股,有望成为美国历史上规模最大的IPO。马云曾做过教师和英文翻译,去年他卸任阿里巴巴首席执行官,正如他所说,这是为了给年轻人提供更大的舞台,因为他们更适合当今的互联网。但马云依旧担任着阿里巴巴董事局主席的职务,仍然是公司的战略决策者和精神领袖,对这家公司有着长远的影响。

    中国在线视频网站优酷网(Youku)的首席执行官古永锵说:“很显然,他是一位开拓者和梦想家。”最近,阿里巴巴向优酷投资了12亿美元。

    马云与古永锵的第一次见面是在15年前。那时候,阿里巴巴还没有诞生,古永锵希望聘用马云。当时,马云只是说了他设想的公司的名称,而没有透露自己的商业计划。古永锵回忆起马云是这样说的:“我不能告诉你我的商业计划是什么——这是商业机密。”最近,在阿里巴巴入股优酷的谈判中,两人再次握手。虽然马云已经不再负责阿里巴巴的日常管理,还把CEO的职务正式交给了接班人陆兆禧,但他依然在很大程度上参与了会谈。

    古永锵说:“马云虽然已经卸任,但依然很忙。”

    在中国,马云是可以与苹果(Apple)联合创始人史蒂夫•乔布斯相提并论的名人。去年,几万名客户和员工聚集在一座足球场,倾听马云卸任CEO的告别演讲。当时依旧是典型的马云式高调风格。他身穿华丽的银色上衣和帽子出场,演讲之前还唱了一首中国流行歌曲,观众们则以欢呼呐喊表示欢迎。

    1999年,互联网在中国刚刚兴起,马云在17位朋友的帮助下,在自己的公寓里创办了阿里巴巴。最初,阿里巴巴是一个中小型企业在线商品交易的平台。后来,马云又创办了针对消费者市场的姊妹网站淘宝网(Taobao)。

    虽然面临eBay的激烈竞争,但阿里巴巴网站还是迅速吸引了大批用户。许多分析师认为,阿里巴巴的崛起是因为靠初期的免费政策吸引了用户,同时又迎合了中国人的口味。

    市场分析公司S&P Capital IQ的分析师斯科特•凯斯勒这样描述马云:“他有长远的眼光——这在当今并不多见。他能坚持自己的愿景,在应该大胆出击的时候表现果敢。”

    事实上,马云并不回避斗争。虽然马云也有顽童的一面,但多年来,他也曾多次将矛头对准美国高管和美国公司。马云曾多次声称eBay在中国必将遭遇失败,果然一语中的。他还经常与阿里巴巴的大股东雅虎(Yahoo)发生争执,不过现在双方已经重归于好。

    近几年,在马云的推动下,阿里巴巴不断向在线支付、银行业和云存储等领域扩展。此外,他也积极在中国和美国(令许多人感到意外)进行投资。去年,阿里巴巴向在线零售商快递服务公司ShopRunner投资2亿美元。上个月,美国拼车服务公司Lyft融资2.5亿美元,阿里巴巴也参与了投资。

    凯斯勒认为,马云的计划是使阿里巴巴走出中国。计算机制造商联想(Lenovo)是为数不多真正打入西方市场的中国公司之一。

    凯斯勒说:“他们把自己看成首批走向世界的中国公司。实际上,真正打入世界市场的中国公司并不多。”

    周二提交的IPO文件显示,截至12月31日的九个月内,阿里巴巴的收入为65亿美元,利润为28亿美元。其中绝大多数收入来自中国,约为47亿美元。

    赴美上市是阿里巴巴全球野心的另一个标志。其他中国公司,比如中国搜索引擎百度(Baidu),虽然也在美国上市,但更多是出于财务现实的考虑,而不是为了进军美国市场。

    Jack Ma, co-founder of Chinese online retailer Alibaba Group, likes to tell anyone listening that his company faced slim odds as a start-up.

    "We are a very lucky company," he recalled during a talk Stanford University in 2011. "There was no chance that we would survive. I don't have any background, rich father or strong uncles."

    Today, Alibaba is an e-commerce colossus that is roughly the equivalent of eBay (EBAY), PayPal and Amazon.com (AMZN) combined. On Tuesday, it filed for an initial public offering that could be the largest in U.S. history. Ma, a former school teacher and English translator, stepped down as Alibaba's chief executive last year to, as he put it, leave room for younger talent that is more in tune with today's Internet. However, as executive chairman, he still casts a long shadow over the company as its strategist and philosopher-in-chief.

    "He's clearly a pioneer and a visionary," said Victor Koo, chief executive of Youku, a Chinese online television site in which Alibaba recently led a $1.2 billion investment.

    The two men first met 15 years ago when Koo tried to recruit Ma for a job just before Alibaba's birth. At the time, Ma would only reveal the name of his brainchild but not its business plan. "I can't tell you what it is – it's a secret," Koo recalled Ma saying during their talk. They crossed paths yet again during the recent negotiations for Alibaba's stake in Youku. As usual, Ma was quite involved during meetings despite officially withdrawing from Alibaba's day-to-day management and leaving the CEO job to his lieutenant, Jonathan Lu.

    "It's a very engaged retirement," Koo said.

    In China, Ma is a celebrity in the mold of Apple (AAPL) co-founder Steve Jobs. Legions of customers and employees packed a soccer stadium last year to see his goodbye speech as CEO. In his typical bombastic style, Ma preceded the talk by belting out a Chinese pop song on stage while wearing a gaudy silver suit and hat. The crowd roared its approval.

    Ma, with the help of a group of 17 friends, started Alibaba out of his apartment in 1999 just as the Internet started to take hold in China. It began as a site for small and medium-sized businesses to buy and sell goods online. Later, he created a sister site, Taobao, that is focused on the consumer market.

    Despite intense competition from eBay, Alibaba's Web sites quickly gained users. Many analysts credit the company's rise to initially offering free listings to attract users and its appeal to Chinese tastes.

    "He's someone who thinks very long term - which is something that isn't very common these days," Scott Kessler, an analyst with S&P Capital IQ, said of Ma. "He was true to his vision and bold as appropriate."

    Indeed, Ma does not shy from tussles. Although impish, he has taken pot shots at a number of U.S. executives and their companies over the years. Ma repeatedly declared eBay's demise in China before it actually happened. He's also frequently feuded with Yahoo (YHOO), a big investor in Alibaba, although they've since patched up their differences.

    In recent years, Ma has pushed Alibaba beyond its roots into online payments, banking and cloud storage. He's also championed investments in China and, to the surprise of many, in the United States. Last year, Alibaba led a $200 million investment in ShopRunner, a delivery service for online retailers. Last month, Alibaba followed up by joining a group that invested $250 million in Lyft, the ride-sharing service.

    Ma's plan is expand Alibaba outside outside of China, Kessler said. Lenovo (LNVGY), the computer maker, is one of the few Chinese companies to have actually made inroads in the West.

    "They see themselves as one of the first Chinese companies to go global," Kessler said. "There really aren't a lot of examples."

    Alibaba had revenue of $6.5 billion and profit of $2.8 billion in the nine months ending Dec. 31., according to its IPO filing Tuesday. The vast majority of the revenue - $4.7 billion - originated from China.

    Filing for a U.S. IPO could very well be one more sign of Alibaba's global ambitions. Others Chinese companies like Baidu (BIDU), the Chinese search engine, have sold shares here, but it was more of because of financial realities than part of an effort to crack the U.S. market.

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