Taobao Party Shows Ma's Attitude

Alibaba founder retires as CEO, introduces new chief at May 10 event.

by staff writer
- May 20, 2013

As we sat surrounded by 40,000 people waiving glow sticks during Taobao's 10th anniversary celebration on May 10, I couldn't help but feel like we were at a rock concert.

The lights were low, and the twinkle of red horns, long yellow glow sticks and multi-colored strobe lights illuminated the Zhejiang Yellow Dragon Sports Center in Hangzhou, China. Spirits were high despite the rain and jetlag some people felt from having traveled thousands of miles to attend the event.

The audience was made up of Alibaba employees—which included about 60 Auctiva staff members—and Taobao customers. We donned yellow and blue ponchos to keep the rain off. Local employees were thrilled for the event to get underway. They screamed in anticipation long before the kickoff. Auctiva employees were just in awe of the event's grandeur.

It was exciting, not just because this was the first time many Auctivians had been to China, but because Ma has had such an impact on e-commerce

It was a night to celebrate Taobao's success and to say goodbye to Jack Ma, 48, as Alibaba's CEO. In March, Ma announced he would step down from his company's day-to-day operations, though he'll continue being chairman of Alibaba Group. When he made the announcement, Ma noted that an Internet business, like his, needed a younger person at the helm.

Jonathan Lu, Alibaba's former chief data officer—a man five years younger than Ma—would take the reins of the company.

Developing a giant

It was an exciting night, not just because this was the first trip many Auctivians had taken to China, but because Ma has had such an impact on e-commerce, and he now stood just 30 feet away.

When Ma took the stage the crowd exploded. It was obvious he is a rock star in China. And it makes sense. Ma, a former English teacher, started Alibaba in 1999 with a small staff and little money. Today, the company is a multibillion-dollar business with employees in Asia, Europe and the U.S., and 25 e-commerce business units—among them, Taobao, a tremendously popular consumer marketplace that launched in 2003.

By 2006, Taobao had picked up so much steam that it pushed eBay out of China. eBay simply couldn't compete. And Taobao keeps getting bigger and more popular.

As of June 2012, it had more than 800 million product listings and more than 500 million registered users. According to researcher Alexa, which tracks traffic to websites, the site is among the top 20 most visited sites.

During the event, Ma blew away the audience by belting out two songs accompanied by a band of Alibaba employees. It was a very Ma thing to do. The charismatic entrepreneur is known for standing out, for being provocative and for bringing out excitement in people. He certainly did that on May 10.

A lot of people don't like changes… but I'm grateful for this era of change

'Grateful for change'

Brandon Bowen, an Auctiva Customer Support representative, was among the Auctiva employees who attended the event. He says it was "an incredible experience."

"The show was far above what I was expecting," he notes. "The show was visually stunning and the crowd's energy was like they were watching a show from a high-level rock concert."

I think Ma would like that comment. He ended the night by introducing Lu as the new CEO of Alibaba, recalling that, 10 years ago, few people thought Taobao would be what it is today, and welcoming the new era for him and his company.

"Nobody could have thought that Taobao would be successful, and nobody could ever predict the demise of Netscape," he said as his "rock concert" came to a close. "A lot of people don't like changes… but I'm grateful for this era of change."

What will Ma do next? We'll have to wait to see. Some news sources say he'll become China director of The Nature Conservancy, which aims to protect natural resources. What he did say was that he'll take the next part of his life to do things he enjoys.

About the Author

Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.

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