Initiation – The Alibaba Platform

Early on in the AGLA program, our Global Managing Director K Guru Gowrappan paid us a surprise visit. Guru literally means – ‘a teacher who imparts initiation’, and that is what we were in for the next 2 hours. We all knew Alibaba was a big eCommerce company with global plans, but how it was going to go about it was a question that all of us had. Before the questions, we all had our own views. Within our class we covered the length and breadth of the globe – 32 participants from 14 nationalities. We were pretty diverse. In the days preceding Guru’s talk, we were immersed in understanding the Chinese and Alibaba culture. The next stop in  our journey would be to understand how we plan to do things outside China.

Guru began by  explaining to us the complexity of Alibaba’s eCommerce platform in its entirety – how ours was a platform that had all the pieces of the puzzle, how we went about connecting with our consumers throughout their lifetime on our platform, the technology touchpoints and their monetization – which were important learnings for all of us.


In Alibaba’s overall eCommerce ecosystem, the marketplaces of Tmall, Taobao and AliExpress facilitate the interaction between buyers and sellers. Alipay ensures that transactions are completed and buyer – seller interest are catered for through escrow services. Alimama connects them together to bring rich data insights about consumer behaviors to brands, and provides them with a wide array of marketing channels to reach their target audience. The base of all of this is formed by our cloud infrastructure – Aliyun (Alibaba Cloud). Aliyun powers everything that we do from marketplace to payments, and from navigation to digital entertainment.


But the big question that was on all our minds was – “how do we plan to do this outside China?” Guru heard us all patiently and then shared the secret with us – “Guys, we don’t have to be Hercules and do it all ourselves. Our strategy for every country and geography is nuanced, and we have a blueprint for how we will prioritise areas of business, as well as identify partners with local expertise, with whom we will build in each of these markets together.” This was the aha moment for a lot of us. Our perceptions of eCommerce were clearly driven by the model that Amazon follows. Amazon is a retailer and hence enters every market with its own supply chain, assortment and retail products on its website; for Amazon to enter a new market, it always entails a big investment. On the other hand, when Alibaba looks at entering a new market, its sticks to its core principles of teamwork and sharing. We team up with a local partner because they understand the market better than us, thus we share the opportunity to grow the business with them. We have seen this through the various partnerships in Southeast Asia and India, and this will be our modus operandi for other markets as well.

To expand globally, we must partner locally. We want to be clear about the strengths we bring to the table, and we respect those of our partners’. The growth of our partners like Lazada and Paytm is a testament of this belief.

Manas Roy is a passionate rationalist who believes that every act has merit in it, all you need is to be flexible enough and willing to adjust your perspectives. He is currently exploring the multi-faceted platform world of Alibaba and hopes to take his learning to help grow Alibaba’s presence in global markets and serve consumers around the world

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