Of Sharks and Crocodiles

The Discovery Times channel has an interesting 4-part series entitled ‘China Rises’. Along with the who’s who of prominent Chinese Entrepreneurs, a small feature on Alibaba founder Jack Ma is shown. To say that Jack Ma is an interesting character is an understatement. The guy learned English by trading local tours for English lessons, and he was one of the first (if not the first) to start an internet-company in China. He owns China’s largest e-commerce company, Alibaba.com, and just recently acquired Yahoo! China in October of 2005.

In the Discovery Times segment he tells the story of his idea for an auction rival to eBay, the story goes:

“A year and a half ago, I went to Wall Street in New York and I told them, ‘I just launched an auction site called TaoBao to compete with eBay.’ All the people were shocked, they said ‘Jack, you are crazy, you can find anybody to compete with but don’t compete with eBay because they are too strong.’ I was very angry at the time, why do they think I would lose?

I told them if eBay was strong, it was a shark in the ocean – but we are a crocodile in the Yangtze River. When the crocodile fights with the shark in the ocean, it will lose. But if the shark swims into the Yangtze River, it will have big trouble. So I think to have eBay as our rival is good for us, but it might be a disaster for eBay.”

So the moral of the story is, don’t be afraid of a little competition.

The Closet Entrepreneur

, , ,

» This entry was filed under Advice


  1. Wow, that is some cool talk regarding business/entrepreneurship! It’s a good point, too, although if I recall from the Wikipedia articel on Jack Ma, he’s described (perhaps inaccurately) as a bit reckless so he might just be talking a big game. On the other hand, he does have a point, and who knows how Chinese markets differ from the American ones. It will be interesting to see how that plays out…

  2. TOMAS

    Actually, do a few searches and you’ll see him mentioned as ‘Crazy’ Jack Ma. As far as Taobao.com goes, it’s going to be a battle with eBay since eBay already has established its roots in China (eBay was beat to the punch by Yahoo! & Softbank in Japan). From the online articles I’ve read so far, Taobao will remain free for 3 years in an attempt to grow its customer base which leaves critics skeptical since 1) fees may drive away customers and 2) the quality of items up for auction may be of question.

    Who knows what will happen, especially if Jack Ma is able to appeal to the locals by playing the Nationalism card (with only ~10% of Chinese residents on the net, there are a lot of future customers to win over). One thing is for sure, the battle has become personal. In a Red Herring article, Jack Ma accuses eBay of paying for a huge ad in front of his building, so Ma placed Taobao ads on the entry to the subway station right in front of eBay’s offices. He then comments on Meg Whitman’s trip to China being similar to “President Bush personally searching caves with a machine gun.”

    This is going to be fun to watch.

Leave a Comment

Please type the answer to the math equation. Click the pic to hear the numbers.
Click to hear an audio file of the anti-spam equation