The internet giant founder shared his thoughts while currently on a charm-offensive in Detroit to attract more American small businesses to the Alibaba platform. Opening up to Charlie Rose in a fireside chat, he told the talk show host that although Alibaba is often known to western audiences as the “Amazon of China”, Ma doesn’t see it that way.
“Amazon is a great company,” he said. “They did a fantastic job in America and the world but they are an e-commerce company. We are not an e-commerce company. We help others to become e-commerce.”
Alibaba’s model is asset-light and focused on being a marketplace, he said, not a retailer.
“We don’t think we are a company. We think we are an economy,” Ma said.
With gross merchandise value of over $550 billion last year, Alibaba handles almost the equivalent of the Argentinian economy, and if considered a country, would rank as the 22nd largest in the world. Two weeks ago, he announced that he wanted the company to move up to the world’s fifth largest economy, and said he hoped to serve 2 billion consumers by 2036, or about a third of the world’s population.
The Alibaba chairman said the fast-changing pace of the internet meant his competition is still yet to be decided.
“Internet is like a 10,000-meter race. We just finished the first 100 meters. Don’t think that the people beside you are your competitors yet,” he warned.”When Netscape was so good, we never thought it would disappear. Yahoo, it was good. We never thought it’d be like today. Don’t believe you’ll be good all the time. Be paranoid.”
“We have a big vision but we may disappear in three, four years…the world changes so fast,” he added. “I worry a lot. Artificial intelligence may take a lot of jobs away and I worry about if we don’t move fast enough, if we don’t innovate enough…most cannot survive in the next 10 years. If small business cannot survive, we cannot survive.”
Ma also brought up counterfeits, an issue that the company is facing troubles over, calling it a “cancer” on the business.
“If people trust you, that’s the most valuable thing,” he said.
Despite being returned to the U.S. Trade Representative’s notorious markets list last December, Ma said, “We are the leader on anti-counterfeiting and IP protection. We know there are three things that will make our site die, three things that will be the cancer of our business: counterfeit[s], IP [infringement] and cheating.”
Since then, Alibaba has noticeably stepped up its rhetoric and efforts on fighting the sale of fake goods on its marketplaces. Still, the company revealed that only 0.07 percent of its reported counterfeiters resulted in convictions, and Ma has called for the Chinese government to implement harsher penalties.