The 35-year-old Hangzhou native with sunken cheeks and a perpetual grin is one of the most energetic boosters of the Internet in China--no conference on the mainland's wired future is complete without him. A former university lecturer, Ma began designing Web pages for government agencies in 1995 and set up his own company, Alibaba, in March 1999. His idea--at least the latest version of it, given his belief that "to keep changing is the best plan"--is to run a global business-to-business ("B2B," in e-biz parlance) website for small and medium-sized companies. The site focuses on providing firms from developing countries with a way of marketing their products around the world. "We have the information, and suppliers can rely on a platform like Alibaba to export to developed countries."
To put up the site and keep it running, Ma employs 40 young graduates ("Not the 40 thieves," he laughs) in two crowded offices in Hangzhou. He pays them about $50 a month and stipulates that they cannot live more than 10 minutes from the office--and still they work 16-hour days for him, seven days a week.
"And believe it or not, we don't even have a business plan," he says. Sound crazy? But of course.
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TIME Asia home
China's Hottest Websites
Sina.com The biggest, heavy on news
Netease.com E-mail provider turned portal
Sohu.com Lost early competitive advantage due to management problems
BUSINESS-TO-CONSUMER AND AUCTIONS
8848.net Online shopping with preexisting network of retail stores to deliver goods
Dangdang.com Online bookseller
Eachnet.com Leading auction site
Clubciti.com More auctions
Alibaba.com Worldwide trading of products
Meetchina.com Online registry of Chinese exporters
Zhaodaola.com Lifestyle portal
Globallink.com Fun online: chess, bridge, mahjong, strategy games
Chinanow.com City listings: restaurants, clubs, events
Myrice.com Collection of sites including soccer results, games, jokes, software
Homeway.com.cn financial information
Stockstar.com share price lists; part of shanghai.online
Zhaopin.com Good source for openings at foreign firms
51job.com Listings of jobs at Chinese companies
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