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FEBRUARY 28, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 8

Jack Ma

Cover: China Dot Now
The world's last big communist state is hit by a wave of Web mania, and the bureaucrats are fighting to contain it
B2B: Joseph Tong casts a Web over Chinese exporters
Chortling: Wang Zhidong should have laughed last
Crazy Man: Jack Ma goes for the shrimp, not the whales
Princeling: Antony Yip finds the right sites
Geek Chic: Shao Yibo grows up fast
Regulation: How Beijing plans to control the Net

Show Me the Stock Options!
Intoxicated by dot-com fever, sane folk are taking pay cuts and defecting to start-ups with trendy names. How long will the gold rush continue?

After the Bubble
Asia's technology stocks are defying gravity. Which companies will survive - and thrive - when the mania ends?

Asiaweek/CNN Asian Internet Index
Track our 20 Asian internet stocks

In the Internet world he is known affectionately as "Crazy" Jack Ma. What else could you call someone who says: "I am proud to tell investors I have no plans to make money for the time being"? But with an injection of $20 million from Japanese Internet funder Softbank, Ma must be doing something right.

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."

Greg Girard/Contact Press Images for TIME

Big ambition--but then, Ma is a big thinker. "American B2B sites are whales. But 85% of the fish in the sea are shrimp-sized. I don't know anyone who makes money from whales, but I've seen many making money from shrimp." He already has 200,000 users--from Brazilian paint manufacturers to makers of packaging equipment in South Korea to sunglass factories in China.

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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This edition's table of contents
TIME Asia home


China's Hottest Websites

PORTALS The biggest, heavy on news E-mail provider turned portal Lost early competitive advantage due to management problems

BUSINESS-TO-CONSUMER AND AUCTIONS Online shopping with preexisting network of retail stores to deliver goods Online bookseller Leading auction site Auctions More auctions

BUSINESS-TO-BUSINESS Worldwide trading of products Online registry of Chinese exporters

ENTERTAINMENT Lifestyle portal Fun online: chess, bridge, mahjong, strategy games City listings: restaurants, clubs, events Collection of sites including soccer results, games, jokes, software

FINANCE financial information share price lists; part of

JOB SEARCH Good source for openings at foreign firms Listings of jobs at Chinese companies

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