Waqas Ahmed

PhD Technology Management

How did Alibaba get its name?

December 18, 2017 Technology Management 0

How did Alibaba get its name?

We’re used to tech companies having odd names, Yahoo springs to mind. So Alibaba as a name for a company whose initial public offering could be one of the world’s largest isn’t a surprise.

The name came from a brainstorm by the company’s founder and CEO, Jack Ma.

A former English teacher, Ma knew the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, from a collection of Arabic stories called One Thousand and One Nights.

According to an interview he gave in 2006 with CNN’s Talk Asia program, Ma was in a San Francisco coffee shop when he came up with the name. He asked the waitress whether it was something she was familiar with.

“I said, ‘What do you know about Alibaba?’ and she said ‘Open Sesame.’ And I said, ‘Yes, this is the name!'” he told the interviewer.

In the story, the phrase “Open Sesame” magically opens the secret door to a treasure trove.

Next Ma went into the street and started asking random passers by if they knew the name Alibaba. Everyone, no matter where they were from, was familiar with it.

Ma liked the name because “Alibaba is a kind, smart business person, and he helped the village,” he said. “Alibaba opens sesame for small- to medium-sized companies.”

In China the company is called 阿里巴巴, pronounced A li ba ba, a direct transliteration of the Arabic name.

The Alibaba Group consists of multiple e-commerce platforms. Alibaba is a business-to-business site that allows companies within China to more easily to sell to each other.

There is also Taobao, a consumer-to-consumer website much like eBay, where individuals can buy and sell items. The name in Chinese is 淘宝,tao bao. It means, roughly, “to find treasure, finding the diamond in the rough,” said Kelland Willis, a Chinese-speaking analyst with Forrester Research in Los Angeles.

The idea behind the name is that consumers can find treasures on the site.

Ma had originally thought of calling it Ali Mama, as Baba is a Chinese word for father, but decided against it.

A third is Tmall (originally Taobao Mall) where retailers can open online stores inside the Alibaba online “mall.” Each transaction is entirely between the consumer and the retailers, but Tmall takes a percentage of each sale.

As for Yahoo, which owns 22% of Alibaba, its name comes from the fertile minds of founders Jerry Yang and David Filo. They named their search engine Yahoo!, which was an acronym for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.” That’s a reference to Yahoo’s database of categories and subcategories.

(Article Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2014/05/07/alibaba-name/8805805/)


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