A Brief History of Alibaba Founders

Recently, Jack Ma announced his retirement from a 19 year in the making the success of Alibaba Group, at the age of 54. He led the company from his humble beginnings back in his apartment to now what is known as an e-commerce giant worth $420 billion today.

Along with the announcement, Daniel Zhang was named as the successor of Ma as Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group.

Jack Ma is notably the face of Alibaba, however, there are in fact, 17 other significant individuals that co-founded the e-commerce giant since its inception in 1999. But who are they?

As such, iPrice Group embarked on a research to uncover the 18 founding members of Alibaba Group and summarised our findings in an infographic.

From this report, we found several interesting insights. Among them, the co-founders were from diverse industries such as journalism, investment banking, web developers, education and many others.

Ma’s connections were established through his ex-student, ex-colleagues, mutual friends and like-minded entrepreneurs. Interestingly, there are three couples in the founding members namely: Jack Ma and Cathy Zhang, Shi Yufeng and Jin Yuanying, Toto Sun and Lucy Peng.

Amongst the 18 co-founders were six women who now holds top-level management roles, such as Lucy Peng. She was recently appointed as the CEO of Lazada in March 2018 while a majority of founding members hold significant roles within Alibaba and its subsidiaries.

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Disclaimer: The “Alibaba Founders: Where Are They Now” infographic has been updated on 3rd October 2018.

To discover more about Alibaba’s co-founders, here are further details of how they met Jack Ma and their history prior to the founding of Alibaba.

Jack Ma

  • Ma was born on September 10, 1964, in Hangzhou, China, at the time of communism. In 1988, Ma successfully earned his degree in English from Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute. Later, Ma even became an English and International Trade lecturer at the Hangzhou Dianzi University. Eventually, he ventured into business and founded China Yellow Pages, the first Internet company in the country. Ma also managed an information technology company for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Trade and Commerce. Later in 1999, Ma initiated a meeting in his apartment together with his 17 co-founders to develop their first eCommerce venture which is now known to be the giant Alibaba Group.
  • Today, Ma is the CEO and Chairman of Alibaba which has grown exponentially since its inception in 1999. Currently, Alibaba has more than 79 million users in 240 countries with six active subsidiaries namely: Alibaba.com, Tmall.com, eTao, Alibaba Cloud Computing, Taobao Marketplace, and Yahoo! China.
  • At age 54, Ma announced his retirement as Chairman of Alibaba Group in one year to concentrate his efforts in his philanthropy and education, passing his position to Daniel Zhang.

Jin Jianhang

  • Jin Jianhang is a top performing student from Fudan Journalism School and has worked at numerous Chinese Media: Zhejiang Daily, Intl. Business Daily.
  • Jin and Ma’s first encounter happened during Jin’s interview with the entrepreneur back in his China Yellow Pages. As a business journalist, Jin has always encountered Ma and eventually build connections. During Ma’s presidency in Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation (MOFTEC) EDI Centre, now known as Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China etc, he recommended Jin to become editor-in-chief.
  • Later in 1999, Ma started Alibaba Group along with his trusted friends where Jianhang decided to come along.

Joseph Tsai

  • Tsai is an undergraduate degree in Economics and East Asian studies and a law degree. Prior to meeting Ma, Tsai was an investment banker earning approximately US$700k annually.
  • Deeply inspired by Jack’s charisma and his idea for Alibaba, he made a daring move to give up his high-end job to join Alibaba in 1999 and earned only US$50 monthly.
  • Today Tsai is the Vice Executive Chairman and co-founder of Alibaba Group and ranks as its second-largest individual shareholder after chairman Jack Ma.

Lucy Peng

  • Similar to Ma, Peng began her career as a teacher at the Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics. She married Sun Tongyu, in 1997.
  • Peng quit teaching in 1999 to join her husband as part of the 18-strong Alibaba founding team.
  • She was recently assigned as the CEO of Lazada following Alibaba’s investment of an additional US$2 billion into the marketplace.

Cathy Zhang

  • Zhang first met Ma at the Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute. Soon after graduation, they got married.
  • In 1999, Jack told Zhang about his plan for Alibaba and along with other partners began working towards the vision.
  • Zhang was in Alibaba’s management team and now dedicates her time raising a family with Ma.

Eddie Wu

  • Wu graduated with a Computer Science degree from the Zhejiang University of Technology in 1996 and later joined China Yellow Pages where he was acquainted with Jack Ma.
  • In 1997, Wu followed Ma to Beijing and assisted him by managing the MOFTEC website.
  • Following Ma’s footsteps, Wu joined Ma in building Alibaba Group as the first programmer out of the 18 founders.

James Sheng

  • Sheng began learning traditional art at an early age. He turned to commercial art and started his career as a designer. He was acquainted with Jack Ma when James’ company was hired to design China Yellow Pages’ website.
  • Sheng joined Jack Ma’s meeting in his apartment and became one of the 18 founding members of Alibaba in 1999.
  • Today, Sheng is known to be the man behind Alibaba’s smile logo and is the Co-founder and Senior Vice President of the Alibaba Group.

Lou Wensheng

  • Lou and Ma attended the same university, Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute. Lou eventually became one of Ma’s close supporter.
  • Interestingly, Lou decided to join Chinese Yellow Pages after seeing a feature of the company in 1995 Oriental Horizon TV documentary.

Simon Xie

  • Xie obtained his degree in Financial Management from the Shenyang University of Technology and later worked for the China National Air Separation Engineering Co., Ltd. With his interest in computer, he developed his basic skills in Information Technology and managed to practice this skills for work.
  • In 1996, Xie had the chance to meet Ma during China Yellow Pages. Attracted by Ma’s unique aura he decided to follow Ma’s ventures.
  • Ma and Xie became close friends and decided to give up his high paying job in finance. He first followed Ma to Beijing to work at MOFTEC and later joined Alibaba.

Jin Yuanying

  • Jin was Ma’s student in Hangzhou Dianzi University and later was encouraged by Jane Jiang and Han Min to join Alibaba Group.

Zhou Yuehong

  • Zhou is a Java architect, he first encountered Ma as his teacher in Hangzhou Dianzi University. Through his expertise in technology, Zhou developed the core code of MVC framework – WebX, which was used mainly for Taobao early days.

Shi Yufeng

  • In 1999, Shi worked at Central Weather Bureau. Interestingly, he’s also good in technology which came in handy later as he joined Alibaba.

Eddie Wu, one of the Alibaba co-founders noticed Shi’s presence in the internet world. At a restaurant in Beijing, Shi first met Jack Ma through Wu. Attracted by Ma’s plan and passion for building Alibaba, Shi decided to join Alibaba.

This article was first published on ValueWalk.


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