Crocodile in the Yangtze is due for release on DVD in the UK in the first half of 2013, but I was fortunate enough to watch an exclusive preview this evening. It tells the story of Alibaba from a team of 17 working from a one-bedroom apartment up to it’s 10th anniversary.
The film is narrated by Porter Erisman, who joined Alibaba and worked closely with Jack Ma the founder for a decade. However there’s very little new footage in the film, only location shots. The majority of the film is from genuine archive footage.
Starting with Jack Ma’s failed China Pages website in 1995 it tells how four years later he gathered 17 friends in his apartment and convinced them that China needed to get on the web and start trading with the world. Raising $60,000 between them was the birth of Alibaba which from the start aimed to be a global trading platform.
The story continues to tell how Jack set up TaoBao.com as a direct competitor to eBay (and ended up with eBay quitting China in back in the Meg Whitman years). Don’t think it was all roses along the way though, a failed move of the Alibaba tech team to the US led to the staff being laid off and tech moved back East.
The underlying theme of the movie isn’t about Alibaba and TaoBao though, it’s about one Chinese English teacher’s vision of how China simply could not be left out of the Internet revolution. Jack’s philosophy of customers first, staff second and investors a distant third has seen one man’s dream grow into a profitable empire. Porter portrays the lows as well as the highs of a business growing from Jack’s pitch to his friends to a company with 16,000 global employees.
If you’re interested in the history of the Internet, interested in how China opened up and started trading with the world, or simply want to find out more about Alibaba, this film will be a must watch when it’s released in the UK.