Alibaba May be the Biggest IPO Ever — But What on earth Is It?

For most Americans, the name Ali Baba conjures images of Arabian Nights — and those two timelessly magical words: ‘Open sesame!’ Until yesterday, that’s, when Chinese internet conglomerate Alibaba announced plans to apply for what may become among the largest U.S.-based IPOs ever.

As the news swirled over the weekend, many questions about Alibaba’s identity still linger. Here, we offer a glimpse in to the diverse businesses operated by the Chinese web giant — which includes been called, alternately, the eBay, Amazon and PayPal of China — on the heels of its stateside foray:

1. It had been founded by a former English professor. Alibaba was founded by several 18 people in 1999 led by Jack Ma, a former English teacher from Hangzhou, China. Today, the business employs a lot more than 20,000 people and operates a lot more than 70 offices around the world.

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2. It operates China’s largest consumer-to-consumer digital marketplace. The Alibaba-owned has been called the eBay of China, where an incredible number of product listings have accounted for vast amounts of dollars in sales since its founding in 2003. According to, Taobao may be the third most-visited site in China and the eighth most-visited site on the globe. While Taoboa is absolve to use, merchants pays to market their wares.

3. It includes a thriving business-to-consumer arm. If Taobao may be the eBay of China, is its Amazon. “Sophisticated” Chinese consumers can buy popular brands vended on the website, Alibaba said, including UNIQLO, L’Oréal, adidas, P&G, Unilever, Gap, Ray-Ban, Nike and Levi’s. A complete of 70,000 companies sell their wares on Tmall, that was launched as an element to Taobao in 2008, but became its entity in 2011.

While Alibaba facilitates types of sales, it generally does not sell products — like Amazon, notes The Wall Street Journal, which buys goods from suppliers and sells them to shoppers. Therefore, while its transaction volume dwarfs that of Amazon and eBay combined, Alibaba boasts far smaller revenues.

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4. It’s China’s PayPal, too. Launched in 2004 to insure the security of transactions occurring via Taobao and Tmall, is currently the hottest third-party digital payment provider in China. Alipay has an escrow service whereby funds aren’t released to sellers until shoppers have verified their satisfaction with the purchase. Last November, it processed a record-breaking 171.3 million payments in a day.

5. It represents among Yahoo’s largest success stories. In 2005, Alibaba forged a strategic partnership with Yahoo beneath the tutelage of the company’s former chief, Jerry Yang. Alibaba also overran the operations of China Yahoo. Today, Yahoo owns a 24 percent stake in Alibaba, worth around $37 billion, reports Bloomberg. However, due to a youthful agreement, Yahoo must sell ten percent of its shares when the business goes public, said its chief financial officer, Kenneth Goldman.

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