Alibaba’s recent launch onto the NYSE has made quite a splash. The tech giant’s initial public offering now ranks as the world’s biggest at $25 billion. But what is Alibaba and why all the hype? Here are a few thoughts on where it came from and where it is headed…

Started as a B2B portal in 1999, Alibaba’s stratospheric rise came alongside that of China’s, whose central power brokers found a profitable ally in Alibaba founderJack Ma, aka “China’s Jeff Bezos.”

Alibaba, called the “Amazon of China,” and its many subsidiaries are often described in terms of their Western equivalents, even though they dwarf them all:

alibaba-comparison

Taobao is one of the 20 most-visited websites worldwide; Alibaba is responsible for 60 percent of all home deliveries in China; and some Chinese cities more or less operate as Taobao outlets, with tens of thousands of residents fulfilling various orders.

But it’s not just what Alibaba already does that lures investors. In June, Alibaba quietly debuted its new site 11 Main, a US-facing e-commerce site. The Taobao-like hub is home to 1,000-plus retailers and, conceivably, could be seen as a threat to Amazon, eBay and any other online retailer.

In China, Western brands are rushing to set up outposts on Taobao to reach Chinese consumers. Luxury brands are opening Taobao stores. Realtor Century 21 recently began selling real estateon Taobao, as has has its mainland counterpart, China Vanke. In 2013, in a flash sale experiment, the US Department of Agriculture sold 60 tons of fresh cherries on Taobao—in 72 hours.

The tech company certainly has areas to grow. But whether it’s unprecedented level of growth can be maintained is another question. As is the question: is a $25Billion estimation setting our expectations too high?

Read more about the IPO from the FT here.

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