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While you might not know anything about Jack Ma right now, you'll be hearing a lot about him very soon.
That's because Ma is the man who has helped Alibaba become one of the world's largest e-commerce companies - one that will make many people rich when it goes public later this year.
The Alibaba IPO will be one of the largest Internet IPOs of all time. It could even eclipse the $16 billion public offering of Facebook Inc. (Nasdaq: FB) from 2012.
Here's how Jack Ma ended up heading a $168 billion e-commerce giant.
Who Is Jack Ma?
The man behind China's largest online retailer had an inauspicious start.
Jack Ma was an English teacher in his hometown of Hangzhou until 1995.
When Ma first used the Internet, his initial search for the word "China" returned no results. Intrigued, Ma began working on a simple Chinese translation website.
Without any prior computing experience, Ma then created a site called "China Pages." It was an index of Chinese businesses. It was also one of the country's first registered Internet companies.
In 1999, Ma gave Internet business another try. That's when Ma created Alibaba.com, a business-to-business website that allowed Chinese exporters to sell to overseas customers.
The company started small - with 17 friends in Ma's apartment - but the founder's tenacity was apparent from the beginning.
"We will make it because we are young and we never, never give up," Ma is seen telling employees in the documentary "Crocodile in the Yangtze."
Ma brought in Joseph Tsai to help run the business. Established U.S. and Asian companies then began investing in the company.
Alibaba.com reached another major development in 2003. It unveiled the site Taobao. Unlike Alibaba.com, Taobao is a consumer-to-consumer business that was designed to rival the American company eBay Inc. (Nasdaq: EBAY).
And from its inception, Ma was determined to take down eBay in China with Taobao. Ma kept the site free for consumers, unlike eBay, which charges fees for its services. Even when the site was losing money, Ma stuck with the business plan, determined to eat away at eBay's market share in China.
It worked. By 2005, Taobao controlled 70% of the Chinese market, forcing eBay to fold its Chinese operations in 2006.
Regardless of the size of his competition, Ma has not shied away from a challenge.
"I had always wished that I was born in a period of war. I could have been a general," Ma told The New York Times. "I thought about what I could have achieved in war."
After Taobao, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. continued to expand its network of sites. In 2008, the company announced Tmall.com, a business-to-consumer retail website. In 2012, the combined transaction volume of Tmall and Taobao surpassed the combined volume of Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) and eBay.
While Jack Ma's determination has been well-documented, he's not all business. He's been known to take the stage at company events in wild outfits, crooning for the thousands of employees in attendance. At the company's 10-year anniversary party he dressed as a punk rocker and sang a tune from "The Lion King."
Jack Ma stepped down from his role as the CEO of Alibaba in 2013 so he could focus on philanthropy, saying he's "no longer young for the Internet business," but he still shapes the company's strategy and maintains the title of executive chairman. He also owns an 8.9% stake in Alibaba and will remain the face of the company as it continues to grow...
"I thought it would be easier when I stepped down from CEO," Ma told The Wall Street Journal, "But now I'm finding out being a chairman, if you want to be a good chairman, is much busier than being a CEO."
And with what's ahead for Alibaba this year, Ma still has a big job to do...
The Alibaba IPO: "As Big As It Gets"
When Alibaba officially filed for its IPO last week, investors got a glimpse behind the curtain of Jack Ma's empire. And the numbers were staggering.
Alibaba is currently the largest e-commerce company in China, which is the world's second largest e-commerce market. In the fiscal year 2013, the company reported revenue of $5.6 billion and has already reported revenue of $6.5 billion for the first nine months of its current fiscal year.