As the Alibaba F1 hits the SEC, we see a light into a company that is the Chinese equivalent of Amazon, eBay and Paypal; and one with aspirations to be the domestic equivalent of YouTube via its investment in Youku Tudou, and Twitter, via its investment in Sina's Weibo. To find a company with as broad a set of digital businesses and aspirations, only Google comes to mind.
From the F1, Alibaba makes the case that its opportunity is much bigger than that of a U.S. internet company. Retail space in the U.S. is 2.6 meters per capita compared to just 0.6 in China, making online commerce an even bigger opportunity.
As far as mobile goes, 19.7 percent of merchandise value purchased on Alibaba was via mobile, representing 76 percent of all mobile retail in China. And the F1 states that only 7.9 percent of Chinese consumption is online. This suggests that Alibaba is dominant in mobile commerce and has lots of head room for top line growth. The company utilizes 14 delivery partners that employ 950,000 delivery personnel.
Alibaba even has partial ownership rights on Alipay, which processed 78.6 percent of its transactions in the past year. In the event of Alipay achieving liquidity, Alibaba gets 37.5 percent of the equity value, which could range for $2 billion to $6 billion.
Alipay processed $519 billion last year. Alipay does however bear some regulatory risk.
With regards to diversification, the company has hooks into social and media via investments in Weibo and Youku that it's already beginning to use to drive commerce. In Weibo, there are already purchase buttons for Alibaba goods, similar to the collaboration Amazon announced with Twitter on Monday.
Alibaba even has a "Cloud Computing and Internet Infrastructure" business line, which sounds like Amazon's "Web Services" division that made $105 million in revenue in 2013.
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Everyone talks about the scale of Alibaba. What seems less covered is the breadth of its ancillary services outside of ecommerce. It very much has the feel of a Google-eBay hybrid, not Amazon, especially since the bulk of its revenues are from a marketplace that holds no inventory and the scale of its payment operation. Like Google, Alibaba is quickly moving into things like video and social. Given these moves into adjacent online services, there seems little doubt that Alibaba could make the bold acquisition-type moves that Facebook has made, or invest and build cloud productivity software like Google has, with a mobile focus.
The numbers and scale seem to live up to expectations. Now the only questions is whether valuation will get ahead of itself or will Alibaba face any of the regulatory issues faced recently by peer Chinese internet companies like Sina.
Disclosures: Yahoo is a BuzzFeed business partner. Softbank Capital is an investor in BuzzFeed.
Commentary by Jon Steinberg, the president & chief operating officer of BuzzFeed. He is responsible for all business management, company operations, finance, and social advertising operations. Follow him on Twitter @jonsteinberg.