Above: Zhang and the popular “Tao Doll” figurines that represent Alibaba’s e-commerce platform. (photo by Christina Gandolfo)
I joined Alibaba in 2008 as part of its strategic investments team. I never thought that one day we would have an entertainment group. But today, Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook are all in the entertainment space.
Alibaba Pictures doesn’t replicate a traditional Hollywood studio. We want to use the data and resources Alibaba has gathered in our e-commerce and internet ecosystem to create, market, and distribute content differently. But at the end of the day, everything starts with a good story.
We’re here to help our Hollywood partners succeed in China, which is the second-largest film market in the world. In China, the audience skews younger, and 80 to 90 percent of film revenue is from box office—in the United States, it’s anywhere from 30 to 50 percent—so there are plenty of merchandising opportunities around great content in China.
Last year, we made an investment in Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners and released A Dog’s Purpose in China. It’s very different from visual spectacles like the Transformers movies. But I saw a common value in the connection we feel with animals. People thought the most we could do was 30 to 50 million yuan; eventually we did 606 million yuan in box office.
Working in media was always my dream. One summer I saw an advertisement recruiting for kids to host their own shows. I made it through the audition and discovered something that I hadn’t even known I could do.
After HBS, I returned to China and moonlighted as a TV host for fun. I was working at Bain when I learned that News Corp was recruiting for shows in China. I said, “I’m going.” It was a 50 percent pay cut. Everyone thought I was crazy, but I believe it’s so important to follow your passion.
In this business, you can create something that will bring insight, inspiration, and happiness to people. When I first came to the United States in 1989, there was no email. And I was very, very homesick. I remember crying when I heard, “E.T. phone home.” I didn’t know then that one day we would have a partnership with Steven’s company. But I believe in karma. Somehow you end up in your place, you know?
Class of MBA 1999, Section G