Tech

Tim Culpan is a technology columnist for Bloomberg Gadfly. He previously covered technology for Bloomberg News.

Seven months ago, Jack Ma told Bloomberg Television that he wanted 50 percent of Alibaba's revenue to come from outside China.

Investors could be forgiven for thinking it was a different Jack Ma speaking Tuesday at the company's investor day.

Instead of looking to Malaysia, Indonesia and India, the former English teacher said expansion in rural China gave the company a better shot at growing beyond the 423 million global shoppers it will have this year, Bloomberg News reported. 

It might be coincidental, yet it's also ironic, that Ma made those comments at the same time as he lamented the improvement in counterfeit goods, which have become so good, and so cheap, that they're hard to root out. Alibaba, he said, is the best in the world at fighting the sale of fakes.  

This is a company whose own Taobao website was found selling knock-offs of its founder's biography back in April, and later had its membership of an anti-counterfeit group rescinded, in a country where much of the world's genuine and fake products are made and sold.

Domestic Bliss
Despite Jack Ma's aim to get 50 percent of revenue from outside China, Alibaba's international business remains small
Source: Bloomberg

Ma wants to reach 2 billion users by 2036, which means that Alibaba will have to sail outside China at some point. While India, Indonesia and Malaysia are not exactly anti-counterfeit strongholds, Ma must know that doing business beyond China's borders risks closer scrutiny of all aspects of its operations where governments have no interest in protecting Alibaba.

Betting on BABA
Investors putting their money on Alibaba in the past year would have done just as well (badly) with the Asia Pacific regional index
Source: Bloomberg

Put another way, deciding to focus on the domestic market makes Ma look less like a swashbuckler and more like a hermit. With other global names, notably Amazon.com, eager to expand into new territories despite the challenges, Ma risks missing out on opportunities abroad. 

That's unfortunate for a man who built his empire from humble beginnings, and potentially unfortunate for the investors who bet on him. 

Oh, and Jack, Taobao is still selling pirated copies of your biography.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Tim Culpan in Taipei at tculpan1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Paul Sillitoe at psillitoe@bloomberg.net