Anand Parthasarathy

Hangzhou (China), Aug 3 From Koovapadam in Kochi to the global headquarters here at Hangzhou of the world’s biggest business-to-business (B2B) enterprise, Alibaba.com, is a long way. But it has taken the 24-year-old Mr Ansif Ashraf just five years to turn a small capital of Rs 2 lakh — all that he had saved in his job as a teenaged professional photographer — into a Rs 90 crore business encompassing rubber and polymer technology with a local presence in five countries. The engine that powered Mr Ashraf’s entrepreneurial success story was the Internet — ecommerce to be exact. Which is why Alibaba chose to honour him as one of the world’s Top Ten e-Business Champions of the Year at the Small and Medium Enterprise Summit of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

“I was working as a photographer when a friend mentioned that photo printers and cartridges were cheaper in China,” Mr Ashraf said, “I did an online search and discovered Alibaba.com, an e-commerce portal.” He decided to harness the site to start his own e-business, first as an importer of photo printers from China and later branching into the rubber and chemicals business.

Today, his Paradise Group of companies has offices in Kochi as well as in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Taipei and Samanabad in Pakistan, and in addition to trading in rubber with Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand, he also manufactures carbon black in China in a joint venture

E-nabling small businesses

“e-Business is the promise of the future — Alibaba has transformed my life and work,” Mr Ashraf said soon after he was honoured at the summit. Indeed, the ongoing summit is a showcase for what a global gateway like Alibaba — which boasts 25 million China-based users and 5 million elsewhere — can do to handhold small enterprises as they e-nable themselves to reach a global clientele.

The Chinese Net player is something of an icon on its home ground, having swiftly overtaken biggies like e-bay, Amazon, Yahoo on its national turf. In fact, points out group CEO Jack Ma, the company is just behind Google as the biggest Internet company and is already the Net’s number one business player. “We see huge growth opportunity for SMEs in India,” adds David Wei, CEO of Alibaba.com, the global B2B operation. The company started its first non-China channel exclusively for India in October last and has quickly signed 400,000 members — like Mr Ashraf.

Within China, Alibaba also runs a highly successful business-to-customer (B2C) operation called Taobao as well as a payment gateway, Alipay, and a pay-by-use software service for SMEs, Alisoft.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated August 4, 2008)
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