In China, November 11 is Singles’ Day. Originally called Bachelors’ Day, it began in the late nineties when students invented a special day for singles. The date, written as 11–11, is very popular among young Chinese. It has become an opportunity for them to meet and party with friends.

In 2009, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba turned this party day into a mammoth annual “Global Shopping Festival.” Calling it an “anti-Valentine’s Day,” the company renamed it Double 11, a term1 it invented and trademarked.

The festival has since become the world’s largest 24-hour shopping event, supported by Alibaba’s unique global cloud, logistics, and payment infrastructure. In 2018, 180,000 brands participated in Double 11, including thousands of foreign ones. Hundreds of millions of consumers made purchases through Alibaba’s platform. The online retailer sold $30.8 billion worth of merchandise, making the event bigger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. At one point, more than 350,000 orders per second2 were being registered. An Alibaba spokesman commented, “It’s like the Olympics or the Super Bowl of e-commerce.”3

This event bears testimony to the extraordinary rise of Alibaba and its founder and chief executive, Jack Ma. His success story fascinates media outlets across the world. There is certainly a lot to be learned from this former English teacher, who claims to know nothing about technology. In spite of, ...

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