Last week, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba (BABA) delighted investors with much stronger than expected revenue guidance for 2018 and reiterated its goal of hitting a whopping $1 trillion in gross merchandise value by 2020. That's quite a goal for a company that launched just 18 years ago from Jack Ma's small apartment in Hangzhou, China.
Alibaba Vice Chairman Joe Tsai has been with the company for all 18 years of that supercharged growth, having left his job as an executive at Swedish investment company Investor AB in 1999 to help Ma build his vision for China's largest online marketplace.
"It's for sure the most thrilling journey that I've had in my life," Tsai told TheStreet about working for Alibaba. "And the good thing is I'm learning new things every day."
Tsai said he's amazed at the acceleration in the pace of technology development, user growth, and product trends over the last few years. Unlike the late 1990s, most users in China are accessing the Internet on mobile devices, which opens up a new range of possibilities for the company, he said. "Our retail strategy is all enabled because people are accessing information and doing transactions on mobile phones," Tsai noted.
Alibaba's strategy is also being helped by the cheaper and more easily accessible computing power available to companies in 2017, Tsai said. "The massive amount of data that we have on our users and customers; we're now able to use that to train our machines in machine learning," he said.
Alibaba's latest positive milestones -- on the first day of its two-day annual investor meeting, the company projected revenue growth of 45% to 49% in 2018, vs the FactSet consensus estimate of 37% -- are reflected in Alibaba's stock, which is trading up almost 57% year-to-date to $137.68.
Alibaba's shares rose 1.8% to $139.05 on Wednesday in early afternoon trading.
TheStreet talked with the 53-year-old Tsai on Tuesday about what Ma is calling the company's "New Retail" strategy, as well as its global expansion plans. What follows is a lightly edited version of our conversation.
Editors' pick: Originally published June 14.