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Two of the biggest Internet companies in the world are going public in the United States, but most Americans have never heard of Chinese powerhouses Weibo Corp. and Alibaba.
Despite both companies' lack of recognition in the U.S., they are poised to make massive stock-market debuts in New York — and make a play to become household names in America, too.
Weibo kicked off the buzz on Friday, when the company filed paperwork to raise $500 million in an initial public offering.
The company owns Sina Weibo, China's largest microblogging site. Sina Weibo is similar to Twitter, with short posts from brands, celebrities and regular folks.
The site has managed to grow rapidly — the service had more than 129 million active users as of December, up 77 percent in just two years — despite a tightly controlled media environment in China. Hundreds of Weibo users have reportedly been arrested in China over posts that angered the government.
Sina Weibo does have a small English-language section featuring celebrity users like David Beckham, Tom Cruise and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Sina Weibo is still big and buzzy, but it has also struggled to retain its cachet amid the rise of apps like Tencent's WeChat: a rival to the WhatsApp service that Facebook is planning to buy for $16 billion.
Alibaba has been described as China's Amazon, eBay and PayPal wrapped into one. But it isn't a perfect mirror of any of those U.S. counterparts, and its scope is much broader.
Alibaba: China's Amazon, eBay, PayPal and more
E-commerce behemoth Alibaba Group is more difficult to describe. It has been described as China's Amazon, eBay and PayPal wrapped into one. But Alibaba isn't a perfect mirror of any of those U.S. counterparts, and its scope is much broader.
Alibaba followed Sina Weibo's news by revealing its own plans on Sunday: a New York debut that could reportedly raise $15 billion for the company. While Alibaba hasn't filed its official paperwork yet, its stock-market debut is slated to be the buzziest since that of Facebook.
The company said in its announcement on Sunday that the U.S. IPO "will make us a more global company and enhance the company’s transparency, as well as allow the company to continue to pursue our long-term vision and ideals."
Alibaba employs about 20,000 people in more than 70 offices in China, Singapore, India and the United States. The company's nine major businesses span all parts of the e-commerce process, and they're split between consumer- and business-focused missions.
On the consumer side, Alibaba's crown jewel is Taobao Marketplace: an eBay-like online shopping site with a whopping 760 million product listings as of March 2013, the most recent data available. According to Internet site ranking company Alexa, it's the 8th most popular site in the world and the No. 3 site in China.
The more upscale Tmall sells brand-name goods from from 70,000 global companies including Apple, Nike, Gap and Adidas. ETao is a search engine exclusively for shopping, which lets users hunt for products, coupons, hotels and more. Alibaba also runs a Groupon competitor called Juhuasuan.
Alibaba's crown jewel is Taobao Marketplace: an online shopping site with a whopping 760 million product listings. It's the 8th most popular site in the world.
But Alibaba was founded for businesses, and that legacy continues. The namesake Alibaba.com is a trading site that connects small businesses with two million suppliers. Both 1688.com and AliExpress focus on the wholesale marketplace. The PayPal-like Alipay is the biggest third-party online payment platform in China, and Aliyun.com sells cloud computing and data services to other companies.
Alibaba's CEO is the charismatic Jack Ma, who created the company in 1999 with 17 co-founders working out of an apartment in Hangzhou, China. Unlike many of the dot-coms that went bust during that time, Alibaba became profitable just three years later. That attracted big investors like Yahoo, which currently owns about a quarter of Alibaba, and Japan's Softbank, which owns about 37 percent.
Like Sina Weibo, however, Alibaba also faces competition. The large Chinese investment firm Tencent announced this month that it will buy a 15 percent in JD.com, the country's No. 2 e-commerce company.