Alibaba founder cautions about obstacles ahead

After a stellar 2014 when it recorded the biggest U.S. IPO, Alibaba's chairman and founder Jack Ma warns the Chinese internet company faces difficult tasks in the road ahead.

Alibaba now faces growing challenges and risks after a stellar 2014, where it will have greater expectations to meet and investor groups to manage in the new year.

The Chinese internet giant had much to celebrate this past year during which it recorded the biggest IPO in the U.S., and clocked the biggest online shopping day in November during Singles Day--the equivalent of Black Friday in the U.S.--when it rang up US$9.34 billion in sales.

The coming months, however, may prove increasingly rough as the company will have to deal with obstacles that are tougher to handle, according to Alibaba's founder and chairman Jack Ma.

In an interview with China Central Television, Ma pointed to pressures from the attention his company had generated and expectations of great performance in whichever industry it planned to enter.

He pointed to obstacles from "groups with vested interests", noting that Alibaba had completed the "easy tasks" but now would have to face "the remaining tasks" that were "rather difficult" to resolve.

"No one was optimistic about us in the past, but we knew we were a lot better than what people thought," Ma said. "By contrast, now people think we are omnipotent, very capable, very rich, and we can succeed in whatever we do. This is very dangerous for us."

He stressed that Alibaba was not as infallible as the public perceived it to be and obstacles were inevitable, especially since the company was competing in uncharted markets in China such as online banking and e-commerce.

One persistent challenge is the sale of fake goods on the company's online marketplace, Taobao, where sellers make direct connections with their buyers. This makes it difficult for Alibaba to clamp down on the sales of illegal goods completely.

Ma said the e-commerce site is able to quickly shut down errant shops, but is still dependent on law enforcements, business administrators, quality watch dogs, and other relevant departments, eradicate the selling of fake goods.

The good news is China's rural areas offer much untapped potential for Alibaba, from which Taobao has be able to generate more than 600 million users over the past decade. In June last year, the company inked an agreement with China Post Group as part of efforts to beef up its delivery network in the country's lower-tier cities and rural regions. Ma then had said it needed to ensure its logistics infrastructure was capable of supporting China's growing online platforms, which were estimated to process transactions of more than 10 trillion yuan ($1.63 trillion) a year.

He said people in rural areas already were using smartphones, and added that expanding e-commerce resources to these regions could provide a significant boost to the Chinese economy.

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