Porter Erisman joined Alibaba, China's e-commerce giant, when it was still an unknown start-up in Hangzhou. As Vice President for P.R. and International Communications, he teamed up with Jack Ma, Alibaba's charismatic Founder, and experienced a remarkable journey building what is now China's most successful internet company.
His highly acclaimed documentary entitled 'Crocodile in the Yangtze' draws on exclusive footage from the very early days of Alibaba. In this video, he tells us the story behind his decision to produce the documentary and bring the Alibaba story to Western audiences.
How the Idea Came About
Porter Erisman originally set out to write a book about his experience. He noticed that there were a number of different memoirs written by people who had come out of big internet companies like Google, Amazon or Ebay, and wanted to publish his own memoirs recounting his time at Alibaba.
''I went out, got a great agent in New York, and I felt I was almost assured of getting a great publishing deal,'' said Porter. ''It turned out that around that time another publisher had signed a big book deal for another book about Alibaba. So my agent gave up on the project and I was left thinking how can I tell the story in book form or any other way.''
''I thought about all the archival footage I was aware of and I decided to make a documentary instead. I went around and gathered 200 hours of footage from 35 different sources around the world, and went to film school in New York for a month to learn film editing, and ended putting it together into the documentary that I have now.''
It's All About the Story
Looking back, Porter was pleased to take this route because it enabled him to learn a new skill: film-making. He then spent the next few years travelling the world to screen his movie at film festivals, business schools, incubators and large corporates. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. ''For me,'' said Porter, ''the key is not necessarily how you tell a story, it is more the story itself, and hopefully it really comes through in the documentary.''
In May 2015 he published a long-awaited book to complement his documentary. It's entitled 'Alibaba's World' and is available worldwide.