By showcasing Pasadena’s new and established companies, this new column, Innovation Profiles, supports Innovate Pasadena’s mission to attract, retain and promote collaboration among our network of innovative companies and their leaders.
When Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba went looking for a Southern California location to launch its new film company, the west side seemed the obvious choice.
But Zhang Wei, handpicked by visionary Alibaba founder Jack Ma to lead the effort, had a different idea. “We went everywhere,” Wei said in a recent interview with Innovate Pasadena, “and Pasadena was the last place we visited. It immediately reminded me of Hangzhou, where Alibaba was founded and where Jack is from.”
Although it might seem a stretch to compare Pasadena to a Chinese city of nine million, Wei noted that both cities have a deep sense of history and culture, a “campus feeling” with great universities (she noted Caltech and ArtCenter) as well as an environment in which “entrepreneurship is nurtured and supported.” She was also impressed by the international flavor of Pasadena, which she describes as “a melting pot where you can meet people from all over the world.” But what sealed the deal was the welcoming and supportive community she met in Pasadena, including a great meeting with Mayor Terry Tornek. “This is the right place. Pasadena’s got good feng shui,” she said with a laugh.
“At first, people were afraid the Hollywood folks wouldn’t want to come to the east side,” Wei said. But now we’re meeting almost every day, and they’re always impressed with Pasadena.”
Alibaba Pictures opened its offices last spring in the Playhouse District, which Wei describes as a “convenient location near everything.” Their mandate is to develop original content, often in partnership with Hollywood studios and filmmakers, to work in film distribution and marketing, and to develop additional revenue streams through merchandising. Alibaba Pictures will not just produce movies for China’s soon-to-be largest global market, but for world-wide audiences. And of course, like its parent company, Alibaba Pictures will look for innovative ways to use technology to bring new business models to the market.
As an aside, Wei mentioned that they have a beautiful half floor of available penthouse space adjacent to their offices with a big outdoor patio, and would love to find a neighbor to sublease.
The new film platform follows other expansions beyond Alibaba’s original e-commerce business. Wei explains that Alibaba is creating a larger ecosystem that offers not just physical products but “lifestyle” experiences such as travel, dining, music, sports and digital entertainment. “People will come to Alibaba not just to shop,” she said, “but also to work and live.”
Wei explained that Jack Ma’s vision for Alibaba Pictures goes beyond successful box office numbers. “Jack believes movies can provide positive energy and enrich people’s lives.” He cites Forrest Gump and Braveheart as two of his favorites, Wei told us, both of which helped him through tough times.
Wei and her family have also settled in Pasadena. She and her husband have a son who is almost three. “It’s a great place for families,” she said, “and we’re really excited about exploring everything Pasadena has to offer.”