Meet Alibaba – and five other billion-dollar giants who will soon be taking over the world

What’s Alibaba? It’s one of dozens of internet giants you haven’t heard of.

There’s been a big stir this week, caused by the float of, a website that most of us have never heard of, that is about to have a mammoth IPO on the New York stock exchange. Analysts are talking about a £10 billion valuation.

While big tech floats are nothing new, Alibaba is a rock-solid, established business that’s been going for years. It’s basically the Chinese Amazon – it flogged £146 billion worth of stuff last year, and made £1.9 billion in profit on those sales.

None the less, hardly any of us have ever heard of it until now. It’s partly because our internet – and most places where the Latin alphabet is common – is dominated by US brands. However, foreign places with different alphabets have created silos where non-western firms have thrived, freed of the need to compete with US giants, and able to forge their own paths.

In addition, the lack of fixed line internet in many of these places has given these firms a huge leap in mobile technology, currently something of a bugbear for Western firms. In the West, a nice mobile site that works on phones is an optional extra – in Africa, no mobile site means no business. On top of that, the potential for growth in these nations is huge; less than 40 per cent of Africa and Central Asia are online; just less than 50 per cent of China and India are. Once those citizens get online, the potential for giving them all sorts of services is immense.

Here’s five of the breed of billion-dollar businesses you’ve never heard of:

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