If the alliance with Snapdeal helps Alibaba enter India’s booming online retail space, it will be competing directly with Flipkart and Amazon. Reuters

Alibaba Holdings Ltd., the Chinese e-commerce giant founded by entrepreneur Jack Ma, priced its shares Thursday at $68 per share, at the high end of the expected range of $66 to $68 and setting up what's expected to be the biggest IPO in history. The price values Alibaba at almost $168 billion.

The company, which controls 80 percent of the e-commerce market in China, is expected to raise in excess of $21 billion when its shares start trading Friday on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol BABA.

The IPO caps a remarkable 15-year journey for Ma, who founded the company in his Hangzhou apartment with 12 partners and $60,000. After a brief hiccup in 2002 when the company almost collapsed, Alibaba not only rode the e-commerce wave in China, it helped create it, with both a payments system (Alipay) and delivery network that reached China's burgeoning consumer class.

Alibaba is a sprawling entity with diverse but interconnected businesses such as Taobao, which allows consumers to sell to each other, Tmall, a third-party platform for retailers and brands, Juhuasuan, a group-buying marketplace and, an international wholesale market. Alibaba enables transactions so, unlike Amazon, it has no inventory or warehouses.

Priced at $68 per share, Alibaba will be valued at $167.6 billion at the outset, which puts it ahead of Chinese rival Tencent, which has a market cap of $148 billion and Amazon with a market cap of $150 billion. Alibaba had $2.5 billion in revenue in the quarter ended June 30, and profits of $2 billion. Amazon had revenue of $19.34 billion and recorded a loss of $15 million.

The deal will generate a $6 billion in after-tax cash for Yahoo, which is selling 27 percent of its stake in the company. AOL shares spiked today on rumors that Yahoo would use the cash to buy AOL, a persistent rumor over the years.