October 29, 1971 |
Chaoyang District, Shantou, Shantou, Guangdong, China
|Alma mater||Shenzhen University|
|Occupation||Chairman of Tencent|
|Net worth||US$18.8 billion (January 2016)|
Ma Huateng (Chinese: 马化腾; pinyin: Mǎ Huàténg, born October 29, 1971 in Chaoyang District, Shantou City, Guangdong Province), also known as Pony Ma, is a Chinese internet entrepreneur. He is the founder, president, chief executive officer and executive board member of Tencent Inc., one of the largest Internet companies in China. The company controls China’s biggest mobile instant messaging service and its subsidiaries provide media, entertainment, internet and mobile phone value-added services.
In 2007 and 2014 Time magazine called him one of the world's most influential people. As of January 2016 he is the 55th richest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of US$18.8 billion, according to the Forbes Global Rich List.
Early life and education
Ma was born in Shantou, a port city in Eastern China. Not much is known about his early life. In one rare insight into his own psyche, Ma claimed in an interview that as a child he dreamt of becoming an astronomer. When his father, Ma Chenshu, got a job as a port manager in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, the young Ma accompanied him. His father was a member of the Chinese Communist Party.
Ma’s first job was with China Motion Telecom Development, a supplier of telecommunications services and products, where he was in charge of developing software for pagers. He reportedly earned $176 per month. He also worked for Shenzhen Runxun Communications Co. Ltd. in the research and development department for Internet calling services.
Founding of Tencent and early career
Alongside four other classmates, Ma Huateng goes on to co-found Tencent in 1998, after making money playing the stock market. In the beginning, Ma took up various roles, ranging from janitor to website designer in a bid to keep the company alive. Like many in China’s tech industry, Ma was inspired by innovations coming out of Europe and the United States and sough to adapt them to Chinese market. The company’s first product came after Ma participated in a presentation for ICQ, the world’s first Internet instant messaging service, founded in 1996 by an Israeli company. Inspired by the idea, Ma and his team launched in February 1999 a similar software, with a Chinese interface and a slightly different name – OICQ (or, Open ICQ). The product quickly became popular and garnered more than a million years by the end of 1999, making it one of the largest such services in China.
Talking about the founding of Tencent, he told The China Daily in a 2009 interview that “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” paraphrasing a quote attributed to Isaac Newton and referencing the similarities between ICQ and QICQ. "We knew our product had a future, but at that time we just couldn't afford it," Ma remembered. In order to solve the problem, Ma asked for bank loans and even talked about selling the company.
Since Tencent's prized service QICQ was offered free of charge, the company looked to venture capitalists to finance its growing operational costs. In 2000, Ma turned to US investment firm IDC and Hong Kong’s telecom carrier Pacific Century CyberWorks (PCCW) who bought 40% of Tencent’s shares for $2.2 million. With the pager market declining, Ma improved the messaging platform by allowing QQ users to send messages to mobile handsets. Afterwards, 80% of the company’s revenue came from deals struck with telecom operators who agreed to share message fees.
AOL lawsuit and global fame
After AOL (America Online) bought ICQ in 1998, the company filed a lawsuit against Tencent with the National Arbitration Forum in the United States, claiming that QICQ’s domain names QICQ.com and QICQ.net were in violation of ICQ’s intellectual property rights. Tencent lost and had to shut down the websites. In December 2000, in order to stave off other costly lawsuit, Ma changed the name of the software to QQ (with "Q" and "QQ" used to stand for the word "cute")
After the AOL lawsuit, Ma Huateng decided to expand the business portfolio of Tencent. In 2003, Tencent released its own portal (QQ.com) and made forays into the online games market. By 2004, Tencent became the largest Chinese instant messaging service (holding 74% of the market), prompting Ma to list the company on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. After the company raised $200 million in June’s IPO, Ma quickly became one of the richest people in China’s telecom industry.
In 2004, Tencent launched an online gaming platform and started selling virtual goods to support the games published on that platform (weapons, gaming power), as well as emoticons and ringtones.
Mimicking Bill Gates’ Microsoft, Ma Huateng created two competing teams of engineers in 2010 and charged them with creating a new product. After two months, one team presented an app for text messaging and group chat – Weixin – which launched in January 2011. In 2015, Weixin (or WeChat in English), is the largest instant messaging platform in the world, used by 48% of all Internet users.
Other diverse services provided by Tencent include web portals, e-commerce, and multiplayer online games. Online games such as Legend of Yulong and Legend of Xuanyuan boosted revenue by more than half, up to US$ 5.1 billion, with a US$ 1.5 billion profit margin.
In December 2015, Ma Huateng announced that Tencent will build an "internet hospital" set up in Wuzhen that will provide long-distance diagnoses and medicine delivery.
Relationship with the Chinese Communist Party
Because of Tencent’s dominance of the social network and instant messaging markets in China, Ma Huateng’ relationship with the Chinese Communist Party has repeatedly come under scrutiny. Talking about censorship at a tech conference in Singapore, Ma was quoted as saying "Lots of people think they can speak out and that they can be irresponsible. I think that's wrong […] We are a great supporter of the government in terms of the information security. We try to have a better management and control of the Internet”.
A 2015 study undertaken by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab showed that WeChat censorship is extensive and differs from elsewhere. While calls for protests, collective actions against the government, the 1989 Tianmen Square revolt, mentions of official corruption are frequently banned on all Chinese outlets, WeChat also censors a high proportion of posts related to rumors or misinformation. The researchers found that, of all the posts checked, 3.97% were censored.
Ma uses the nickname Pony, derived from the English translation of his family name, which means “horse”.
He is married to Wang Dang-ting and they have a child together. Ma stated that he met his future wife through the QQ messaging service.
Ma Huateng’s wealth comes from the 9.7% stake in Tencent Holdings. He reportedly owns property in Hong Kong and art pieces worth $150 million. He owns a redeveloped palatial residence of 19,600 sq ft in Hong Kong.
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