|Alma mater||Nankai University (2001-2005)|
|Known for||Founding and leading ByteDance, creating Douyin/TikTok|
|Net worth||US$ 25 Billion (February 2021)|
|Title||Founder, Chairman and CEO of ByteDance|
Zhang Yiming (Chinese: 张一鸣; born 1 April 1983 in Longyan, Fujian) is a Chinese billionaire internet entrepreneur. He founded ByteDance in 2012 and developed the news aggregator Toutiao and the video sharing platform TikTok (Douyin/抖音), formerly known as Musical.ly. As of 2019, with more than 1 billion monthly users, ByteDance is valued at US$75 billion, making it the most valuable startup in the world. Zhang's personal wealth is estimated at $22.6 billion, making him the ninth richest person in China.
Early life and career
Zhang was born on 1 April 1983. In 2001, he enrolled at Nankai University in Tianjin, where he majored in microelectronics before changing to software engineering, and graduated in 2005. He met his wife at university.
In February 2006, Zhang became the fifth employee and the first engineer at the travel website Kuxun (酷讯), and he was promoted to technical director a year later.
In 2008, Zhang left Kuxun to work for Microsoft, but he felt stifled by the corporate rules of the company. He soon left Microsoft to join the startup Fanfou (饭否), which eventually failed. In 2009, when Kuxun was about to be acquired by Expedia, Zhang took over Kuxun's real estate search business and started 99fang.com (九九房), his first company.
Zhang thought that Chinese smartphone users were struggling to find information in mobile apps available in 2012 and the search giant Baidu was mixing search results with undisclosed advertising. His vision was to push relevant content to users using recommendations generated by artificial intelligence. This vision, however, was not shared by most venture capitalists, and he failed to secure funding until Susquehanna International Group agreed to invest in the startup. In August 2012, ByteDance launched the Toutiao news app and within two years attracted more than 13 million daily users. Sequoia Capital, which rejected Zhang the first time, came around and led a US$100 million investment in the company in 2014.
Zhang focused on expanding ByteDance globally, as opposed to other Chinese tech CEOs who focused on the domestic growth of their companies. Zhang insisted that ByteDance's workplace productivity app Lark be targeted at the American, European and Japanese markets, rather than limiting the focus to China as originally proposed. Zhang's management style with ByteDance was modeled on US tech companies such as Google and included bi-monthly town hall meetings and discouraging employees from referring to him as "boss" or "CEO," as is the Chinese convention.
In September 2015, ByteDance launched its video sharing app TikTok (known as Douyin in China) with little fanfare. The product was an instant hit with millennials and became popular worldwide. ByteDance bought Musical.ly a year later for US$800 million and integrated it into TikTok.
ByteDance's first app, Neihan Duanzi, was shut down in 2018 by the National Radio and Television Administration. In response, Zhang issued an apology stating that the app was "incommensurate with socialist core values", that it had a "weak" implementation of Xi Jinping Thought, and promised that ByteDance would "further deepen cooperation" with the ruling Chinese Communist Party to better promote its policies.
As of late 2018, with more than 1 billion monthly users across its mobile apps, ByteDance is valued at US$75 billion, surpassing Uber to become the most valuable startup in the world. Zhang's personal wealth is estimated at $22.6 billion, making him the 9th richest person in China.
Honours and recognition
Zhang was named in the 2013 China 30 Under 30 list by Forbes. In 2018, he was included in Fortune magazine's 40 Under 40 list. Zhang was named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2019.
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