The first question on anyone’s mind may be: Who created TikTok? And, if you’re asking that question, you’re not alone. TikTok was introduced in 2011 by Chinese internet entrepreneurs and quickly became wildly popular, especially with adolescent users. In a matter of months, TikTok had over one billion users and was still growing! But who created it? And why is it so popular?
ByteDance, the Chinese company that developed TikTok, has multiple international business lines. In addition to the video-sharing app, ByteDance also released apps like News Master in 2015, which was later renamed TopBuzz, and BuzzVideo in 2016. These apps were inspired by the domestic hit Xigua Video but failed to gain traction internationally. ByteDance is now working to change that.
In addition to its popularity in China, the rise of TikTok illustrates how China is becoming increasingly influential in consumer technology outside of the country. In China, the super app WeChat is a staple, and Alibaba, the e-commerce giant, also has a consumer site outside of the country. TikTok shows that Chinese apps can grow and survive outside China. That gives Chinese companies real competition with the Silicon Valley-based giants.
The founder of popular Chinese video app TikTok, Zhang Yiming, is an entrepreneur with a slew of other business interests. He previously worked for a news company and also created the popular video sharing app Douyin. The company has grown to more than a billion users around the world and has even attracted investment from Sequoia Capital and Softbank. Here’s his inside story.
As an undergraduate at Nankai University, Zhang Yiming began his career fixing computers for his classmates and quickly gained online popularity. After graduating, he joined Microsoft but often thought about starting his own business. His breakthrough came in 2012 when he launched his first app, ByteDance, which was a joke-sharing service. The Chinese government then ordered the company to remove it, but it quickly rebounded and has become one of the fastest-growing social media sites.
Although similar to TikTok, Douyin has grown significantly and is now more popular. It allows three-tap purchases, virtual city tours, coupons for local businesses, and geo-tagged video reviews. According to a marketing company head, some power users can earn fifteen to twenty thousand dollars on Singles Day. They also help brands promote their products and services. The new feature allows brands to list sponsored hashtag challenges and link to their official sites.
Like other social video platforms, Douyin is based on trends and hashtags that vary by location and culture. Users try to copy the trends by posting similar videos. Trending topics on Douyin include pets, language learning videos, funny videos, and business-oriented clips. Other common themes on both platforms are dancing, pets, and dances. Douyin and TikTok each have different users, and each has its own niche.
Khaby Lame, a YouTuber who gained popularity through his videos on TikTok, was born in Senegal and moved to Italy when he was a toddler. His videos usually mock other Tik Tokers, and he earns millions of views for them. He is also in a relationship with model Zaira Nucci, who frequently appears in his social media feeds. His videos have been viewed more than 25 million times.
In the beginning, he was just a regular factory worker, but now his videos are viewed by billions of users around the world. His signature style of mocking life hack videos has won him a global following, with his deadpan humor and awe-inspiring videos. In a video, he demonstrates how to peel a banana, puts on socks, and more.
ByteDance’s strategy to sell TikTok to a U.S. company
ByteDance’s investors were pressuring Yiming Zhang to change the company’s plans for an outright sale, so that they could satisfy U.S. and Chinese security concerns. But the Chinese company didn’t want to take a financial hit by selling its short video app. Instead, it opted for a stake sale to Oracle.
As it grows in popularity in the US, cross-border ecommerce is becoming increasingly popular there. In 2017, cross-border ecommerce accounted for 64.7 million people aged 14 and older in the US. Moreover, Chinese gaming companies are increasingly seeking growth overseas. ByteDance’s strategy to sell TikTok to a U.S. company aims to take its lessons learned from its Chinese competitors and apply them to rapidly growing markets like the U.S.