The big three Chinese Internet Enterprises, known as the BAT (Baidu, Tencent, Alibaba), has been worshiped among the top business model architects around the world. They seized the booming SMEs from business-ends and the uprising consumption power from consumer ends. They are the long standing winners.

Apart from the BAT, the new big three — TMD, which stands for TouTiao (founded by Zhang Yiming), Meituan and the riding hailing service Didi, has been recognized as the new generation of Mobile Internet Unicorns in the 2020s.

A 35-year-old Billionaire in Social Media

Mr. Zhang Yiming, the 35-year-old software engineer who founded the app’s parent company ByteDance, now has a net worth of $AU 23.46 billion, according to a Forbes estimation. Despite being the 13th-wealthiest person in China, Zhang is extremely low profile and little is known about his personal life.

He was born in 1983 in China’s Fujian province. His parents worked as civil servants,Bloomberg reported. His name is based on a Chinese proverb about “surprising everyone with a first attempt.”(一鸣惊人 yi ming jing ren)

“I was one of first employees. And I was an ordinary engineer at the beginning, but in the second year, I was in charge of about 40 to 50 people responsible for back-end technology and other tasks related to products,” Zhang told ByteDance employees, according to the South China Morning Post.

Zhang credits that job for teaching him sales skills that he later used to grow ByteDance.

“I remember that at the end of 2007, I went to meet the client with the sales director,” Zhang said, “This experience let me know what sales are good sales. When I established Toutiao and recruited staff, these examples helped me a lot.”


Zhang founded ByteDance in 2012. The company is now worth $US75 billion, according to Pitchbook,making it one of the most valuable privately held companies in the world.

The Super Apps under Zhang’s ByteDance


The company owns several social networking apps that operate within China, Business Insider previously reported. The company released a WeChat rival called FlipChat, and a video-messaging app called Duoshan in 2019.

Zhang and ByteDance’s first product was a news aggregator app called Toutiao. He wanted to create a news platform whose results were powered by artificial intelligence, separate from China’s search engine Baidu, Business Insider’s Paige Leskin previously reported.

“We push information, not by queries, by news recommendations,” Zhang told Bloomberg in 2017. Despite its focus on news, Zhang told Bloomberg’s Lulu Yilun Chen and Mark Bergen in 2017 that ByteDance does not have any journalists on its staff like many other social networks.

“The most important thing is that we are not a news business,” Zhang told Bloomberg. “We are more like a search business or a social media platform. We are doing very innovative work. We are not a copycat of a U.S. company, both in product and technology.”

Zhang launched ByteDance’s most successful app — TikTok — under the name ‘Douyin’ in September 2016.

TikTok is now the No. 1 non-gaming iOS app in the U.S, Business Insider reported in September. TikTok is one of the most popular social networks among American teens and has been downloaded more than 1 billion times.

“For a very long time, I was merely watching TikTok videos without making any of them myself, because it’s a product mainly for young people,” Zhang said, “But later on we made it compulsory for all management team members to make their own TikTok videos, and they must win a certain number of ‘likes’. Otherwise, they have to do push-ups. It was a big step for me.”

Zhang’s leadership style is “soft-spoken yet charismatic, logical yet passionate, young yet wise,” according to Time Magazine’s Kai-Fu Lee.

TikTok’s global reach makes Zhang’s life “much more interesting.”

Zhang wants the app to continue to grow abroad, saying that he hopes his ByteDance will be “as borderless as Google,” He said in an interview, “We must work harder, we must also be more perfectionist. Just like there was an international division of labour in the industrial age, in today’s information age there’s also an international division of labour. Chinese entrepreneurs must also improve their own capabilities as they go global,” 

Zhang’s fortune is growing rapidly: He made over $US12 billion in 2018 alone.The majority of Zhang’s fortune comes from his 24% stake in ByteDance, according to Forbes. The magazine now estimates his net worth at $US16.2 billion.—edited from Taylor Nicole Rogers, Businessinsider.

The Mud Throwing Game with Pony Ma


The CEOs of two of China’s biggest tech companies engaged in an online bickering match on Tuesday after one accused the other of plagiarism.

Pony Ma Huateng, head of a BAT member Tencent Holdings, fired back with an uncharacteristic public retort when Zhang Yiming, whose Douyin video platform is blocked by Tencent’s super app WeChat, accused Tencent’s Weishi video platform of “plagiarising” Douyin.

“The progress of Douyin was unstoppable despite Tencent’s blocking and Weishi’s plagiarism,” Zhang originally wrote on his WeChat Moments account, where he also cited a report showing that the viral short video platform Douyin (Tik Tok), was the most downloaded iOS app worldwide in the first quarter of the year 2018, with more than 45 million installs from Apple’s App Store, according to US research firm Sensor Tower Store Intelligence. 

However, it was only when Zhang followed up with the comment, “The growth of Douyin cannot be stopped despite WeChat blocking Douyin on its platform and [Tencent’s] Weishi copying and plagiarising Douyin,” that the usually low profile Tencent CEO and founder weighed in with a short, sharp reply: “[Your comments] can be understood as slander.”  

In a follow up retort on his WeChat Moments Zhang wrote: “The blocking is not suitable for discussion and the latter (plagiarism) is being proven. I do not intend to start a verbal dispute. 

“I just cannot help to complain and was criticized by our (public relations) colleagues (for doing so). I will send you the materials separately.”  


“We have too much against [ByteDance] that is being proven,” Ma responded, without elaborating. Tik Tok’s popularity has skyrocketed over the past years, mainly among under 24 year olds who like its powerful and easy-to-use editing tools that can add catchy music and special effects to videos. Tik Tok is now one of the most downloaded iPhone apps in the world, with an estimated 45.8 million downloads, followed by YouTube, WhatsApp, Facebook’s Messenger app and Instagram.—edited from Iris Deng, South China Morning Post


The prompt rising of Tik Tok has posed great threats even to the world’s No.1 social media—Facebook, as the founder Zukerberg made it clear that ‘he has no love for Tik Tok’. This is a refection of the great struggles that Zhang Yiming needs to embrace. He is and will be facing the rivalries from domestic and overseas counterparts as ByteDance marching to their glory. 

Edited by Joreal Qian