A rare startup is gaining momentum as fast as the Beijing-based company ByteDance, which developed a super-popular application for creating 15-second TikTok videos. In just two years, TikTok downloaded more than 1 billion times. It is used in 150 countries, it is localized in 75 languages and competes with services and applications such as Netflix, YouTube, Snapchat and Facebook. In the video shot by TikTok users on smartphones, you can see anything: from comedy sketches to songs to the soundtrack and tips for grooming dogs. The diverse, silly, fast-paced content of this application has won a youth audience around the world.
Since TikTok does not require extensive translation of content, it is significantly ahead of other successful Chinese applications, for example, Tencent’s WeChat messenger, widely distributed in China and often used by Chinese communities abroad to maintain ties with their homeland. Chinese entrepreneurs like ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming demonstrate that they can succeed in a global market with strong competitors, not just in China, where the “Great Chinese Firewall”regulates the Internet and blocks access to several social networks created in the USA. TikTok’s dual strategy — with one version for the Chinese market and one for the rest of the world — could be an example for other companies producing digital content designed for global use. This applies to both ambitious Chinese startups targeting outside the domestic market and American companies watching their colleagues encounter severe restrictions when trying to enter the Chinese market.
From the beginning, Zhang, a former Microsoft engineer and serial Chinese entrepreneur, set himself the goal of creating a company without borders. 36-year-old Zhang belongs to a new generation of global-visioned technology leaders in China who were inspired by the early successes of Chinese Internet pioneers of the late 1990s, such as Robin Li from Baidu, Jack Ma from Alibaba and Pony Ma from Tencent. ByteDance is valued at $ 78 billion and in 2018 became one of 86 Chinese “unicorns”. Among the company’s investors are the successful venture capital fund Sequoia Capital China, the Japanese technology conglomerate Softbank Group, private American investor KKR, the Chinese investment firm Hillhouse Capital, and the corporate venture fund SIG Asia. Developing a platform for digital content and receiving financing from private capital, ByteDance has built a special relationship with the Chinese government and feels its influence differently than state conglomerates. But when entering the international market, Chinese ByteDance could face increased mistrust and suspicion, especially in connection with security issues that arose to the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, which is preparing to launch fifth-generation high-speed networks around the world.