This 36-year-old  Chinese is behind teen phenomenon TikTok

Zhang Yiming's Beijing-based startup Bytedance owns TikTok, whose kaleidoscopic feeds of 15 to 60-second clips feature everything from hair-dye tutorials to dance routines and jokes about daily life.

Published: 27th November 2019 05:25 PM  |   Last Updated: 27th November 2019 05:31 PM   |  A+A-

TikTok

For representational purposes

By AFP

BEIJING: The Chinese billionaire behind teen phenomenon TikTok is a 36-year-old tech guru whose eye for youth trends and pioneering use of AI has blasted the app to global success -- while working hand-in-glove with censors to control content within China.

Zhang Yiming's Beijing-based startup Bytedance owns TikTok, whose kaleidoscopic feeds of 15 to 60-second clips feature everything from hair-dye tutorials to dance routines and jokes about daily life. Since launching in 2017, TikTok has been downloaded more than 1.5 billion times, according to US-based research agency Sensor Tower. It has huge followings in India, the US, Indonesia and elsewhere.

But its rise has raised security fears and last month two senior US senators called for a government review of the app, saying it could leave users vulnerable to spying by Beijing. Bytedance, which Zhang founded in 2012, prides itself on using artificial intelligence to personalise newsfeeds according to users' interests.

The company has had "huge and immediate success" because it pays close attention to its young users, said Bo Ji, assistant dean for the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business. "The new generation want to share their real feelings, whether good or bad. They are more direct and expressive," he said.

TikTok is Bytedance's most popular overseas app, while its other products in China and abroad include news aggregators and productivity tools. Together they have taken Zhang -- a programmer before he became a businessman - to the highest echelons of China's billionaire club.

In 2019, he was listed in the top 20 of the Hurun China Rich List with USD 13.5 billion in wealth, surpassing more established tech tycoons, such as the founder of search giant Baidu.

Zhang's fortunes were given a huge boost with Bytedance's 2017 acquisition of lip-syncing video app Musical.ly -- later merged with TikTok -- in a deal reportedly worth as much as USD 1 billion. "Mr Zhang is unusual Chinese entrepreneur. He built something for the world; he understands the young people and their psychology," said Bo."

Liu Xingliang, dean of the DCCI research centre, told AFP that Zhang represents a new wave of entrepreneurs and a different breed to China's most famous tycoon, Alibaba's Jack Ma. He is "more like a young Pony Ma," Liu said, comparing Zhang to the 48-year-old co-founder of Chinese internet giant Tencent.

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