Zhang Yiming ( born April 1983) is a Chinese internet entrepreneur. He founded ByteDance and developed the news aggregator Toutiao and the video sharing platform TikTok (Douyin) – all three of which were launched in 2012. 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 $13 billion, making him the ninth richest person in China.
In 2011, Zhang noticed the user migration from computers to smartphones. He hired a professional manager to take over as CEO of 99fang, and quit the company to start ByteDance in 2012.
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.
In September 2016, 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 Communist Party of China 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 $13 billion, making him the 9th richest person in China.
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.