The founder of TikTok leaves the presidency to go “daydreaming”

He’s one of the richest men in China, thanks in large part to TikTok’s worldwide success. But, at 38, Zhang Yiming will quit the presidency of the Chinese internet giant ByteDance to “daydream”.

If the multibillionaire has revolutionized the internet world with his ultra-popular video-sharing application among young people around the world, Zhang Yiming does not see himself as the soul of a leader.

“In reality, I do not have the qualities required for an ideal leader […] I am not very sociable, I prefer solitary activities such as going on the internet, reading, listening to music and daydreaming, ”writes Zhang Yiming in a letter to his employees.

Mr. Zhang hands over to Liang Rubo, co-founder of ByteDance and until now head of human resources. The two partners met on the benches of the prestigious Nankai University, in Tianjin (north).

It is on the campus of this port city that the student made a name for himself by helping to install the computers of his comrades. Arrangements that will help him meet the one who will become his wife.

In 2012, there was a first coup with Jinri Toutiao (“Featured Today”), an aggregator of news articles that uses artificial intelligence to personalize content. The app is becoming one of the most popular in the country.

Zhang Yiming, “he is first and foremost a computer programmer”, attached to the operation of products “and a good connoisseur of technology,” said Liu Xingliang, dean of the DCCI research center in 2019.

In 2016, it was the consecration with the launch of TikTok, then the buyout and absorption for 1 billion dollars of Musical.ly, a music sharing application, mainly present in the United States.

TikTok, with 1 billion users, is becoming a social phenomenon and is all the rage among young people around the world thanks to a simple concept: short videos giving pride of place to musical subjects, filmed in front of the camera or in the form of choreographies, to using a smart phone.

“This enormous and immediate success illustrates the relevance of its strategy targeting consumers”, in this case young people wishing to communicate in a “more direct and expressive” way, observed in 2019 Bo Ji, of the Cheung Kong Business School. .

The success of TikTok, which has a Chinese version dubbed Douyin, makes Zhang Yiming China’s fifth fortune, estimated at $ 36 billion, according to the ranking of Forbes.

In the United States, however, the app is suspected by the Trump administration to be a Chinese spy tool. It has been banned in India since last June, in the name of national security.

The tide is also turning in China.

At the end of 2020, Beijing took over the internet sector to limit the influence of technological giants. And other big names in tech seem to want to be forgotten.

After criticizing financial regulators, Jack Ma, the founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, is now very discreet. Colin Huang resigned last year from the presidency of Pinduoduo, a competing platform of Alibaba.

By leaving the presidency of Bytedance, Zhang Yiming does not however cut ties with the group. He now hopes to have a “more objective vision of the company” and intends to reflect on his “long-term strategy”.

ByteDance employs more than 60,000 people in 30 countries. Zhang Yiming announced last year the recruitment of 40,000 additional employees.

Janelle B. Smith

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