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  • These funny, cute and sometimes silly videos are from TikTok,

  • one of the most popular social video apps in the world.

  • Over half a billion people mostly teenagers and millennials

  • use TikTok and its Chinese version Douyin to make and share short-form videos.

  • But you may have never heard of the app's creator Bytedance,

  • a Chinese internet company with a lofty $75 billion valuation.

  • In fact, it's the world's most valuable startup.

  • This is the story of how Bytedance achieved extraordinary success in China

  • and how it's pushing to be the next global internet titan.

  • When Zhang Yiming first founded Bytedance,

  • investors doubted the then 29-year-old and his ideas.

  • But Zhang proved them wrong.

  • In just seven years the company has evolved into a multifaceted empire

  • spanning about a dozen products available in 150 markets and 75 different languages.

  • Its apps are for everything from news aggregation and short videos to online education.

  • Unlike other Chinese companies it was thinking of expanding overseas relatively early on.

  • The founder, Yiming, was already talking about acquisitions and hiring from overseas, places like the U.S. and Europe, just 2.5 to 3 years into his company's lifespan.

  • Bytedance has created a significant following around the world in the early stage of its international expansion.

  • TikTok, its most popular app abroad, has reached over a billion downloads,

  • with about 25 percent from India and 9 percent from the U.S.

  • Even Apple's CEO Tim Cook couldn't resist a visit to the startup's headquarters during a trip to Beijing last year.

  • Its relative success abroad has been partly achieved through smart acquisitions and strategic expansions.

  • Bytedance bought karaoke-style video app Musical.ly in late 2017.

  • Musical.ly was already very popular for teens and younger millennials in the U.S.

  • The company then merged Musical.ly into TikTok

  • and suddenly had a substantial user base in the U.S.

  • It's such popcorn entertainment that you can consume really quickly.

  • You know, you just keeps scrolling, and you see the next video and it's just 15 seconds each.

  • And on the other hand, by using their artificial intelligence targeting

  • they can get you the content that you're most interested in watching and seeing.

  • Bytedance's success story started with its signature news aggregation app Toutiao in 2012.

  • The app uses AI to aggregate news and videos from tens of thousands of media outlets

  • and then pushes personalized feeds to users.

  • It is similar to Facebook's news feed or Apple News.

  • Bytedance uses its AI engineers and AI engines to serve content you wanna see straight away,

  • so the idea is that the more you use it, the better it learns about your habits and your personality,

  • and the better suited the article becomes for you, and then, that becomes an addictive experience.

  • But not everybody was happy about Toutiao's business practices,

  • especially publishers who felt their original content was stolen by the news aggregator.

  • After a flurry of copyright lawsuits from newspapers,

  • Zhang negotiated deals with media partners to share revenue.

  • Today Toutiao has become one of the most popular news services anywhere,

  • with more than 700 million registered users.

  • What's remarkable is that Zhang and Bytedance managed to create such hugely popular apps like Toutiao and TikTok

  • without backing from China's internet giants Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent,

  • also collectively known as B.A.T.

  • In fact, it often found itself at war with the three giants.

  • If you're not backed by B.A.T, it's very difficult to survive as an internet unicorn in China.

  • In many ways Bytedance survived by being underestimated by other Chinese internet giants.

  • The challenge now is how Bytedance can keep its momentum while facing intense competition from local and international players.

  • Its main revenue comes from ad sales,

  • but the company barely met its 2018 revenue target amid a slower Chinese economy.

  • Bytedance also faces regulatory issues at home and abroad.

  • Last April, Bytedance had to shut down a popular joke-sharing app in China.

  • Its bread-and-butter Toutiao and Douyin was also suspended by the Chinese government around the same time.

  • Content is also a risky venture in its overseas markets like the U.S.

  • In February, TikTok had to pay a record $5.7 million to settle claims by the U.S. government that it illegally collected personal information from children.

  • And so Bytedance's ambition to be a global internet titan might mean a tough road ahead.

These funny, cute and sometimes silly videos are from TikTok,

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The Company Behind TikTok Is Taking Over the World

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    Liang Chen posted on 2019/04/18
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