Meet Zhang Yiming, the secretive Chinese billionaire behind TikTok worth $44 billion who just stepped down as ByteDance CEO

zhang yiming net worth bytedance tiktok 2x1
ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming makes his own TikToks – and requires his senior employees to as well.

  • Zhang Yiming has built a $44.5 billion fortune since cofounding ByteDance, the Chinese tech giant behind TikTok.
  • Despite being one of the wealthiest people in China, Zhang is extremely private and little is known about his personal life.
  • Zhang recently stepped down as ByteDance CEO, saying he’s “not very social” and lacks management skills.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The widespread popularity of TikTok has not just created a new generation of social media stars, it has also created a social media billionaire.

Zhang Yiming, the 38-year-old software engineer who founded the app’s parent company, ByteDance, now has a net worth of $44.5 billion, Bloomberg estimates. Despite being one of the wealthiest people in China as ranked by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Zhang is extremely private and little is known about his personal life.

After running the company for nearly a decade, Zhang stepped down as CEO this week, Reuters reported, telling employees that he’s “not very social, preferring solitary activities like being online, reading, listening to music, and contemplating what may be possible.”

“The truth is, I lack some of the skills that make an ideal manager,” Zhang said, according to Reuters, saying he would be a better help to the company in a role that didn’t involve managing people directly.

Keep reading to learn everything we know about Zhang Yiming.

Zhang, 38, lives in Beijing, China.

Zhang Yiming bytedance

Zhang was born in 1983 in China’s Fujian province, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Zhang’s parents worked as civil servants, Bloomberg reported.

His name is based on a Chinese proverb about “surprising everyone with a first attempt,” according to the South China Morning Post.

He married his college sweetheart.

TIANJIN, CHINA
Nankai University is located in Tianjin, north China.

Zhang graduated from Nankai University in 2005, where he started off studying microelectronics before switching his major to software engineering, the South China Morning Post reported.

The couple does not have any children, according to the South China Morning Post.

Zhang’s first job out of college was at a digital travel booking startup called Kuxun.

Yiming zhang bytedance
ByteDance founder & CEO Yiming Zhang.

“I was one of first employees. And I was an ordinary engineer at the beginning, but in the second year, I was in charge of about 40 to 50 people responsible for back-end technology and other tasks related to products,” Zhang told ByteDance employees, according to the South China Morning Post.

Zhang credits that job for teaching him sales skills that he later used to grow ByteDance.

“I remember that at the end of 2007, I went to meet the client with the sales director,” Zhang said, according to the Post. “This experience let me know what sales are good sales. When I established Toutiao and recruited staff, these examples helped me a lot.”

Zhang also worked at Microsoft before founding ByteDance, the South China Morning Post reported.

Zhang founded TikTok’s parent company in 2012.

bytedance
The headquarters of Beijing Bytedance Technology Co Ltd, in Beijing, China.

The company is now worth $250 billion, according to Bloomberg, making it the most valuable privately held company in the world.

The company owns several social networking apps that operate within China, Insider previously reported. The company released a WeChat rival called FlipChat, and a video-messaging app called Duoshan in 2019.

Zhang and ByteDance’s first product was a news aggregator app called Toutiao.

toutiao bytedance
An ad for Bytedance’s news feed aggregator app Toutiao. Zhang not pictured.

Zhang wanted to create a news platform whose results were powered by artificial intelligence, separate from China’s search engine Baidu, Insider previously reported.

“We push information, not by queries, by news recommendations,” Zhang told Bloomberg in 2017.

Despite its focus on news, Zhang told Bloomberg’s Lulu Yilun Chen and Mark Bergen in 2017 that ByteDance does not have any journalists on its staff like many other social networks.

“The most important thing is that we are not a news business,” Zhang told Bloomberg. “We are more like a search business or a social media platform. We are doing very innovative work. We are not a copycat of a U.S. company, both in product and technology.”

Zhang launched ByteDance’s most successful app – TikTok – under the name ‘Douyin’ in September 2016.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of TikTok application is seen on a mobile phone screen in this picture illustration taken February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/Illustration/File Photo
The logo of TikTok application is seen on a mobile phone screen in this picture illustration taken

In 2020, Insider reported that TikTok is the No. 1 non-gaming iOS app in the U.S. TikTok is one of the most popular social networks among American teens and has been downloaded more than 1 billion times.

TikTok still goes by the name ‘Douyin’ in China, Insider previously reported. 

Zhang makes his own TikToks – and requires his senior employees to as well.

TikTok ByteDance
TikTok has seen a meteoric rise.

“For a very long time, I was merely watching TikTok videos without making any of them myself, because it’s a product mainly for young people,” Zhang said, according to the South China Morning Post. “But later on we made it compulsory for all management team members to make their own TikTok videos, and they must win a certain number of ‘likes’. Otherwise, they have to do push-ups. It was a big step for me.”

Zhang’s leadership style is “soft-spoken yet charismatic, logical yet passionate, young yet wise,” according to Time Magazine’s Kai-Fu Lee.

TikTok’s global reach makes Zhang’s life “much more interesting.”

Man walks past a sign of ByteDance's app TikTok, known locally as Douyin, at an expo in Hangzhou
A man holding a phone walks past a sign of Chinese company ByteDance’s app TikTok, known locally as Douyin, at the International Artificial Products Expo in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China October 18, 2019.

Zhang wants the app to continue to grow abroad, saying that he hopes his ByteDance will be “as borderless as Google,” according to the South China Morning Post.

“We must work harder, we must also be more perfectionist,” Zhang said, according to the Post. “Just like there was an international division of labour in the industrial age, in today’s information age there’s also an international division of labour. Chinese entrepreneurs must also improve their own capabilities as they go global,” he said.

However, TikTok’s growing influence in the US has raised questions from US regulators.

FTC building

TikTok agreed in February 2019 to pay a $5.7 million fine to the Federal Trade Commission over allegations the app illegally collected personal information from children under age 13 without parental consent, in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, Insider previously reported.

President Trump threatened to ban the app in the US over alleged security concerns in July 2020, prompting ByteDance to pursue deals to sell TikTok’s US operations to potential buyers including Oracle and Microsoft. The proposed deals sparked fierce attacks on Zhang on Chinese social media, where he was called a traitor, a coward, and an American apologist for negotiating with the American tech titan.

But ByteDance ultimately walked away from the deals after the election of Joe Biden, who experts say is unlikely to continue fighting for the ban.

The billionaire attributes his success to his work ethic.

Zhang Yiming bytedance
ByteDance founder & CEO Zhang Yiming.

Zhang learned the value of pursuing excellence while still in his first job at Kuxun, he told ByteDance employees, according to the South China Morning Post.

“At that time, I was responsible for the technology, but when the product had problems, and I would actively participate in the discussion of [the] product plan,” Zhang said, according to the South China Morning Post. “A lot of people say this is not what I should be doing. But I want to say: your sense of responsibility and your desire to do things well, will drive you to do more things and to gain experience.”

Zhang’s fortune is growing rapidly: He made over $12 billion in 2018 alone.

Zhang Yiming
Zhang Yiming.

The majority of Zhang’s fortune comes from his 24% stake in ByteDance, according to Forbes.

Forbes first declared Zhang a billionaire in March 2018, estimating that Zhang was worth $4 billion. Bloomberg now estimates his net worth at $44.5 billion.

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John F. Kennedy’s former Washington, DC, home just sold for $4.2 million. Look inside the 220-year-old brick house with a private rooftop terrace.

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An unknown buyer has just picked up a piece of history: the onetime Washington, DC home of President John F. Kennedy.

Listed for $4,675,000 back in February, the three-bedroom Georgetown house where Kennedy lived for three years just sold for $42 million, Mansion Global reports.

Before he was president, Kennedy lived in the house from 1949 to 1951 while serving in the House of Representatives for Massachusetts’ 11th congressional district. According to The Washingtonian, he shared the home with his sister, Eunice. 

The Federal-style brick house was built around 1800 and was recently renovated by architect Richard Foster and builder Tom Glass, according to the listing. It comes with an attached garage and a private rooftop terrace with views of the Washington Monument. It sits in the historic neighborhood of Georgetown, where the median listing price today is nearly $1.4 million.

Christie-Anne Weiss and Christopher Ritzert of TTR Sotheby’s international Realty held the listing.

Take a look inside the home.

John F. Kennedy’s onetime Washington, DC home is a Federal-style house built in 1800. It just sold to an unidentified buyer for $4.2 million.

JFK dc house

It was put on the market in February for $4,675,000.

According to Zillow, it last sold in 2008 — also for $4.2 million.

Kennedy lived in the home for three years before he was president, from 1949 to 1951.

jfk house dc

At the time, he was serving in the House of Representatives for Massachusetts’ 11th congressional district.

According to The Washingtonian, he shared the home with his sister, Eunice. 

The three-bedroom house sits in Georgetown, a historic neighborhood west of downtown that’s full of cobblestoned streets and charming boutiques.

Georgetown dc
View of Georgetown neighborhood.

The median listing price in Georgetown is nearly $1.4 million, according to Zillow.

Although the original structure was built about 220 years ago, the home recently underwent extensive renovations by architect Richard Foster and builder Tom Glass.

jfk dc house

Because Georgetown is a historic district, the renovations had to adhere to strict guidelines and maintain historical accuracy in the home, according to Inman.

But there’s no shortage of modern touches. The gourmet kitchen features stainless steel appliances and a large island.

jfk dc house

Source: TTR Sotheby’s International Realty

The kitchen also includes a breakfast bar and a butler’s pantry.

jfk dc house
breakfast bar and butlers pantry

Source: TTR Sotheby’s International Realty

The formal dining room has a fireplace and opens up to a terrace.

jfk dc house
grand formal dining with fireplace

Source: TTR Sotheby’s International Realty

The terrace has plenty of space for entertaining and al fresco dining.

jfk dc house

Source: TTR Sotheby’s International Realty

The spacious formal dining room also has a fireplace.

jfk dc house

Source: TTR Sotheby’s International Realty

A wood-paneled library includes an attached powder room, a fireplace, and a wet bar.

jfk dc house
library with powder room fireplace

Source: TTR Sotheby’s International Realty

On the master level is the bedroom with an en suite bathroom and access to the terrace.

jfk dc house
master level w/ en suite bath and terrace access

Source: TTR Sotheby’s International Realty

The master bedroom also includes yet another fireplace.

jfk dc house
master bed w/ fireplace

Source: TTR Sotheby’s International Realty

The master bathroom features a large soaking tub, a rain shower, and heated floors.

jfk dc house
soaking tub and rain shower

Source: TTR Sotheby’s International Realty

There’s another private terrace on the rooftop …

jfk dc house
private owners terrace

Source: TTR Sotheby’s International Realty

… which boasts panoramic views of the city and the Washington Monument.

jfk dc house
panoramic monument views

Source: TTR Sotheby’s International Realty

An attached garage offers ample storage space.

jfk dc house
garage parking with storage

The property taxes on the home would be about $3,325 per month, according to Zillow’s estimate.

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