Life Getting Harder for China Tech Moguls? TikTok Owner Zhang Yiming Resigns as CEO

Zhang Yiming, the co-founder of TikTok owner ByteDance, is stepping down as CEO. The 38-year-old, who is among the world's richest internet entrepreneurs, announced the news to the employees in an internal memo, Reuters reported on Thursday.

Zhang said he will be succeeded by co-founder Rubo Liang.

Zhang owns about a quarter of ByteDance and is currently worth more than $60 billion. His entry into the top layers of the rich list had sparked speculation that he might come under pressure from the Chinese government. The speculation was linked to the Chinese crackdown on fabled tech empires like Alibaba and the personal targeting of its founder Jack Ma.

Toughening Regulatory Environment

Though China has not opened any investigation into ByteDance, the regulatory environment is getting harder for China's tech billionaires.

Zhang Yiming
ByteDance cofounder Zhang Yiming is one of the richest men in the world. Twitter

In his note to employees announcing the decision to quit, Zhang did not specify a particular reason. He vaguely said he was not sure if he had the skills and aptitude to take the company to the next level.

"The truth is, I lack some of the skills that make an ideal manager. I'm more interested in analyzing organizational and market principles, and leveraging these theories to further reduce management work, rather than actually managing people," Zhang wrote.

"Similarly, I'm not very social, preferring solitary activities like being online, reading, listening to music, and contemplating what may be possible," he added in the communique.

Dominant Social Media Force

Zhang launched ByteDance in 2012 and turned it into dominant social media force in China over the years. And then he launched TikTok, a short-video app popular with teenagers, which instantly became a global sensation.

ByteDance YouTube Grab

Who is Zhang Yiming?

Zhang was born in 1983 in Longyan, China's Fujian, as the only son of civil servant parents. He graduated in software engineering in 2005. The following year, he joined travel website Kuxun as an engineer and then went on to become the technical director of the company.

He then had a stint with Microsoft, starting in 2008, which was then followed by an innings in start-up Fanfou. In 2009, Zhang bought Kuxun's real estate search business and started his first company,

In 2012, he launched ByteDance in 2012 with the help of Susquehanna International Group's investment. He also he launched Toutiao news app in the same year and was successful in attracting more than 13 million daily users. Sequoia Capital, which had rejected Zhang's proposal earlier, invested US$100 million in 2014.


Popular app TikTok, which is named Douyin in China, was launched in 2015. To expand its presence in the music field, ByteDance bought in 2016 for US$800 million and integrated it into TikTok.

As Zhang embarks the next phase in his enterprise career, he is leaving behind a tumultuous year, as 2020 had offered him many challenges. He was in the crosshairs of the Trump administration in the US and his TikTok was banned in a host of countries like India and the US. All this happened when Chinese regulators were increasing pressure on homegrown tech conglomerates.