Alex Zhu is a relatively secretive figure, and largely stays out of the media. In a recent profile in The New York Times , the 40-year-old Zhu was described as having “a little artsy oddness”. Zhu himself refers to himself on LinkedIn as a “designtrepreneur” – and lists his work location as Mars. Zhu grew up in Anhui, a landlocked province in eastern China that stretches across two river basins. Zhu then attended Zhejiang University, one of the most prestigious institutions in China. He studied civil engineering, and graduated with a bachelor's degree in 2000. Meet Chinese billionaire Gong Hongjia, angel investor extraordinaire By 2002, Zhu was hired to run the product design team at WebEx, a videoconferencing software maker later acquired by Cisco. Zhu left WebEx in 2004 to work at the German software company SAP in Shanghai. Zhu found his way to the US by 2010, working out of SAP's Bay Area office. He took a special interest in education while there, and came up with the idea to develop an app for hosting short-form education videos. 10 billionaires who chose to drive cheap, modest cars Throughout 2013, Zhu and Luyu Yang – co-founders and long-time friends – spent six months building the educational app, called Cicada, and raised US$250,000. “It was doomed to be a failure,” Zhu later said. “The day we released this application to the market, we realised it was never going to take off.” With only 8 per cent of their money remaining, Zhu was determined to brainstorm a new idea instead of returning the funding to investors. As the team scrambled, Zhu took a brief gig at Microsoft driving its “mobile disruption” initiatives in the summer of 2014. Around this time, Zhu embarked on a memorable train ride from San Francisco to Mountain View, California. He noticed a group of teens nearby passing around their phones, half of them listening to music while the other half were taking photos and decorating them in emojis. Zhu thought about how he could combine these different features into a single social app for teens, and the idea for Musical.ly was born. The team behind Cicada turned Zhu's idea into an app in only 30 days, and in July 2014, launched Musical.ly for creating 15-second lip-synching music videos. Musical.ly came to the US, and hit its stride when it reached the No 1 spot in the US iTunes store. That same year, Zhu returned to China to reunite with his Cicada-turned-Muisical.ly co-founder and co-CEO, Yang, to build up the company together out of Shanghai. In November 2017, a massive Chinese company called ByteDance acquired Musical.ly for US$1 billion. At the time, Zhu said the deal would help Musical.ly to expand into Asian markets as a stand-alone app. It's not clear how much Zhu made from the acquisition. Zhang Lei: from selling instant noodles to buying Amazon shares However, less than a year later, ByteDance shut down Musical.ly and merged it into its existing short-form video app called TikTok. “Combining Musical.ly and TikTok is a natural fit given the shared mission of both experiences – to create a community where everyone can be a creator,” Zhu said at the time. Following the death of Musical.ly, Zhu was given the title of TikTok's senior vice-president, and stayed on to help with the transition. He then left ByteDance to take some time off, reportedly to “rest, go clubbing in Shanghai and listen to jazz.” He kept a low profile and stayed out of the media. Why TikTok Zhang Yiming is among China’s richest men Then, Zhu rejoined the TikTok team earlier this year, not long after ByteDance achieved a US$75 billion valuation. Zhu then took over as head of TikTok, he revealed in a November interview with the Times . Zhu's interview came at a tricky time for TikTok, which faces scrutiny in the US over allegations it censors content dealing with “highly controversial topics” at the request of the Chinese government. Zhu has said that if China's president ever asked him to take down a video from TikTok, or access users' data, he would refuse. As Asia’s most-moneyed make their mark on the global stage, in this Crazy Rich Asians series , we chart the rise of the region’s richest families, most inventive entrepreneurs – and how they spend their epic wealth. Want more stories like this? Sign up here . Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter . This article originally appeared on Business Insider .