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China technology

ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming bounces back with new funding round to win world’s most valuable start-up crown

  • US$75 billion valuation puts it ahead of Uber’s US$72 billion as most valuable start-up
  • ByteDance has bounced back from brush with authorities, with founder Zhang included in honours list
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 October, 2018, 11:33am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 October, 2018, 11:32am

It was looking pretty grim for ByteDance founder and chief executive Zhang Yiming back in April. He had issued a “self reflective” public apology after China’s central government ordered its news aggregation unit to close a popular app known for off-colour jokes.

“We let our users down by over emphasising growth and scale over quality and responsibility,” Zhang said in an open letter reminiscent of the “self criticism” of “wrongdoers” during the era of Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

Meet the 35-year-old engineer behind world’s most valuable start-up

Zhang said Jinri Toutiao, the news aggregation unit of ByteDance, would “correct the flaws” in its algorithms and machine vetting, expand its vetting team from 6,000 to 10,000 people, and permanently ban creators whose content was “against community values”.

Fast forward to October and Zhang is riding high after Bloomberg reported it has closed a US$3 billion funding round that will value the start-up at US$75 billion, more than Uber Technologies at US$72 billion.

Zhang is also back in the good graces of the authorities, having been included in a list of 100 entrepreneurs lauded for their “great achievements in the development of the private economy” over the past 40 years.

The list was compiled by the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce and the United Front Work Department, a body that seeks to spread the Communist Party’s influence in non-state fields. Not bad for someone whose company was started six years ago.

ByteDance to enter long-form streaming video market

Along the way, he has sparred online with Tencent Holdings chairman Pony Ma Huateng, accusing Tencent’s Weishi video platform of “plagiarising” ByteDance’s Douyin short-video app. ByteDance also acquired the popular teen karaoke app for US$800 million and absorbed it into its Tik Tok short-video sharing platform.

ByteDance’s investors include General Atlantic, SoftBank, KKR & Co and Primavera Capital Group, according to Crunchbase, which tracks venture capital investments.