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38-year-old TikTok founder Zhang Yiming targets a $60 billions fortune

Last year, ByteDance, the world’s most valuable startup, was under pressure from all sides.

Donald Trump’s government wanted the Chinese company, which owns the video sharing platform TikTok, to sell assets. The Chinese government increased vigilance over technology companies, and India has blocked some of the applications on the social network.

Despite all the obstacles, ByteDance continued to grow. Now, its founder Zhang Yiming, 38, is among the richest people in the world. A distinction that has lately resulted in greater risks in China.

38-year-old TikTok founder Zhang Yiming targets 60 billion fortune

38-year-old TikTok founder Zhang Yiming targets 60 billion fortune (Image: Reuters)

The company’s shares are valued in the private market at more than $250 billion, said people with knowledge of the numbers. At that level, Zhang, who owns about 25% of ByteDance, could have a fortune of approximately $60 billion, placing him alongside Pony Ma, from Tencent, the king of bottled water Zhong Shanshan and family members Walton and Koch in the United States, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

ByteDance, famous for its short video applications and news aggregator Toutiao, more than doubled revenue last year, after expanding beyond its core advertising business to areas such as e-commerce and online games. The company is now studying options for the initial public offering (IPO) of some units.

“Zhang is known for long-term thinking and is not easily dissuaded by short-term setbacks,” said Ma Rui, a partner at venture capital firm Synaptic Ventures. “He is committed to build a lasting global business.”

During the last round of fundraising, ByteDance achieved a valuation of $180 billion, said a person with knowledge of the matter. The figure compares with $20 billion about three years ago, according to CB Insights. But in the private market, some investors recently asked for the equivalent of a $350 billion valuation, people familiar with the matter said. The company’s value to private equity investors is close to 400 billion, according to the South China Morning Post. Which would mean an even greater fortune for Zhang.

It is a difficult time to be rich in China, as the government is seeking to control the country’s most powerful corporations and their billionaire founders. Just ask Jack Ma: after starting an investigation, competition regulators fined Alibaba a record $2.8 billion, and the central bank ordered a restructuring of its giant fintech, Ant Group, so it would be supervised like a bank.

Born in the city of Longyan, in southern China, Zhang, the only son of civil servants, studied programming at Nankai University in Tianjin, where he gained followers on the college’s online forum for repairing colleagues’ computers. He worked at Microsoft for a brief period after completing training, but later said the job was so boring that he often “worked half the day and read books the other half,” according to an interview with the Chinese press. Zhang then went on to develop several projects, including a real estate search portal.

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