Zhang Yiming, the Chinese internet entrepreneur, is world-famous for building the monolith ByteDance. After dabbling in several business ventures, Zhang Yiming founded ByteDance and the video-sharing platform that has enchanted the world, TikTok (as well as China’s version, Douyin). As of 2024, Zhang Yiming’s net worth is estimated at $54 billion, which makes him the second richest person in China, right after Zhong Shanshan.

Yiming’s story is nothing if not inspirational. He started from virtually nothing and built a business from scratch that would change the world forever. In this article, we’ll tell you all about Zhang’s personal wealth and success.

Zhang Yiming’s Net Worth Breakdown:

Yiming’s net worth fluctuates greatly as the value of his company’s stock changes. His assets are hard to keep track of, which is why different sources list different values when it comes to his wealth.

As the second richest person in all of China, Yiming leads a very private life, so there is next to no information about his assets other than through his company. While we couldn’t find every relevant piece of data that would paint a complete picture of his riches, we found plenty of information to build a strong estimate of his net worth.

Asset or Income Source Contribution to Net Worth
ByteDance CEO salary $14 million
ByteDance 20% stake $53.6 billion
Real estate Unknown
ByteDance stake devalued -$13 billion
Total Net Worth $54 billion

Zhang Yiming Net Worth: Early Life of a Technoking

Zhang Yiming was born on April 1, 1983, in Longyan, Fujian, China as the only child of his parents. His name means “surprising everyone with a first attempt”.

Yiming wasn’t exactly poor, but he wasn’t rich either. He was born and raised in a middle-class family, with his mother working as a nurse and his father as a government worker.

Upon graduating from high school in 2001, young Yiming enrolled at Nankai University in Tianjin, where he studied microelectronics but switched to software engineering. He graduated in 2005.

Zhang Yiming Net Worth: Success with ByteDance and TikTok

The founder of ByteDance didn’t build the company straight out of school. He worked for several companies, and founded a few of his own, all before he came up with the idea that changed his life – and his net worth – forever. Let’s see how his story goes.

Yiming’s Career Before ByteDance

After he graduated, Zhang Yiming formed a three-person team to develop an IAM system used by corporate clients. However, the market wasn’t ready for it just yet and the project failed at a time when collaborative offices weren’t yet trending in China.

After abandoning his idea, Yiming immediately jumped into the professional world. He began his career as the fifth employee and the first engineer at Kuxun, a travel website. Thanks to his excellent leadership skills and performance, the company made him their technical director only a year later.

This step in his life taught him a lot about the world of engineering and business. In a speech to employees at a Toutiao boot camp, he said:

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. 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.

In 2008, Yiming left Kuxun to work for Microsoft. However, he felt limited by the corporate rules at the conglomerate and not long after his employment, he quit his job to join the startup Fanfou before founding his first company.

Fanfou was a joint project between Yiming and Wang Xing, the man who later founded Metiuan Daianping. When this venture failed, Yiming returned to Kuxun, which was then acquired by Trip Advisor. However, he didn’t stay there for long before he left to start his first business, an online real estate company called 99Fang.

He quit his newly founded business three years after its establishment. The company didn’t pan out as he originally hoped, but it paved the way for something great.

Following this attempt at success, Zhang founded ByteDance in 2012, the company that ultimately catapulted him to billionaire status and global recognition.

Founding of ByteDance

In 2012, Zhang Yiming founded ByteDance, a company that is now worth between $220 billion to $268 billion. This is the most valuable privately held company worldwide and it offers several social media apps including Tiktok, Douyin (China’s version of TikTok), FlipChat, and Duoshan.

Yiming’s idea was that Chinese smartphone users struggled to find information in existing mobile apps, and he believed that Baidu, the search engine giant in China at the time, shared mixed search results with undisclosed advertising practices. His idea was to offer relevant content to the audience by using artificial intelligence.

Even though very few supported his idea and vision, and he failed to secure funding because of it, Yiming eventually found a company to invest in his startup, Susquehanna International Groupm which took a 15% stake in the company.

zhang yiming bytedance
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In August of 2012, the newly founded Bytedance launched Toutiao, the news app that within two years had over 13 million daily users and in 2022 reported 280 million daily active users. One of the companies that initially rejected his idea, Sequoia Capital, came around in 2014 and invested $100 million in his business.

toutiau homepage
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Toutiao proved to be a game-changer in the industry and a global sensation since it used artificial intelligence to deliver personalized content to its users. The innovative approach targeted millions of daily users very fast and building on its success, ByteDance expanded its product portfolio with other apps in the following years.

We push information, not by queries, by news recommendations

Zhang shared later on.

Wanting to spread his company’s reach globally, Zhang Yiming didn’t focus on domestic growth like most of his competition. For starters, he insisted that the new workplace productivity app of ByteDance, Lark, is targeted at European, American, and Japanese markets. Lark now has cloud storage, calendar, and chat functions.

Zhang’s management style has been replicated by many companies in the tech industry. As the CEO of Bytedance, he held bimonthly town hall-style meetings and discouraged people from calling him ‘boss’.

In this video, Zhang offers insight into how he ran the company from its first office in an apartment block:

The Launch of TikTok and ByteDance’s Success

Three years after he established ByteDance, Zhang Yiming launched the video-sharing app TikTok as well as its sister app, Douyin, for the mainland Chinese market. The product didn’t take long before it became a trend on the market, especially with Millennials.

A year later, Yiming bought Musical.ly through ByteDance for $800 million and integrated it into TikTok. While the business was already a success, it was TikTok foisted put the Chinese internet entrepreneur in the limelight.

In 2018, ByteDance’s first app, Neihan Duanzi, was shut down by the National Radio and Television Administration. In response, Zhang Yiming issued an official apology sharing that the app was “incommensurate with socialist core values” and didn’t implement Xi Jinping Thought. His apology included a promise that ByteDance would work harder to deepen its cooperation with the ruling Chinese Communist Party and better promote its policies.

By 2018, ByteDance counted over a billion monthly users across all of its mobile apps and was valued at $75 billion, which meant that it surpassed Uber as the most successful startup in the world.

tiktok growth chart
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In 2020, Insider chose TikTok as the number one non-gaming iOS app in the United States. That same year, the US Department of Justice named Zhang a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party in a legal filing. In May 2021, Zhang stepped down as the company’s CEO and chose Liang Rubo as his replacement. Liang Rubo was his roommate at the dorm at Nankai University before he founded ByteDance.

After running the company for almost a whole decade, Zhang stepped down as CEO stating: “The truth is, I lack some of the skills that make an ideal manager.” While some believe the reason behind this was to improve the leadership at the company, others believe that he did this under pressure from the Chinese government.

Controversies at ByteDance

Tiktok’s parent company ByteDance agreed to pay a $5.7 million fine in 2019 to the Federal Trade Commission over allegations that the app collected personal information from children under the age of 13 without parental consent, which violates the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

In July 2020, President Trump threatened to ban TikTok in the US over security concerns, which prompted Bytedance to pursue deals to sell the US operations of the app to buyers like Oracle and Microsoft. However, the deals sparked attacks on Zhang Yiming on Chinese social media with people calling him a traitor, so ByteDance ultimately walked away from the deals after Joe Biden was elected.

US officials are particularly worried about a national security law passed in 2017 that requires all companies to assist with security or intelligence concerns if asked. This means that the CCP could likely ask Bytedance to illegally collect US data for it at any time and it would be forced to comply.

Stake and Earnings from ByteDance

The founders of the company have a joint stake of 20% in ByteDance, most of which belongs to Zhang Yiming. The co-founder Liang Rubo, for instance, has about 1%. Investors hold a total of 60% of the company while employees own the remaining 20%.

Yiming’s salary as the CEO of Bytedance hasn’t been publicly disclosed over the years, but some sources estimate it at over $14 million per year.

2023 Fortune Drop

In March 2023, Yiming’s wealth fell $13 billion. This was confirmed after a US testimony that detailed the ByteDance ownership stake of the founder, which turned out to be lower than previously believed.

However, in December 2023 CNBC reported that ByteDance was preparing for a stock buyback. The offer was said to be worth around $160 per share, which would put the company value at $268 billion, making Zhang Yiming’s stake worth around $53.6 million based on that valuation.

The Impact of Zhang Yiming’s Philanthropy

Zhang Yiming is not only a tremendously successful internet entrepreneur. He is also an active philanthropist who has engaged in many initiatives.

In 2020, Yiming donated over $14 million to the Chinese Red Cross Foundation for the ByteDance Humanitarian Assistance Fund for Medical Workers, which provided assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He also donated $7 million to the Nankai University Education Foundation for the “Innovation Fund” and the “Excellence Innovation Award Fund”. Later on, he donated almost $10 million to Gates Philanthropy Partners, based in the US, to support the Therapeutics Accelerator project for developing COVID-19 vaccines.

Investments and Businesses

Except for his highly profitable ByteDance venture and all the apps and products that come with it, Zhang Yiming doesn’t have other known investments in stocks – or any other businesses so far.

Not long ago, it was reported that he planned to spin off the real estate listing business as part of the company’s restructuring. He initially started the business in 2009 and named it Jiujufang, but resigned from the CEO position at the company in 2011. The idea was to spin off Xingfuli, an existing real estate business, and make it more like Beike, Fang, and Anjuke. However, this restructuring doesn’t seem to have happened so far.

In terms of private assets like real estate or cars, there is very little publicly known about Zhang Yiming, except for the fact that he now lives in Singapore. Since he stepped down as CEO of ByteDance, he has most certainly avoided the spotlight and spent a lot of time overseas.

What Can We Learn from Zhang Yiming’s Story?

Naturally, the founder of one of the biggest tech companies worldwide and the second richest person in China has a lot to teach us. Zhang Yiming’s most popular products, TikTok and Toutiao, have had a massi veimpact on the tech industry and on millions of people’s lives.

Zhang’s personal wealth has grown thanks to his unique leadership style, which has been emulated by many companies around the world and practiced by tech giants like Google, for instance. He has demonstrated an ability to disrupt traditional industries, innovate, and lead by example.

When he created his company and joined the tech industry, he implemented a unique way to do business, which evidently worked considering that he has made a fortune along the way.

Bytedance’s rapid global expansion under Yiming’s leadership highlights the importance of thinking globally. By expanding beyond his domestic market, China, and by tailoring the products to international audiences, Zhang Yiming helped ByteDance achieve unprecedented success on a global scale. Some of its most popular platforms and products  aren’t even available in China.

Zhang Yiming prioritizes user engagement and experience in product design. Under his leadership, the company created user-friendly platforms and offers personalized recommendations, emphasizing the importance of catering to user preferences.

Furthermore, ByteDance has demonstrated adaptability and agility in responding to changing user preferences and market dynamics. Yiming’s willingness to iterate on product offerings teaches us the importance of flexibility in our fast-paced tech industry.

Finally, Zhang Yiming is proof that, even if you have incredible wealth, you can still stay out of the spotlight. He has more than managed to do this over the years, so much that you can hardly find anything about his personal life online.