Admit it. You’ve learned a TikTok dance or two, haven’t you? Or maybe you’re a fan of those “I did this and recorded my boyfriend’s reaction” videos. Who knows.. you could be a famous TikToker yourself. Don’t worry, this stays between us. After all, what is life without a secret identity or two?
Anybody who has ever used the internet in the past 2 years knows what TikTok is. But have you ever wondered about the platform’s beginnings? When was it started, and who was the mastermind behind it?
With Love, From China
The journey of TikTok began in September of 2016 when an app called Douyin was launched in China. Introduced by a multinational internet technology company called ByteDance Ltd., Douyin would go on to be known as TikTok in other parts of the world.
Douyin is essentially the Chinese version of TikTok, and has many of the same features. It lets users post and view short form video content – ranging anywhere from 15 seconds to 3 minutes. However, the two apps are not identical, and do not have access to each other’s content. Alexa, play “so near and yet so far.”
In 2017, just a year after the launch of Douyin in China, TikTok became available to many parts of the world other than mainland China. But it made its presence known worldwide only after it was merged with Musical.ly in August 2018. Musical.ly was another Chinese social media service that allowed users to create lip-sync videos.
After this merger, TikTok quickly gained popularity, clocking over 2 billion downloads by 2020. In fact, according to data from Cloudflare, it surpassed even Google as the most popular website in 2021! Imagine! Google! The search engine that is almost synonymous with the word “internet!” Naturally, this app made ByteDance very wealthy, not to mention one of the most valuable startups in the world. And when we say wealthy, we mean $50 billion.
ByteDance’s Acquisition of Musical.ly
In a stroke of genius, the creators of TikTok purchased Musical.ly in November 2017 for over $1.1 billion. The app was rebranded as TikTok, a bigger and better app, with the features of both Musical.ly and Douyin present.
At this point, the karaoke app had already been popular among teens in China. Just before the acquisition, Musical.ly had hit the milestone of having 100 million active users per month. And with this, ByteDance was able to carry over most of the active users from Musical.ly to TikTok. This was because users of Musical.ly would automatically be signed up for the new app. The rebrand did not affect the follower count or the existing posts of the users.
“(By) integrating Musical.ly’s global reach with Bytedance’s massive user base in China and key Asian markets, we are creating a significant global platform for our content creators and brands to engage with new markets.”
-Zhang Yiming, Bytedance CEO
What’s In a Name?
But why was the app renamed? There is an interesting story behind it. One of the co-founders of ByteDance, Alex Zhu, said that the app was renamed to TikTok to represent the sound of a ticking clock. This was supposed to depict the short nature of the videos.
The creators of TikTok also wanted to capture the world’s creativity in these short videos. You might think that this would be a difficult feat, but TikTok has proved that brevity and creativity can go hand in hand.
ByteDance: The Creator of TikTok
And finally.. we come to the creator of TikTok itself- its parent company, ByteDance. Founded in 2012 by Zhang Yiming and Liang Rubo, ByteDance is a tech company headquartered in Beijing, China. It is known for its various social media apps popular for their news and entertainment value.
The company’s foray into apps began with Neihan Duanzi in 2012, an app that allowed users to circulate memes and other jokes. However, it was shut down a few years later due to censorship issues. Currently, apart from Douyin and TikTok, it also owns the following apps:
- Toutiao. An AI-powered news and information platform that curates headlines for you based on your past interactions.
- Xigua Video. An online video sharing platform that allows both short and long form videos.
- Helo. A social media app that lets you connect with new people.
- Lark. A collaboration suite that lets you optimize your meetings, calendars, emails, and documents in one place.
- BytePlus. Provides intelligent platform services for businesses- such as data analytics tools.
Apart from these, the company has acquired various other apps as well, and became a tech giant. As of December 2021, ByteDance was valued at $178 billion! Welp.. that’s a LOT of millions. It has a solid financial backing by many venture capitalist firms such as Softbank Group, Sequoia Capital, and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts.
The reason you should care about ByteDance is because the company is quickly becoming #1 when it comes to consumer apps, and is on par with famous platforms such as Meta (previously known as Facebook) and Google. This is significant because it operates in the Chinese market- a place where Google has struggled to do business due to government interference.
As evidenced by the popularity of TikTok, there is no doubt that ByteDance is a force to be reckoned with. We are excited to see what they come up with next! Are you?