ByteDance CEO wants to whip employees into shape, as they lack a ‘sense of crisis’ amid fierce competition at home and abroad

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The chief executive of ByteDance, owner of TikTok and its Chinese sibling Douyin, said the company lacks a sense of crisis, which has made the Chinese social media giant slow and inefficient in the face of fierce competition.
That introspection was made by Liang Rubo – co-founder of ByteDance who took over as its chief executive when fellow founder Zhang Yiming stepped down in 2021 – at an online speech on Tuesday before the company’s employees, whom he urged to stay “always day one”, referring to the Beijing-based firm’s entrepreneurial spirit, according to a person who attended the all-hands meeting.

Liang said the top priorities for ByteDance this year would be to “enhance the [company’s] sense of crisis”, “continue to increase corporate social responsibility” and “focus on a few key businesses”.

Neither Zhang nor executives from Douyin, currently the biggest cash cow of ByteDance, spoke at the meeting. Zhang at present serves as an adviser to Liang, who has been his friend since university.

Zhang Yiming, left, and Liang Rubo co-founded ByteDance in March 2012. Photo: ByteDance

ByteDance did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Liang’s message to ByteDance employees is similar in tone to what Pony Ma Huateng, Tencent Holdings’ co-founder, chairman and chief executive, told the internet giant’s staff in a December 2022 town hall meeting. At the time, he indicated that there must be a renewed focus on the Shenzhen-based firm’s core businesses and chastised employees for a lack of urgency when it comes to improving efficiency.

Tuesday’s address to ByteDance employees was not the first time that Liang emphasised the need for ByteDance to raise its efficiency. He told employees in late 2022 that the company needed to “get fit and beef up the muscle”, hinting at job cuts as a means to streamline operations.

TikTok owner ByteDance lets employees cash in stock options earlier

In December, the tech unicorn offered to buy back up to US$5 billion worth of shares from existing investors, a deal that valued the company at US$268 billion, according to a South China Morning Post report. That was about 10 per cent lower from a year earlier, when ByteDance organised a US$3 billion share buy-back for its early investors.
Still, ByteDance’s 2023 revenue could reach US$110 billion, enough to overtake Tencent and match the TikTok owner’s 30 per cent growth in 2022, according to a Bloomberg report.

Douyin tests the waters with popular dining table list in challenge to Meituan

In the short-video market segment, ByteDance already faces tough competition from Kuaishou Technology.

Tencent’s Ma said at the company’s internal meeting on Monday that short video and live streaming service Channels “didn’t let anyone down” and that its online shopping function would be further developed, according to a report by Chinese media Jiemian.

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