What's under the radar shouldn't be treated lightly.
This can be seen with an internet company from China that serves up videos about somehow anything. From homemade dances to cooking dishes, ByteDance is aiming to become one of the most valued startups, with roughly a staggering $75 billion price tag under its belt.
That was in August 2018. In October, ByteDance is regarded as the most valuable startup in the world.
And not just in mainland China that it wants to thrive, as ByteDance is looking forward to also conquer people's screen across the globe.
First of all, ByteDance operates several machine learning-enabled content platforms, with the most notable, the 'Jinri Toutiao' product which literally means 'Today's Headlines'. ByteDance is already a popular content platform in China, with it delivering contents in variety of formats, including texts, images, question-and-answer posts, microblogs, and videos.
But where ByteDance shines even more, is when it pioneered the video-sharing mobile app 'TikTok'.
After acquiring Musical.ly for about $1 billion in 2017, the company combined the two platforms into a single application under the Douyin (TikTok) name.
Users to TikTok are directly plunged right into video contents. They can swipe up to get another video, and refresh the screen to get just another interesting thing to watch. And because videos on TikTok are short, people can end up spending hours in channel-surfing.
With videos filling up the entire screen to even block the clock, TikTok further prevents users in knowing the time they've spent on the app.
TikTok also produces some culturally specific content, such as push notifications suggesting videos to watch.
While some of its users said that TikTok practically surface "meaningless stuff," ByteDance said that more than half a billion people worldwide use TikTok at least once a month. As a result, the app garnered more downloads that Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
In September 2018, TikTok has been downloaded 3.81 million times in both iOS and Android. This number surpassed Facebook, which was downloaded 3.53 million times that month.
TikTok didn't get up there by accident.
First of all, the app had a big boost of popularity because it democratizes self-expression in a sternly undemocratic China. ByteDance, which was founded in 2012, didn't set out to dominate the video market industry, but it eventually does that by commanding much of loyalties of its young users.
TikTok is like an app that gave people exactly what they wanted.
ByteDance's TikTok is not without its own controversies:
There are two major internets: the U.S. and China. While the U.S. is the home for Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Microsoft and other notable players in the tech industry, China has the BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent).
ByteDance here is an underdog, but with its TikTok app capable of occupying many people's screen time in China, the app was seen as a threat to the giant Tencent, which experiences difficulties in expanding beyond China due to the country's rules and unique demands of catering China's online population.
Tencent's WeChat platform has been accused of blocking TikTok videos, and has been sued by TikTok for spreading false and damaging information. Tencent filed a lawsuit against Toutiao and TikTok in a Beijing court, alleging that they had repeatedly defamed Tencent with negative news and damaged its reputation, seeking a compensation and a public apology.
TikTok was also accused for spreading “pornographic” information by China’s internet regulator. ByteDance responded by updating several sections of the app and removed or suspended hundreds of content creators. A few months later, Toutiao was temporarily removed from app stores for unspecified reasons.
Then there was the moment when TikTok was temporarily banned in Indonesia on 3 July 2018 for hosting "pornography, inappropriate content and blasphemy.”
Before TikTok, China’s internet didn’t have a reigning social platform dedicated to short, easy-to-make videos. In the rest of the world’s internet, where Instagram, Snapchat and others are already popular, TikTok faces tight competition.
China has strict rules regarding internet companies, making things difficult for U.S. tech giants to enter China's mainland and also China's own tech companies to thrive outside. But ByteDance has proven that its approaches can make TikTok to cross the borders and went oversees with relative ease.
This is because it's focus for TikTok, is to shed light to attract young users. ByteDance had added privacy settings and parental controls on TikTok that weren't available on Musical.ly, which should again ease the minds of parents, further positioning the app as favorable.
ByteDance was never set to dominate the market. It was originally known as a news aggregator with machine learning capabilities. But with TikTok, the company has captured the audience unexpectedly by approaching them where they are clueless.
TikTok gave people exactly what people wanted, and this makes the app unique.