Zhang Yiming built ByteDance Ltd. into the world’s most valuable private company via a string of blockbuster apps like TikTok that challenged Facebook and other incumbents on their own turf. His latest target: Alibaba.
The 38-year-old AI coding genius, searching for ByteDance’s next big act, has set his sights on China’s $1.7 trillion e-commerce arena. The co-founder has hired thousands of staff and roped in big-name sponsors like Xiaomi Corp. impresario Lei Jun to drive what he calls his next “major breakthrough” into global business — selling stuff to consumers via its addictive short videos and livestreams. That endeavor will test not just Zhang’s magic touch with app creation and ByteDance’s AI wizardry, but also investor reception ahead of one of the tech world’s most hotly anticipated IPOs.
His startup is already starting to make waves in an industry long controlled by Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and JD.com Inc. It sold about $26 billion worth of make-up, clothing and other merchandise in 2020, achieving in its maiden year what Alibaba’s Taobao took six years to accomplish. It’s shooting for more than $185 billion by 2022. Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese twin, is expected to contribute more than half of the firm’s $40 billion domestic ad sales this year, driven in part by e-commerce.
“Short video platforms have so much traffic that they can basically do any business,” said Shawn…