This week for Quartz members: TikTok, China’s first global app

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Dear Quartz members—

Three years after it launched, Facebook had 20 million users. At the same point, Twitter had 18 million. TikTok, the short-video app from Chinese appmaker ByteDance, debuted in 2017 and already claims 1 billion users.

This week’s field guide is all about the unprecedented rise of TikTok, China’s first truly global app. In her state of play, Quartz’s Jane Li explains TikTok’s history, the company behind it, and its biggest challenge: scrutiny from regulators, especially in the US. She also profiles ByteDance’s low-key and incredibly private founder, Zhang Yiming.

From India, Niharika Sharma reports on TikTok’s massive success in the country, its second biggest overseas market, which is partly attributable to lucky timing. (In India, too, the app faces questions from government.)

In this piece, Matthew De Silva unpacks what three brands—the NBA, Chipotle, and the Washington Post—are doing on TikTok and what marketers can learn from them. TikTok is just one corner of ByteDance’s app universe, as Jane explains in this short primer on 15 of the company’s other apps.


  • ByteDance founder Zhang has managed something once thought impossible: he’s created an internet company with the potential to rival Tencent and Alibaba, without taking investment from either of them.
  • ByteDance’s first successful app was Toutiao, which today is the biggest news aggregator in China.
  • Outside of China, Indian users spent the most hours on TikTok, followed by Pakistan, and the US.
  • TikTok’s revenue hasn’t yet matched its reach. The app brought in $177 million last year; by comparison, Snap brought in three times as much just in its last quarter.


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Best wishes for a productive week,

Walter Frick
Membership editor, Quartz