Why you should (not) join Tiktok, or Bytedance, its creator

After hitting the wall in the US and India, Bytedance is coming to Singapore, and looking to hire for global roles. On LinkedIn alone, there are 53 jobs.

Okie, let’s talk about why you should or should not work join Bytedance. Let’s start with:

Why you should work for Bytedance

1. Most Valuable Startup in the world

You may not know Bytedance but surely you have heard of Tiktok. Bytedance is company behind TikTok and the most valuable startup in the world today, backed by big names such as Softbank, and Sequoia. Based on the information from CBInsights in April 2020, they were valued at 140Bn. Even after being forced out two big markets, the US and India, Bytedance will still be the top one because of the huge gap with Number Two.

2. Technical edge

The interesting thing is, it’s categorized under Artificial Intelligence industry, instead of anything like online content, entertainment, social media, education, which it could well be. This makes sense, because everything it does thrives on its robust content recommendation algorithms and machine learning capabilities.

3. International ambition

This young company was founded on 2012, Headquartered in Beijing. The founder, Zhang Yiming said he wants to have a company as borderless as Google.

Indeed, as Google has proven to be, technology seems to cross border much easier without so much of a cultural barrier. TikTok is available in more than 150 markets and 75 languages. 2 billion downloads as of Mar 2020. Still shy of the facebook’s 16 billion. But consider how young TikTok is, and how fast its growth is. It’s not surprising that people view TikTok as a potential future challenger to Facebook.

Bytedance says many of their products are born thinking of global audience. They had launched or acquired products in the US, brazil, Japan, India and South East Asia.

4. Great Culture & Smart people

I didn’t say this. Employees on Glassdoor said this. Interestingly, most of them are from the (former?) Indian operations.

5. A good timing to join

From organizational structure perspective, it looks like Bytedance is formalizing a Global organization, outside China, which means they are building an international talent reserve too.

Why is this a good timing? In olden days, when a general was sent to faraway frontiers, he would get a lot of complaints from his colleagues in the capital. Resources are hard to get. In the end, many such generals get called back and mission cancelled. Or worst still, they can get killed. The emperor does not know the real situation. And trust is an issue because he is faraway.

Given many Chinese companies’ main field is still in China, their overseas ventures are often just “ventures”. Without official and significant organization dedicated to international business, you risk being like that general.

And the hiring of Kevin Mayer make it even more like a good timing, it shows the determination of Bytedance to make the international business official. My guess is that their current structure is more product-driven and there would be quite a bit of patchwork because of the acquisition. I would applaud this because it is a better-coordinated strategy to build an international business.

This also shows they are keen to invite international talents to join them, and nurture a multicultural business.

Why you should not work for Bytedance

1. Not for those who cannot take risk

Many things happened in the past few months: new CEO Kevin Mayer joined, new CEO resigned, forced to sell, new suitors emerged, and then refused to sell, things changed everyday.

If Bytedance was a facebook, it’s a much more politically involved facebook. Imagine if Facebook openly collaborates with white house to sensor content against Russia investigation. In a world of political cold war between two mega powers, and countries are increasingly sensitive about data privacy, a Facebook like that will certainly attract many trouble.

Of course, political relationships always evolve, India and the US might even reverse their orders someday, but in near term, we are more likely to see yet another India shut its door to a company with Bytedance.

A dark mix of business risk and political risk.

So does this mean risk to our career?

The risk a business takes is different from what we take as employees. Usually people think, the more senior you are, the more risk you might carry. For example, it might create a dent on Kevin Mayer’s career. But lower level staff can also take the risk of job loss, like when Mobike and Uber exited the market.

End of the day, it depends on whether joining such a company will hurt or grow your career capital. Also see my article on How to take stock of your career capital.

But risk is never the issue. Whether you can take risk is the issue.

Some people can take the risk of job loss, because they can find a better job easily. Most Uber employees became hot candidates in the market. Some can’t take the risk. Similarly, some people can afford a career reputation damage, because there’s solid evidence supporting his great capability, in Kevin Mayer’s case, maybe.

Ask yourself, suppose you join them, what will be the risk for you as an employee? And are you able to take it? If not, it’s not for you.

2. Not for those who have high Moral Grounds (and pride for the nation)

If the idea of working for a business from China feels as if you have betrayed your country, it’s not for you.

If you truly believe what Google believes, that public data should not be handed over to any form of political power, you might suffer a dilemma.

If you truly believe that all employee should be treated equally, and hate the possible glass ceiling for different nationality, take it as a no. The good news is that since they hired Kevin Mayer, the glass ceiling can be rather high. The not so good news is, I can see a few country managers of TikTok on LinkedIn, and they are all of the same nationality.

But, if you think business is business, pay cheque is great, learning in a high growth firm is great, then this point is not relevant.

3. Not for those who want free mind and life outside work

To be fair, this is not the first Chinese technology firm that has the reputation of long working hours. From Huawei’s military style to Jack Ma’s proudly announced 996, to all the technology park buildings that never sleep at night, we can identify the culture there.

It’s fair: high growth means someone need to pay the price. It’s also unfair, when it comes to returns, everyone gets it differently.

Sure, there will be long hours. Even worse, there will be a lot of changes. Glassdoor comments also say that employee benefits are not great. For this I’m actually positive: companies evolve with their Human Resource policies, unless the company doesn’t want to, e.g. like how Amazon famously wanted to be frugal to everyone, including its employees.

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 Yolanda is a certified transformational coach, entrepreneur, and multi-award-winning writer. She holds an MBA from INSEAD, served director/VP level BD roles in Fortune 500 MNCs and tech unicorns. 

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