Ever since I left GGV Capital to join ByteDance this May, I have been asked by almost everyone around me: Why did you join ByteDance?
To many, I was giving up a coveted job in venture capital. I joined GGV Capital as a fresh graduate right out of college, and this is a rare opportunity that many people would die for. While I was working at GGV, I received almost weekly inquiries from friends and acquaintances on “how to get into VC”.
I loved my time at GGV and I learned so much during my time there. But I believe I made absolutely the right choice by joining ByteDance. Now that I have been at ByteDance for 7 months, I feel extremely lucky to be doing what I’m doing right now, and even more convinced that I made the right career choice. Here’s why.
Being bilingual and bicultural, I knew that I should bet my future on connecting China with the rest of the world. I also wanted to work in the Internet sector, because growing up in China, I witnessed firsthand how the Internet (especially mobile Internet) could have a huge impact on society and create vast value by improving efficiency.
One of the biggest advantages of working in VC is that it allows you to see “the big picture”: Investors are in the business of observing and investing in greater societal trends, and predicting “the next big thing”. Since GGV is a cross-border firm, I had the unique privilege of working across the tech industry in the US, China, and other emerging markets. Here are two lessons (among others) I took away from my time at GGV:
- It’s difficult if not impossible for US Internet companies to become hugely successful in China, for a variety of reasons.
- A new generation of China-born Internet companies are starting to have global ambitions and going truly global, and chief among those is ByteDance.
Gradually, it became clear to me that I should bet my career on helping a China-born company go global, and that company should be ByteDance.
Whether it’s from partners at GGV or from other industry veterans/insiders that I respect, I have heard so much about how ByteDance is not just doing very well already, but has the right resources and drive to achieve even more, and everyone has only good things to say about the company’s leadership. I have also witnessed some of my closest and most talented friends join ByteDance, and they are also making big impacts within the organization. But it was only after I joined ByteDance that I realized what truly sets ByteDance apart from other Internet companies.
The first thing is the extent of its global ambition. Even though many Western media outlets label ByteDance as “a Chinese company”, at ByteDance, we don’t consider ourselves a Chinese company. When the company was first founded in 2012, it got its English name “ByteDance” before its Chinese name, 字节跳动. From Day 1, the founders set out to build not a Chinese company, but a global company. Internally, we avoid terms like 出海 (going overseas) or 海外 (overseas), because these terms imply a China-centric world view, which we try to avoid. Our CEO encourages us to think from not a single-market perspective, but a Martian perspective. We look at opportunities across the whole Earth, and China just happens to be one of the markets we target and are doing very well in.
This is a very refreshing self-view that I have not seen in any other China-born companies. For most companies born in China, they aspire to be no. 1 in China, and that’s good enough. Due to the sheer size of the Chinese market, it is possible to become a multi-billion dollar company by doing business in China only (and most Chinese unicorns target the Chinese market only). It is very tempting to restrict themselves to this behemoth of a market, and “出海” (going overseas) is mostly an afterthought—something that would be good-to-have, but not existential.
To ByteDance, “globalization” is existential. Without globalization, ByteDance would not be ByteDance. To me, this is the key difference that sets ByteDance apart from other Internet companies that are claiming to “go global”. Within just 7 months of joining ByteDance, I have traveled on business trips to 7 ByteDance offices across the world (Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, New York, London, Singapore, Tokyo, Hi Chi Minh city, and Dubai). I have had the privilege of meeting and learning from colleagues from all kinds of cultural and linguistic backgrounds. I use as much English as I use Chinese at work. I have seen our products making waves and going mainstream across the globe, which is truly inspiring.
Another big difference is the culture. We have a culture that downplays hierarchical structures and encourages self-expression by individual employees. We discourage PowerPoint making and encourages Doc-writing, because formatting text boxes and adjusting fonts doesn’t create value in itself. We believe in “context, not control”: hiring great people, giving them maximum context, and trusting that they will do the right thing, instead of constricting people with excessive processes and policies. We set OKRs, “stretch goals” that are not tied to compensation, and are encouraged to aim for the highest. This is an environment where self-motivated people can truly thrive and see their responsibilities grow over time, where “doing” is more important than “talking”, where people prefer to let the result speak for itself.
Also, we move fast. Most companies move in quarters. We work in bimonths. It is hard for me to describe the speed at which we move, without you experiencing it for yourself. Suffice it to say that, to me, ByteDance is a unique environment that combines the vast resources of a large organization with the speed and agility of a startup. This is a rare combination—not just in the Internet sector but across all industries.
At the end of the day, I believe I’m a good fit for this company because: In ByteDance, I see a reflection of myself. Just like me, this company is young, ambitious, and scrappy. Just like me, this company was born in China but is unstoppably going global. Just like me, this company is relentlessly focused on getting things done. Just like me, this company moves fast, and it wants to turn the impossible into the inevitable.
And if this sounds like you, you should join us as well.
We are hiring! See below for the roles that I’m hiring for:
2 thoughts on “Why I Joined ByteDance”
First time I heard about you was when I listened the “Acquired” podcast, you and Hans were the guests from the “996 podcasts”, after that, I became a huge fan of your blog and “996 podcast”. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.
All the best
Tears run down my face after reading the last part. Your posts inspire me a lot. Thank you Zara!