TikTok Boom: The Inside Story of the World's Favourite App



'It is rare for a business analysis to read like a thriller – this one does.' – Azeem Azhar, Founder, Exponential View

'Vital to understanding how[TikTok] works and the impact it's having.' – Damian Collins MP, former chairman of the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee

'TikTok Boom is a must read for students, scholars, and policy makers.' – David Craig, Clinical Professor, USC Annenberg

A whole generation is hooked on TikTok. In just a few years, it’s raced ahead of WhatsApp and Instagram to become the biggest app in the world.

But how did it burst into life and overtake its rivals? Delving deep into its upstart origins, TikTok Boom charts the astonishingly rapid rise of China’s viral video app. It yields new insights into its culture, addictive algorithm, and influencer ecosystem. And it reveals the influence its owners in Beijing are having on hundreds of millions worldwide through the use of little-known content guidelines.

TikTok is the emerging battleground for a geopolitical tussle between East and West for control of social media. TikTok Boom is a rollercoaster business story bristling with ambition and drama.

Find out where TikTok came from and where it's going. Find out how TikTok Works and whether it can work for you.


'A careful, detailed teardown of the people, culture and technology behind the world's most dynamic social network. It is rare for a business analysis to read like a thriller – this one does.' – Azeem Azhar, Founder, Exponential View

'It's clear that Stokel-Walker's strength is that he's not just TikTok-literate, he's TikTok-fluent. He knows the product, the people, and the entire ecosystem inside and out, and it is this familiarity that makes his telling so compelling, because he knows how to make you feel like you, too, are an insider in this strange new world.' - Rui Ma, founder, Tech Buzz China

'Blending journalistic narrative with state-of-the-art academic research, no other author comes close to weaving this epic tale of the rise of China’s first global platform threatening Silicon’s Valley hegemony while operating as inflection point around the rise of one globe two Internet systems. This is a must read for students, scholars, and policy makers.' – David Craig, Clinical Professor, USC Annenberg

'This book charts the story of an app on the rise that's changing the world of tech, charting the future of culture, and creating a new world of work: the creator economy... it breaks down some of the biggest questions for the future of work and culture.' - Li Jin, Atelier Ventures

Extract: ByteDance

Ask most people what ByteDance is and they’ll likely meet you with a blank stare. Yet it is the owner of TikTok and a host of other world-leading apps. Founded in March 2012, it’s worth about $180 billion – up from its $75 billion in 2018 when the Japanese technology investors SoftBank Group bought into the company. Despite the fact that its apps are used by two billion people worldwide, earning it $34 billion in revenue in 2020, ByteDance deliberately keeps a low profile among the general public in the West. It wants its products to take centre stage.

It’s a strategy devised by its low-key, but intensely-driven founder, Yiming Zhang. Whereas his fellow Chinese rival, Musical.ly’s Alex Zhu, is creative and flighty, Zhang is measured and focussed. Compared to his more brash counterparts in China, such as Jack Ma, the former boss of Alibaba Group, who’s known for his exuberance and outgoing personality, he is even a little dull. Considered. He practises ‘delayed gratification.’ He’s rational – though his choice of clothing, T-shirts and jeans, makes him more laid back than the average Chinese executive. Imagine the slightly underwhelming disappointment of Mark Zuckerberg, rather than the zany pinball personality of Elon Musk.

Born in 1983 in the city of Longyan in the coastal province of Fujian that’s known for having the highest proportion of emigrants to the Western world in all of China, Zhang is, however, fiercely independent. While many people entering China’s tech sector are comfortable to land a job at one of the pre-existing Chinese tech giants, Zhang ignored that route. He was not after the quick buzz of instant success by piggybacking onto a pre-existing victor: he played the long game.

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Canbury Press
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