ByteDance valuation under huge pressure as TikTok sale nears

As it reached an estimated valuation of $100 billion this year, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance solidified its status as the most valuable startup in private markets. Its success outside China has also become a source of envy and inspiration among its local peers.

Now, the company’s price tag is under tremendous pressure as it’s set to shed its prized asset TikTok, several investors told TechCrunch.

ByteDance last year generated 120 billion yuan ($17.2 billion) in revenue, said an investor with knowledge of the matter. Around 67% was derived from ads sold on its domestic apps Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese version, and popular news aggregator Toutiao. Live streaming targeted at users of Douyin and another app in the family made up about 17%. Nascent businesses including games, e-commerce and TikTok accounted for 20 billion yuan, or roughly another 17%.

The company projected its 2020 revenue at 200 billion yuan ($28.7 billion), with TikTok and other emerging businesses contributing 30 billion yuan, or 15%, according to the investor. Previous reports by Reuters and Bloomberg cited similar revenue figures.

Although TikTok continues to account for only a fraction of ByteDance’s income, the addressable market is enormous. “It went from having a potential overseas market of 6 billion users to just China, where Douyin and Toutiao are reaching saturation,” the investor said.

Moreover, TikTok has only begun to monetize its enormous user base. The app experienced exponential growth and surpassed 2 billion downloads this year as COVID-19 lockdowns kept people indoors, but it’s unclear how much eyeball time it will retain when social life returns to normal. The app already lost its largest market (India), which accounted for about one-third of its user base, according to the investor, though app spending in the country is relatively low.

ByteDance did not respond to a request for comment.

What’s left

Back home, the eight-year-old company faces a crammed market. Tencent-backed Kuaishou claimed that 300 million people used its short-video platform daily at the beginning of this year, while Douyin said it reached 400 million DAU around the same time. Toutiao is coping with challengers from various fronts, from microblogging veteran Weibo to WeChat’s in-app news feature.

Like all other tech giants, ByteDance keeps a pipeline of projects alongside its cash cows. It’s known for its ability to churn out new products, thanks to an organizational structure that divides the firm by functions, primarily technology (development), user growth and monetization, earning it the nickname of an “app factory.”

The company’s more high-profile gestures are in mobile games, a lucrative internet business where it competes head-on with Tencent; education, which could allow it to ride the wave of online education in China; and enterprise software, represented by its work collaboration platform, Lark.

So far, none of these new efforts are remotely close to the success of TikTok, Douyin and Toutiao in user acquisition and monetization. It remains to be seen how the poster child for Chinese apps’ globalization strives to hold onto its domination. One thing is for sure: ByteDance’s founder and CEO Zhang Yiming will not let his company shrink from its global ambitions even as it stumbles overseas.