Most Influential People2019

Zhang Yiming

By Kai-Fu Lee
Chief Executive of ByteDance Zhang Yiming
Giulia Marchi—Bloomberg/Getty Images

By many quantitative metrics, Zhang Yiming is the top entrepreneur in the world. After just seven years, his AI-based social-media company ByteDance is the most valuable startup, valued at $75 billion with over a dozen mobile products globally boasting over 1 billion monthly users.

By qualitative metrics, Zhang is no less impressive. Arguably the first fully mobile AI company, ByteDance succeeded in areas where Google, Facebook and Tencent have not (personalized news, video-based social media and going global, respectively).

And he’s an impressive leader. Zhang is soft-spoken yet charismatic, logical yet passionate, young yet wise. He says he never sets boundaries. He challenged his team to reinvent users’ window to the world and never settle for less.

As Zhang has said, “Romance is all about imagining interesting things that could happen in theory but not in reality yet.” By that definition, Zhang is in love with innovation.

Lee is chairman of Sinovation Ventures and author of AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order