It would be impossible to describe at TikTok without first having a look at musical.ly, the app that was founded by Alex Zhu and Luyu Yang back in 2014. Musical.ly, is actually TikTok or is it the other way round, it gets a bit confusing at times and the funny thing is that Alex Zhu and Luyu Yang originally set out to create a teaching app.
Alex Zhu was interested in education and had an idea which he thought would net him a billion dollar business if he could launch a short education video platform/app for online courses. Together with Luyu Yang, Alex raised $250 000 venture capital for the project which was to be called Cicada, but in his own words he said: “The day we released this application to the market we realized it was never going to take off, it was doomed to be a failure.”
With all but 8% of their venture capital spent, they had to come up with a solution or face their investors and the fairy tail ending is that Alex Zhu was watching a group of teenagers filming themselves and taking selfies while listening to music, posting their antics to their friends.
Within 30 days, the team that Alex Zhu and Luyu Yang had brought together to launch a failed education app, turned this new idea into a reality and Musical.ly was launched in July 2014.
The app was good and people were downloading it, so it was growing, but they didn’t have much money left after the failure of Cicada. It was nail biting times and the growth of the application remained steady, but slow, too slow.
After making some changes to the app like moving the logo on the screen so that it doesn’t get covered by the logos of Instagram or Twitter when videos are shared, Musical.ly took off.
On July 6, 2015, Musical.ly hit the number one position on the iTunes app store. It became the first company with its headquarters in China, with a Chinese designed product to become that popular in the United States. But it was not only the U.S. market that responded so phenomenally well to the app, it soon became the most downloaded free app in the world and by May 2016 Musical.ly boasted 70 million downloads from over 30 countries and more than 10 million new videos were being posted on a daily basis.
The Wall Street Journal reported on the 9th of November 2017, that Musical.ly was sold to Bytedance Technology Co. for around U.S.$ 1billion.
Founded in 2012 by Zhang Yiming, ByteDance already had a similar app called Douyin which they launched in 2016 for the Chinese market. It operates on a different platform as TikTok to comply with the Cinese restrictions regarding publications. TikTok is not available in China for these same reasons.
The accounts of Musical.ly were consolidated with those of TikTok in August 2018 finalising the merger of the two companies under the name of TikTok.
Two months later, in October 2018 TikTok became the most downloaded app in the US, it was available in more than150 countries and accessible in 75 languages. TikTok and Douyin reached the one billion download mark in February 2019 making it the 7th most downloaded app of the decade.
TikTok managed to surpass Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube in downloads, which is all the more remarkable considering how Musical.ly nearly nether got to see the light of day if it wasn’t for the failure of an educational application back in 2014.
If ever there was a story about a phoenix rising from the asses then the saga of Musical.ly and TikTok seems to emulate the truth of that particular tale.
The beauty of it all stems from giving the people what they want. Remember how Alex Zhu saw those teenagers mimicking and performing to their favourite music, filming each other and taking photos to share on social media, how it all started with play acting and lip syncing. That is the story of TikTok, that is what lays at the heart of its success. It is from the people to the people and that is how a non US company managed to break with all the convention and became the most popular social app.
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