China’s next generation tech giants, from BAT to TMD?

In China, we are wondering who will be the next generation of internet giant after BAT? Some said the candidates should be the 3 hottest unicorns in the market, called “TMD” (ironically often an acronym for “Fuck Your Mother” in the Chinese language). They are: 


Toutiao: an AI-powered media company


Meituan-Dianping: China’s leading O2O platform for local life information & services, customer review (its early business model was built upon combining Groupon&Yelp)


Didi: China version of Uber


Among them, Toutiao’s meteoric rise fascinates all. It was born in 2012, (the name in Chinese means “Today’s Headlines”), a time when there were only 6 major yet dull news apps on the Chinese Android platform. 5 years since launch and 3 years since monetization, it is


• the fastest growing app in revenues in the internet history, hitting USD2.2 billion this year


  • one of the most addictive apps in the world, garnering 600 million total users, 200 million daily active users spending 74 minutes on it every day(If using Wechat as a benchmark: Wechat has 900 million monthly active users, and the average daily time spent in it is about 66 minutes)


Furthermore, if both Meituan-Dianping and Didi could trace their original forefather back to the US, Toutiao successful formula seems nowhere else to be found. At first glance, it looks like a news feeder + aggregator app, but underneath, it has been developing a highly AI driven media content ecosystem.


-Part of its content creation has already been done by bot, which is much cheaper and faster in comparison with traditional human writers.


-It offers and recommends highly personalized news feed for every individual user powered by machine learning, or in plain language, it is smart enough to push the content that each of you would love to read, including advertising.


-It has become the top destination to attract online influencers, whether it is professional or grassroots, to open an account on its platform and share articles, images, and videos with its uses. More to the point, it works on the matching algorithm to connect online influencers with targeted followers, that is allowing influencers to increase their fan base, enhance engagement and ultimately generate cash flow. It is said a peasant from a rural area is able to amass 86,000 fans on Toutiao and earned USD12,000 within 6 months.


-It has been long on the endless potentials of user-generated “short video”. This translates into beta testing Snapchat clone app Kuaipai and owning 6 video apps:

• 3 in China (Xigua, TikTok/Douyin, Hypstar/Huoshan)

• 3 outside China (Flipagram,, Toppbuzz)


-Last year, Toutiao even signed a deal with, second largest e-commerce site in China, allowing users to buy products through the app.


In many ways, Toutiao stands out in the B list of “TMD”. Meitou-Dianping is essentially a worn-out behemoth, facing chaotic internal politics after series of merger&acquisition, troubled with sustainable profitability and above all its decade-long journey of IPO frustration still unfulfilled. Our daring Didi, yes, it was able to drive out Uber, but its dominance remains in the China territory. Sure, Didi can invest in bike sharing, to leverage its influence beyond China; or simply shower money in other unicorns to bolster up its presence, nevertheless, its cores somehow would not be able to get away with the glass ceiling of transportation or smart city. Toutiao is all about media&entertainment with the teeth rooted in AI. They said media&entertainment can go global without too many hurdles. In fact, it has been gradually winning in multiple markets, including Japan and Southeast Asia.


Toutiao is holding certain power right now which might make Alibaba feel envious and Tencent feel threatened.

Author: Cecilia Wu