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How Unicorns are Launched: TikTok

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August 16, 2023
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min read

In this instalment of our series, "How Unicorns are Launched", we delve into the evolution of TikTok. This video-sharing social media sensation, with its vibrant global community and innovative engagement tools, has transformed digital storytelling and entertainment.


Born under the umbrella of ByteDance, a Beijing-based internet technology company, TikTok rapidly shot to fame after its international launch in 2016. Harnessing the power of short-form video content, TikTok has captivated billions around the world, securing its place in the pantheon of social media giants.


TikTok is the creation of one of China's most prominent internet entrepreneurs, Zhang Yiming. His keen understanding of market trends and his vision for a platform that could revolutionise how people share and discover through video led to the birth of TikTok.


Driven by the transformative potential of artificial intelligence, Zhang aspired to develop an application that leverages AI's predictive capabilities to personalise content consumption. This vision guided the creation of TikTok, an application where each user's interaction shapes their content feed and fosters discovery.


TikTok's Minimum Viable Product (MVP) was a simple yet powerful platform for creating, sharing, and discovering short video content. The MVP empowered users with user-friendly editing tools, an expansive library of music, and a range of effects and filters, enabling creativity to flourish. Even amidst stiff competition from established social media platforms, TikTok's MVP resonated strongly with a youthful, global audience.


Before reaching product-market fit, TikTok underwent numerous iterations, continually adapting and refining based on user feedback and evolving digital trends. These iterations were crucial in shaping TikTok's unique identity and value proposition.

One of the earliest and most significant feature additions was the AI-driven 'For You' page, which curated a feed of content tailored to each user's specific tastes. The hypothesis was that such a personalised feed would drive higher user engagement and retention. User metrics confirmed this hypothesis as the 'For You' page quickly became a fundamental and distinctive part of the TikTok experience.

Next, TikTok introduced the 'Duet' feature, allowing users to create side-by-side videos with others, including their favourite influencers or celebrities. The hypothesis was that this collaborative feature would encourage increased user interaction and engagement, fostering a sense of community. Upon release, the 'Duet' feature proved immensely popular and spawned many viral trends, validating the hypothesis.

Another key iteration was the integration of trending hashtags and discovery challenges into the app interface. TikTok hypothesised that these features would promote content variety and creativity while increasing platform stickiness. The features turned out to be a hit, spawning numerous viral challenges and enhancing the social aspect of the platform.

Each of these iterations was executed in a lean and agile manner. TikTok's team formed a hypothesis, implemented the feature, analysed the data, and refined the product accordingly. These continuous iterations were instrumental in TikTok's journey to product-market fit.

Finding Market Fit

TikTok found its product-market fit by offering a platform that fostered creativity and discovery through short videos. Its unique AI-driven features, like the 'For You' page and 'Duet', appealed to a young, global demographic eager for fresh and interactive ways of expressing themselves and connecting with others. The platform's success manifested through explosive user growth and widespread popularity.


Today, TikTok is a global phenomenon and a major force in the social media world. With hundreds of millions of active users each month, TikTok continues to introduce new features, forge partnerships, and lead the charge in digital entertainment.