Zhang Yiming: Five Tips On Choosing Your Future Employers In The Internet Age

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(Chinese Version)

Editor’s Note:

Zhang Yiming, founder and CEO of Chinese personalized news app TouTiao, is a serial entrepreneur who either established or worked for Internet companies like ticket booking service provider Kuxun, one of Twitter’s clones in China Fanfou and house renting site 99fang.com. After establishing Beijing Bytedance Technology Ltd, Zhang Yiming and his team developed a series of popular apps including TouTiao. In this article, Mr. Zhang is going to share with us some of his insights into the Internet industry and five tips on choosing your future employer.

I have been feeling quite frustrated recently since some candidates declined my offer. I do know that such things might happen from time to time to any employer, but I can never accept the fact that they did so due to the following considerations:

1. The other company just received over 100 million dollars in its latest round of financing, thus that company seems to be more potent.
2. O2O business seems to be booming in China, so maybe I should look for jobs in the O2O sector and possibly I will get a higher income?
3. The other company promises to appoint me as a senior director and the head of a team with more than 100 employees to boss around.
4. An Internet giant just invested in the other company, so that company should be a better platform.
5. The other company looks green right now but might soon be acquired when their scale reaches 1/3 of TouTiao’s.
6. TouTiao is already fully-developed, so there isn’t much room left for me to improve and make a difference.

I do respect these candidates’ personal preferences, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with all of their judgements. So I would like to point out the following five principles, based on my own understanding of the Internet industry, for future computer technicians to choose their employers more wisely.

1. Choosing companies with high EC ratio

While many people attach great importance to a company’s market value, I refer to a company’s EC ratio (a company’s enterprise value to capital financing value) to see if a company is promising enough. Companies such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp and Tencent all have a high EC ratio in the early stage of their development, and they turned out to be pretty successful later. Companies whose EC ratio is low, however, might have high capital financing value, but low enterprise value, so we might say for sure  that these companies rely heavily on capitals. Some entrepreneurs prefer to put away the money they received in different rounds of financing, while other entrepreneurs feel like investing into more companies to earn much more money. Both kinds of entrepreneurs have their own considerations.

To wrap up, the higher a company’s EC ratio is, the more capable a company can grow on its own, and the more efficient and promising a company will be. When I say “grow on its own”, I mean to develop, expand and make profit through a company’s own capital, team efforts, not external capital and resources.

2. Leading computer technicians should choose leading tech companies

Now that you are looking for jobs in the Internet industry, you might as well work in fast-growing tech companies, especially if you are computer technicians. However, not all Internet companies can be called “tech companies”. Recently, lots of people begin to work on the Internet+, that is, to combine the Internet industry with traditional industries. I do admit that such efforts are meaningful, but I regard these people more as businessmen who make profits with the help of the Internet than computer technicians who solve real problems and achieve real technological breakthroughs.

It occurs to me the popular “degradation theory”, which depreciates the bravery to take risks and make real changes, while encourages computer technicians to work on things that are less risky and demanding. I have no objections towards computer technicians who do “degrade” themselves, but I strongly recommend  them to join leading tech companies and make real innovations.

That being said, what makes a leading tech company? Personally, I believe that companies who make profit mostly through their investment into technology (recruiting computer technicians, buying servers and developing algorithms) instead of spending lavishly in attracting new users can be called real “tech companies”. Elon Mask’s company, the developer of Paypal, Space X, Tesla and Solarcity, is definitely one of these "real" tech companies, because it is indeed developing new technologies and changing the way we live. Apple, Microsoft and Google also fit the bill.

3. Choosing promising companies, not Internet giants

Less than one year after the launch of TouTiao, an Internet giant found me and offered to acquire TouTiao. If I had agreed, TouTiao would be able to better reach users, gain millions of unique visits, increase our market value significantly and expand our businesses by a few times within half a year. I thought over this offer for a whole week.

At last, I decided to decline the offer, due to the following factors: Firstly, I thought this offer as “stimulant” since it came too early. Secondly, the investor might intervene with TouTiao’s development plan. Thirdly, TouTiao might be forced to line up with the investor in its future business wars with other Internet giants. Fourthly, computer technicians might prefer to work in independent tech companies instead of Internet giants.

In the face of similar struggles, many startup owners tended to notice the advantages more and disadvantages less, since they were not confident about their future.

Those who did sell their startups to Internet giants, even when they had to accept pretty strict terms, ended up merely earning some quick money. I don’t recommend computer technicians to work in these companies, since their seemingly fast development is typically underpinned by low user retention rate, low team spirits, and ambiguous business strategies.

In conclusion, my suggestion for computer technicians is that: you won’t become successful if you work in today’s Internet giants, but if you work in promising tech companies, you might grow and succeed along with these companies.

4. Working environment should be more important than job titles

I also admit that senior job titles and heading a larger team may sound pretty attractive for many computer technicians when looking for jobs, yet later I find out that the real  top teams should consist of only several computer technicians.

The importance of job titles is decreasing drastically right now. At some time, I even wanted to learn from Facebook and assign my employees whatever titles they want. On second thought, however, I gave up such thoughts, since I can recruit all kinds of employees I want via the current job title system: both employees who love challenges and  pay more attention to their interests, and employees who value their job titles more and are better at managing teams. Companies that are fraught with the latter kind of employees must be in dire need of talents, since most of their employees enjoy bossing others around instead of cooperating with talents.

When interviewing a bunch of expert engineers who just came back from the Silicon Valley, I asked them if they mind the scale of their teams. All of them said no and suggested that they paid more attention to what the team was working on and its stock price. They added that it could be really hard to find jobs in new startups since few startups in the Silicon Valley needed senior-level managers at that stage.

In a word, the colleagues you are working with should be more important than your titles and the scale of your teams.

5. Choosing promising companies, not pre-mature ones

It is said that companies whose stock price is lower tend to be favored by private Chinese shareholders, since they regard these stocks as more promising. Similarly, some job-hunters may choose to work in pre-mature companies who have a lower market value, in the hope that they might make a fortune when these companies are later acquired when their scale reaches 1/3 of TouTiao’s and their stock soars. Others choose so because they have thought that there was a larger room for them to develop there.

To be honest, I don’t agree with such consideration, since it’s hard to tell if a company is mature or not. Are Alibaba and Tencent mature five years ago? Are they mature enough in 2010? Are they finally mature in 2014? Nobody can tell. What really matters is the future potential of a company, not whether it is mature or not.

Besides that, pre-mature companies might gradually fall behind mature ones. For example, mature companies such as Alibaba and Baidu both outperformed their pre-mature competitors Huicong and Zhongsou respectively at last. The Internet age is ruled by the “winner takes all” principle. While mature Internet company of a specific field tend to put more efforts on developing new products and services, pre-mature companies are busy grabbing a small market share from the mature company and waiting to be acquired. I believe no computer technician would like to work in these companies.

To sum up, when looking for future employers, a computer technician should see if their companies are profiting steadily, if their users are increasing fast enough, if their work environment is friendly, and if they are promising in the future.

No every computer technician should adhere to, and not every technician would agree to the tips above, since everyone has his or her own preferences: some prefer an easy job, others might like jobs they are familiar with, still others prefer companies where they get to stand out easily. In any case, I hope all the computer technicians can find employers that best fit themselves. But please contact me if you feel related to my understandings above.


[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @Zhang Yiming, please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.]

Translated by Levin Feng (Senior Translator at ECHO), working for TMTpost.