Liang Rubo: The ‘executor’ and former roommate of Zhang Yiming, ready to take over as CEO at ByteDance

By searching the name of Liang Rubo in Google, little can be found about this low-key ByteDance co-founder. Well, we got you covered.

In 2002, Zhang Yimin, then a Nankai University student, had his desktop computer tower stolen. He asked his roommate whether he would like to buy a new tower to make a new desktop and use it with the monitor left. The roommate agreed, and the two became friends while sharing the same desktop.

Almost twenty years later, in 2021, Zhang is asking once again his former roommate to share a “desktop” with him. This time though, the responsibility goes far beyond sharing a computer, as Zhang is handing over a USD 400 billion company to his trusted long-time roommate, friend, and colleague, Liang Rubo. (Where did you get this anecdote? An interview by Zhang? etc? media reports, none of them provide a source of info for this anecdote)

Until now, the name of Liang Rubo has someway slipped under the radar. Also a co-founder of ByteDance (together with how many people? – couldn’t find info on this), he led the development of a couple of the company’s key products, including blockbuster short-video app Douyin, news aggregator Jinri Toutiao, as well as office collaboration platform Lark. He entered the core of Bytedance’s management architecture in 2019, when he was promoted as global head of HR at ByteDance.

Then, in a surprising announcement last week, through an internal memo, Zhang announced the designation of Liang as new CEO, in a time when ByteDance is preparing prepares for a massive initial public offering. The transition process for Liang to take the lead at ByteDance will last around six months, Zhang said.

“I lack some of the skills that make an ideal manager. I’m more interested in analyzing organizational and market principles, and leveraging these theories to further reduce management work, rather than actually managing people,” Zhang said about his resignation.

Following Zhang’s memo, Liang also wrote an internal email where he admitted the pressure of taking over ByteDance in this crucial moment.”I have always felt very lucky to be rooted in technology, product, and management because Yiming is in front of me to deal with the many difficulties and unexpected work,” Liang wrote.

“Now, for the long-term development of the company, Yiming needs to get out of the daily management and focus on the work that is not urgent but important to the development of the company, so as to create more possibilities. Therefore, I will take over his responsibilities as CEO,” he added.

(Anything more to close this quote? — umm dont know what do you need)

A trusted long-time partner

By searching the name of Liang Rubo in Google, or any other internet search engine, little can be found about this low-key ByteDance co-founder, except the May 20 promotion. However, among all the current top executives at ByteDance, Liang probably has known Zhang the longest.

The two first met in the dorm of Nankai University, back when they were still freshmen in college. They spent four years together, sharing the same desktop, studying computer science, and playing badminton and ping pong.

After graduation, Liang became an engineer in an electronic company in China while Zhang worked for a couple of startups. In 2009, the two crossed paths their careers intersected as Zhang received funds from an investor to create a real estate information platform. Liang was among the founding team. Liang was invited by Zhang to join his startup team, and he accepted it. (Mmm, then, they didn’t really just “crossed paths,” but were working together on the project of a  real estate information platform. Like, this project was co-founded only by them two or also by other people?)

By 2011, the two achieved small success as their app, named Jiujiufang, ranked as the most downloaded under its category of real estate in China market (What category?) Most downloaded where?. But Zhang wanted something bigger.

With the blueprint of an algorithm-backed news aggregator in hand (How they got this algorithm? Is this connected to Jiujiufang? Or just something they developed apart? Who developed it? – it’s not an algorithm… it’s a blueprint of Jinri Toutiao. Zhang developed it by himself–which later became the root of ByteDance’s first flagship app Jinri Toutiao–Zhang and Liang became roommates again. They rented an apartment in Zhongguancun, also known as China’s Silicon Valley, a district located northwest of Beijing.

During that period of time in 2012 (When, 2001, 20012, 20013?), they would work on Jiujiufang in the day, and develop Jinri Toutiao in the night.

The Information,, Fortune China, 36Kr,  analysis

Zhang (left) and Liang (right) revisited the apartment where they founded ByteDance, as part of a video for ByteDance’s seventh anniversary. Screenshot from the video.

In August 2012, ByteDance came to shape upon Jinri Toutiao’s launch. Zhang was the CEO, and Liang was the CTO. From then on, ByteDance entered into a fast expansion mood: the company has reportedly reached a USD 400 billion market cap in nine years, even surpassing that of many 500 companies such as Coca-Cola and Walmart.

In a video published by ByteDance upon their seventh anniversary in 2019, Zhang and Liang returned to the four-bedroom apartment to look back on their early days. Liang said to the camera that he would always remember one entrepreneurship value that Zhang taught him: “Always day one.” (…Meaning?) — to treat every day’s work like it’s the first day they entered the company.

An executor

While the popularity of ByteDance’s products Jinri Toutiao, Douyin, and TikTok took Zhang Yiming to the cover of many magazines worldwide, Liang Rubo stayed low-key.

Compared to many other top executives at ByteDance, whose images constantly show up in public materials, like Kelly Zhang, ByteDance China CEO, Zhang Lidong, the company’s monetization strategist, and Alex Zhu, founder of TikTok predecessor, who later joined ByteDance as? first as TikTok CEO, later as strategy & investment VP, Liang Rubo is indeed less-known to the public eye.

In fact, before the May 2021 promotion, Liang has never shown up alone in any media coverage, neither made any public appearance at public events (mmmm, you sure about this? Sounds like a bit too much? Maybe he did go to some events no? – he went to events or not i dont know, but what i meant by public appearance is that he never made public speeches or anything that left a record showcasing his ByteDance identity), even though he is “the co-founder of the company, head of product development at Bytedance, head of Lark and efficiency engineering unit, and head of human resources and management for the group,” according to Zhang’s resignation letter.

The only direct quote of Liang was found in a 2014 article by local news outlet iHeima, in which he was interviewed as Zhang Yiming’s university roommate, following Jinri Toutiao’s fundraising from Sequoia.

However, as CTO, Liang was behind the framework of many key products of ByteDance’s apps factory: Jinri Toutiao, Douyin, and Lark. Though the success of apps is usually the result of teamwork, Liang was never attributed for their breathtaking achievements, while CEOs like Kelly Zhang and Chen Lin took up the main page in most of the media reports.

According to an analysis by The Information, Liang wasn’t among the 14 executives that report directly to Zhang until 2019, when he took the lead as head of HR.

Graph– About Jiujiufang, if the two were co-founders, then why we say that Zhang started, instead of saying the two started? – i never said Liang was co-founder, Zhang received money from an investor to do it, he invited Liang to join the team

-Question, the position that he will take is ByteDance global CEO, (same you wrote about Zhang) or just CEO? – their letters only say Liang will be ByteDance CEO, global or not we dont know

The Information,, Fortune China, 36Kr,  analysis

An unexpected promotion, that makes sense

On March 12, 2020, ByteDance (ByteDance–I’ve fixed some others, but you need to remember this) launched the largest organizational restructuring since its founding. Kelly Zhang and Zhang Lidong were promoted to chairman and CEO respectively for ByteDance China, as Zhang Yiming himself vowed to spend time on the company’s global market.

After the adjustment, many were guessing, between Kelly Zhang and Zhang Lidong, who would become ByteDance’s second in command. Little attention was given to Liang, who was made the HR lead of the corporate.

A person close to ByteDance told Fortune China that for the past two years, Liang has been in charge of legal, internal communications, logistics, and human resources within ByteDance, serving not much as a product developer, but instead, as a “housekeeper for the corporate.”

However, (there’s no twist between the above line and this line)under Liang’s HR management, ByteDance expanded from 60,000 employees to 100,000 in one year (From when to when? – March 2020 to Q1 2021)

The Information,, Fortune China, 36Kr,  analysis

In the internal letter released on May 20, Zhang shared more details about the decision of handing his empire to Liang. “In March, I began discussing with a small group the possibility of having Rubo, the co-founder of ByteDance, taking over as CEO, and leveraging his strengths in management, organization, and social engagement. … Rubo previously helped me found another company, so we have worked together closely for many years,” he wrote.

“Since day 1, Rubo has been an invaluable partner—completing the coding for new systems, buying and installing servers, and developing key recruitment, corporate policies, and management systems, among a list of contributions too long to enumerate. Over the next six months, we will work side by side to ensure the smoothest possible transition, and I know you will all also support him,” reads the letter.

Looking back from now, it seems like the roles of Zhang Yiming and Liang Rubo have been decided since their early days. When ByteDance was just founded, Liang and Zhang would compete to memorize and recite (and speak out? Or what was the competition about?) the order of stations on their subway ride back from Tianjin, where their server was located, to Beijing, where they lived. Liang was usually faster, but Zhang was more accurate.

“It miraculously corresponds to the current roles of the two men: The executor and the thinker. One of them will be responsible to retain the ‘fast’ of ByteDance, by continuing the current expansion speed; while the other will be responsible for the ‘accurate’ part, making strategies for the next decade,” a 36Kr analysis commented. (Say the name of the guy, “in an article published by 36Kr — The article author commented this themselves, they didn’t site anyone).

Aaron Zhang contributed to this piece.

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