Episode 1: The Next Big Thing

3 min readMar 29, 2021


Earlier this month Tik Tok has been officially banned in the US. It’s about time to take a closer look at it. We’ll start this obituary with its birth. Today I’ll tell you about Tik Tok’s beginning and what it eventually became.

Let’s go back to 2017. What do we see? In the social media world, Facebook and Instagram are feeling super dominant, being the absolute market leaders. Just a year earlier they introduced Insta Stories, crushing that funny yellow ghost, which was once considered their greater competitor.

But people became fed up with Mark Zuckerberg’s total control and his boring grey t-shirt so they seek for something fresh and new. And while today we no longer remember them, there were few contenders. Take Vero for example.

Nice, minimalistic app, that wished to change our approach to social media. No algorithmic feeds, no commercials. Just pure social interaction. I’ve even downloaded it but It didn’t last long on my phone. The reason is simple. There was nobody there.

Vero and other similar apps had a head-on collision with an “empty bar problem”.

Imagine a Friday night out with your friends. You don’t know the neighbourhood. Where do you go? It’s more likely you choose a place with music and a bustling atmosphere rather than a low profile pub with a local hobo sipping his last beer. To sum up, if you want to successfully enter the market with your app, you need to know a way to build your audience/community.

Or maybe you don’t? How about buying a place with people already inside instead?

That’s the approach a Chinese entrepreneur and head of ByteDance, Zhang Yiming, took when he bought musical.ly for 800 million dollars in 2017.

To make it short, it was already a well-established app with its own devoted community, teenagers singing and dancing to their favourite pop songs. Essentially, for that 800 million dollars, Yiming bought 60 million users across the globe. After that he only had to swap the icon, leaving most of the functionality unchanged. What’s important, for that money he also bought the dev team behind Musical.ly.

Today Tik Tok is the most frequently downloaded app in the world. It has about 800 mln, active users, meaning it managed to multiply its user count 12-fold in just 3 years.

But despite the great start, Tik Tok had yet to tackle its biggest challenge. In the next episode, I will tell you how Tik Tok fought for the US market and how it is still struggling to get rid of its Chinese genealogy.

Do you want to discuss this topic further? My name is Rafał Opaliński. Feel free to contact me and share your point of view.

I am a strategist at Together and, along with Henryk Klawe and Bartosz Balewski, may help your organisation to benefit from digital transformation.

Episode is also available in Polish as a podcast here: https://soundcloud.com/rafa-opali-ski-997694920/1-the-next-big-thing




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