One start-up founder tries ‘unlimited’ pay


  • Corporate News
  • Tuesday, 26 Sep 2017

Zhang: Our philosophy is to pay the top of the market to get the best.— Bloomberg

BEIJING: China may have a reputation for low wages and sprawling factories. But in a sign of changing times, one start-up founder has embraced a strategy of paying top employees the highest salaries in the market – and so far it’s working.

Beijing ByteDance Technology Co. is the brainchild of an entrepreneur named Zhang Yiming. The company is best known for a mobile app called Jinri Toutiao, or Today’s Headlines, which aggregates news and videos from hundreds of media outlets. In five years, the app has become one of the most popular news services anywhere, with 120 million daily users.

Toutiao is on pace to pull in about US$2.5bil in revenue this year, largely from advertising.

It was just valued at more than US$20bil, according to a person familiar with the matter, roughly the same as Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

In China, the Beijing company is controversial because of its recruiting. ByteDance hires top performers from giants like Baidu Inc and Tencent Holdings Ltd, sometimes raising salaries 50% and tossing in stock options. Zhang is unapologetic.

“Our philosophy is to pay the top of the market to get the best,” says the slight 34-year-old in an interview at the company’s headquarters, his first with foreign media. “The company that wants to achieve the most, you need the best talent.”

Asked what the top of the market is precisely, his handlers squirm and try to change the subject.

Zhang waves them away.“Unlimited salary for unlimited talent,” he says. Top performers can make US$1mil in salary and bonus a year, plus options, according to people familiar with its hiring. Total compensation can exceed US$3mil.

Zhang declined to comment on specific figures, saying most employees prefer stock over cash.

To be clear, this is part of a bidding war for talent in the most coveted fields.

The most senior AI engineers in China now often command compensation of US$1mil or US$2mil, though most of that is stock.

Another startup recently agreed to a package worth US$30mil over four years if certain targets are met, according to a person familiar with the matter. — Bloomberg

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