This Interconnected post may be the most “disconnected” yet, but I will do my best to connect everything anyway.
First of all, I want to share that I started a new role as the senior director for International Expansion strategy at GitHub earlier this week.
For long time readers of Interconnected, you would know my point of view and feeling towards developers. I believe developers are the most important demographic to understand and support, during this next phase of technology-driven globalization. They are also “global by nature”, given the borderless nature of learning, building, and deploying technology itself. So when this opportunity came across, it felt like a no-brainer. I’m grateful for this opportunity to practice what I’ve been preaching.
But what does this change mean for this beloved bilingual newsletter that you’ve so generously decided to spend time reading and (hopefully) subscribing?
Here are the three major changes to the “new Interconnected”, and why they are happening:
- From twice a week to once a week; new post publishes every Sunday.
Why? While this newsletter started out as a twice-a-week endeavor, I don’t think I can keep that commitment given my new obligations. I also don’t think frequency means better quality or higher value. Going forward, we will adopt a weekly publishing cadence, which is both more practical and would help me better ensure the quality of this newsletter. The content will still be a mixture of deep dive analysis and news commentaries.
- More audio and visual content.
Why? Reading is just one of the many ways to learn. I’m actually an audio learner and absorb a lot of information from audiobooks and podcasts. But so far, I’ve not spend as much energy building Interconnected’s audio and video side. I plan to do more discussion sessions, like our company building webinars, and narrations of articles with slides of key takeaways on our YouTube channel. I already did a narration of the post “China's ‘Semiconductor Theranos’: HSMC”. Please give it a listen or watch and let me know what you think!
- Outside contribution by current operators.
Why? We will expand the knowledge and expertise of Interconnected by publishing analysis and opinions by other contributors. These are all operators currently working in startups that are building developer-focused products or open source technology. I hope their views will make Interconnected more diverse, practical, and useful for you.
I clearly have a bias in favor of the opinions of founders and operators. After all, those are based on “lived experiences”, not “armchair expertise” that unfortunately still gets too much undeserved attention.
Speaking of armchair experts commenting on the action of founders/operators, I want to share some thoughts on the resignation of one of the best founders in the business last week.
(What do you think of this transition to tie everything together? *wink*)
Zhang Yiming’s Resignation
After reading Zhang Yiming’s resignation letter, in both its Chinese original and official translated version on ByteDance’s English website, I felt a sense that he felt profoundly misunderstood by the world.
That sense is not hard to validate after reading just a few media articles that reported on his resignation. Reputable media institutions would quote phrases from so-called experts who say things like, “Founders of China’s tech unicorns have built enormous personal charisma. Beijing is worried that they may grow political ambition, or at the very least influence the political agenda-setting with their popularity.”
If we are talking about Jack Ma, maybe. But Zhang Yiming? Personal charisma? Have you seen this guy? Well, here’s a video (h/t Rui Ma of Tech Buzz China) of him and Liang Rubo (the next CEO of ByteDance and Yiming’s BFF) visiting the apartment where they started ByteDance:
I can hardly imagine Yiming doing an earnings call, let alone harbor political ambitions. Sadly, almost no journalist covering tech in the US or China has been a founder or operator of any company of any meaningful size. It’s worse than sad, because these journalists end up quoting from analysts almost none of whom has done that either; they only look at companies through spreadsheets and research reports, not as a collection of human beings to recruit, hire, manage, coordinate, motivate, and oftentimes fire when things don’t go well. None of these things are easy to do in isolation, let alone when done synchronously, but that is, in essence, a company. And when you multiply them all by (literally) the tens of thousands, you get the day-to-day work of the CEO of one of the most valuable tech companies, period.
Thus, the only sentiment that’s worth any salt is from a CEO of equal calibers, like this tweet from Patrick Collison, the CEO of Stripe:
40,000 new employees in one year? And not just any year, but 2020? The sheer number of onboarding sessions, training, 1-on-1s with direct reports, OKR planning, etc. will wear any mid-level manager down, let alone an introverted CEO, who was also confronted with the toughest geopolitical quagmire imaginable. I’ve only built teams a fraction of that size, and it was a drain (I’m definitely an introvert too).
The lack of first-hand understanding and empathy for what entrepreneurship and company building entail means that most media narratives, especially ones about China tech, default to familiar tropes and the lumping of completely different personalities -- Jack Ma, Colin Huang of Pinduoduo, and Zhang Yiming -- into one bucket. And the people who read (and believe) these media narratives, often due to lack of alternatives, will be misinformed. People would be incapable of interpreting events like Zhang Yiming’s resignation as simply the action of a self-aware person who thought deeply about what he’s good at, what he is bad at, and have decided to use his energy where it can be used best -- ironically, the one thing every good CEO or people manager should recognize. It’s the kind of self-awareness that’s all too rare in tech. It’s more worth celebrating than over-speculating.
There’s been a lot of rough comparisons between Zhang Yiming and other successful tech CEOs. Some have compared him to Zuckerberg, because both built an ad-driven social media company -- a somewhat lazy comparison that I’ve fallen into before. More people have compared him to Colin Huang recently, given Colin’s own recent resignation with similar motivations.
But the more I think about it, the more I see Zhang Yiming as following the “Larry Page model”, which Colin emulated, perhaps having been an Xoogler. Larry, Yiming, and Colin are all engineers by training. All three appear to be introverted nerds, but also with worldly ambitions to build products and are not content to stay within academia. All three scaled their respective companies faster than their predecessors, partly due to their talent but also because of the natural scaling effect of technology products, especially when deployed in a growing market like China’s.
Let’s do a rough comparison of each ex-CEO's resignation timing.
When Larry Page resigned for good in 2015, Google:
- Valuation: ~$380 billion
- Company age (at the time): 17
- Total headcount : ~60,000
When Zhang Yiming resigned last week, ByteDance:
- Private market valuation: ~$180 billion (but shares have been trading close to ~$400 billion as recently as April)
- Company age: 9
- Total headcount: ~100,000
When Colin Huang resigned earlier this year, Pinduoduo:
- Valuation: ~$150 billion
- Company age: 5
- Total headcount: ~8,000
Given what Zhang Yiming has accomplished, with or without all the geopolitical tensions or antitrust regulations, his resignation and self-directed transition seems more than appropriate.
Some tech CEOs choose to embrace the challenge of becoming a manager -- Bezos, Zuckerberg, Musk, Reed Hastings, Pony Ma, Wang Xing, Patrick Collinson. Others choose to step away -- Bill Gates, Larry, Colin, and Yiming. They all began as engineers and nerds in one flavor or another, yet they are anything but the same. It’s almost impossible to group and interpret them by conventional boundaries, like nationalities, markets, types of product or business model, let alone geopolitical landscapes and regulations. That’s what makes them entrepreneurs and outlier successes.
Does my narrative explain why Zhang Yiming resigned better than what you may have read elsewhere? Perhaps not, but it’s certainly not worse. Given what I know about the tech business, China, entrepreneurship, and company building, I feel obligated to at least present an alternative narrative and a different perspective for you to consider.
When I recorded a podcast on ChinaTalk a few weeks ago, the host Jordan Schneider asked me who in the Chinese tech scene deserves the Steve Jobs Hollywood biopic treatment.
My answer was Zhang Yiming, obviously not knowing he was going to resign soon. I’ve always seen him as one of the more thoughtful tech CEO’s. That monk-like thoughtfulness is abundantly evident if you read his company all-hands speech in March -- his last one. The speech read more like a meditation retreat session than the typical rah-rah you’d hear in a tech company. His resignation is just the latest action that reflects his meditative, daydreaming, and hyper self-aware nature.
Whether he’ll be in a Hollywood biopic or not is out of my hands. But if that ever happens, Ashton Kutcher should definitely *not* play him.
本篇《互联》可能是迄今为止最 "不连贯" 的一篇，但我还是会尽力地把内容联系起来。
以下是 "新互联" 的三个主要变化和它们背后的原因。
为什么？阅读只是众多学习方式中的一种。我实际上很喜欢通过音频学习，平常听很多音频书和播客。但到目前为止，我没有花很多精力把《互联》的音频和视频内容做好。因此，我准备做更多的音频讨论，比如以前的几期Company Building webinar，以及在我们的YouTube频道上的长篇文章阅读和解说，并加上文章重点总结的ppt。我已经录了《中国的 "半导体Theranos"：弘芯》这篇文章的音频版，请听听或看看，并给我一些您的反馈！
我自然对创始人和运营者的观点和意见有“偏爱”。毕竟，他们的观点都是基于 "生活经验"的，不像众多的 "扶手椅专家"（armchair expert）。可惜的是，这些纸上谈兵的 "扶手椅专家" 的影响力和话语权还是太大了。
说到 "扶手椅专家" 评论创始人/经营者的一举一动，我想分享一下上周科技届里最杰出的创始人之一的辞职。
如果我们是在谈论马云，这可能还说的过去。但张一鸣？个人魅力？你见过他这个人吗？给大家看一段他和梁汝波（字节的下一任CEO，一鸣的“闺蜜”）参观他们俩一开始创办字节时用的公寓的视频（Tech Buzz China的马睿分享给我的）：
因此，唯一有价值的观点只能是来自同等水平的CEO，就像Stripe的CEO Patrick Collison的这条推文：
由于缺乏对创业和公司建设的第一手“生活经验“，大多数媒体的分析评论，尤其是关于中国科技的，都会用一些懒惰的框架去解释复杂的事情，并把完全不同的人物 -- 马云、黄峥和张一鸣 -- 都扔在一起。而读（并相信）这种媒体叙述的人，往往由于缺乏其他选择，容易被误导。许多人会无法把张一鸣辞职这种事理解为只是一个有点自知自明的人的行为，在思考过他擅长什么、不擅长什么之后，决定将精力用在最能体现价值的地方。有点讽刺的是，这种行为也是每个好CEO或经理应该意识到并做到的。这种自知自明在科技届内非常罕见，其实是个值得庆祝、不应被过度揣测的事情。
张一鸣和其他成功的科技CEO之间有很多粗旷的比较。一些人把他和扎克伯格相提并论，因为他们都做了家广告驱动的社交媒体公司 -- 这种比较有点懒散，我以前也曾陷入其中。最近，更多人把他与黄峥做比较，因为黄峥最近也辞职了，情况有些相似。
但是我越想越觉得张一鸣是在遵循黄峥所模仿的 "Larry Page模式"；黄峥也是个Xoogler。Larry、张一鸣和黄峥都是搞技术的出身，似乎都是内向的书呆子，但也有想做产品，做公司的世俗野心，不满足于留在学术界内。这三个人都比他们的前辈更快地扩大了各自的公司规模，部分原因是他们的才能，但也是因为科技产品自然的扩展效应，特别是在像中国这种飞速增长的市场里。
- 总人数 : ~6万人
一部分科技公司的CEO选择面对做好管理人的挑战 -- 贝索斯、扎克伯格、马斯克、里德-哈斯廷斯（Netflix）、马化腾、王兴、Patrick Collison等。其他人则选择退而求其次 -- 盖茨、Larry Page、黄峥和一鸣。这些人都是工程师，书呆子，但每个人都有独特之处，这也就是为什么他们能成为成功的创业者，而且几乎无法被用传统的界限来分类和解释，比如国籍、市场、产品类型或商业模式等等，更不用说地缘格局和政策法规了。