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Category winner:
TikTok’s AI Strategy: ByteDance’s Global Ambitions

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This case won the Entrepreneurship category at The Case Centre Awards and Competitions 2021. #CaseAwards2021

In conversation with... Jason Davis

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic we were sadly unable to visit Jason Davis, Minh Vo and Anne Yang to present their awards in person.

However, Jason joined our Director, Richard McCracken, from Singpore to discuss their winning case.

The full conversation can be watched on the right, or each section can be viewed separately below:

The case

BytedanceWho – the protagonists

Zhang Yiming, Founder and CEO, ByteDance.


ByteDance is the firm behind the incredibly popular short-form video-sharing app, TikTok.

ByteDance leveraged capabilities in consumer-focused artificial intelligence (AI) to become one of the first Chinese Big Tech digital platforms to succeed outside of China, notably in the US and India.


Zhang wanted TikTok to keep growing but problems included US President Donald Trump ordering ByteDance to sell its TikTok assists citing national security and personal privacy threats.

Other countries including the UK, South Korea, and Australia expressed similar concerns on whether TikTok should be allowed to operate and gather data on their citizens.


ByteDance launched TikTok in September 2016, by 2018 the app became the world’s most valuable start-up. In August 2020, ByteDance found itself suing the Trump administration after it banned the app and forced its sale.


ByteDance was founded in China but became a global phenomenon.

Key quote

“As AI becomes an increasingly integral part of our society, ByteDance believes that we – and our industry peers – have a duty to ensure that we understand and can anticipate the social impact of these new technologies and manage this impact responsibly.” – Zhang Yiming.

What next?

AI boxByteDance faced many questions as Zhang contemplated the future.

How would ByteDance compete against Tencent in China, Facebook and Google in the US, and start-ups everywhere? How might other companies apply the ByteDance AI formula in their own industries?

Instructor viewpoint

Discover how this case works in the classroom.

Giulio Toscani“I have been using this case extensively to teach ‘Digital Technologies impact’ in MBA and DBA courses. This is because, first of all, the case explains how Artificial Intelligence works, but it also clarifies how the strategy is important for Digital Technologies.

"In fact, the eight points explaining the success of TikTok are a solid initial structure to initiate students on the impact that digital technologies have on businesses."

Giulio Toscani, Professor & Academic Director of “Artificial Intelligence for Business” Programme at ESADE Business & Law School.

The authors


Jason Davis, Minh Vo and Anne Yang

This is Jason, Minh and Anne’s first Case Award, with INSEAD defending the Entrepreneurship crown they won in 2020.

Digital entrepreneurship in emerging economies

Jason said: “We are honoured to receive The Case Centre Award in Entrepreneurship for our case on Tiktok's AI strategy.

“This case is part of a larger set of cases about digital entrepreneurship in emerging economies, which includes cases about Go-Jek, Grab, Alibaba, Circles.Life, and Pinduoduo

“Because entrepreneurship solves locally intractable challenges and opportunities, we aim to make the teaching of entrepreneurship more broadly represented. This award allows us to mobilise more institutional support for this journey.”

AI coming out of a laptopAI in demand

Minh commented: “There is strong demand for understanding how AI is enabling new business models and digital entrepreneurship. ByteDance is an excellent case in point, in that it transforms an industry within a short span of five years. 

“There’s also global demand for understanding and learning about Entrepreneurship in emerging markets such as China. ByteDance is an excellent example of this as well.”

Managing case subject popularity

Anne said: “This was a fun but highly challenging case to write as it was evolving non-stop due to increased regulatory oversight around the world as Tik Tok gained immense popularity. 

“Another challenge in writing the case was ‘setting’ the stage for students to first understand ByteDance as a company, using it to illustrate basic principles about AI-based business models.”

Minimise the jargonMinimise the jargon

Jason concluded: “Keep an open mind and enjoy the process. Cases in entrepreneurship and emerging technology evolve at break-neck speeds and often involve technology jargon and concepts which those outside of the industry do not understand. Thus, it is important to minimise the jargon but at the same time, explain to readers how the technology is relevant to the company’s business in the case.”

About the authors

Jason Davis is Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise at INSEAD.
e Jason.davis@insead.edu
tw @bigtechprof

Minh Vo is a PhD Student in Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise at INSEAD.
e minh.vo-phd@insead.edu

Anne Yang is a Research Associate and Case Writer at INSEAD.
e acyyang@gmail.com

Interested in finding out more?

Download the case and teaching note

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TikTok’s AI Strategy: ByteDance’s Global Ambitions
Ref 819-0040-1

Teaching note
Ref 819-0040-8


View all the 2021 winners