Tencent co-founder Ma Huateng, known as Pony Ma, is the richest man in China, and just recently took a spot on Forbes’ World’s 10 Most Powerful Executives.
Ma’s net worth is approximately $45 billion, ranking him the 17th richest man in the world. As CEO and co-founder of Tencent (TCEHY), Chinese internet colossus and multinational conglomerate, Ma is known for maintaining a relatively low-key profile. His classmates growing up described Ma as shy and a “geek,” and he even gained a reputation for hacking into his university’s computers and locking their hard drives.
At 27 years of age, Ma applied his engineering expertise in 1998, when he co-founded Tencent and developed its first product, a free instant-messaging platform called QQ. Within just over a year, QQ had attracted over 100,000 users. Six years later, in 2004, Ma listed Tencent on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and raised $180 million, although the IPO did not succeed at first. In fact, just a month after being listed, Tencent’s stock fell below its IPO price.
Tencent was under fire for its “copycat” products and was labeled by the public as the “king of knockoffs.” Ma knew Tencent needed a breakthrough product to save its reputation. Developed within just two months, Tencent introduced instant-messaging and social-media application WeChat to the public in 2011, around the same time China saw a drastic rise in smartphone sales and demand. WeChat even shook the money-transferring industry in 2014 when it offered a new feature that allowed users to send virtual red envelopes filled with money electronically, a convention that reflects upon age-old Chinese tradition. The payment service achieved explosive popularity, and with the help of WeChat, China has gradually become a cashless society.
Tencent’s timeline has experienced several points of near-bankruptcy and public disparagement, but Ma has successfully combatted adversity since co-founding the company in 1998. Today, Tencent has evolved into a tech behemoth worth over $500 billion, with services ranging from gaming and music to cloud-storage and video. Tencent has made significant initiatives to tap into international markets, which includes its 40% ownership of Epic Games, creator of Fortnite, and its 12% stake in Snap (SNAP), parent company of social-media app Snapchat.
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