Tencent is a Chinese multinational technology and entertainment conglomerate and social networking and gaming giant. Headquartered in Shenzhen, it one of the highest grossing multimedia companies in the world based on revenue. It is also the largest company in the video game industry in the world based on its investments. It operates the instant messengers Tencent QQ and WeChat, and QQ.com and also owns Tencent Music. Its stock value in July 2008 was $15 billion, making it one of most valuable Internet companies in the world at that time. In comparison Amazon.com was worth $30 billion. In 2021, Tnecent’s revenues were US$86.84 billion, its operating income was US$42.11 billion, its net income was US$35.32 billion and its total assets were US$249.98 billion. [Source: Wikipedia]

Founded in 1998, its subsidiaries market various Internet-related services and products globally, including in entertainment, artificial intelligence, and other technology. The company is headquartered in the twin-skyscraper Tencent Seafront Towers (also known as Tencent Binhai Mansion) in the Nanshan District of Shenzhen. The company’s services include social networks, web portals, music, e-commerce, mobile games, internet services, payment systems, smartphones, and multiplayer online games.

Tencent is one of the most valuable companies in the world. It surpassed a market value of US$500 billion in 2018, making it the first Asian technology company to cross that mark.Since then it has grown even bigger and has become the most valuable publicly traded company in China. In 2015, 2018, and 2020, the company was ranked by the Boston Consulting Group and Fast Company among the 50 most innovative companies worldwide. Tencent has stakes in over 600 companies.

Li Yuan wrote in the New York Times:“There’s no company in the world like Tencent. It’s a true monopoly on many levels. It wields the kind of influence in China that Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google can only aspire to. Tencent is a mega entertainment platform. It is the world’s largest online game company, owning stakes in Riot Games and Epic Games. It owns China’s biggest online video, music and online literature businesses, too. [Source: Li Yuan, New York Times, June 2, 2021]

Tencent History

Tencent was founded by Pony Ma, Zhang Zhidong, Xu Chenye, Charles Chen and Zeng Liqing in November 1998 as Tencent Inc, incorporated in the Cayman Islands. The name "Tencent" is based on its Chinese name Tengxun, which incorporates part of Pony Ma's Chinese name (Ma Huateng) and literally means "galloping fast information". Initial funding for the company provided to it by venture capitalists. In February 1999, Tencent released the messenger product OICQ. Not long afterwards the was name changed to QQ because of a lawsuit threat from ICQ and its owner AOL (American Online). Tencent was unprofitable for the first three years of its operation. [Source: Wikipedia]

Tencent Holding Ltd was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on 16 June 2004 and it was added as a Hang Seng Index Constituent Stock in 2008. Tencent originally derived income solely from advertising and premium users of QQ, who pay monthly fees to receive extras. By 2005, it was charging for use of QQ mobile, its cellular value-added service, and charged licensing fees for its penguin character, which could be found on clothing and snack food. By 2008, Tencent was generating significant profits from the sale of virtual goods.

Tencent's services included online gaming since 2004 but that sector of the company didn’t really beging take off until around 2007 and 2008 when it rapidly increased its offerings by licensing games such and CrossFire and Dungeon Fighter Online, produced by South Korean game developers. Now Tencent mainly markets its own games. In January 2011, Tencent launched the Weixin (WeChat) social media “super” app which now has over 1 billion monthly active users.

According to the South China Morning Post: “When Tencent’s flagship messaging service QQ was the dominant player in social media in China, Pony Ma did not rest on his laurels. He spotted the inevitable shift in traffic from PCs to mobile internet in 2010, as smartphones led by Apple’s iPhone, gained in popularity. Ma knew that a mobile instant messenger would be the key to the future. [Source: Irene Deng Celia Chen, South China Morning Post, August 16, 2018]

Tencent began focusing on tech start-ups in Asia in 2017. TechCrunch described Tencent's investment strategy as letting its portfolio startups operate autonomously. In January 2021, with Tencent’s valuation approaching US$1 trillion, the company share price plummeted.

Pony Ma

Pony Ma in 2019

Ma Huateng (widely known as Pony Ma) is a Chinese billionaire business magnate. He is the chairman and chief executive officer of Tencent and one its founders. In 2007, 2014, and 2018, Time magazine named him one of the world's most influential people. In 2015, Forbes ranked him as one of the world's most powerful people. In 2017, Fortune listed him as among the top businessmen of the year. CEOWORLD magazine named him one of the "Most Powerful People In The World" in 2018. Ma was a deputy to the Shenzhen Municipal People's Congress and a delegate in the 12th National People's Congress. [Source: Wikipedia]

Ma is known for having a low-key personality, which contrasts him to more outgoing Jack Ma, Alibaba founder. Ma has been compared to American investor Warren Buffett for their similar investment approaches, and has been described as an "aggressive acquisitor". As of March 2022, Pony Ma’s a net worth was US$44 billion according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index. In November 2017, his net worth briefly surpassed that of Larry Page and Sergey Brin (individually), making him the ninth richest man in the world, at that time and the first citizen from China to enter Forbes' top 10 richest list. Since then the net worth of Page and of Brin have each since eclipsed that of Ma.

In 2021, Pony Ma was the second richest man in China according to Forbes, with a net worth of $65.8 billion, after China’s bottled water king Zhong Shanshan, Chairman of Nongfu Spring, whose net worth was $68.5 billion. Ma was China’s third richest man in 2015, with a net worth of $16.5 Billion. In 2014 when Ma was 43 his net worth was $14.4 billion. In 2015, Ma No. 56 on Forbes list of global billionaires. In 2014 he was No. 4 in China and No. 80 globally. [Source: Forbes]

Ma was born born on October 29, 1971 in Chaoyang, Shantou, Guangdong. When his father, Ma Chenshu got a job as a port manager in Shenzhen, the young Ma accompanied him. He attended in Shenzhen University from 1989 to 1993 and graduated with a bachelor's degree in computer science.

Ma's first job was with China Motion Telecom Development, a supplier of telecommunications services and products, where he was in charge of developing software for pagers. He reportedly earned $176 per month. He also worked for Shenzhen Runxun Communications Co. Ltd. in the research and development department for Internet calling services.[28]

Ma is married to Wang Danting. They have one child. He lives in Shenzhen.

Pony Ma and the Founding of Tencent

Ma Huateng co-found Tencent in 1998 along with four classmates from Shenzhen University, . The company's first product came after Ma participated in a presentation for ICQ, the world's first Internet instant messaging service, founded in 1996 by an Israeli company. Inspired by the idea, Ma and his team launched a similar software, with a Chinese interface and a slightly different name – OICQ in February 1999 .The product quickly became a modest hit and attracted more than a million registered users by the end of 1999, making it one of the largest such services in China at that time. At that time pagers were still used and cell phones and even computers were not widely used in China. ,[Source: Wikipedia]

On the founding of Tencent, Ma told China Daily in a 2009 that "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants", paraphrasing a quote attributed to Isaac Newton and referencing the similarities between ICQ and OICQ. "We knew our product had a future, but at that time we just couldn't afford it." At that time Ma tried to get bank loans and even pondered selling the company.

OICQ was offered free of charge and Tencent didn’t really make any money in the early years after it was launched. The company sought venture capitalists to finance its growing operational costs. In 2000, 40 percent of Tencent's shares were sold for US$2.2 million to US investment firm IDC and Hong Kong's telecom carrier Pacific Century CyberWorks (PCCW). With the pager market declining, Ma improved the messaging platform by allowing QQ users to send messages to mobile handsets. Afterwards, 80 percent of the company's revenue came from deals struck with telecom operators who agreed to share message fees.

Tencent and Naspers

In 2001, South African media company Naspers purchased a 46.5 percent share of Tencent. The investment has been called the the most successful venture capital deal of all time, making Naspers the most valuable publicly traded business in Africa by 2017. As of 2021, Naspers owned 30.86 percent through Prosus, which also owns a stake in Tencent's sister companies, such as OLX, VK, Trip.com Group, Delivery Hero, Bykea, Meesho, Stack Overflow, Udemy, Codecademy, Brainly and PayU.

Capetown-based Naspers was founded in 1915 in South Africa and has transformed itself from an apartheid era newspaper publisher into a multinational giant with private equity style investments in technology firms that span the globe.. Naspers invested $32 million in Tencent in 2001. Naspers retains a 31 percent stake in Tencent today, having sold no shares before 2018. For investors, buying Naspers is nearly the same as buying Tencent, given the value of Naspers Tencent stake dwarfs the value of Naspers’ other assets. Some investors have made a lot of money buying Naspers stock rather than Tencent stock as the former has special discounts for buying its stock. [Source: Phoebe Jin, Spaceship.com, March 12, 2019]

Nasper’s investment in Tencent was made while Koos Bekker, was head of the company. According to Forbes: he is revered for transforming South African newspaper publisher Naspers into an e-commerce investor and cable TV powerhouse. According to Bloomberg: Bekker has spent years riding the rocket of the Chinese Internet thanks to one really smart — or really lucky — investment. In 2001 Naspers, the media group he chairs, put $32 million into a then-obscure Web company called Tencent. By 2015 that stake was worth $66 billion — roughly equal to Naspers’ entire stock market capitalisation.

According to Bloomberg: “Naspers might have remained a little-known publisher of South African newspapers and operator of pay-TV services if not for the decision to invest in Tencent. While the investment has made Naspers the most valuable company in Africa, with a market capitalization of about $122 billion in 2019. In 2019, Naspers sold 190 million Tencent shares, worth $10.6 billion, reducing the stake held by Naspers in Tencent from 33.2 percent to 31.2 percent.[Source: Bloomberg, March 26, 2019]

When Tencent was a Largely Reviled Copycat

Many of Tencent's software and services share similarities to those of competitors. The company is also widely known for copying and stealing from itself."Pony" Ma, famously said, "[To] copy is not evil." Jack Ma of Alibaba Group stated, "The problem with Tencent is the lack of innovation; all of their products are copies." Former CEO and president of Sina.com, Wang Zhidong, said, "Pony Ma is a notorious king of copying."

Tencent got it start by copying the ICQ message service invented by the Israeli company Mirabilis in the 1996 and didn’t even bother to change its name much. The Tencent copy was called OICQ. AOL bought ICQ and filed a lawsuit against Tencent in 1998 for violating ICQ's intellectual property rights and won. Tencent released a new version of OICQ in December 2000 called QQ. During Tencent’s early years it was repeatedly accused of stealing ideas from its competitors and creating counterfeit copies of their products. QQ farm was a direct copy of Happy Farm, QQ dance originated from Audition Online, and that QQ speed featured gameplay highly similar to Crazyracing Kartrider. [Source: Wikipedia]

Li Yuan wrote in the New York Times: “A few months after Wang Xing founded a Groupon-like e-commerce service called Meituan, he learned that China’s biggest internet company, Tencent, had started a similar venture. “Is there any business that Tencent wouldn’t do?” he asked. Mr. Wang’s quote led a 2010 magazine article about Tencent with a headline so famously profane — think the rough Chinese equivalent of an F-bomb — that two top editors were fired shortly after it was published. The cover depicted Tencent’s mascot, a chubby penguin wearing a red scarf, stabbed with knives, blood dripping to the floor. [Source: Li Yuan, New York Times, June 2, 2021]

“Dramatic, perhaps, but back then the Chinese technology industry considered Tencent to be Public Enemy No. 1. It wouldn’t hesitate to copy somebody else’s idea and drive the upstart out of business. Its top executives were confronted at industry conferences and in media interviews. Entrepreneurs called it the industry’s most brazen copycat. China’s tech companies “didn’t fall when Tencent was copying them,” wrote a widely shared blog post. “They lost their will to fight back and surrendered when Tencent held out a check.” In the past, it has said that it invests in high quality and innovative companies and that it embraces fair competition.

Tencent and the Chinese Government

Tencent Headquarters in Shenzhen

Li Yuan wrote in the New York Times: Tencent has also long tried to get close to the government. Compared with the sometimes defiant Alibaba, Tencent has long publicly underscored its willingness to comply fully with rules and regulations. “Now I think it’s important for us to understand even more about what the government is concerned about, what the society is concerned about, and be even more compliant,” Tencent’s president, Martin Lau, said in a January earnings call. Tencent executives used the word “compliant” six times in the call. [Source: Li Yuan, New York Times, June 2, 2021]

“In April 2021, the company said it would spend $7.8 billion on green energy, education, village revitalization and other pet topics of President Xi Jinping. In the view of Hong Bo, an internet commentator, Tencent is acting for self-preservation. “For the sake of securing its operation,” he said, “it has to look like it is shouldering more social responsibilities.”

At that time the Chinese government was finally reining in the country’s most powerful technology companies — but not, at least for now, Tencent. While the company has drawn small penalties, the government has focused most of its attention on Tencent’s archrival, Jack Ma’s Alibaba empire. The government’s next target? It might be Tencent’s onetime rival, Meituan.

“Only China’s antitrust regulators know why Tencent hasn’t drawn their full attention so far. As China’s biggest and most powerful technology company, with an outsize power to pick winners and losers, it still might — and probably should. Reuters has reported that the Chinese government is considering a fine of at least $1.54 billion against Tencent for failing to properly report past acquisitions and investments for antitrust reviews. If true, that would be smaller than the record $2.8 billion fine the government imposed on Alibaba in April.

We Chat

Tencent’s most well-known product is WeChat. This super app laid the foundations for Tencents stellar growth in 2010s, turning it into one of the most influential companies in China, Since the official launch of WeChat in January 2011, Tencent’s market capitalisation has risen over tenfold.[Source: Irene Deng Celia Chen, South China Morning Post, August 16, 2018]

WeChat is a mobile app with voice- and text messaging and a timeline. It is the most popular social mobile application in China and some overseas Chinese communities such as in Malaysia. As of 2017, WeChat had been unsuccessful in penetrating major international markets outside of China. [Source: Wikipedia]

Owen Matthews wrote in SupChina: In April 2020, Tencent launched Xiao’e Pinpin, a WeChat mini program that uses a group-based social shopping model similar to Pinduoduo’s. If successful, WeChat’s mini stores could be a game changer for China’s ecommerce industry. Although previously not an ecommerce retailer itself, WeChat has been involved with the industry through its mobile payment and advertising services. Its digital payment service, WeChat Pay, reported over 800 million monthly users in 2019. Some bloggers have earned millions of yuan by posting product ads on their WeChat pages. [Source: Owen Matthews SupChina, August 7, 2020]


QQ is instant messaging app developed by Tencent. The second most popular app in China after WeChat, it offers users multiple services like shopping, games, music, movies, group chat, micro-blogging, and voice chat. QQ had 693.5 million monthly active users in the first quarter of 2020 and 267.7 million average daily active users in September 2018. The penetration rate was 69.3 percent in October 2018. [Source: Tony DeGennaro, Dragon Social, 2020]

Launched in February 1999, Tencent QQ was Tencent's first notable product. As of December 2010, there were 647.6 million active Tencent QQ IM user accounts, making Tencent QQ the world's largest online community at the time. The number of QQ accounts connected simultaneously has, at times, exceeded 100 million.

Tony DeGennaro of Dragon Social wrote: QQ has a desktop version that is incredibly popular with white collar workers. Plus, QQ doesn’t require a phone number to register like WeChat. Users each have a unique numerical ID for their accounts. This was the most popular form of online communication in China prior to the release of WeChat. While QQ is still often used for corporate communication among white-collar workers but, the user base is younger than on other platforms and is more popular in 3rd and 4th tier cit

Tencent Games

Tencent is one of the largest video game conglomerates in the world. With ownership stakes in several American video game developers and publishers ranging from complete control to small investments. Among the games it has stakes in or owns outright are Call of Duty: Warzone, Fortnite and League of Legends.

Tencent Games is the video game publishing division of Tencent Interactive Entertainment, which itself a division of Tencent Holdings. It has has 5 internal studio groups, including TiMi Studio Group. Tencent Games was founded in 2003 to focus on online games. Riot Games is Tencent's best-known subsidiary. It is the creator the mass multiplayer online battle arena game League of Legends.

Tencent holds many investments in domestic and, since the 2010s, foreign game companies.It has five internal studio groups, TiMi Studio Group, Lightspeed & Quantum Studio Group, Aurora Studio Group, Morefun Studio and Next Studio. Tencent is also widely invested in American gaming and social media companies, including Snap, Activision Blizzard and the makers of Fortnite, Clash of Clans and League of Legends.

Call of Duty: Warzone is published by Activision Blizzard. Tencent has a 5 percent stake. It belongs the hugely popular Battle Royale genre in which large number of players are pitted against each other in an open map to be the last team standing. Fortnite is published by Epic Games. Tencent has a 40 percent stake. It is so popular it has been described as “a cultural behemoth the likes of which gaming has maybe never seen before,” [Source: businessofbusiness.com]

League of Legends is published by Riot Games. Tencent is the sole owner. According to businessofbusiness.com: League of Legends is Riot Games’ crown jewel, and the only game it leaned on for 10 years. League of Legends was the match that lit the fire under the Multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre just like Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite did for Battle Royale.

Tencent Acquisitions, Including 5 Percent of Tesla

As part of an effort to rebuild its reputation after being accused of copying, Tencent shifted its focus to aggressively investing in the acquisition of other companies, rather than in the replication of them. By 2020, Tencent had invested in over 800 companies across the world. In the mid 2010s Tencent took major stakes in logistics firm China South City and e-commerce firm JD.com to make more inroads in e-commerce. Tencent owned 17.1 percent of JD.com,China’s No. 2 e-commerce company, and owned part of Pinduoduo, China’s No. 3 e-commerce company until October 2019.,

Tencent has invested in a number of sectors, including gaming, entertainment, cloud computing and online financing. Tencent has invested heavily in world-wide-famous game companies such as Riot Games, Epic Games, Activision Blizzard, SuperCell and Bluehole. It has been said that some of these aggressive acquisitions benefit Tencent by reducing competition, it doesn’t help the acquired companies in terms of their growth and innovation. Colin Huang, founder of Pinduoduo, said “Tencent won't die when Pinduoduo dies, because it has tens of thousands of sons.” [Source: Wikipedia]

In 2017, Tencent has spent $1.78 billion to acquire a 5 percent stake in electric carmaker Tesla. The BBC reported: “Tesla said the stake was passive, meaning Tencent would not get a say in how the US firm was run. Tencent has backed several electric vehicle companies in the past. Tencent is now the fifth-largest shareholder in Tesla behind chief executive Elon Musk and investment companies Fidelity, Baillie Gifford and T Rowe Price. Tencent was an early investor in NextEV, a Shanghai-based start-up which since has rebranded itself as Nio and has offices in San Jose, California, close to Tesla's base. Mr Musk remains the largest shareholder, with a stake of about 21 percent as of the end of 2016.[Source: BBC, March 29 2017]

“Tencent is no stranger to putting money into US companies. Recent investments have included Snapchat-owner Snap and US Uber-rival Lyft-both of which have tech at their heart. So its backing of Tesla can be seen as a vote of confidence in Elon Musk and his ambitious plans to produce affordable electric cars, and later fully self-driving vehicles. More importantly, and perhaps why Tesla's shares jumped on this news, Tencent could conceivably help Tesla make better inroads into the Chinese market. In 2016, Tesla's sales in the world's most populous nation topped $1bn-but that is a fraction of what it was turning over in the US. Mr Musk has said he sees Tencent as an "adviser" as well as an investor, and the Chinese giant should have plenty of insight having already invested in businesses that are focusing on the future of transport.

“As well as being an early backer of NextEV, it owns a slice of Didi Chuxing, the Chinese ride-sharing giant that effectively muscled Uber out of the market, as well as a stake in HERE, the German consortium owned by BMW, Audi and Daimler. And recently Tencent Chairman Ma Huateng said he could see his firm getting involved in developing artificial intelligence (AI) technology for driverless cars in the future.

Tencent Hated Less as Its Dominance Grows

Pony Ma in 2011

Li Yuan wrote in the New York Times:“But one reason may be that the industry is no longer clamoring for somebody to take Tencent down. In fact, it has in many ways become the industry’s biggest and most deep-pocketed cheerleader. The company has managed to revamp its image by throwing money at the little guys and buying off competitors rather than driving them out of business. [Source: Li Yuan, New York Times, June 2, 2021]

“No longer Public Enemy No. 1, Tencent now enjoys a status akin to an enlightened ruler of an expansive tech empire. A big chunk of the Chinese internet industry now belongs to what’s known as the Tencent ecosystem. That includes the hundreds of companies that it has invested in, including Mr. Wang’s — Tencent is now Meituan’s biggest shareholder, with a 21 percent stake. (Meituan didn’t respond to a request for comment.)

“Tencent’s cozy relationships with many industry players may serve the company well. But it could still hold back competition and ultimately hurt China’s one billion internet users. “Both Alibaba and Tencent control a lot of online resources,” said Yin Sheng, a tech consultant in Beijing. “Both of them can cause tremendous harm to our society if they choose to do evil.”

“Few technology investors and executives will talk about either company publicly. But even confidentially, when I put my pen down and my notebook away, I hear a lot of grousing about how Alibaba treats the companies it invests in and the merchants who use its platforms — complaints that Alibaba hotly disputes. By contrast, these same people often describe Tencent and its founders as decent, humble and well behaved. Some of that niceness comes from business necessity. Cozy relationships help cement Tencent’s power in China.

“Most important, Tencent is a platform operator. It runs WeChat, a mobile messaging app with social media and financial services abilities. The WeChat business is where it becomes important for the company to have friends. WeChat needs other companies to keep its one billion users glued to the app. An operating system and an app store in its own right, WeChat allows users to run miniprograms created and run by other companies. Those users can make purchases using WeChat’s payment system. Tesla, Airbnb and Starbucks all have their own WeChat miniprograms. So do most of major Chinese websites — barring those that WeChat forbids. That’s where Tencent’s good relationships within the industry become important. Friendly companies build miniprograms for WeChat. Tencent invested in China’s ride-sharing and bike-sharing companies because their users pay frequently, and Tencent wanted them to use WeChat Pay.

Tencent: Savvy Investor or Innovation Inhibitor

Li Yuan wrote in the New York Times:“Tencent is a venture capital investor. In 2020, it lagged beind only Sequoia Capital, the Silicon Valley investment firm, in terms of the number of unicorns — start-ups valued at over $1 billion — it has invested in, according to the Hurun Report, a Shanghai research firm. By its own account, it has invested in more than 800 companies, including a 12 percent stake in Snap and 5 percent in Tesla. By comparison, GV, formerly Google Ventures and the most active corporate venture capital arm in the United States, has invested in more than 500 companies. [Source: Li Yuan, New York Times, June 2, 2021]

Pony Ma likes to say that half of Tencent’s life lies in the hands of its portfolio companies and partners. “When you grow, we grow together. When you fail, we as a platform fail, too,” he told a TV talk show in 2016. That’s glossing over the huge power imbalance between Tencent and the many satellite companies in its orbit. Colin Huang, founder of Pinduoduo, hinted at that in a 2018 interview, in which he groused that WeChat declined to help censor accusations about fake merchandise on his shopping platform. “Tencent won’t die when Pinduoduo dies,” he said, “because it has tens of thousands of sons.”

“No matter how decent or humble Tencent may act, it’s a giant conglomerate with $24 billion in profit last year and spends much of it on investment. It picks winners and losers, but the winners won’t always be the best out there, thus harming innovation and efficiency. It limits user access to other products and services. Its WeChat app doesn’t allow users to share links for merchandise on Alibaba’s Taobao online marketplace or for short videos on Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese sister company. (Other platforms block Tencent’s services.) When three social messaging apps were launched in January 2019, they were blocked on WeChat immediately.

“Douyin’s parent, ByteDance, shows the possibilities when a company goes it alone. In its early days, ByteDance’s founder, Zhang Yiming, took a small investment from Tencent to fend off the company but resisted tighter ties. In a response to rumors that Tencent would invest in ByteDance in 2016, Mr. Zhang wrote that he didn’t start ByteDance to become a Tencent employee. He posted the lyrics of the song “Go Big or Go Home.” ByteDance’s independence paid off. It’s now valued at nearly $400 billion with a few hugely popular online content apps, including TikTok, the first Chinese internet product that became a global phenomenon.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2022

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