TikTok lures Google and Facebook employees to fuel aggressive expansion plans

Key Points
  • TikTok is turning to Silicon Valley giants like Google and Facebook as the wildly popular video-sharing app looks to grow its workforce.
  • The Chinese-owned social media app has hired several executives from Google and Facebook in the last year. 

In this article

ByteDance has been boosting its gaming arm Nuverse through a hiring spree and in March acquired gaming studio Moonton.
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TikTok has been raiding the offices of U.S. tech giants on both sides of the Atlantic as it looks to significantly increase the size of its global workforce.

Despite the threat of a U.S. ban from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, TikTok announced this week that it plans to hire 10,000 people in the country over the next three years. Its largest U.S. offices are in Mountain View, California, and New York.

The Chinese-owned video sharing app, which already employs 1,400 people in the U.S., has hired dozens of staff from Google and Facebook including several high-profile executives. TikTok and Facebook declined to comment. Google did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

Worldwide, TikTok employs 172 ex-Googlers and 165 ex-Facebookers, according to analysis on LinkedIn. Breaking out the U.S. numbers, TikTok employs 79 people who used to work at Google and 79 who used to work at Facebook. Some of them left Google and Facebook years ago but many of them have recently quit the Silicon Valley firms to join TikTok, which has become wildly popular in the last year.

Notable hires include Blake Chandlee, who was Facebook's vice president of global partnerships until recently. He left in January after more than 12 years at the company to become TikTok's VP of global business solutions, based in New York.

There's also Chen-Lin Lee, who left Facebook last year after nine years and now works as TikTok's director of partnerships in Mountain View. Prior to Facebook he worked at Google.

TikTok is also hiring recruiting professionals from U.S. tech giants to help it expand in the country. Kim Louie, a recruiting manager at Facebook until March, is TikTok's head of talent acquisitions, based in New York. Louie was a technical sourcer at Google before she joined Facebook.

Raymond Chen left his technical recruiter role at Google's New York office last month to join TikTok's talent acquisition team and hunt out security talent.

European hires

It's a similar story in Europe, where Facebook lost another veteran to TikTok recently.

Trevor Johnson, who spent over 11 years at Facebook before becoming Instagram's director of market operations in EMEA, joined TikTok as head of marketing and global business solutions in Europe this year.

Theo Bertram, Google's senior manager of public policy in Europe, left in December to join TikTok, where he is now director of government relations and public policy for Europe.

David Hoctor, who worked in Facebook's global accounts team in London, joined TikTok in April 2019 to work on building the company's partnerships with brands.

None of the TikTok hires immediately responded to CNBC's request for comment.

Timothy Armoo, chief executive of Fanbytes, a company that helps brands advertise through social video, told CNBC that people at Google and Facebook have the playbook for building a large advertising business.

"TikTok is at this crucial position where it's opening up commercially to the brand world, and they need people who can execute on this vision," he said. 

Armoo also noted how Facebook has "been through the privacy rite of passage" that every dominant social network goes through. "By equipping themselves with people who understand this dynamic, they are making sure they are future proof," he said. "With the level of momentum they have, I think they can be a real challenge to the duopoly."

Elsewhere, TikTok has hired 57 people who used to work at Amazon and 40 who used to work at Apple, according to LinkedIn analysis.

TikTok has a total of 4,658 employees, according to LinkedIn. However, the actual number could be slightly more or slightly less than this.

TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, which reportedly made a profit of $3 billion on $17 billion of revenue last year.

ByteDance, which employs over 60,000 people worldwide, said in March it wants to have 100,000 by the end of the year.

Staff at the U.S. tech giants are paid some of the best salaries in the world.

However, TikTok is also offering big salaries. The company is willing to pay a lead machine-learning engineer an annual basic salary of £200,000 ($246,000), according to a tech worker who claims to have been approached for the role and spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the discussions. 

Matthew Brennan, a China-based social media analyst, told CNBC that aggressive hiring practices and poaching of staff from rivals is the norm in the Chinese tech industry.

"Yet, even within that environment, ByteDance is notorious for its persistence and assertiveness," he said. "In the company's early years, the key technical talents were all poached from Baidu, the Chinese search equivalent of Google. The company is well known to offer generous above-market compensation to lure away those it wants."