TikTok’s Managing Director Talks About the App’s Future

The shortform video sharing app has had a wild 12 months. The next year will be even crazier. But what is TikTok? And where’s it going?

Chris Stokel-Walker
FFWD
Published in
6 min readDec 27, 2019

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Image: TikTok/Chris Stokel-Walker

“There’s a lot going on,” are the first words out of Richard Waterworth’s mouth three days before Christmas. Waterworth, who spent nearly a decade as a European executive at YouTube before moving to TikTok this fall, has seen his rise in the company echo that of the shortform video app he now represents.

Initially brought in to lead TikTok’s marketing in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Waterworth found himself the U.K. general manager of TikTok after just three months in the job.

“The U.K. is one of our most important markets and we have been growing and investing in our local business and team here since day one,” said Alex Zhu, TikTok’s president, who himself knows a bit about speedy growth. When I spoke to him in the middle of 2016 about his young startup app called Musical.ly, Zhu had spend the night trying to patch together servers that burnt out from overuse.

“Richard has already made a huge impact on our company in a very short space of time and combined with his deep industry expertise, I am confident that he is the right person to lead the U.K. business into its next phase of growth,” added Zhu. (We spoke the day the Wall Street Journal announced TikTok was searching for a global headquarters outside China, of which London was on the shortlist — but before the story broke.)

Waterworth won’t give out user numbers for TikTok in the U.K., instead saying that the app is “really getting to a large scale” in the country. But we know that TikTok has been downloaded 1.5 billion times worldwide; in the United States, the app is now used by a higher proportion of 13-to-16-year-olds than Twitter and Instagram. And in the U.K., the key demographic showing growth is 16-to-34-year-olds, with particularly pronounced rises in those under 25.

Richard Waterworth. Image: TikTok

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Chris Stokel-Walker
FFWD
Editor for

UK-based freelancer for The Guardian, The Economist, BuzzFeed News, the BBC and more. Tell me your story, or get me to write for you: stokel@gmail.com