Ma Huateng (Chinese: 马化腾; pinyin: Mǎ Huàténg, born on October 29, 1971), also known as Pony Ma, is a Chinese internet entrepreneur. He is the founder, president, chief executive officer and executive board member of Tencent Inc., one of the largest Internet companies in China. The company controls China’s biggest mobile instant messaging service and its subsidiaries provide media, entertainment, internet and mobile phone value-added services.
In 2007 and 2014 Time magazine called him one of the world's most influential people. As of May 2017 he is the 31st richest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of US$24.9 billion, according to the Forbes Global Rich List.
Early life and education
Ma was born in Chaoyang District, Shantou, Guangdong. Not much is known about his early life. In one rare insight into his own psyche, Ma claimed in an interview that as a child he dreamt of becoming an astronomer. When his father, Ma Chenshu, got a job as a port manager in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, the young Ma accompanied him. His father was a member of the Chinese Communist Party.
He was enrolled in Shenzhen University in 1989 and then graduated in 1993 with a Bachelor of Science 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.
Founding of Tencent and early career
Alongside four other classmates, Ma Huateng went on to co-found Tencent in 1998, after making money playing the stock market. In the beginning, Ma took up various roles, ranging from janitor to website designer in a bid to keep the company alive. Like many in China’s tech industry, Ma was inspired by innovations coming out of Europe and the United States and sought to adapt them to the Chinese market. 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 in February 1999 a similar software, with a Chinese interface and a slightly different name – OICQ (or, Open ICQ). The product quickly became popular and garnered more than a million registered users by the end of 1999, making it one of the largest such services in China.
Talking about the founding of Tencent, he told China Daily in a 2009 interview 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," Ma remembered. In order to solve the problem, Ma asked for bank loans and even talked about selling the company.
Since Tencent's prized service QICQ was offered free of charge, the company looked to venture capitalists to finance its growing operational costs. In 2000, Ma turned to US investment firm IDC and Hong Kong’s telecom carrier Pacific Century CyberWorks (PCCW) who bought 40% of Tencent’s shares for $2.2 million. With the pager market declining, Ma improved the messaging platform by allowing QQ users to send messages to mobile handsets. Afterwards, 80% of the company’s revenue came from deals struck with telecom operators who agreed to share message fees.
AOL lawsuit and global fame
After AOL (America Online) bought ICQ in 1998, the company filed a lawsuit against Tencent with the National Arbitration Forum in the United States, claiming that QICQ’s domain names QICQ.com and QICQ.net were in violation of ICQ’s intellectual property rights. Tencent lost and had to shut down the websites. In December 2000, in order to stave off other costly lawsuit, Ma changed the name of the software to QQ (with "Q" and "QQ" used to stand for the word "cute")
After the AOL lawsuit, Ma Huateng decided to expand the business portfolio of Tencent. In 2003, Tencent released its own portal (QQ.com) and made forays into the online games market. By 2004, Tencent became the largest Chinese instant messaging service (holding 74% of the market), prompting Ma to list the company on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. After the company raised $200 million in June’s IPO, Ma quickly became one of the richest people in China’s telecom industry.
In 2004, Tencent launched an online gaming platform and started selling virtual goods to support the games published on that platform (weapons, gaming power), as well as emoticons and ringtones.
At Ma’s behest, Tencent launched in 2005 the C2C platform Paipai.com, a direct competitor to e-ecommerce giant Alibaba.
Mimicking Bill Gates’ Microsoft, Ma Huateng created two competing teams of engineers in 2010 and charged them with creating a new product. After two months, one team presented an app for text messaging and group chat – Weixin – which launched in January 2011. In 2015, Weixin (or WeChat in English), is the largest instant messaging platform in the world, used by 48% of all Internet users.
Other diverse services provided by Tencent include web portals, e-commerce, and multiplayer online games. Online games such as Legend of Yulong and Legend of Xuanyuan boosted revenue by more than half, up to US$ 5.1 billion, with a US$ 1.5 billion profit margin.
In December 2015, Ma Huateng announced that Tencent will build an "internet hospital" set up in Wuzhen that will provide long-distance diagnoses and medicine delivery.
Relationship with the Chinese Communist Party
Because of Tencent’s dominance of the social network and instant messaging markets in China, Ma Huateng’ relationship with the Chinese Communist Party has repeatedly come under scrutiny. Speaking of censorship at a tech conference in Singapore, Ma was quoted as saying "Lots of people think they can speak out and that they can be irresponsible. I think that's wrong […] We are a great supporter of the government in terms of the information security. We try to have a better management and control of the Internet”.
According to the official Tencent website, Ma is a deputy to the 5th Shenzhen Municipal People’s Congress and serves in the 12th National People’s Congress.
Ma uses the nickname Pony, derived from the English translation of his family name, which means “horse.”
Ma Huateng seldom appears in the media and is known for his secretive lifestyle. He believes in the maxim: “Ideas are not important in China – execution is.”
Ma Huateng’s wealth comes from the 9.7% stake in Tencent Holdings. He reportedly owns property in Hong Kong and art pieces worth $150 million. He owns a redeveloped palatial residence of 19,600 sq ft in Hong Kong.
In 2016, Ma transfered $2 billion worth Tencent shares, to his charitable foundation. However Forbes has not decreased his net worth as the shares are still listed under his name.