TikTok has quietly made London its main hub in Europe

Real Estate

TikTok’s London office is based out of a WeWork building in Holborn called Aviation House.

WeWork

TikTok, the wildly popular social media app that has become a go-to app for young people, has quietly made London its main hub in Europe, according to analysis of LinkedIn, the company’s careers page, and sources with knowledge of the matter. 

For anyone that’s been living in a bubble, TikTok is a video app where people can share short clips of up to 15 seconds. It’s full of people doing lip syncs, dances, tricks and various other things that have the potential to go viral. 

Owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, TikTok has been downloaded over 2 billion times, according to app monitoring firm Sensor Tower. The company’s biggest office is in Los Angeles, but London has quietly emerged as a close second.

Europe is full of cities that have gained a reputation as global tech hubs but London is the only city on the continent where TikTok is currently recruiting engineers to build new features for its app. It’s a gentle nod to the caliber of the city’s tech talent. 

“They are on a big hiring spree,” said a London tech worker who was approached by a TikTok recruiter and wishes to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the discussions. 

The salaries on offer at TikTok are already tempting staff away from companies like Google and Facebook, according to analysis on LinkedIn. 

CNBC contacted TikTok but the company declined to comment. 

Chinese roots

The TikTok app is the international version of ByteDance’s local app Douyin. In 2017, ByteDance bought a rival U.S. app called Musical.ly for around $1 billion and eventually merged it with TikTok.

To support the app’s booming popularity, which has been turbocharged by the coronavirus lockdowns, TikTok has set up offices of varying sizes in 41 countries, according to its website. In Europe, TikTok also has offices in Paris, Berlin and Dublin.

TikTok does not disclose how many people it employs but LinkedIn suggests it has 2,948 employees worldwide. This is likely to be slightly higher than the actual number. It is currently recruiting for another 824 jobs worldwide, according to its official careers site. Of those roles, 117 are in London, which is more than any other city. 

TikTok’s careers website shows that the company is currently searching for a lead machine-learning engineer to oversee trust and safety, as well as an iOS engineer, a software engineer, a lead solutions engineer, and a solutions engineer. TikTok is also recruiting a product manager in London to oversee Europe.

Competitive salaries

TikTok is willing to pay the lead machine-learning engineer an annual basic salary of £200,000 ($246,000), according to a tech worker who claims they were approached for the role. The source, who also wishes to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the discussions, said they were told the lead machine-learning engineer will manage a team of around 10 staff.

Of the other roles being advertised, 110 are in Mountain View (where Google is headquartered), 91 are in Los Angeles, 61 are in New York, and 60 are in Singapore.  

The offices in Singapore, Dublin, and Mountain View are known as what TikTok calls trust and safety hubs, and this is where armies of moderators review the videos posted on TikTok’s platform. They also house policy people who engage with governments and other workers who deal with law enforcement requests. 

London is a global city with world class universities nearby such as Imperial College London, University College London, Oxford, and Cambridge. U.S. tech giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter have already set up large glitzy offices with thousands of people in the city. Inside the workers are kept happy with free canteens, gyms, and yoga lessons. 

Alex Zhu, CEO of TikTok

John Phillips | Getty Images

TikTok has recruited a number of staff from these firms, according to LinkedIn analysis. In December, Google veteran Theo Bertram left the search giant and joined TikTok as director of government relations and public policy for Europe. 

Elsewhere, Ross Baron left his recruitment lead role at Facebook last March to become TikTok’s head of recruiting for Western Europe.

There are several other examples of people leaving Silicon Valley firms to join TikTok in London. 

TikTok’s decision to make London its main hub in Europe is a vote of confidence in the U.K. capital and a sign that large international tech companies haven’t been put off by Brexit. 

Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates, told CNBC that London is “uniquely placed to serve rapidly scaling companies like TikTok.” 

“The city is home to some of the world’s best digital talent, a body of unrivaled academic and research institutions, and a government that has set its agenda as wholly supportive of innovation and growth in the U.K.’s tech ecosystem,” he said. 

Security threat

As TikTok has soared to fame, it has had to grapple with a number of contentious issues. 

Last November, the U.S. government launched a national security review of ByteDance’s acquisition of Musical.ly. The U.S. government is said to be concerned that the Chinese company may be censoring politically sensitive content and worried about how user data is stored. 

In December, The Wall Street Journal reported that TikTok was considering setting up a new global headquarters in London, Singapore, or Dublin. The company is yet to confirm any plans around this.

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