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Inside TikTok: Culture, strategy, monetization, and more | Ray Cao (Global Head of Monetization Product Strategy and Operations)

Inside TikTok: Culture, strategy, monetization, and more | Ray Cao (Global Head of Monetization Product Strategy and Operations)


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Ray (Jiayi) Cao is the global head of product strategy and operations for monetization product at TikTok. Prior to TikTok, Ray spent six years at Google helping scale Google Shopping globally. In our conversation, we discuss:

  • TikTok’s internal culture and core values

  • How TikTok’s product team operates

  • How working at TikTok is different from working at Google

  • How TikTok rolls out to new markets

  • TikTok’s core principle of “context, not control”

  • How their sales and product teams work together

  • Lessons (and mistakes) from building TikTok’s early go-to-market team

  • The importance of hiring for quality rather than quantity

  • Insights on being successful on TikTok as a creator, a business, and an advertiser

Some takeaways:

  1. Despite TikTok’s size, the company prioritizes speed and innovation to outpace competitors. Ray describes TikTok’s thinking as “How can I run the second half of my marathon faster than the first?”

  2. TikTok fosters a leadership culture of “context, not control” that encourages ownership and decentralized decision-making. High-performing individuals and teams, armed with diverse organizational insights, can make well-informed decisions quickly.

  3. TikTok wins global markets by hiring locally and refining algorithms to fit regional and local cultures. Understanding local users’ behaviors and tastes and catering to their needs is crucial to the company’s success.

  4. It’s important to maintain high hiring standards even when facing intense pressure to scale quickly. Hiring the wrong individuals not only fails to expedite processes but actually slows down overall progress.

  5. Startups looking to advertise on TikTok should begin by establishing an organic presence, testing content, and then gradually transitioning to targeted ads. TikTok recommends reacting to trends and refining advertising strategies based on performance, while being authentic and culturally relevant to maximize reach.

  6. To be successful on TikTok, be authentic. You don’t need to present a polished image. Instead, be genuine and share things that you are passionate about. The platform values content that feels real and relatable.

Listen now on Apple, Spotify, Overcast, and YouTube.

Where to find Ray Cao:

• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jiayiraycao/

Where to find Lenny:

• Newsletter: https://www.lennysnewsletter.com

• X: https://twitter.com/lennysan

• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lennyrachitsky/

In this episode, we cover:

(00:00) Ray’s background

(04:55) Cultural differences between Google and TikTok

(08:24) Fine-tuning the algorithm for different markets

(12:15) Examples of fine-tuning the algorithm 

(15:11) Core principles and values of TikTok

(19:34) Hiring at TikTok

(21:38) Embracing the “always day one” mentality 

(25:09) Collaboration between teams

(28:38) Amazon’s cultural influence 

(31:14) Setting up the product organization for speed and innovation

(35:38) Building the go-to-market team

(40:18) What makes people successful at TikTok

(43:02) Thoughts on putting in long hours

(44:40) OKRs and planning at TikTok

(49:12) Tips for how to be successful on TikTok

(53:49) Tips for advertising on TikTok

(01:04:03) Getting started with TikTok Ads

(01:08:42) Common mistakes to avoid with TikTok advertising

(01:09:44) Ray’s favorite TikTok account

(01:10:54) Where to find Ray


• TikTok: https://tiktok.com/

• Google Shopping: https://shopping.google.com/

• Eugene Wei’s blog: https://www.eugenewei.com/

• TikTok and the Sorting Hat: https://www.eugenewei.com/blog/2020/8/3/tiktok-and-the-sorting-hat

• How Netflix builds a culture of excellence | Elizabeth Stone (CTO): https://www.lennyspodcast.com/how-netflix-builds-a-culture-of-excellence-elizabeth-stone-cto/

• Inside OpenAI | Logan Kilpatrick (head of developer relations): https://www.lennyspodcast.com/inside-openai-logan-kilpatrick-head-of-developer-relations/

• Brian Chesky’s new playbook: https://www.lennyspodcast.com/brian-cheskys-new-playbook/

• Lead with Context not Control: https://www.svpg.com/lead-with-context-not-control/

• Shuba on TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@tiktokbrownchick

• Duolingo on TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@duolingo

• Duolingo leagues: https://duolingo.fandom.com/wiki/League

• CapCut: https://www.capcut.com/

• Amanda Talijan (silent baby item reviews) on TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@amanda_talijan/video/7321700482018233642

Production and marketing by https://penname.co/. For inquiries about sponsoring the podcast, email podcast@lennyrachitsky.com.

Lenny may be an investor in the companies discussed.

Lenny's Newsletter
Lenny's Podcast: Product | Growth | Career
Interviews with world-class product leaders and growth experts to uncover concrete, actionable, and tactical advice to help you build, launch, and grow your own product.