Pony Ma is the co-founder and chief executive of Tencent Holdings, a publicly traded Chinese multinational investment holding conglomerate with subsidiaries in the internet, entertainment, AI and technology. Among its platforms are popular messaging apps QQ and WeChat, which counts 1 billion users. Ma has turned his sights on the fashion and e-commerce vertical, investing in Flipkart, Vipshop and Zhuan Zhuan in 2017 alone, and acquiring stakes in e-tailer Meilishuo, which merged with competitor Mogujie in 2016 to form Meili Inc in 2016, and social commerce platform Xiaohongshu.
Ma — whose Chinese name is Ma Huateng — graduated from Shenzhen University with a degree in computer science, and then developed software for China Motion Telecom Development, earning $176 a month. He founded Tencent in November 1998 with a university classmate — its first product was an instant messaging software similar to AOL’s ICQ chat, named QQ. It quickly became China’s largest instant-messaging platform.
By 2001, the company had accrued over $32 million in investment and in 2004 went public in a Hong Kong listing. Then, in 2011, Tencent debuted its messaging app for mobiles, WeChat (called Weixin in China), which is often compared to Facebook due to its ubiquity in China. The mega-app allows users to text, call, play games, hail taxis, send money, shop and pay.
Tencent is also one of the world’s largest investment corporations, with stakes in Epic Games, Snapchat and Spotify. It has made inroads in e-commerce and retail, too. In 2017 alone, Ma invested $1.4 billion in Indian e-commerce platform Flipkart, $863 million in Chinese online discount e-tailer Vipshop with JD.com and $200 million in Zhuan Zhuan, a secondhand clothes retailer. Tencent also owns stakes in Meili Inc., which is seeking a $4 billion US IPO, Pinduoduo, a social commerce app, Xiaohongshu, a shopping platform, and menswear firm, Heilan.
In August 2018, Ma was China's second richest man, with a net worth of more than $36 billion.