Ma Huateng is 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.
Ma was born on October 29, 1971 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 enrolled in Shenzhen University in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. He 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.
In November 1998, he founded Tencent Computer System Co. with few resources. At first, Ma focused on text messaging, but soon he transformed Tencent into a Chinese answer to America Online’s AIM, enabling users to contact one another instantly while online. In February 1999, with the QQ instant messaging service at its fore, Ma launched an instant messaging service platform, ensuring that Tencent appealed to his target audience.
As chairman of the board and CEO of Tencent, Ma built the company through pure determination, listening to consumers rather than to internet analysts or critics. In late 1999, Tencent received funding of US$2.2 million from venture capitalists IDG Technology Venture Investments and PCCW (Millennium Vocal Limited, a division of a South African media company, bought the shares from the two venture capitalists later). After years of strong business growth, on 16 July 2004 Tencent Holdings Limited (SEHK 700) went public on the main board of Hong Kong stock exchange as a leading provider of internet, mobile, and telecommunication value-added services in China.
Ma showed an uncanny ability to adapt international models for the Chinese market and a strong insight into consumer desires. He developed a talented team, expanded business networks, and struck a balance between providing free services to attract users and benefiting financially from growing user bases. Through its various online platforms, including instant messaging QQ, web portal QQ.com, mobile QQ, mobile chat, QQ dating, QQ show, QQ mail, QQ game portal, and multi-media blog service Qzone, Tencent fulfills the user’s needs for communication, information, entertainment, and e-commerce. Today Tencent dominates China’s instant-messaging market with a share of more than 60 percent, and has defeated fierce rivals such as Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL. Ma’s success is largely a result of promoting the company’s cute brand. Tencent derives a big part of its revenue from sales of ‘avatars,’ cartoon characters that Tencent users pay to adopt as their online personalities.
Tencent currently operates three principal lines of business: internet value-added services, mobile and telecommunication value-added services, and online advertising. The QQ community now comprises more than 100 million users worldwide, and QQ.com is recognized as the highest-traffic portal website in China. To foster rapid growth, Ma built strong strategic relationships with telecommunication operators and terminal device manufacturers in China. In February 2005, Ma formed an alliance with Google, and integrated Google’s search facility into Tencent’s portal.
Ma’s vision for the web is personalization, and he came up with a new strategy: ‘Online Lifestyle’ after Tencent’s IPO in 2004. Sales in 2004 were US$138 million, up 55 percent on the previous year, and sales in 2006 soared to US$368 million, up 96.3 percent over 2005. The firm’s stock value has increased eightfold in three years. Tencent has grown into a powerhouse that has crushed everyone else in the field. Even China’s Central Bank is monitoring Tencent’s virtual currency, Q-coins, which allow customers to shop online for games, music, and even virtual furniture.
"Even those companies that are majority or privately held are likely to be influenced or controlled by the government".