The Real Billionaires Behind Temu, The Startup Whose ‘Shop Like a Billionaire’ Ads Flooded the Super Bowl

With its Chinese root and rapid rise in the U.S., Temu is the e-commerce equivalent to TikTok.

Temu Photo Illustrations
Temu is owned by Pinduoduo, one of China’s largest online shopping sites. Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

During this year’s Super Bowl, a relatively unknown online retailer called Temu made an impression on American viewers after spending $21 million on three commercials that aired Sunday night. Temu made its Super Bowl debut last year with the slogan, “Shop like a billionaire.” This year, its ads followed the same theme and featured $0.99 kitchen supplies and $9.99 evening dresses, among other incredibly low-priced goods available on the site.

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Temu launched in the U.S. in September 2022 and quickly attracted 50 million monthly users by January this year, as per the market researcher Sensor Tower. Now, it accounts for roughly 17 percent of the U.S.’s discount store market share, competing with traditional retailers like Dollar Tree and Five Below as well as Amazon. Temu is the overseas arm of Pinduoduo, a Nasdaq-listed Chinese e-commerce giant with over 750 million monthly users. PDD boasts a market cap of approximately $174.6 billion, making it China’s eighth-largest company and the second-largest online retailer behind ALIBABA (BABA).

The man behind Pinduoduo’s success is Colin Huang, who founded the company in 2015 and served as CEO until July 2020 and board chairman until March 2021. Huang was born to factory workers in Hangzhou, a city in eastern China. He attended Zhejiang University, a top school in China, and earned a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin in 2004. The same year, he was hired by Google as an engineer.

In 2006, Huang returned to China to join Google’s China unit led by Kai-fu Lee. Huang resigned shortly after to found an e-commerce site called Oku, which he sold for $2.2 million in 2010. Pinduoduo is Huang’s fourth startup and the most successful one to date. Within a few years, he was recognized as one of China’s wealthiest self-made entrepreneurs. In 2021, Forbes put him No. 6 on its “Rich List of Mainland China,” with a net worth of roughly $30 billion. When he resigned from PDD that year, Huang explained he was leaving to pursue “new, long-term opportunities.”

Huang had two cofounders in PDD. One of them Lei Chen, who is three years Huang’s junior and currently serves as PDD’s chairman and co-CEO. Chen was previously the chief technology officer of Xinyoudi Studio, an online gaming company also founded by Huang in 2011. Chen attended China’s prestigious Tsinghua University and received a Ph.D in computer science from the University of Wisconsin, where he likely met Huang.

PDD’s third founder and current co-CEO is Jiazhen Zhao. He previously served as the company’s senior vice president from 2018 to 2023, leading the shopping site’s grocery and agriculture businesses. Zhao holds a degree in e-commerce management from the South China University of Technology.

It’s unclear who leads PDD’s U.S. based Temu operations. Temu did not immediately respond to Observer’s request for comment. The company’s LinkedIn page also does not list any C-suite executives.

Temu’s rapid rise in the U.S. brings to mind the story of TikTok, the overseas version of viral Chinese short-form video platform Douyin. (Both companies are owned by China-based ByteDance.) As Temu gains notoriety in the U.S., regulators have increasingly scrutinized the company. Last June, the U.S. Congress investigated Temu and Shein, another popular Chinese online shopping site, over alleged use of forced labor in their supply chains. “Temu is doing next to nothing to keep its supply chains free from slave labor. At the same time, Temu and Shein are building empires around the de minimis loophole in our import rules—dodging import taxes and evading scrutiny on the millions of goods they sell to Americans,” Mike Gallagher, chairman of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, said in a statement at the time.

Gallagher was referring to the allegation that Temu and Shein have taken advantage of a trade loophole allowing foreign goods valued under $800 to enter the U.S. duty-free. The investigation found that Temu and Shein accounted for 30 percent of all imported goods using this tax exemption in 2022. In contrast, Gap and H&M, whose products are primarily manufactured overseas, paid $700 million and $205 million in import duties, respectively.

The Real Billionaires Behind Temu, The Startup Whose ‘Shop Like a Billionaire’ Ads Flooded the Super Bowl