HONG KONG - ByteDance CEO Liang Rubo warned employees at a company-wide meeting on Tuesday that the TikTok owner risks becoming complacent and slipping into mediocrity as it faces challenges from newer startups.

Liang said the Beijing-based company's rapid expansion in recent years had made it less efficient, and it had not paid enough attention to groundbreaking artificial intelligence technology, according to a ByteDance post about the meeting on social media.

"Our company is not sensitive enough (to new technologies)," Liang said. "For example, discussions about GPT did not appear in our half-year tech review until 2023, although GPT-1 was already released in 2018."

GPT refers to a machine learning technique that has given OpenAI's ChatGPT chatbot human-like accuracy.

ByteDance is often seen as the world's leading company on algorithms because its flagship apps such as TikTok, Douyin and Toutiao are powered by commanding recommendation engines.

But the company, nicknamed "App Factory" due to its aggressive iteration of mobile applications, has been slow to the AI race that is disrupting the technology sector.

Other Chinese tech tycoons ranging from JD.com founder Richard Liu to Tencent Chairman Pony Ma are also now calling on their companies to be more efficient and refrain from becoming complacent.

Highlighting ByteDance' late start on AI foundation models, Liang said the companies with better models created them between 2018 and 2021.

"For many good startup teams, they are very familiar with the industry. They can quickly spot any new projects appearing on GitHub, and then they start seeking acquisition or partnership opportunities," he said, referring to the online depository for computer codes.

Liang added ByteDance was suffering from too much internal red tape as the company expanded, with it now taking six months to work on projects that a startup could complete in one month.

(Reporting by Josh Ye; Editing by Jamie Freed)