Bin (Tony) Zhao, founder, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Agora, is a pioneer in web conferencing and videoconferencing applications. He was a founding engineer at WebEx (now Cisco WebEx) in 1997 and played an integral role in a small founding team that developed real-time audio sessions for the company. Today, Tony continues the visionary quest he started in 2014 with the founding of Agora to create meaningful human connections around the world through real-time engagement.
Ag·o·ra: (in ancient Greece) a public open space used for assemblies and markets.
When my friends and I first began dreaming about our vision for Agora, the idea of an open space for connecting with others kept coming to mind. With the smartphone becoming a mainstream device and mobile audio and video capabilities boasting higher and higher quality, we set out to create virtual environments where people could connect—no matter what corner of the world they, their families, their friends, or their colleagues existed in.
In the bustling, ancient Greek city-states, the “agora” was the heart of the community. A public space for engaging fellow citizens in politics, socializing, learning, conducting business, and much more. People depended on the space to connect with one another in many different ways.
Almost a decade ago, I, alongside ten friends, in a small house in Mountain View, California began to work on the original code for SD-RTN, which ultimately led to the incorporation of Agora Labs, the first headquarters of Agora, Inc. in 2014.
Within one month, we had a rough prototype, but we kept at it, staying true to our vision in building an API Platform company, not an app company, that would power many unique real-time engagement (RTE) innovations. Today, Agora has achieved beyond any early imagination.
In three months after that initial coding session, we had the first release-ready product.
Fast forward to today, and it’s hard for me to conceive that Agora is celebrating its first anniversary as a publicly traded company. We have moved quickly.
Since we listed on the Nasdaq in June 2020 under the ticker “API,” a nod to our vision to make Agora an RTE Platform as a Service (PaaS), there have been so many victories for our team. For starters, real-time engagement powered by Agora now exceeded 50 billion minutes per month for the first time ever in Q1 of this year. In addition to our founding headquarters in California, we now have offices all over the world and thousands of customers in more than 100 countries.
How did we accomplish so much in such a short period of time?
Of course, it’s our people who drive Agora’s business and innovation every day. From Santa Clara to New York to London to Shanghai, the Agora family is among the greatest collection of talent and spirit that I’ve ever had the honor to work with.
The trusted partnership between Agora, our partners and customers allow us to create amazing apps like virtual yoga training, weddings and virtual events, karaoke and games, remote work tools and metaverses, and much more.
As an engineer, it is my mission to always be “developer-first.” That’s why we created an RTE PaaS company, to be developer and innovation first.
I wanted to share with you all, a community of RTE evangelists and developers, some of the proudest moments I’ve had in the past year.
Real-Time Engagement (RTE) Recognized as a Category of Its Own
When we first conceived the company, we knew that it was going to be difficult introducing a new category to the market. After all these years, I’m proud of the fact that we created the category and coined the term RTE.
As we geared up to take Agora public, we knew differentiating the merits of RTE from other offerings on the market would be difficult. Even with these challenges, we knew we had something truly special to bring to the world.
Slowly but surely, our platform gained traction, the demand for real-time engagement increased exponentially, even in industries that hadn’t previously recognized its need. Ultimately everyone from journalists, competitors, and investors began to clearly understand our vision, and even our competitors now use the RTE term we created.
Today, RTE is a commonly used term across all industries, describing a virtual environment that boasts meaningful human connections between millions of people all over the globe and across any app, anytime, anywhere.
Whether it’s an edtech platform for virtual learning, a virtual taproom to connect friends around the world through a drink, or a space to conduct mobile therapy or treatment with a doctor, RTE defines an unparalleled level of effective, engaging, virtual collaboration in an era marked by video conferencing fatigue.
Putting a Stake in the Ground for Developers
I’m a developer by trade and will always think about the developer’s experience in everything we create. At Agora, we have adopted a developer-first philosophy and mentality. Agora was built by and for developers.
In the last year, we have solidified our position as such, being one of the only voice, video, and live streaming solutions that stood strongly behind the power of the $API from the beginning. We were never looking to focus on creating a consumer-facing product. Instead, we wanted to create a highly-customizable, brandable platform solution developers and companies around the world could use to personalize their unique real-time engagement needs and requirements.
Looking ahead, we will continue to prioritize making no-code, low-code, and your-code solutions that make integrating RTE simple for the most experienced developers all the way to the creators with no technical background whatsoever. The strength and success of Agora has always been defined by the use cases it powers, and I can’t wait to see where our community of developers takes our technology next. I have to say, I wake up each day and am continually surprised at the use cases our partners and customers dream up.
We Are, and Always Will Be, a Global Company
The very nature of our technology supports a hybrid, highly globalized workplace. As we have all had to face the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic over the past year, Agora is lucky to have been able to continue growing our business in the way that we initially envisioned in those early coding days in the small Mountain View home.
With the creation of the Agora Startup Program, we are passionate about supporting great ideas and helping founders in every geographical region. Our team strives to help them incorporate RTE into their apps and platforms by offering the extra support they need for success.
Similarly, we are taking a more globalized approach with our hiring. Our team was purpose-built for remote collaboration and our HR department is hard at work to find the most talented pool of candidates to join our team from across the world. The more diversity of thought and experience we have, the better Agora’s suite of offerings will become. For this, we are, and always will be, a global company dedicated to serving the needs of varying countries and cultures around the world.
I would like to express my appreciation for the continued innovation of our customers, support of our partners, dedication and passion of my fellow Agorans, past, present and future.
Cheers to you and thank you for celebrating Agora’s first IPO anniversary alongside me!