The Shanghai headquartered software program firm Agora Inc (NASDAQ: API), that’s at present buying and selling at a ~31x LTM EV/S a number of, clocked in 128% yoy development with constructive Free Money Movement final quarter. Given the place present software program valuations are buying and selling, a 31x a number of for a hyper-growth inventory won’t appear unreasonable (particularly if gross sales double in ~15-18 months). Nevertheless, the shocking issue right here is the shortage of money burn, which might’t be stated for a number of of the corporate’s Western friends. Put these numbers within the context of some nice proprietary expertise, and a highly-scalable enterprise mannequin in a quickly rising trade, Agora provides vital upside potential.

On this article, I focus on what Agora precisely does, what makes the expertise particular, the expansion runway forward, and why it is likely to be value a search for traders. I’ve not too long ago taken a place in API in my pretty concentrated fairness portfolio and intend to carry it for a while.

Introducing Agora

Supply: Agora

Agora is a Actual-Time Engagement Platform as a Service (RTE-PaaS) firm. A PaaS is basically a mannequin for constructing and creating functions with out the necessity for sustaining and managing {hardware} and software program infrastructure. Twilio (NYSE: TWLO) is an instance of a PaaS firm, extra particularly CPaaS (Communication-PaaS) that gives APIs (Utility Programming Interfaces) and SDKs (Software program Growth Kits) that concentrate on a broad number of communication companies. Twilio’s merchandise permit builders to combine audio, video, and textual content messaging by completely different channels into quite a lot of use instances with out the back-end complexity. As one would guess, the demand for these use instances rose dramatically because the pandemic struck and Twilio has benefited because of this. Agora has related choices and has been within the real-time engagement recreation for a while, with a extra centered product ecosystem with a video choices bias. The corporate classifies its merchandise below “Actual-Time Engagement” although I see it as an evolving subset of “Communications”.

Supply: F-1 Submitting

It’s first value increasing on what precisely “Actual-Time” means. Actual-time refers to low latency, which in flip is very depending on the back-end community that permits the switch of video or audio. For text-based communication, latency is not significantly a difficulty, however for live-video engagement, there’s lots of room for growth. Zoom (NASDAQ: ZM) existed and largely succeeded due to the corporate’s superior native structure that put it forward in relative progress in direction of the end-goal of creating video-conferencing frictionless. Think about if anybody has entry to nice live-video tech and will combine it in any manner they selected. That is what Agora provides, and seems to have a technological benefit as a platform. The long-term goal right here is actually “real-time”. From video-based buyer engagement, telehealth, on-line schooling, reside video streaming platforms, gaming, seamless broadcasting and webinars, there may be immense potential right here. The use instances are plentiful and the present surroundings has accelerated the sheer demand for these use instances.

Agora’s Community Overlay

Agora’s Software program-Outlined Actual-Time Community (SD-RTN) is the not so secret sauce in reaching the standard required for real-time engagement. Right here is an excerpt from the F-1 submitting:

The true-time information transmission is dealt with by our Software program-Outlined Actual-Time Community, or SD-RTN, which is a digital community overlay on high of the general public web working on greater than 200 co-located information facilities worldwide. Utilizing refined algorithms, the SD-RTN regularly screens and optimizes information transmission paths by the community to reduce latency and packet loss, enabling top quality real-time engagement throughout hundreds of thousands of concurrent customers.

Supply: Agora’s F-1 Filing

Whereas that sounds all effectively and good, to grasp why Agora works in addition to it does, now we have to start out on the shortcomings of present public web and content material supply networks. The SD-RTN solves some main issues and is an important think about contributing to an vital tech moat for the corporate.

Web Networks & SD-RTN

As public web suppliers have advanced, the precedence has all the time been supply and scalability to fulfill exponentially rising appetites for web use instances. Information throughout the web is distributed by a fancy spider net of various bodily networks managed by varied operators. A typical ISP or Internet Service Provider has routing insurance policies by this spider net that prioritize value financial savings (paying much less for transiting information by third-party networks) on the expense of reliability and high quality. Excessive-quality demanding use instances comparable to video and audio undergo from connectivity and latency points.

SD-RTN claims to optimize routing, scaling, and high quality points by an intelligently designed software program overlay. The corporate highlights the advance by “packet loss” measurements and latency. Packets may be conceived as items of information which might be transferred between ingress and egress factors in a community. In Agora’s phrases, a packet is misplaced if the packet is not transferred to the end-point inside a predetermined period of time. Packet loss is accentuated by community congestion, noise and attenuation errors, and occasional community failures. Supply: Agora SD-RTN White Paper

The 200 co-located information centres of Agora’s community are devoted to offering sub-second latency and better uptime when in comparison with incumbents. The chart above was taken from the corporate’s white paper on their community and gives some color on precisely how significantly better their community is in comparison with the common public web.

Content material Supply Networks & SD-RTN

Content Delivery Networks in a way are additionally layers on the web spiderweb that purpose to resolve a number of the aforementioned points for broadcasting giant quantities of information. The normal CDN community structure we have come to know replicates content material from a supply to geographically distributed information centres, that in flip distribute the content material to end-users. To attain high quality, nevertheless, CDN’s have buffers and delays to ship clean decision video streaming. Whereas conventional CDN’s assist with one-way high quality, they fall wanting two-way or multi-party engagement (assume video chat or movies having to be despatched in a number of instructions as half of a big interactive broadcast). The demanding use instances comparable to interactive video require <100ms in latency that turns into troublesome to realize cross nation and cross-continent, and past which the standard of real-time engagement begins to get fairly annoying. I am positive many people have skilled a sub-par VC connection in some kind prior to now week.

Supply: Agora SD-RTN White Paper

The above image considerably summarizes how the SD-RTN capabilities when in comparison with conventional CDN’s with out going too far into the technical stuff. Take into consideration sending a packet over the spider net community. Some paths are nearer than others, some paths are quicker than others. The SD_RTN blasts redundant information to a number of paths to determine which of them are the quickest. It establishes frequent paths throughout a number of events and optimizes routes that join throughout edges of the spiderweb. That is completely different when in comparison with pushing information ahead centrally after which re-routing it once more to the perimeters. So it is an exceptionally good digital site visitors supervisor for the web. If a conventional path is not accessible, it provides different back-up paths that make the community extra dependable for uptime.

Finally, the outcomes are extremely accessible, scalable, and fast, subsequently providing high quality superior to that of incumbents by a big magnitude. Edge CDN or usually superior CDN expertise is consistently evolving and given how digital our lives have develop into proper now, there’s been a wave of energized product-market match for these next-gen networks that may carry out. Fastly (NYSE: FSLY) traders would doubtless concur. In a way, Agora solves very related issues that Fastly does with its tech, however the enterprise is structured as a collection of APIs backed by this tech relatively than an all-encompassing edge CDN supplier.

Mega Market Alternative

Agora cited IDC’s market forecast CAGR (Compounded Annual Progress Charge) for the F-1 filing. By trying on the newest information, IDC expects the worldwide CPaaS market to develop from $4.2B in 2019 to $17.7B in 2024 implying a CAGR of 33%. This contains the affect of Covid 19, which they particularly said could decelerate development throughout 2020 however may improve long-term adoption from accelerated cloud transformation in 2021 and past. (Supply: IDC)

With out making an attempt to forecast my very own TAM (Whole Addressable Market), I might interpret IDC’s development charge as a declining curve. So we would naturally count on a better than 33% development charge in 2019, and a decrease than 33% development charge in 2024. As of the final quarter, Agora posted a 128% yoy development, which was a considerable acceleration from their very own 2019 ranges. I additionally discovered projections from different market forecasters (Mordor Intelligence), that the Asia Pacific is probably going recording a number of the quickest development charges for CPaaS. Agora is energetic not simply in China and the US, but in addition in India, Brazil, and Southeast Asia. The truth is, the corporate has a devoted Director of Gross sales for India whereas one of many Co-Founders is the Head of APAC and Rising Markets (Source).

Supply: Google Trends for the Search Term “Agora API”

Having lived in each Southeast Asia and India, I can not stress sufficient how giant the chance is for video engagement is within the area. Tik Tok was banned in India not too long ago and there is been an enormous a rush of native copycats to fill within the gaping gap it left within the nation. I am secretly hoping that these copycats are utilizing the Agora API as an Agora shareholder however have not factored something into my thesis but as there’s little or no data to go off. Regardless, India, Southeast Asia, and Brazil mixed have a inhabitants effectively over 2 billion folks. The community, demand, and scaling alternatives for companies which have achieved product-market slot in these geographies is large.

The broader takeaway right here is that Agora is probably going outpacing its trade CAGR (and subsequently gaining market share), concentrating on a worldwide market together with a number of the fastest-growing geographies, and customarily has the momentum we would need from a high-growth firm driving a powerful secular expertise pattern.

Competitors, Product Differentiation, & Geographical Benefit

It goes with out saying that Twilio is the large elephant within the room so far as CPaaS competitors goes. Twilio has it is personal software program designed digital community that backs up their real-time communication merchandise comparable to video-centric APIs. Different rivals embrace Vonage and different oblique rivals comparable to standard apps like Zoom which will develop into a de facto video communication software with out the necessity for in-app native video codecs in quite a lot of instances.

I discovered it significantly troublesome to determine sources that instantly examine the velocity of Agora’s SD-RTN with that of Twilio. Packet loss, latency, and the same old measurements are broadly troublesome to seek out for face to face comparisons. Agora offers guides on migrating from platforms like Twilio and claims their instruments are less complicated and require much less effort to make use of for builders. It is wholesome to view this with some skepticism. The SD-RTN nevertheless, seems to be really pioneering and whereas Agora solely went public not too long ago, their tech has been round, tried and examined, and has fashioned the spine of their API merchandise for a while. In the Q2 earnings call, administration remarked that though there’s competitors, the corporate goes past to tactically construct out merchandise and samples for many of their use instances, thereby eradicating as a lot friction as potential in onboarding builders and nudging them in direction of their targets.

Supply: Agora Developer Center

Emphasizing their video benefit is sensible particularly given Twilio’s historic strengths in different communications varieties. For my part, it is sensible to take a step again and have a look at the broader alternative to see if there’s sufficient room for a number of corporations to develop. If we’re a $5B-$6B CPaaS alternative this yr, of which Twilio has taken $1.4B, Agora is relatively tiny and underpenetrated going off of their ~$100m annual income run charge. Finally, I feel Agora would not must be an outright winner for it to develop comfortably from present ranges as a critical competitor. What’s vital at this comparatively younger stage is that there’s a truthful quantity of green-field development, significantly in Asian markets, and the financials and gross sales metrics present indicators of immense momentum.

Agora’s China residence discipline base for his or her engineering staff is a large energy so far as geographical benefits go. Stating the plain, engineering salaries and workplace hire in Shanghai incur fewer prices in comparison with the Valley. However one other cornerstone issue is the truth that the present CEO Tony Zhao, was CTO of YY (NASDAQ: YY) and certain has a powerful native staff to maintain creating their platform. Agora, by extension, doubtless is aware of and understands the Chinese language market and native alternative for his or her merchandise higher than Twilio does. We have seen again and again how troublesome it’s to duplicate merchandise which have labored within the US inside China and have them succeed. Agora has a foot in each doorways right here and I will not be stunned if it outperforms expectations and turns into domestically dominant. Even when the US alternative faces stiff competitors, Agora doubtless has an extended development runway domestically. It will likely be fascinating to trace how they acquire traction in rising markets within the coming quarters.

Progress & Financials

Supply: Creator, Information from Q2 Earnings Presentation

Just a few extra numbers from final quarter are introduced under:

  • Revenues grew by 128% yoy
  • Gross margin stood at 66.4%
  • Adjusted EBITDA was constructive at a 16.89% margin
  • Free Money Movement was constructive at an 8.24% margin
  • Greenback primarily based internet enlargement charge stood at 183.2% on a trailing twelve-month foundation

Supply: Q2 2020 Financial Results

These early numbers are what first attracted me to inventory and pushed me to take a deeper look. It’s exceedingly uncommon for a enterprise to have triple-digit development whereas being money stream generative. The working bills look like minimal and stand in big distinction to Western friends, doubtless as a result of residence discipline value benefit in Shanghai. As a software program firm, there actually is not an excessive amount of that takes up from the bottom-line as soon as mass scale has been achieved. The excessive prices come from engineering salaries at that stage. Whereas we have come to count on software program companies to develop into money stream generative after their gross sales development hits about 40% yoy, Agora is clearly effectively forward of the curve. This implies they will reinvest their development and have deep pockets to take action when in comparison with their rivals. It then comes all the way down to a matter of execution.

Increasing upon development figures, the dollar-based internet enlargement charge is sort of exceptional. Utilization of Agora’s APIs spiked within the face of the pandemic and a few pure deceleration has occurred when evaluating June to Feb/March. The administration has nevertheless said that there is seems to be a normalization for video engagement within the final quarter that’s prone to be sticky. Agora has a “pay-as-you-go” mannequin so we are able to count on lumpy revenues, however because the new regular seems to be in steady-state, the prospects for sustained income development are very promising. On the brand new buyer entrance, the corporate grew its whole variety of clients by 26.3% sequentially. By sequentially, I imply from March 2020 to June 2020 which is as soon as once more wonderful for a public market firm. This could assist hold the enlargement charge going robust within the coming quarters.


Supply: Koyfin

On the floor, a 31x EV/S a number of would appear costly however I am extra serious about what that a number of would appear to be in a yr or two. Going by my very own projections and lengthening the pattern of declining development charges, I count on an NTM EV/S within the 18-20x vary. I’ve accounted for the abrupt spike in March and subsequently a sharply slower development charge in Q1 and Q2 2021. At $39, meaning API is value a small place in my portfolio. With the present development, Free Money Movement era, sturdy tech, and mega market alternative, the worth is value it. Although I need to say, this can be a excessive danger, excessive reward inventory contemplating the corporate’s relative youth as a publicly-traded entity. I’ve commented on the dangers traders ought to contemplate and a few potentialities that might result in giant drawdowns under.


  • Competitors from Twilio and different CPaaS
  • Geopolitical tensions between the US and China could result in some elementary or non-fundamental affect on the enterprise; the latter may very well be extremely sentimental pushed inventory value motion that results in drawdowns
  • Overseas foreign money danger
  • Regulatory danger, from a number of of the international locations the corporate operates in.
  • A possible lock-up expiry selloff; there might not be something elementary apart from an inflow of provide of shares from institutional traders taking their earnings. That is may very well be doubtless given the worth had a >100% transfer upwards on its first day of buying and selling and remains to be considerably above the providing value regardless of the current drawdowns
  • Systemic dangers; sector rotations, and common market actions can have amplified results on Agora, that may be a greater danger inventory and will thus expertise magnified drawdowns


I am lengthy Agora (NASDAQ: API). For an organization of this high quality, the ahead valuation multiples are cheap and the present value presents vital upside for long-term traders which might be keen to abdomen some volatility. I am not swinging massive but, primarily as a result of excessive dangers I discussed above. For a ~$3.3B firm, it has the potential to double from right here within the subsequent 2-Three years if the expansion charges sustain and it proves itself as a heavy hitter. Up to now, it is checking all of the bins. It is a high-risk, high-reward play on a seemingly inevitable secular development pattern of video-based engagement worldwide.

Disclosure: I’m/we’re lengthy API, FSLY. I wrote this text myself, and it expresses my very own opinions. I’m not receiving compensation for it (apart from from In search of Alpha). I’ve no enterprise relationship with any firm whose inventory is talked about on this article.


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