Reggie Yativ of Agora: “You always have to stay connected to what makes your team unique at its core”

You always have to stay connected to what makes your team unique at its core. Throughout your career it is going to be very tempting to diversify. When leaders do this, though, they often lose sight of what they are really trying to accomplish. To succeed, you need to stay focused on the core value […]

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You always have to stay connected to what makes your team unique at its core. Throughout your career it is going to be very tempting to diversify. When leaders do this, though, they often lose sight of what they are really trying to accomplish. To succeed, you need to stay focused on the core value you are delivering.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Reggie Yativ.

As CRO & COO of Agora Inc., Reggie leads the team’s go-to-market and global expansion efforts. At his core, he believes that for Agora, a well-focused strategy around successful use cases and exploration use cases is fundamental to driving consistent growth for the company. Agora plays in the SDKs/APIs economy empowering developers and helping them go live quickly. Passionate about the endless potential an engagement-platform-as-a-service has for developers and users, he enjoys how such technologies can be used to quickly spool up innovative ideas and bring them to life. Moreover, he believes real-time engagement is a powerful tool to build inclusivity into the internet in every space from social streaming, education, gaming, entertainment, tele-health and beyond.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After growing up in Israel, I spent 7 years in Amsterdam and 2 years in Paris working at various tech companies in a variety of industries. Through these experiences and positions, I began to see first-hand the viability and growing necessity of real-time global communication. Although this technology has exploded during the pandemic, decades ago I already started to see the kinds of nuances that ultimately led to a greater vision of real-time engagement (RTE) technology.

After speaking with Tony Zhao, the founder and CEO of Agora, I realized that we shared the same vision. It was because of this that I was so excited to join the Agora team, and was what led me to ultimately accept the position of CRO and COO at the company in 2018. Now, as we are approaching the end of 2020, I can see how our voice, video, and live streaming RTE technology is powering some of the most incredible virtual environments on the planet. I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of the next-generation engagement that is empowering web and mobile apps and platforms.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

In the early 2000’s, people used to talk about rapid application development (RAD), and I was always drawn to that concept, which basically assumes that developers are like magicians! The idea that people wanted tools that could help them develop applications more efficiently seemed immensely important to me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was when I first planted the seed that ultimately led me to a next step in my career — open source-focused and SDK/API technologies.

Throughout my career, whether it was through my work with Redis Labs or Agora, I began to realize the world was shifting to a SAAS or PAAS open source and developer engagement model. Once I became convinced that this is where technology is going, this changed the entire course of my career. I began looking for companies where I would find these technologies and that shaped my trajectory.

Can you tell us about the cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Our ultimate mission at Agora is to make engagement ubiquitous. Agora’s RTE technology provides developers with software development kits (SDKs) to embed real-time video, voice, and live streaming engagement experiences into their applications. In October, we announced three new, developer-friendly products to help bolster these RTE experiences and make integrating our technology easier than ever before. It is amazing how fast you can now take an idea to market.

One of our biggest announcements was the Agora Experience Level Agreement, or XLA. This is the first industry user experience agreement that sets a standard for technology performance beyond the typical platform functionality. While there are many video streaming options in 2020, this is the first to guarantee quality of experience.

We also introduced two additional products that will help streamline app development, bring programs to-market faster and take the burden off of developers. We launched the RTE App Builder, which allows anyone to create a production-ready application without any coding experience. Additionally, the Agora Extensions Network provides an ecosystem of pre-configured extensions from Agora’s technology partners that customers can choose from to integrate into their own applications. These products will further push the needle for the adoption of RTE by speeding up the go-to-market process and providing developers the support they need on a day-to-day basis.

And there is more to come!

How do you think this might change the world?

Since the first email was shot off into the ether, the need to connect digitally has steadily increased. This desire has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. So what is the actual driving force behind the explosion of recent innovations gunning to keep us connected in isolation? I think it is directly related to the need to combat loneliness and an eagerness to expand the borders of our lives beyond what was normally tangible. That’s what Agora’s RTE technology aims to do — provide engaging virtual environments for people all around the world to congregate in, no matter their physical location or if they have access to high-speed or high-powered devices.

As we continue to iterate on our platform, our goal is to make it more accessible. That’s why we built our technology upon our proprietary Software-Defined Real-Time Network (SD-RTN), which is a virtual network overlay running on top of the public internet. Using sophisticated algorithms, the SD-RTN continually monitors and optimizes data transmission in order to minimize latency and packet loss, solving one of the biggest challenges that the public internet faces when it comes to video and voice transmission: lagging and delays.

Because of this unique infrastructure, our technology has the ability to reach corners of the world that have been historically left out of the technological revolution. Our team is especially excited to work with developers and creators of all walks of life, cultures, and outlooks to bring the joys of RTE to end-users around the world

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

There is a lot of conversation about whether or not virtual RTE can truly be a substitute for in-person connection. In a Black Mirror episode, we would likely see this taken too far. Possibly a dystopian society where no one has to leave their vacuum-sealed pod ever again. Of course, this is not the future that we are working towards. While RTE has been crucial in aiding the digital transformation (COVID-19 being a catalyst), we will eventually be facing a new world and we have to find where virtual engagement technologies fit into our everyday life.

Personally, I think the world will consist of a hybrid environment. If a company is looking to create an event, perhaps 5,000 people RSVP to attend in-person. With the proper tools and experience, hypothetically, 50,000 additional people could attend this event virtually, anywhere, and at any time. On a smaller scale, I now have the power to attend a watch party with friends from around the globe in a way I was never able to connect them before. These are just a few ways that I think the hybrid environment will prove RTE’s relevance in a world without a Black-Mirror-esque outcome.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

Agora was founded in 2013, with the mission to bring RTE to all, allowing users to interact with anyone, anytime and anywhere. While we were well on our way to delivering on this promise, the pandemic acted as a tipping point that highlighted the utility of our technology and ultimately accelerated it’s adoption.

In fact, in February 2020 we teamed up with New Oriental Education & Technology Group, one of the largest providers of private educational services in the world to launch the “New Oriental Cloud Classroom.” Spooled up in just one week, this remote, interactive classroom experience aided in solving for the displacement of over one million students and teachers during the first coronavirus outbreak.

We also saw an increased need for mental health services accessible outside the bounds of a therapist’s office or a physical group therapy setting. As people around the world grappled with the uncertainty, and overall anxiety associated with the pandemic, we helped mobile therapy provider Talkspace scale to meet the massive influx of end-users to their platform. The mobile app offers live voice and video streaming so patients and therapists can connect in real-time from anywhere in the world, and there are so many powerful use cases.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

At this point, all we need is time and the eagerness of developers looking to adopt and integrate with our technology. As we have seen throughout the pandemic, the need for RTE is already here. Whether or not there is a stay-at-home order, millions of people are realizing the value of a hybrid life — one rooted in the physical and the other in the virtual. Telehealth, conferences, work meetings, church services, schooling, and beyond can be done extremely well with the proper RTE tools. As we continue to expand our developer and extension network we will encourage innovators to adopt RTE and propel their industries forward.

Ultimately, I think the remote lifestyle will outlive the pandemic and be permanently embedded into our lives. The more that enterprises see that having a digital strategy is key to their success, the more we will power digital transformations that hold their weight long after social distancing or stay-at-home-orders. Why? People want flexibility. The ability to work from home in an engaging manner gives us more time to workout, spend time with our families, cook dinner, and more. So does the ability to get therapy or go to college from the comfort of our own homes.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

One of our main marketing strategies is partnerships. We partner with our customers to cross-promote not only our services, but theirs too. Many of our customers are newly launched companies, or even still in beta mode as they ramp up their voice and video features and get their technologies ready to go-to-market. We see great success working alongside these customers because it not only builds a stronger company-to-customer relationship, but it also shows the breadth of the work that we are able to do.

For example, each quarter we announce our most notable customers and promote their offerings to our wider network. In November, we announced five new Agora customers including LearnCube, Welcome, ARUtility, Loop Team and 360 Stories. Leading up to the quarterly announcement, we work with each customer on a strategy to cross-promote and bring as much visibility to their platforms as possible.

Additionally, over the past year we have had representatives from partnering companies featured as guests on our “V-Chat” webinars to discuss industry challenges and advances. Also, we invited many customers to speak at our fully virtual conference RTE2020 back in October. At the end of the day, we will always prioritize uplifting not only our technology, but those who use it.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I owe a lot to the individual who, at a very young age, gave me my first sales job. At the time, I was working four jobs to pay my tuition. He not only gave me my first real job, but has acted as a mentor to me for over 30 years since. One of the first things he taught me was that as a true leader you need to think strategically, look ahead and manage thoughtfully while still remembering that the devil is in the details. (Or as we say, God is in the details.) You must know all of the relevant details and metrics, and share them with your colleagues and customers. This is one of the key ways to stay one step ahead and be truly successful.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We are constantly looking to bring in customers that are bettering the world and hedging us closer to a more inclusive society. We know how hard it can be to operate as usual while going through a digital transformation, so we do our best to make that as easy on our customers as possible. A great example of this is our work with the The Phoenix Project, a social impact startup focused on empowering survivors of sexual violence while connecting survivors to healing resources and community. We have been working with them from the ground-up to help create an accessible, safe platform that makes trauma informed healing and care more accessible to survivors everywhere.

Agora’s technologies also power Dabel’s voice streaming capabilities. Dabel is a mobile app that provides a platform for users to create their own custom audio stream and share it with a community of listeners. Through this partnership, the two companies also worked with the South African National Council for the Blind to bring the app to blind users in underserved regions of Africa.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

I can think of three really important things that I wish I had been told earlier on in my career.

  • The importance of growing a team and surrounding yourself with capable hardworking people is key. In fact, one of my mentors once told me, “To be successful, interview at least one person everyday.”
  • You always have to stay connected to what makes your team unique at its core. Throughout your career it is going to be very tempting to diversify. When leaders do this, though, they often lose sight of what they are really trying to accomplish. To succeed, you need to stay focused on the core value you are delivering.
  • Understand your offering. This sounds basic, but many people stay surface level throughout their whole careers. In a technology environment, you can’t underestimate the importance of being an expert in your own field.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think, if I had the time and resources to focus on something impactful, I would like to ensure that everyone has enough food to eat and warm clothes to wear. It sounds simple, but that would be the most meaningful way that I could bring the most amount of good to the most people in a direct way, through connecting with those people who are in need.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The shoemaker makes a good shoe because he makes nothing else.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

This quote speaks to me because I am a huge believer in extreme focus and becoming an expert in what you do. I believe that there is a limit to how many things of which you can truly become an expert. You have to find your strengths and focuses, and then continue to work to stay sharp in those areas while collaborating with others that know other things better than you. Like a good shoemaker who mastered his art, we can all benefit from staying close to our core values and perfecting our craft and let others work with you as a team to bring their own power and expertise.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Agora’s dedicated network and device-optimized SDKs make ours the only RTE platform designed to connect people globally in impactful, creative ways. More so, our technology helps developers reach users on low-bandwidth networks and on lower-powered devices. From applications for education, social, entertainment, gaming, enterprise and beyond, our company has a proven track record of helping enterprises big and small adopt custom-built digital transformations. Agora is here to help your team develop a truly unique and branded experience — and quickly.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me on LinkedIn and Twitter. Look forward to connecting with you!

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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