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UNITED STATES
SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20549
FORM 20-F
(Mark One)
 
REGISTRATION STATEMENT PURSUANT TO SECTION 12(b) OR (g) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
OR
ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the fiscal year ended
December 31, 2020
OR
TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
OR
SHELL COMPANY REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

Date of event requiring this shell company report:

For the transition period from        to    

Commission file number: 001-39340

Agora, Inc.
(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)
N/A
(Translation of Registrant’s name into English)
Cayman Islands
(Jurisdiction of incorporation or organization)

Floor 8, Building 12
Phase III of ChuangZhiTianDi
333 Songhu Road
Yangpu District, Shanghai
People’s Republic of China
(Address of principal executive offices)

Jingbo Wang, Chief Financial Officer
Telephone: +86-400-632-6626
Email: investor@agora.io



Floor 8, Building 12, Phase III of ChuangZhiTianDi, 333 Songhu Road
Yangpu District, Shanghai
People’s Republic of China
(Name, Telephone, E-mail and/or Facsimile number and Address of Company Contact Person)

Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act
 
Title of each class Trading Symbol Name of each exchange on which registered
American depositary shares (each American depositary shares representing four Class A ordinary share, par value US$0.0001 each) API The Nasdaq Global Select Market
Class A ordinary shares, with a par value of US$0.0001 each*   The Nasdaq Global Select Market
_____________________________
* Not for trading, but only in connection with the listing on the Nasdaq Global Select Market of American depositary shares
Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act
 None 
 (Title of Class) 
Securities for which there is a reporting obligation pursuant to Section 15(d) of the Act
 None 
 (Title of Class) 
Indicate the number of outstanding shares of each of the issuer’s classes of capital or common stock as of the close of the period covered by the annual report:
Class A ordinary shares, par value US$0.0001 each 
347,302,624 were outstanding as of December 31, 2020
Class B ordinary shares, par value US$0.0001 each 
76,179,938 were outstanding as of December 31, 2020
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.   Yes o Nox
If this report is an annual or transition report, indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.   Yes o Nox
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports) and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.    Yes x  No o
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§ 229.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files).    Yes x  No o
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, or an emerging growth company. See definition of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.
Large accelerated filer
Accelerated filer
Non-accelerated filer
Emerging growth company
If an emerging growth company that prepares its financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards† provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act.  



†The term “new or revised financial accounting standard” refers to any update issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board to its Accounting Standards Codification after April 5, 2012.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed a report on and attestation to its management’s assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting under Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (15 U.S.C. 7262(b)) by the registered public accounting firm that prepared or issued its audit report. 
Indicate by check mark which basis of accounting the registrant has used to prepare the financial statements included in this filing:
U.S. GAAP
 ☒
International Financial Reporting Standards as issued by the International Accounting Standards Board
Other
If “Other” has been checked in response to the previous question, indicate by check mark which financial statement item the registrant has elected to follow.   Item 17 o     Item 18 o
If this is an annual report, indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act).   Yes    No x
(APPLICABLE ONLY TO ISSUERS INVOLVED IN BANKRUPTCY PROCEEDINGS DURING THE PAST FIVE YEARS)
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed all documents and reports required to be filed by Sections 12, 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 subsequent to the distribution of securities under a plan confirmed by a court.   Yes o No o



TABLE OF CONTENTS

ITEM 4A. UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS







INTRODUCTION

Except where the context otherwise requires and for purposes of this annual report on Form 20-F only:
“ADSs” refer to American depositary shares, each of which represents four of our Class A ordinary shares;
“ADRs” refer to the American depositary receipts that evidence our ADSs;
“Agora,” “we,” “us,” “our company” and “our” refer to Agora, Inc., a Cayman Islands exempted company and its subsidiaries and, in the context of describing our operations and consolidated financial information, also include our VIEs.
“China” or “PRC” refer to the People’s Republic of China, excluding, for the purposes of this annual report only, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau;
“Class A ordinary shares” refer to our Class A ordinary shares, par value US$0.0001 per share;
“Class B ordinary shares” refer to our Class B ordinary shares, par value US$0.0001 per share;
“Dayin” refers to Dayin Network Technology Co., Ltd.;

“RMB” and “Renminbi” refer to the legal currency of China;
“US$,” “U.S. dollars,” or “dollars” refer to the legal currency of the United States;
“VIEs” collectively refer to Shanghai Zhaoyan Network Technology Co., Ltd. and our variable interest entity affiliated with Beijing Yizhang Yunfeng Technology Co., Ltd.;

“WFOEs” collectively refer to Dayin and Beijing Yizhang Yunfeng Technology Co., Ltd.; and

“Zhaoyan” refers to Shanghai Zhaoyan Network Technology Co., Ltd.

Our reporting and functional currency is the U.S. dollar. Other than the functional currency of our subsidiaries and VIEs in China is the Renminbi, the functional currencies of our non-PRC subsidiaries are the U.S. dollar. This annual report contains translations between Renminbi and U.S. dollars solely for the convenience of the reader. The translations from Renminbi to U.S. dollars and from U.S. dollars to Renminbi in this annual report were made at a rate of RMB6.5250 to US$1.00, the exchange rate set forth in the H.10 statistical release of the Federal Reserve Board on December 31, 2020. We make no representation that the Renminbi or U.S. dollar amounts referred to in this annual report could have been or could be converted into U.S. dollars or Renminbi, as the case may be, at any particular rate or at all.
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FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS
This annual report contains forward-looking statements, including our future operating results and conditions, our prospects and our future financial performance and condition. These forward-looking statements are made under the “safe harbor” provision under Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, or the Securities Act, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, or the Exchange Act, and as defined in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors which may cause our actual results, performance or achievements to be materially different from any future results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements. All statements other than statements of historical fact in this annual report constitute forward-looking statements. We have used words or phrases such as “may,” “would,” “will,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “intend,” “seek,” “estimate,” “plan,” “believe,” “is/are likely to” or other similar expressions in this annual report to identify some of these forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements, including, among others, those relating to our future business prospects, product development, revenues, profits, costs, capital expenditures, cash flows and working capital, are necessarily estimates reflecting the best judgment of directors and management and involve a number of risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those suggested by the forward-looking statements. As a consequence, these forward-looking statements should be considered in light of various important factors, including those set forth in this annual report.
These statements involve risks, uncertainties and other factors that may cause our actual results, levels of activity, performance or achievements to be materially different from the information expressed or implied by these forward-looking statements. Although we believe that we have a reasonable basis for each forward-looking statement contained in this annual report, we caution you that these statements are based on a combination of facts and factors currently known by us and our projections of the future, about which we cannot be certain. Forward-looking statements in this annual report include, but are not limited to, statements about:
our ability to effectively manage our growth and expand our operations;
our ability to attract new developers to our platform and convert them into customers;
our ability to retain existing customers and expand their usage of our platform and products;
our ability to drive popularity and usage of existing use cases and enable new ones, particularly centered on real-time video engagement
the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global markets and our business, operations and customers;
our ability to continue to introduce new products, features and functionalities;
our ability to continue to enhance the quality of the end-user experience and drive demand for RTE through our research and development efforts;
our ability to maintain and enhance our brand;
the growth of the RTE-PaaS market;
the effect of broader technological and market trends, such as the deployment of 5G networks and proliferation of IoT devices, on our business and prospects;
our ability to hire and retain experienced and talented employees as we grow our business;
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our ability to remain competitive as we continue to scale our business; and
general economic conditions and their impact on customer and end-user demand.
You should read this annual report and the documents that we refer to in this annual report thoroughly and with the understanding that our actual future results may be materially different from and worse than what we expect. Moreover, we operate in an evolving environment. New risk factors and uncertainties emerge from time to time and it is not possible for our management to predict all risk factors and uncertainties, nor can we assess the impact of all factors on our business or the extent to which any factor, or combination of factors, may cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in any forward-looking statements. We qualify all of our forward-looking statements by these cautionary statements.
You should not rely upon forward-looking statements as predictions of future events. The forward-looking statements made in this annual report relate only to events or information as of the date on which the statements are made in this annual report. We undertake no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, after the date on which the statements are made or to reflect the occurrence of unanticipated events.
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PART I
ITEM 1. IDENTITY OF DIRECTORS, SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND ADVISERS
Not applicable.
ITEM 2. OFFER STATISTICS AND EXPECTED TIMETABLE
Not applicable.
ITEM 3. KEY INFORMATION
A. Selected Financial Data
The following selected consolidated statements of comprehensive loss data and selected consolidated statements of cash flows data for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, and selected consolidated balance sheet data as of December 31, 2019 and 2020, have been derived from our audited consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this annual report. The selected consolidated balance sheet data as of December 31, 2018 has been derived from our audited consolidated financial statements not included in this annual report. Our consolidated financial statements are prepared and presented in accordance with U.S. GAAP.
You should read the following information in conjunction with our audited consolidated financial statements and related notes and “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects” in this annual report. Our historical operating results presented below are not necessarily indicative of the results to be expected for any future fiscal period.
Year Ended December 31,
201820192020
(US$ in thousands, except for share and per share data)
Condensed Consolidated Statements of Comprehensive Loss Data:
Real-time engagement service revenues$43,199 $63,925 $131,149 
Other revenues458 503 2,415 
Total revenues43,657 64,429 133,564 
Cost of revenues(1)
(12,635)(20,417)(47,199)
Gross profit31,022 44,012 86,365 
Operating expense:
Research and development expenses(1)
(14,426)(23,623)(49,494)
Sales and marketing expenses(1)
(11,986)(19,408)(25,724)
General and administrative expenses(1)
(5,373)(7,177)(18,010)
Total operating expense(31,785)(50,208)(93,228)
Other operating income1,025 108 1,672 
Income (loss) from operations263 (6,089)(5,191)
Exchange gain (loss)(21)87 (65)
Interest income239 626 2,704 
Income (loss) before income taxes481 (5,376)(2,552)
Income taxes(105)(801)(562)
Net income (loss)376 (6,177)(3,114)
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Less: cumulative undeclared dividends on convertible redeemable preferred shares(9,961)(9,961)(6,715)
Less: accretion on convertible redeemable preferred shares to redemption value(33,235)(50,715)(193,466)
Net loss attributable to ordinary shareholders$(42,820)$(66,853)$(203,295)
Other comprehensive income (loss):
Foreign currency translation adjustments(749)(358)2,930 
Total comprehensive loss attributable to Agora, Inc.’s ordinary shareholders$(43,569)$(67,211)$(200,365)
Net loss per ADS attributable to Agora, Inc.’s ordinary shareholders—basic and diluted (each ADS representing four Class A ordinary shares)
(1.60)(2.31)(3.02)
Weighted average number of ordinary shares—basic and diluted109,141,311 115,716,392 268,849,967 
(1)Share-based compensation expense was allocated to cost of revenue and operating expenses as follows:
Year Ended December 31,
201820192020
(US$ in thousands)
Cost of revenues$50 $80 $357 
Research and development expenses920 1,473 5,312 
Sales and marketing expenses975 1,654 2,061 
General and administrative expenses905 1,046 4,244 
Total share-based compensation expense$2,850 $4,253 $11,974 
Year Ended December 31,
201820192020
(US$ in thousands)
Selected Consolidated Cash Flow Data:
Net cash generated from operating activities$536 $706 $6,564 
Net cash used in investing activities(3,773)(3,353)(535,052)
Net cash provided by financing activities65,772 — 533,638 
Effect of foreign exchange rate changes on cash, cash equivalents and restricted cash(556)(269)465 
Net increase (decrease) in cash, cash equivalents and restricted cash61,979 (2,915)5,615 
Cash, cash equivalents and restricted cash at beginning of year46,619 108,598 105,683 
Cash, cash equivalents and restricted cash at end of year$108,598 $105,683 $111,298 
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As of December 31,
201820192020
(US$ in thousands)
Selected Consolidated Balance Sheet Data:
Cash and cash equivalents$108,518 $105,603 $111,218 
Short-term investments1,457 — 524,220 
Working capital(1)
111,948 104,750 634,430 
Total assets127,308 131,159 692,904 
Total liabilities11,295 18,481 36,441 
Total Mezzanine equity189,255 239,970 — 
Total shareholders’ equity (deficit)(73,242)(127,293)656,463 
(1) Working capital is defined as current assets less current liabilities.
Year Ended December 31,
201820192020
(US$ in thousands)
Key Operating and Financial Metrics:
Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate(1)
135 %127 %179 %
Constant Currency Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate(1)
133 %131 %179 %
Active customers(1)
586 1,041 2,095 
Adjusted EBITDA(1)(2)
$4,035 $31 $11,243 
Free cash flow(1)(3)
$(1,725)$(4,096)$(6,314)
(1)See the section of this annual report captioned “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects—A. Operating Results—Key Operating and Financial Metrics” for information on how we define and calculate these measures.
(2)See the section of this annual report captioned “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects—A. Operating Results —Non-GAAP Financial Measure” for information on how we define and calculate these non-GAAP measures. A reconciliation of non-GAAP Adjusted EBITDA to net income (loss) is as follows:
Year Ended December 31,
201820192020
(US$ in thousands)
Net income (loss)$376 $(6,177)$(3,114)
Excluding:
Exchange gain (loss)(21)87 (65)
Interest income239 626 2,704 
Income taxes(105)(801)(562)
Depreciation and amortization922 1,868 4,460 
Share-based compensation expense2,850 4,253 11,974 
Adjusted EBITDA$4,035 $31 $11,243 
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(3)See the section of this annual report captioned “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects—A. Operating Results—Non-GAAP Financial Measure” for information on how we define and calculate these non-GAAP measures. A reconciliation of free cash flow to net cash generated from operating activities, as well as information regarding net cash used in investing activities and net cash provided by financing activities, for each of the periods indicated, is as follows:
Year Ended December 31,
201820192020
(US$ in thousands)
Net cash generated from operating activities$536 $706 $6,564 
Purchases of property and equipment(2,261)(4,802)(12,878)
Free cash flow(1,725)(4,096)(6,314)
Net cash used in investing activities*
(3,773)(3,353)(535,052)
Net cash provided by financing activities65,772 — 533,638 
*Net cash used in investing activities includes payments for purchases of property and equipment, which is also included in our calculation of free cash flow.

B. Capitalization and Indebtedness
Not applicable.
C. Reasons for the Offer and Use of Proceeds
Not applicable.
D. Risk Factors
Summary Risk Factors
Our business is subject to numerous risks and uncertainties, including risks that may prevent us from achieving our business objectives or may adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows, and prospects. These risks are discussed more fully below and include, but are not limited to, risks related to:
Risks Related to Our Business and Industry
We operate in an emerging and evolving market, which may develop more slowly or differently than we expect. If our market does not grow as we expect, or if we cannot expand our services to meet the demands of this market, our revenue may decline, or fail to grow, and we may incur operating losses.
Our operating results and growth prospects depend on acquiring and retaining customers and increasing usage of customers’ applications that integrate our products.
The COVID-19 pandemic severely disrupted our business and operations and it, or any future health epidemic or other adverse public health developments, may continue to do so.
The market in which we participate is competitive, and if we do not compete effectively, our business, operating results and financial condition could be harmed.
Defects, errors or security vulnerabilities that we may not be able to catch in our products or that may come up as we upgrade our products or launch new products could diminish demand for our products, harm our business and operating results and subject us to liability.
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Our ADSs may be delisted under the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act if the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, or the PCAOB, is unable to inspect auditors who are located in China. The delisting of our ADSs, or the threat of their being delisted, may materially and adversely affect the value of your investment. Additionally, the inability of the PCAOB to conduct inspections deprives our investors of the benefits of such inspections.
We may acquire or invest in business, technologies, services, products and other assets, which may divert our management’s attention and result in the incurrence of debt or dilution to our shareholders. We may be unable to integrate acquired businesses and technologies successfully or achieve the expected benefits of such acquisitions.

Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure
If the PRC government deems that the contractual arrangements in relation to our VIEs do not comply with PRC regulatory restrictions on foreign investment in the relevant industries, or if these regulations or the interpretation of existing regulations change in the future, we could be subject to severe penalties or be forced to relinquish our interests in those operations.
We rely on contractual arrangements with our VIEs and their respective shareholders to operate our business, which may not be as effective as direct ownership in providing operational control and could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
The shareholders of our VIEs may have potential conflicts of interest with us, which could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
If the custodians or authorized users of our controlling non-tangible assets, including chops and seals, fail to fulfill their responsibilities, or misappropriate or misuse these assets, our business and operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Risks Related to Doing Business in China
Changes in the political and economic policies of the PRC government could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition, and may result in our inability to sustain our growth and expansion strategies.
We may be adversely affected by the complexity, uncertainties and changes in PRC laws, rules and regulations, particularly of internet businesses.
We may be required to obtain and maintain permits and licenses to operate our business in China.
It may be difficult for overseas regulators to conduct investigations or collect evidence within China.
Risks Related to the ADSs
The trading price of our ADSs is likely to be volatile, which could result in substantial losses to investors.
Our dual-class share structure with different voting rights will limit your ability to influence corporate matters and could discourage others from pursuing any change of control transactions that holders of our Class A ordinary shares and ADSs may view as beneficial.
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We are a “controlled company” as defined under the Nasdaq Stock Market corporate governance rules. As a result, we are qualified for, and rely on, exemptions from certain corporate governance requirements that would otherwise provide protection to shareholders of other companies.
You may face difficulties in protecting your interests, and your ability to protect your rights through U.S. courts may be limited, because we are incorporated under Cayman Islands law and conduct a significant portion of our business operations in emerging markets.
Risks Related to Our Business and Industry
We operate in an emerging and evolving market, which may develop more slowly or differently than we expect. If our market does not grow as we expect, or if we cannot expand our services to meet the demands of this market, our revenue may decline, or fail to grow, and we may incur operating losses.
The RTE-PaaS market is in an early stage of development. There is considerable uncertainty over the size and rate at which this market will grow, as well as whether our platform will be widely adopted. Some organizations may be reluctant or unwilling to use our platform for a number of reasons, including concerns about costs, uncertainty regarding the reliability and security of cloud-based offerings or lack of awareness of the benefits of our platform. Moreover, some organizations have invested substantial personnel and financial resources to develop internal solutions, and therefore may be reluctant or unwilling to adopt our platform. Our ability to expand sales depends on several factors, including market awareness and acceptance, competition, end-user demand for the applications of our customers, technological challenges and developments, and other causes, many of which are outside of our control. If the RTE-PaaS market or demand for our products does not grow or decreases, then our business, operating results and financial condition would be adversely affected.
Our operating results and growth prospects depend on acquiring and retaining customers and increasing usage of customers’ applications that integrate our products.
To successfully grow our business, we must continue to attract new customers in a cost-effective manner. We use a variety of marketing channels to promote our products and platform, such as developer conferences and events and public relations initiatives. If the costs of the marketing channels we use increase dramatically, then we may choose to use alternative and less expensive channels, which may not be as effective as current channels. Alternatively, we may adopt or expand usage of more expensive channels, which could adversely affect margins, profitability and our financial condition. We invest in marketing before being able to assess whether they improve brand awareness, customer acquisition or increase revenue in a cost-effective manner or at all. If our marketing programs are ineffective or inefficient, then our business, operating results and growth prospects would be adversely affected.
Our success also depends on retaining customers and increasing their usage of our products and platform over time. We generate revenue from customers’ usage of our products integrated into their applications. Increasing usage of our products and platform over time will require customers to develop new use cases and those use cases to mature. The majority of our customers do not have long-term contractual commitments to us and may terminate or reduce their use of our products at any time without penalty or termination charges. End users’ demand for our customers’ applications that integrate our products are driven by many factors outside our or our customers’ control, making customers’ usage of our products and platform difficult to predict. Furthermore, if a significant number of customers cease using, or reduce their usage of our products, then we may incur greater than expected sales and marketing expenses to maintain or increase revenue from other customers, which may impact our margins. If usage levels fail to meet expectations, our business, operating results, including Constant Currency Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate, and growth prospects would be adversely affected.
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The COVID-19 pandemic severely disrupted our business and operations and it, or any future health epidemic or other adverse public health developments, may continue to do so.
On January 30, 2020, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19 pandemic, a public health emergency of international concern, and on March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization declared the global COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. The COVID-19 virus continues to spread rapidly worldwide, including where our customers are located and where we have business operations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, government authorities around the world have ordered businesses to close and people to remain at home while imposing significant restrictions on traveling and social gatherings. There continues to be significant uncertainties associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, including with respect to the ultimate spread of the virus, the severity of the disease, the duration of the pandemic, the possibility of successive waves of outbreaks, further actions that may be taken by governmental authorities around the world to contain the virus or to treat its impact, and the scope and length of the resulting economic downturn.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more challenging for us to purchase bandwidth, co-location space, servers and equipment on equally cost-efficient terms due to various government-imposed restrictions and other logistical hurdles. In addition, our business operations could be disrupted if any of our employees or contracted workers became infected or suspected to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 or another contagious disease or condition, as exposure to the virus could require that our employees and contracted workers be quarantined or require that our offices be disinfected. The economic downturn due to COVID-19 may adversely affect our customers’ ability to pay and customer demand and end-user usage, which would adversely affect our operating results and financial condition. We have experienced delayed services delivery, extended payment cycles and delayed collection of accounts receivables due to the pandemic. Failure to contain the further spread of COVID-19 will prolong and exacerbate the general economic downturn. In addition, the continuing pandemic may further impact our ability to maintain and expand our network infrastructure, which could severely disrupt our and our customers’ business and operations and adversely affect our operating results and financial condition. Any future health epidemic or other adverse public health developments may have similar negative effects. To the extent the COVID-19 pandemic adversely affects our business and financial results, it may also heighten other risks described in this section, such as our ability to raise additional capital as needed on acceptable terms. In addition, people in impacted regions, including in our largest markets, have generally spent more time online compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic began, and various offline activities such as education and social interactions have moved online, resulting in an increase in revenue-generating usage of our products. China and other countries have begun to lift stay-at-home and other similar restrictions. As such restrictions are lifted, such increased usage may decline, which would adversely affect our operating results.
The market in which we participate is competitive, and if we do not compete effectively, our business, operating results and financial condition could be harmed.
The global market for RTE-PaaS is relatively new and rapidly evolving. Currently, our competitors mainly include:
PaaS providers in China and the United States, as well as various smaller software companies, which compete with all or portions of our platform and products;
open-source projects, such as WebRTC, which offer capabilities that compete with some of the functionalities in our SDK; and
10



network operators or cloud providers that offer private lines on which similar functionalities to ours can be built.
In many cases, we encounter either custom software developed in-house or by consultants, or legacy solutions repurposed by in-house developers of our potential customers to meet specific use cases. As we look to sell our products to potential customers with existing internal solutions, we must convince internal stakeholders that our real-time engagement products are superior to the legacy solutions that the organization has previously adopted. If we are unable to effectively convince internal stakeholders at our prospective customers to abandon their legacy solutions, our business, results of operations and financial condition could be adversely affected.
We expect competition to intensify in the future. It is possible that the large software vendors or cloud providers who currently do not have an offering in the RTE-PaaS category, some of which operate in adjacent product categories today, may in the future bring such a solution to market through product development, acquisitions or other means. In addition, several of our competitors have greater name recognition, longer operating histories, more and better-established customer relationships, larger sales forces, larger marketing and software development budgets and significantly greater resources than we do. As a result, certain of our competitors may be able to respond more quickly and effectively than we can to new or changing opportunities, technologies, standards or customer requirements. In extreme cases, these large vendors may be willing to provide competing software for free as part of enterprise-wide agreements that include other products or services. These combinations may make it more difficult for us to compete effectively. We expect these trends to continue as competitors attempt to strengthen or maintain their market positions.
Some competitors may offer products or services that address one or a limited number of functions at lower prices, with greater depth than our products or geographies where we do not operate or are less established. Furthermore, some of our customers may choose to use our products and our competitors’ products at the same time. Pricing pressures and increased competition generally could result in reduced revenue, reduced margins, increased losses or the failure of our products to achieve or maintain widespread market acceptance, any of which could harm our business, operating results and financial condition.
If our platform does not achieve sufficient market acceptance, our financial results and competitive position will suffer.
To meet our customers’ rapidly evolving demands, we invest substantial resources in research and development of enhanced products to incorporate additional functionality, improve our SD-RTN or expand the use cases that our platform enables. Maintaining adequate research and development resources, such as the appropriate personnel and development technology to meet the demands of the market is essential. If we are unable to develop products internally due to inadequate research and development resources, we may not be able to address our customers’ needs on a timely basis or at all. In addition, if we seek to supplement our research and development capabilities or the breadth of our products through acquisitions, such acquisitions could be expensive and we may not successfully integrate acquired technologies or businesses into our business. When we develop or acquire new or enhanced products, we typically incur expenses and expend resources upfront to develop, market, promote and sell the new offering. Therefore, when we develop or acquire and introduce new or enhanced products, they must achieve high levels of market acceptance in order to justify the amount of our investment in developing or acquiring and bringing them to market. Our new products or enhancements and changes to our existing products could fail to attain sufficient market acceptance for many reasons, including:
failure to predict market demand accurately in terms of functionality and a failure to supply products that meet this demand in a timely fashion;
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defects, errors, or failures;
negative publicity about our platform’s performance or effectiveness;
changes in the legal or regulatory requirements, or increased legal or regulatory scrutiny, adversely affecting our platform;
emergence of a competitor that achieves market acceptance before we do;
delays in releasing enhancements to our platform to the market; and
introduction or anticipated introduction of competing products by our competitors.
If our platform and any future enhancements do not achieve adequate acceptance in the market, or if products and technologies developed by others achieve greater acceptance in the market, our business could be harmed.
Beyond overall acceptance of our platform by our customers, it is important that we maintain and grow acceptance of our platform among the developers that work for our customers. We rely on developers to choose our platform over other options they may have, and to continue to use and promote our platform as they move between companies. These developers often make design decisions and influence the product and vendor processes within our customers. If we fail to gain or maintain their acceptance of our platform, our business would be harmed.
We may not successfully manage growth.
We have experienced rapid growth. Our headcount has grown from 167 full-time employees as of December 31, 2017 to 842 as of December 31, 2020. We intend to continue to grow our business and make investments to support operational scale, including increasing numbers of customers and third-party relationships, and to refine information technology systems and internal controls and procedures. Although our business has experienced significant growth in the past, we cannot provide any assurance that our business will continue to grow at any particular rate, or at all. For example, while we may continue to observe increases in usage and developer adoption of our products to meet end user demand for real-time engagement spurred by COVID-19, we do not anticipate that we will continue to experience the same revenue growth we did in the first half of 2020. As a result of our limited operating history, our ability to forecast our future operating results is limited and subject to a number of uncertainties, including our ability to plan for future growth. In particular, we cannot accurately predict customers’ usage of our products given the diversity of our customer base and our customers’ end users across industries, geographies, use cases and other factors. In future periods, our profitability may be lower than it would be if our strategy were to maximize short-term profitability and we may operate at a loss. Significant expenditures on sales and marketing efforts, and expenditures on growing our platform and expanding our research and development and portfolio of products, each of which we intend to continue to invest in, may not ultimately grow our business or cause long-term profitability. If we are unable to maintain or improve profitability at a level or during a time frame anticipated by industry or securities analysts and holders of our ADSs, the trading price of our ADSs may decline.
In addition, we will increasingly face challenges in integrating, developing and motivating a rapidly growing employee base in various countries around the world. This challenge has been, and likely will continue to be, heightened due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the related stay-at-home, travel and other restrictions. Certain members of our management have not previously worked together for an extended period of time, and some do not have experience managing a public company, which may affect how they manage our growth. This growth will make it difficult to evaluate our prospects and place a continuous, significant strain on our management, operational and financial resources.
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Our limited operating history and our history of operating and net losses make it difficult to evaluate our current business and prospects and may increase the risks associated with your investment.
We were founded in 2013 and our limited operating history makes it difficult to evaluate our current business and our future prospects, including our ability to plan for and model future growth. We have encountered and will continue to encounter risks and difficulties frequently experienced by rapidly growing companies in constantly evolving industries, including the risks described in this annual report. If we do not address these risks successfully, our business may be harmed.
We generated an operating loss of US$5.2 million and a net loss of US$3.1 million in 2020. We will need to generate and sustain increased revenue levels and manage costs in future periods in order to be profitable. Even if we achieve profitability as we did in the first half of 2020, we may not be able to maintain or increase our level of profitability. We intend to continue to expend significant funds to support further growth and further develop our platform, including expanding the functionality of our platform, expanding our technology infrastructure and business systems to meet the needs of our customers, expanding our sales force and developer and partner ecosystems, increasing our marketing activities, and growing our international operations. We will also face increased compliance costs associated with growth, expansion of our customer base and the costs of being a public company. Our efforts to grow our business may be costlier than we expect, and we may not be able to increase our revenue enough to offset our increased operating expenses. We may incur significant losses in the future for a number of reasons, including the other risks described in this annual report, and unforeseen expenses, difficulties, complications and delays, and other unknown events. If we are unable to achieve and sustain profitability, our business may be harmed.
If we fail to adapt and respond effectively to rapidly changing technology, evolving industry standards, changing regulations, and changing customer needs, requirements or preferences, our products may become less competitive.
The market for RTE-PaaS is subject to rapid technological change, evolving industry standards, regulations and customer needs, requirements and preferences. For example, the rollout of 5G networks could significantly impact the RTE-PaaS market. Although 5G networks are designed to provide higher data transmission quality and user experience which may increase demand for real-time engagement, it may also reduce the technical challenge of delivering real-time engagement and the value proposition of RTE-PaaS. The success of our business will depend, in part, on our ability to adapt and respond to these changes on an effective and timely basis. If we fail to develop new products that satisfy customers and end users and provide enhancements and new features for existing products that keep pace with rapid technological and industry change, our business, operating results and financial condition could be adversely affected. If new technologies emerge that are able to deliver competitive products and services at lower prices, more efficiently, more conveniently or more securely, such technologies could adversely impact our ability to compete effectively.
Our platform must integrate with a variety of network, hardware, mobile and software platforms and technologies, and we need to continuously modify and enhance our products and platform to adapt to changes and innovation in these technologies. If customers or their end users adopt new software platforms or infrastructure, we may be required to develop new versions of our products to work with those new platforms or infrastructure. This development effort may require significant resources, which would adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition. Any failure of our products and platform to operate effectively with evolving or new platforms and technologies could reduce the demand for our products. If we are unable to respond to these changes in a cost-effective manner, our products may become less marketable and less competitive or obsolete, and our business, operating results and financial condition could be adversely affected.
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Our results will fluctuate from period to period, and if we fail to meet securities analysts’ and investors’ expectations, then the trading price of our ADSs and the value of your investment could decline substantially.
Our operating results have fluctuated from period to period and will continue to vary in the future as a result of a variety of factors, many of which are outside of our control and are unpredictable. For example, our revenue model is based in large part on end user adoption and usage of our customers’ applications, which can constrain our ability to forecast revenue. If operating results for any particular period fall below securities analysts’ and investors’ expectations, then the trading price of our ADSs could decline substantially. Some factors that may cause our operating results to fluctuate from period to period include:
our ability to attract, retain and increase revenue from customers;
fluctuations in the amount of revenue from our customers;
market acceptance of our products and our ability to introduce new products and enhance existing products;
end-user demand for applications with real-time engagement features;
competition and the actions of our competitors, including pricing changes and the introduction of new products, services and geographies;
our ability to control costs and operating expenses, including the fees that we pay network- and cloud-service providers for data delivery;
changes in our pricing as a result of our optimization efforts or otherwise;
reductions in pricing as a result of negotiations with our larger customers;
the rate of expansion and productivity of our sales force;
change in the mix of products that our customers use;
changes in end-user and customer demand as end-users increase and decrease their time online due to the imposition or easing of stay-at-home, travel and other government mandates or changes in end-user or customer demand for our products in response to the COVID-19 pandemic;
the expansion of our business, particularly in international markets;
changes in foreign currency exchange rates;
changes in laws, regulations or regulatory enforcement, in China, the United States or other countries, that impact our ability to market, sell or deliver our products;
the amount and timing of operating costs and capital expenditures related to the operations and expansion of our business, including investments in international expansion;
significant security breaches of, technical difficulties with, or interruptions to, the delivery and use of our products on our platform;
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general economic and political conditions that may adversely affect a prospective customer’s ability or willingness to adopt our products, delay a prospective customer’s adoption decision, reduce the revenue that we generate from the use of our products or impact customer retention;
extraordinary expenses such as litigation or other dispute-related settlement payments;
sales tax and other tax determinations by authorities in the jurisdictions in which we conduct business;
the impact of new accounting pronouncements;
expenses incurred in connection with mergers, acquisitions or other strategic transactions and integrating acquired business, technologies, services, products and other assets; and
fluctuations in share-based compensation expense.
The occurrence of one or more of the foregoing and other factors may cause our operating results to vary significantly. As such, we believe that period-to-period comparisons of our operating results may not be meaningful and should not be relied upon as an indication of future performance. For example, while we may continue to observe increases in usage and developer adoption of our products to meet end-user demand for real-time engagement spurred by COVID-19, we do not anticipate that we will continue to experience the same level of revenue growth we did in the first half of 2020. In addition, a significant percentage of our operating expenses is fixed in nature and is based on forecasted revenue trends. Accordingly, in the event of a revenue shortfall, we may not be able to mitigate the negative impact on margins and profitability in the short term. If we fail to meet or exceed the expectations of investors or securities analysts, then the trading price of our ADSs could fall substantially, and we could face costly lawsuits, including securities class action suits.
We receive a substantial portion of our revenue from a limited number of customers and use cases, and the loss of, or a significant reduction in usage by, one or more of our major customers or a decline in popularity of certain use cases, would result in lower revenue and could harm our business.
Our future success is dependent on establishing and maintaining successful relationships with a diverse set of customers. We currently receive a substantial portion of our revenue from a limited number of customers. For 2019 and 2020 our top ten customers (after aggregating customers with multiple accounts) accounted for approximately 38.4% and 37.4% of our revenue, respectively. Although the identity of the customers may vary from period to period, it is likely that we will continue to be dependent upon a limited number of customers for a significant portion of our revenue for the foreseeable future and, in some cases, the portion of our revenue attributable to individual customers may increase in the future. The loss of one or more key customers or a reduction in usage by any major customers would reduce our revenue. If we fail to maintain existing customers or develop relationships with new customers, our business would be harmed
Moreover, we generated the majority of our revenue from customers that use our platform and products for social, education, entertainment and gaming applications. The popularity of particular use cases and end users’ use of specific applications, as well as the development of new use cases and applications, depend on many factors beyond our control, and a decline in end users’ use of social, education, entertainment and gaming applications that integrate our products could harm our business, operating results and financial condition.
We are in the process of expanding our international operations, which exposes us to significant risks.
A component of our growth strategy involves the further expansion of our operations and customer base worldwide. We generated a majority of our revenue from customers operating primarily in the PRC in each of the
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periods presented in this annual report. We currently have offices in the PRC and the United States, as well as employees located in Europe. We are continuing to adapt to and develop strategies to address international markets but there is no guarantee that such efforts will have the desired effect.
We expect that our international activities will continue to grow over the foreseeable future as we continue to pursue opportunities in existing and new markets, which will require significant management attention and financial resources worldwide. In connection with such expansion, we may face difficulties including costs associated with varying seasonality patterns, potential adverse movement of currency exchange rates, longer payment cycle difficulties in collecting accounts receivable in some countries, tariffs and trade barriers, a variety of regulatory or contractual limitations on our ability to operate, adverse tax events, reduced protection of intellectual property rights in some countries, political risks and a geographically and culturally diverse workforce and customer base. Failure to overcome any of these difficulties could harm our business.
In addition, we will face risks in doing business internationally that could adversely affect our business, including:
the difficulty of managing and staffing international operations and the increased operations, travel, infrastructure and legal compliance costs associated with numerous international locations;
challenges to our corporate culture resulting from a dispersed workforce;
our ability to effectively price our products in competitive international markets;
new and different sources of competition;
our ability to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679, or GDPR;
potentially greater difficulty collecting accounts receivable and longer payment cycles;
the need to adapt and localize our products for specific countries;
the effect of differing governmental responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and the continuing impact of the pandemic on individuals, businesses and economies in various foreign jurisdictions;
the need to offer customer support in various languages;
difficulties in understanding and complying with local laws, regulations and customs in foreign jurisdictions;
difficulties with differing technical and environmental standards, privacy, cybersecurity, data protection and telecommunications regulations and certification requirements outside China and the United States, which could prevent customers from deploying our products or limit their usage;
export controls and economic sanctions administered by the Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security and the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control;
compliance with various anti-bribery and anti-corruption laws such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, or FCPA, and the United Kingdom Bribery Act of 2010;
tariffs and other non-tariff trade barriers, such as quotas and local content rules;
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more limited protection for intellectual property rights in some countries;
adverse tax consequences;
fluctuations in currency exchange rates, which could increase the price of our products in certain markets, increase the expenses of our international operations and expose us to foreign currency exchange rate risk or the cost and risk of hedging transaction if we choose to enter into such transactions in the future;
currency control regulations, which might restrict or prohibit our conversion of other currencies into U.S. dollars;
restrictions on the transfer of funds;
deterioration of political relations between China, the United States and other countries;
exposure to political developments in the United Kingdom, or the U.K., including the departure of the U.K. from the European Union, or the EU, which has created an uncertain political and economic environment, instability for businesses and volatility in global financial markets; and
political or social unrest or economic instability in a specific country or region in which we operate, which could have an adverse impact on our operations in that location.
Our failure to manage any of these risks successfully could harm our international operations, and adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition. In some cases, compliance with the laws and regulations of one country could violate the laws and regulations of another country. As our global operations evolves, we cannot assure you that we are able to fully comply with the legal requirements of each foreign jurisdiction and successfully adapt our business models to local market conditions. Due to the complexity involved in our international business expansion, we cannot assure you that we are or will be in compliance with all local laws.
If we are unable to maintain and enhance our brand and increase market awareness of our company and products, then our business, operating results and financial condition may be adversely affected.
We must maintain and enhance the “Agora” brand identity and increase market awareness of RTE-PaaS solutions generally and our products particularly to be successful. Our efforts to achieve widespread acceptance of our platform, attract and retain customers and increase usage of our products and platform depend on our marketing efforts, RTE-PaaS market thought leadership and ability to successfully differentiate our products and platform from alternatives. These efforts require substantial expenditures, and we anticipate that they will increase as our market becomes more competitive and as we expand into new markets. These investments in brand promotion and thought leadership may not yield increased revenue. To the extent they do, the resulting revenue still may not be enough to offset the increased expenses we incur.
Failure to effectively develop and expand our marketing and sales capabilities could harm our ability to increase our customer base and achieve broader market acceptance of our platform.
Historically, we have relied on the adoption of our products by developers through our self-service model as well as more targeted sales efforts. Our ability to further increase our customer base and achieve broader market acceptance of our platform will significantly depend on our ability to expand our marketing and sales operations. We plan to continue expanding our sales force and channel partners, both domestically and internationally. We also plan
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to dedicate significant resources to sales and marketing programs. All of these efforts will require us to invest significant financial and other resources and if they fail to attract additional customers our business will be harmed.
As we increase our target sales efforts to larger organizations, we expect to incur higher costs and longer sales cycles. The decision to adopt our products by such customers may require the approval of multiple technical and business decision makers, including security, compliance, procurement, operations and IT. In addition, while certain customers may quickly deploy our products on a limited basis before they will commit to deploying our products at scale, they often require extensive education and customer support, engage in protracted pricing negotiations and seek dedicated product development resources. In addition, sales cycles for efforts targeted at larger organizations are inherently more complex and less predictable than the sales through our self-service model, and some customers may not use our products enough to generate revenue that justifies the cost of customer acquisition. In addition, complex and resource-intensive sales efforts could place additional strain on our product and engineering resources.
We believe that there is significant competition for sales personnel, including sales representatives, sales managers, and sales engineers, with the skills and technical knowledge that we require. Our ability to achieve significant revenue growth will depend, in large part, on our success in recruiting, training, and retaining sufficient numbers of sales personnel to support our growth. New hires require significant training and may take significant time before they achieve full productivity. Our new hires may not become productive as quickly as we expect, if at all, and we may be unable to hire or retain sufficient numbers of qualified individuals in the markets where we do business or plan to do business. In addition, particularly if we continue to grow rapidly, new members of our sales force will have relatively little experience working with us, our platform, and our business model. If we are unable to hire and train sufficient numbers of effective sales personnel, our sales personnel do not reach significant levels of productivity in a timely manner, or our sales personnel are not successful in acquiring new customers or expanding usage by existing customers, our business will be harmed.
We believe that continued growth in our business is also dependent upon identifying, developing and maintaining strategic relationships with additional channel partners that can drive substantial revenue. If we fail to identify additional channel partners in a timely and cost-effective manner, or at all, or are unable to assist our current and future channel partners in independently selling and deploying our products, then our business, operating results, and financial condition could be adversely affected.
We provide service or experience level commitments under our customer agreements. If we fail to meet these contractual commitments, we could be obligated to provide credits for future service, or face contract termination with refunds of prepaid amounts, which could harm our business.
Most of our customer agreements contain service level commitments. In 2020, we launched our first ever Experience-Level Agreement, or XLA, in real-time engagement. Our XLA covers metrics, such as successful log-on rate, jitter rate and latency, and focuses not only on service availability but also on end user experience. If we are unable to meet the stated service level commitments, including failure to meet the uptime and other requirements under our customer agreements, we may be contractually obligated to provide the affected customers with service credits which could significantly affect revenue in the periods in which the uptime or delivery failure occurs and the credits are applied. We could also face customer terminations, which could significantly affect both our current and future revenue. Any service or experience level failures could harm our business.
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Any failure to offer high-quality customer support may adversely affect our relationships with our customers and prospective customers, and adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
Many of our large customers depend on our customer support team to assist them in deploying our products effectively to help them to resolve post-deployment issues quickly and to provide ongoing support. If we do not devote sufficient resources or are otherwise unsuccessful in assisting our customers effectively, it could adversely affect our ability to retain existing customers and could prevent prospective customers from adopting our products. We may be unable to respond quickly enough to accommodate short-term increases in demand for customer support. We also may be unable to modify the nature, scope and delivery of our customer support to compete with changes in the support services provided by our competitors. Increased demand for customer support, without corresponding revenue, could increase costs and adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition. Our sales are highly dependent on our business reputation and on positive recommendations from developers. Any failure to maintain high-quality customer support, or a market perception that we do not maintain high-quality customer support, could adversely affect our reputation, business, operating results and financial condition.
We could incur substantial costs in protecting or defending our intellectual property rights, and any failure to protect our intellectual property could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
Our success depends, in part, on our ability to protect our brand, trade secrets, trademarks, patents, domain names, copyrights and proprietary methods and technologies, whether registered or not, that we develop under patent and other intellectual property laws of China, the United States and other jurisdictions, so that we can prevent others from using our inventions and proprietary information. We currently rely on patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secret law to protect our intellectual property rights. However, we cannot assure you that any of our intellectual property rights will not be challenged, invalidated or circumvented, or that our intellectual property will be sufficient to provide us with competitive advantages. In addition, may be subject to allegation of infringement of other parties’ proprietary rights, and other parties may misappropriate our intellectual property rights, which would cause us to suffer economic or reputational damages. Because of the rapid pace of technological change, we cannot assure you that all of our proprietary technologies and similar intellectual property rights can be patented in a timely or cost-effective manner, or at all.
We also rely, in part, on confidentiality agreements with our business partners, employees, consultants, advisors, customers and others in our efforts to protect our proprietary technology, processes and methods. These agreements may not effectively prevent disclosure of our confidential information, and it may be possible for unauthorized parties to copy our software or other proprietary technology or information, or to develop similar software independently without our having an adequate remedy for unauthorized use or disclosure of our confidential information.
In addition, the laws of some countries do not protect intellectual property and other proprietary rights to the same extent as the laws of the United States. It is often difficult to register, maintain and enforce intellectual property rights in China. Statutory laws and regulations are subject to judicial interpretation and enforcement and may not be applied consistently due to the lack of clear guidance on statutory interpretation. Confidentiality, invention assignment and non-compete agreements may be breached by counterparties, and there may not be adequate remedies available to us for any such breach. Accordingly, we may not be able to effectively protect our intellectual property rights or to enforce our contractual rights in China. To the extent we expand our international activities outside of China and the United States, our exposure to unauthorized copying, transfer and use of our proprietary technology or information may increase.
Preventing any unauthorized use of our intellectual property is difficult and costly and the steps we take may be inadequate to prevent the misappropriation of our intellectual property. Litigation may be necessary in the
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future to enforce our intellectual property rights, determine the validity and scope of our proprietary rights or those of others, or defend against claims of infringement or invalidity. Such litigation could be costly, time-consuming and distracting to management, result in a diversion of significant resources, the narrowing or invalidation of portions of our intellectual property and have an adverse effect on our business, operating results and financial condition. Our efforts to enforce our intellectual property rights may be met with defenses, counterclaims and countersuits attacking the validity and enforceability of our intellectual property rights or alleging that we infringe the counterclaimant’s own intellectual property. Any of our patents, trade secrets, copyrights, trademarks or other intellectual property rights could be challenged by others or invalidated through administrative process or litigation. We can provide no assurance that we will prevail in such litigation. In addition, our proprietary methods and technologies that are regarded as trade secrets may be leaked or otherwise become available to, or be independently discovered by, our competitors and in these cases we would not be able to assert any trade secret rights against those parties. Costly and time-consuming litigation could be necessary to enforce and determine the scope of our proprietary rights, and failure to obtain or maintain trade secret protection could adversely affect our competitive business position. To the extent that our employees or consultants use intellectual property owned by others in their work for us, disputes may arise as to the rights in related know-how and inventions.
There can be no assurance that our particular ways and means of protecting our intellectual property and proprietary rights, including business decisions about when to file patent applications and trademark applications, will be adequate to protect our business or that our competitors will not independently develop similar technology. We could be required to spend significant resources to monitor and protect our intellectual property rights. If we fail to protect and enforce our intellectual property and proprietary rights adequately, our competitors might gain access to our technology and our business, operating results and financial condition could be adversely affected.
We depend largely on the continued services of our senior management, the loss of any of whom could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
Our future performance depends on the continued services and contributions of our senior management to execute on our business plan, develop our products and platform, deliver our products to customers, attract and retain customers and identify and pursue business opportunities. The loss of services of senior management could significantly delay or prevent the achievement of our development and strategic objectives. In particular, we depend to a considerable degree on the vision, skills, experience and effort of our founder and chief executive officer, Mr. Zhao. The replacement of any of our senior management personnel would likely involve significant time and costs, and such loss could significantly delay or prevent the achievement of our business objectives. The loss of the services of any of our senior management for any reason could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
If we are unable to hire, retain and motivate qualified personnel, our business will suffer.
Our future success depends, in part, on our ability to continue to attract and retain highly skilled personnel. We believe that there is, and will continue to be, intense competition for highly skilled management, technical, sales and other personnel with experience in our industry in the cities where our headquarters are located. We must provide competitive compensation packages and a high-quality work environment to hire, retain and motivate employees. If we are unable to retain and motivate our existing employees and attract qualified personnel to fill important positions, we may be unable to manage our business effectively, including the development, marketing and sale of our products, which could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition. To the extent we hire personnel from competitors, we also may be subject to allegations that they have been improperly solicited or divulged proprietary or other confidential information.
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We may acquire or invest in business, technologies, services, products and other assets, which may divert our management’s attention and result in the incurrence of debt or dilution to our shareholders. We may be unable to integrate acquired businesses and technologies successfully or achieve the expected benefits of such acquisitions.
As part of our business strategy, we continually evaluate and consider potential strategic transactions, including acquisitions of, or investments in, businesses, technologies, services, products and other assets in the future. For instance, we made certain acquisitions in late 2020 and early 2021. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—A. History and Development of the Company” and “Item 7. Major Shareholders and Related Party Transactions— B. Related Party Transactions Equity Acquisition.” We also may enter into relationships with other businesses to expand our products and platform, which could involve preferred or exclusive licenses, additional channels of distribution, discount pricing or investments in other companies.
Any acquisition, investment or business relationship may result in unforeseen operating difficulties and expenditures. In particular, we may encounter difficulties assimilating or integrating the businesses, technologies, products, personnel or operations of the acquired companies, particularly if the key personnel of the acquired company choose not to work for us, their products or services are not easily adapted to work with our platform, or we have difficulty retaining the customers of any acquired business due to changes in ownership, management or otherwise. Acquisitions also may disrupt our business, divert our resources or require significant management attention that would otherwise be available for development of our existing business. Moreover, the anticipated benefits of any acquisition, investment or business relationship may not be realized or we may be exposed to unknown risks or liabilities.
Negotiating these transactions can be time consuming, difficult and expensive, and our ability to complete these transactions may often be subject to approvals that are beyond our control. Consequently, these transactions, even if announced, may not be completed. For one or more of those transactions, we may:
issue additional equity securities that would dilute our existing shareholders;
use cash that we may need in the future to operate our business;
incur large charges or substantial liabilities;
incur debt on terms unfavorable to us or that we are unable to repay;
encounter difficulties retaining key employees of the acquired company or integrating diverse software codes or business cultures; or
become subject to adverse tax consequences, substantial depreciation, or deferred compensation charges. The occurrence of any of these foregoing could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
We may have insufficient transmission bandwidth and co-location space, which could result in disruptions to our platform and loss of revenue.
Our operations are dependent in part upon transmission bandwidth provided by third-party network or cloud providers and leasing co-location facilities for our servers and equipment. There can be no assurance that we are adequately prepared for unexpected increases in bandwidth demands by our customers. In the first half of 2020 we experienced a spike in usage as a result of demand for online real-time engagement spurred by COVID-19. Although we were able to scale our network infrastructure in response, the general increase in demand for bandwidth and servers increased prices which in turn adversely impacted our gross margin. Failure to contain the
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further spread, or any resurgence, of COVID-19 may affect our ability to cost-effectively maintain and expand our network infrastructure, which could severely disrupt our business and operations and adversely affect our operating results and financial condition.
The bandwidth we have contracted to purchase may become unavailable for a variety of reasons, including service outages, payment disputes, network providers going out of business, natural disasters, pandemics, networks imposing traffic limits, or governments adopting regulations that impact network operations. We also may be unable to move quickly enough to augment capacity to reflect growing traffic or security demands. Failure to put in place the capacity we require could result in a reduction in, or disruption of, service to our customers, require us to issue credits and ultimately a loss of those customers. Such a failure could result in our inability to acquire new customers demanding capacity not available on our platform. If we are unable to provide sufficient bandwidth, we may also become contractually obligated to provide affected customers with service credits under service or experience level commitments in our customer agreements.
Seasonality may cause fluctuations in our sales and operating results.
Although we have not historically experienced significant seasonality with respect to our revenue throughout the year given the growth in the adoption and usage of our platform, we have seen moderate seasonality in some use cases such as education and gaming. We have experienced lower growth in usage in the first quarter of prior years as Chinese end users reduce online activity due to the Lunar New Year and have experienced higher growth in usage in the third quarter as end users increase online activity due to fewer school days, which gives more opportunity to engage in gaming or take online education classes. The rapid growth in our business has offset this seasonal trend to date, particularly in the first half of 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19, but its impact on revenue may be more pronounced in future periods.
Defects, errors or security vulnerabilities that we may not be able to catch in our products or that may come up as we upgrade our products or launch new products could diminish demand for our products, harm our business and operating results and subject us to liability.

Our customers use our products for important aspects of their businesses, and any errors, defects, security vulnerabilities or disruptions to our products and any other performance problems with our products could damage our customers’ businesses and, in turn, hurt our brand and reputation. We provide regular updates to our products, which have in the past contained, and may in the future contain, undetected errors, failures, vulnerabilities and bugs when first introduced or released. Real or perceived errors, failures or bugs in our products could result in negative publicity, loss of or delay in market acceptance of our platform, loss of competitive position, lower customer retention or claims by customers for losses sustained by them. In such an event, we may be required, or may choose, for customer relations or other reasons, to expend additional resources in order to help correct the problem. While we constantly release updates to mitigate vulnerabilities, errors and bugs and eliminate corresponding threats, we cannot assure you that our customers will install or incorporate such updates properly or at all. In addition, we have very limited insurance coverage for our operations in the PRC, the United States and other jurisdictions to compensate us for any losses that may result from claims arising from defects or disruptions in our products. As a result, our reputation and our brand could be harmed, and our business, operating results and financial condition may be adversely affected.
The estimates of market opportunity and forecasts of market growth included in this annual report may prove to be inaccurate, and any real or perceived inaccuracies may harm our reputation and negatively affect our business. Even if the market in which we compete achieves the forecasted growth, our business could fail to grow at similar rates, if at all.
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Market opportunity estimates and growth forecasts included in this annual report are subject to significant uncertainty and are based on assumptions and estimates that may not prove to be accurate. The variables that go into the calculation of our market opportunity are subject to change over time, and there is no guarantee that any particular number or percentage of addressable companies or end users covered by our market opportunity estimates will purchase our products at all or generate any particular level of revenue for us. Even if the market in which we compete meets the size estimates and growth forecasted in this annual report, our business could fail to grow for a variety of reasons, including reasons outside of our control, such as competition in our industry.
If relations between China and the United States deteriorate, our business, operating results and financial condition could be adversely affected.
At various times during recent years, the United States and China have had significant disagreements over monetary, economic, political and social issues, including currently in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, and future relations between these two countries may deteriorate. Changes in political conditions and changes in the state of China-U.S. relations are difficult to predict and could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition. In addition, because of our extensive operations in the Chinese market, any deterioration in political or trade relations might cause a public perception in the United States or elsewhere that might cause our products to become less attractive. We cannot predict what effect any changes in China-U.S. relations may have on our ability to access capital or effectively do business in China or the United States. Moreover, any political or trade controversies between the United States and China, whether or not directly related to our business, could cause investors to be unwilling to hold or buy our ADSs and consequently cause the trading price of our ADSs to decline.
Breaches of our networks or systems, or those of our service providers, could degrade our ability to conduct our business, compromise the integrity of our products, platform and data, result in significant data losses and the theft of our intellectual property, damage our reputation, expose us to liability to third parties and require us to incur significant additional costs to maintain the security of our networks and data.
We depend on our IT systems to conduct virtually all of our business operations, ranging from our internal operations and research and development activities to our marketing and sales efforts and communications with our customers, service providers and business partners. Individuals or entities may attempt to penetrate our network security, or that of our platform, and to cause harm to our business operations, including by misappropriating our proprietary information or that of our customers, employees, service providers and business partners or to cause interruptions of our products and platform. Because the vulnerabilities and techniques used by such individuals or entities to access, disrupt or sabotage devices, systems and networks change frequently and may not be recognized until launched against a target, we may be unable to anticipate these techniques, and we may not become aware in a timely manner of such a security breach, which could exacerbate any damage we experience. We do not access, share, record or store any of the real-time interactions that are facilitated by our platform other than transmission quality data that enables us to continue to improve our platform and in select cases where developers choose to integrate our Real-Time Recording product, for example to enable content replay or ensure customer service levels. Techniques used to sabotage or obtain unauthorized access to systems or networks are constantly evolving and, in some instances, are not identified until after they have been launched against a target. We and our service providers may be unable to anticipate these techniques, react in a timely manner, or implement adequate preventative and mitigating measures. Any data security incidents, including internal malfeasance or errors by our employees or contractors, unauthorized access or usage, virus or similar breach, incident or disruption of us or our service providers could result in loss of confidential information and any such unauthorized access or usage, breach, incident, or disruption, or the perception that any of these has occurred, could result in damage to our reputation, loss of customers, litigation, regulatory investigations, fines, penalties and other liabilities. Accordingly, if our cybersecurity measures or those of our service providers fail to protect against unauthorized access, attacks (which may include sophisticated cyberattacks), compromise or the mishandling of data by our employees, service
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providers and business partners, then our reputation, business, operating results and financial condition could be adversely affected. Even the perception of inadequate security may damage our reputation and market position. Further, we could be required to expend significant capital and other resources to protect against and address any data security incident or breach, including required notifications in certain cases, which may not be covered or fully covered by our insurance and which may involve payments for investigations, forensic analyses, regulatory compliance, breach notification, legal advice, public relations advice, system repair or replacement, or other services. We and our third-party vendors and service providers also may face difficulties or delays in identifying or responding to, and remediating and otherwise responding to, cyberattacks and other security breaches and incidents. We have incurred substantial costs in efforts to protect our platform and networks against potential attacks and potential impacts of vulnerabilities, and anticipate doing so in the future. If we are unable to efficiently and effectively maintain and upgrade our system safeguards, we may incur unexpected costs and certain of our systems may become more vulnerable to unauthorized access or disruption. Any of the foregoing could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations, market position and reputation.

Our reliance on third-party SaaS technologies may adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
We rely on hosted SaaS technologies from third parties to operate critical internal functions of our business, including enterprise collaboration and customer relations management services. If one or more of these services become unavailable due to extended outages or interruptions, or because they are no longer operated in a reasonably secure manner or available on commercially reasonable terms or prices, our expenses could increase as we consider appropriate alternatives. As a result, our ability to manage our operations could be interrupted and our processes for managing our sales process and supporting our customers could be impaired until equivalent services, if available, are identified, obtained and implemented, all of which could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
We may in the future become involved in disputes relating to alleged infringement of intellectual property rights, which could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
There is considerable patent and other intellectual property development activity in our industry. Our future success depends, in part, on not infringing the intellectual property rights of others. Our competitors or other third parties may in the future claim that our products or platform and underlying technology infringe on their intellectual property rights, and we may be found to be infringing on such rights. We may be unaware of the intellectual property rights of others that may cover some or all of our technology. Any claims or litigation could cause us to incur significant expenses and, if successfully asserted against us, could require that we pay substantial damages or ongoing royalty payments, prevent us from offering our products, require us to develop alternative non-infringing technology or require that we comply with other unfavorable terms, any of which could significantly increase our operating expenses. We may also be obligated to indemnify our customers or business partners in connection with any such litigation and to obtain licenses or modify our products or platform, which could further exhaust our resources. Even if we were to prevail in the event of claims or litigation against us, any claim or litigation regarding intellectual property could be costly and time-consuming and divert the attention of our management and other employees from our business. Patent infringement, trademark infringement, trade secret misappropriation and other intellectual property claims and proceedings brought against us, whether successful or not, could harm our brand, business, operating results and financial condition.
Indemnity provisions in various agreements potentially expose us to substantial liability for intellectual property infringement and other losses.
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Our agreements with customers and other third parties typically include indemnification or other provisions under which we agree to indemnify or otherwise be liable to them for losses suffered or incurred as a result of claims of intellectual property infringement, damages caused by us to property or persons or other liabilities relating to or arising from our products or platform or other acts or omissions. The term of these contractual provisions often survives termination or expiration of the applicable agreement. Large indemnity payments or damage claims from contractual breach could harm our business, operating results and financial condition. Although typically we contractually limit our liability with respect to such obligations, we may still incur substantial liability related to them. Any dispute with a customer with respect to such obligations could have adverse effects on our relationship with that customer and other current and prospective customers, demand for our products and adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
Our use of open source software could negatively affect our ability to sell our products and subject us to possible litigation.
Our products and platform incorporate open source software, and we expect to continue to incorporate open source software in our products and platform in the future. Few of the licenses applicable to open source software have been interpreted by courts, and there is a risk that these licenses could be construed in a manner that could impose unanticipated conditions or restrictions on our ability to commercialize our products and platform. Moreover, although we have implemented policies to regulate the use and incorporation of open source software into our products and platform, we cannot be certain that we have not incorporated open source software in our products or platform in a manner that is inconsistent with such policies. When we utilize open source software in our products in certain ways, the applicable open source licenses may subject us and our customers to certain requirements, including requirements that we and our customers offer the products that incorporate the open source software for no cost, make available source code for modifications or derivative works that are based on, incorporate or use the open source software, and license such modifications or derivative works under the terms of applicable open source licenses. In some cases, open source software is also offered under commercial terms which do not include such requirements and obligations, in exchange for the payment of fees to be negotiated with the author or licensors. We have entered into a license agreement with a third-party licensor relating to certain open source software incorporated in certain of our and our customers’ products. However, in the future we may still receive notices alleging that our usage of other unlicensed open source software does not comply with the applicable license, or such usage requires us to obtain a commercial license. If it were determined that we had not complied with the conditions of one or more of these open source licenses, or if we are unable to successfully negotiate an acceptable commercial license, we and our customers could be required to incur significant legal expenses defending against such allegations and could be subject to significant damages, enjoined or otherwise prohibited from distributing our products that contained the open source software, and be required to comply with onerous conditions or restrictions on these products. In any of these events, we and our customers could be required to seek licenses from third parties in order to continue offering our respective products and platforms, and to re-engineer our products or platforms or discontinue offering our products in the event re-engineering cannot be accomplished on a timely basis. Any of the foregoing could require us and our customers to devote additional research and development resources to re-engineer our products or platforms, harm our reputation, or result in customer dissatisfaction, and may adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
We face certain risks relating to the real properties that we lease.
We lease office spaces from third parties for our operations in the United States and China. Any limitations on the leased properties, or lessors’ title to such properties, may impact our use of the offices, or in extreme cases, result in relocation, which may in turn adversely affect our business operations. For example, some of our lessors in China failed to provide us with valid property ownership certificates or authorizations from the property owners for the lessors to sublease the properties, and some of our leased properties have been mortgaged by the owners to third
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parties such as banks. In addition, certain lease agreements of our leased properties in China may not have been registered with the applicable PRC government authorities as required by PRC law, and although failure to do so does not in itself invalidate the leases, we may be exposed to potential fines if we fail to rectify within the prescribed time period after receiving notices from the relevant PRC government authorities.
As of the date of this annual report, we are not aware of any actions or claims raised by any third parties challenging our use of these properties we currently lease, nor have we received any notices from the PRC government authorities. Despite that, if any third parties who purport to be property owners or mortgagees challenge our right to use the leased properties, it could result in a diversion of management attention and cause us to incur costs associated with defending such actions or claims.
Our business is subject to a variety of U.S., PRC and international laws and regulations, including those regarding privacy, cybersecurity and data protection, and our customers may be subject to regulations related to the handling and transfer of certain types of sensitive and confidential information. Any failure of our platform to comply with or enable our customers to comply with applicable laws and regulations could harm our business, operating results and financial condition.
We and our customers that use our products may be subject to privacy, cybersecurity and data protection-related laws and regulations that impose obligations in connection with the collection, processing and use of personal data, financial data, health or other similar data and general cybersecurity. The U.S. federal and various state governments as well as the PRC government and governments in other countries have adopted or proposed limitations on, or requirements regarding, the collection, distribution, use, security and storage of information, including personally identifiable information of individuals. In the United States, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and numerous state attorneys general are applying federal and state consumer protection laws to impose standards on the online collection, use and dissemination of data, and to the security measures applied to such data. Also, the U.S. Congress enacted the Export Controls Act of 2018, or ECA, with the principal purpose to enhance protection of U.S. technology resources by imposing greater restrictions on the transfer to non-U.S. individuals and companies, particularly through exports to China, of certain key foundational and emerging technologies and cybersecurity considered critical to U.S. national security. The ECA has broadened the scope of U.S. export controls policy to protect a wider range of national security interests, including telecommunications technology, against perceived challenges presented by the PRC. The U.S. government may require us to assist in its investigations related to U.S. national security by providing requested information. In the PRC, the PRC Cybersecurity Law and relevant regulations require network operators, which may include us, to ensure the security and stability of the services provided via network and to provide assistance and support in accordance with the law for public security and national security authorities to protect national security or assist with criminal investigations.
Similarly, many other countries and governmental bodies, including the EU member states, have laws and regulations concerning the collection and use of personal data obtained from individuals located in the EU or by businesses operating within their jurisdiction, which are often more restrictive than those in the United States. Laws and regulations in these jurisdictions apply broadly to the collection, use, storage, disclosure and security of personal data that identifies or may be used to identify an individual, such as names, telephone numbers, email addresses and, in certain circumstances, IP addresses and other online identifiers.
For example, the EU has adopted the General Data Protection Regulation, or the GDPR, which took full effect on May 25, 2018. The GDPR enhances data protection obligations for businesses and requires service providers (data processors) processing personal data on behalf of customers to cooperate with European data protection authorities, implement security measures and keep records of personal data processing activities. The UK has adopted legislation substantially implementing the GDPR, the UK General Data Protection Regulation and the UK Data Protection Act 2018, which we collectively refer to as the UK GDPR. Noncompliance with the GDPR can trigger fines equal to or greater of €20 million or 4% of global annual revenues, and the UK GDPR provides for
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fines for noncompliance of up to the greater of £17.5 million and 4% of total annual revenue. Given the breadth and depth of its obligations, working to meet the requirements of the GDPR has required significant time and resources, including a review of our technology and systems currently in use against the requirements of the GDPR, and similar expenditures of time and resources are required in the case of the UK GDPR. There are also additional EU laws and regulations (and member states implementations thereof), and laws and regulations in the UK, which govern the protection of consumers and of electronic communications. We have taken measures to address certain obligations under the GDPR and UK GDPR and to make us compliant with those regimes, but we may be required to take additional steps in order to comply with them. If our efforts to comply with GDPR, the UK GDPR, or other applicable EU or UK laws and regulations are not successful, we may be subject to penalties and fines that would adversely impact our business and operating results, and our ability to conduct business in the EU and UK could be significantly impaired.

Outside of the EU, we continue to see increased regulation of privacy cybersecurity and data protection, including the adoption of more strict laws with more stringent subject matter specific state laws in the United States and with a broader scope in the PRC. For example, in 2018, California enacted the CCPA, which took effect on January 1, 2020. The CCPA gives California residents expanded rights to access and delete their personal information, opt out of certain personal information sharing, and receive detailed information about how their personal information is used. The CCPA provides for civil penalties for violations, as well as a private right of action for data breaches that is expected to increase data breach litigation. Additionally, a new privacy law, the California Privacy Rights Act, or CPRA, was approved by California voters in the November 3, 2020 election. The CPRA generally takes effect on January 1, 2023 and significantly modifies the CCPA, including by expanding consumers’ rights with respect to certain personal information and creating a new state agency to oversee implementation and enforcement efforts, potentially resulting in further uncertainty and requiring us to incur additional costs and expenses in an effort to comply. Aspects of the CCPA, the CPRA, and their interpretation remain uncertain. The CCPA, CPRA, and similar laws may increase our compliance costs and potential liability, and we may be required to modify our practices and take additional steps in an effort to comply with them. Some observers have noted that the CCPA and CPRA could mark the beginning of a trend toward more stringent state privacy legislation in the United States, which could increase our potential liability and adversely affect our business. For example, on March 2, 2021, Virginia enacted the Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act, or CDPA, a comprehensive privacy statute that shares similarities with the CCPA, CPRA and legislation proposed in other states. The CDPA will require us to incur additional costs and expenses in an effort to comply with it before it becomes effective on January 1, 2023. Broad federal privacy legislation also has been proposed in the United States. Recent and new state and federal legislation relating to privacy may add additional complexity, variation in requirements, restrictions and potential legal risk, require additional investment in resources to compliance programs, could impact strategies and availability of previously useful data and could result in increased compliance costs and/or changes in business practices and policies.

In the PRC, PRC regulators, including the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, or the MIIT and the Cyberspace Administration of China, have been increasingly focused on regulation in the areas of cybersecurity and data protection and governmental authorities have enacted a series of laws and regulations to enhance the protection of privacy and data, which require certain authorization or consent from users prior to collection, use or disclosure of their personal data and also protection of the security of the personal data of such users. Such regulations, including the Decision to Enhance the Protection of Network Information, require the internet service providers to expressly inform their users of the purpose, manner and scope of the internet services providers’ collection and use of user personal information, publish the internet services providers’ standards for their collection and use of user personal information, and collect and use user personal information only with the consent of the users and only within the scope of such consent. The MIIT issued the Order for the Protection of Telecommunication and Internet User Personal Information on July 16, 2013, further requiring internet service providers to establish and publish protocols relating to the collection or use of personal information, keep any collected information strictly confidential and take technological and other measures to maintain the security of such information. Institutions and their employees are prohibited from selling or otherwise illegally disclosing a person’s personal information obtained during the course of performing duties or providing services. In July 2020, the
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Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China released a draft data security law, or the Draft Data Security Law, for public comment. The Draft Data Security Law provides for data security and privacy obligations on entities and individuals carrying out data activities. The Draft Data Security Law also introduces a national security review procedure for those data activities which may affect national security and imposes export restrictions on certain data information. In October 2020, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China released a draft personal information protection law, or the Draft Personal Information Protection Law, for public comment. The Draft Personal Information Protection Law provides for various requirements on personal information protection, including legal bases for data collection and processing, requirements on data localization and cross-border data transfer, requirements for consent and requirements on processing of sensitive personal information. As the Draft Data Security Law and Draft Personal Information Protection Law remain subject to change, we may be required to make further adjustments to our business practices to comply with the enacted form of the laws, which may increase our compliance cost and adversely affect our business performance.
We also continue to see jurisdictions imposing data localization laws, which require personal information, or certain subcategories of personal information to be stored in the jurisdiction of origin. These regulations may inhibit our ability to expand into those markets or prohibit us from continuing to offer services in those markets without significant additional costs.
The uncertainty and changes in the requirements of multiple jurisdictions may increase the cost of compliance, delay or reduce demand for our services, restrict our ability to offer services in certain locations, impact our customers’ ability to deploy our solutions in certain jurisdictions, or subject us to claims and litigation from private actors and investigations, proceedings, and sanctions by data protection regulators, all of which could harm our business, financial condition and operating results.
Additionally, although we endeavor to have our products and platform comply with applicable laws and regulations, these and other obligations may be modified, they may be interpreted and applied in an inconsistent manner from one jurisdiction to another, and they may conflict with one another, other regulatory requirements, contractual commitments or our practices.
We also may be bound by contractual obligations relating to our collection, use and disclosure of personal, financial and other data or may find it necessary or desirable to join industry or other self-regulatory bodies or other privacy, cybersecurity or data protection-related organizations that require compliance with their rules pertaining to privacy and data protection.
We expect that there will continue to be new proposed laws, rules of self-regulatory bodies, regulations and industry standards concerning privacy, data protection and information security in the United States, the PRC, the EU and other jurisdictions, and we cannot yet determine the impact such future laws, rules, regulations and standards may have on our business. Moreover, existing PRC, U.S. federal and various state and foreign privacy, cybersecurity and data protection-related laws and regulations are evolving and subject to potentially differing interpretations, and various legislative and regulatory bodies may expand current or enact new laws and regulations regarding privacy, cybersecurity and data protection-related matters. Because global laws, regulations and industry standards concerning privacy, cybersecurity and data protection have continued to develop and evolve rapidly, it is possible that we or our products or platform may not be, or may not have been, compliant with each such applicable law, regulation and industry standard and compliance with such new laws or to changes to existing laws may impact our business and practices, require us to expend significant resources to adapt to these changes, or to stop offering our products in certain countries. These developments could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
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Further, in many cases we rely on the data processing, privacy, data protection and cybersecurity practices of our suppliers and contractors, including with regard to maintaining the confidentiality, security and integrity of data. If we fail to manage our suppliers or contractors or their relevant practices, or if our suppliers or contractors fail to meet any requirements with regard to data processing, privacy, data protection or cybersecurity required by applicable legal or contractual obligations that we face (including any applicable requirements of our clients), we may be liable in certain cases. Legal obligations such as the GDPR, CCPA, CPRA, CDPA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, and other laws and regulations relating to privacy, cybersecurity and data protection may require us to manage our suppliers and their practices and to enter into agreements with them in certain cases. We may face difficulties in binding our suppliers and contractors to these agreements and otherwise managing their relevant practices, which may subject us to claims, proceedings, and liabilities.
Any failure or perceived failure by us, our products or our platform to comply with new or existing U.S., PRC, EU, UK, or other foreign privacy, cybersecurity or data protection laws, regulations, policies, industry standards or legal obligations, any failure to bind our suppliers and contractors to appropriate agreements or to manage their practices or any systems failure or security incident that results in the unauthorized access to, or acquisition, release or transfer of, personally identifiable information or other data relating to customers or individuals may result in governmental investigations, inquiries, enforcement actions and prosecutions, private claims and litigation, fines and penalties, adverse publicity or potential loss of business.
Changes in laws and regulations related to the internet or changes in the internet infrastructure itself may diminish the demand for our products, and could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
The future success of our business depends on the continued use of the internet as a primary medium for commerce, communications and business applications, as well as continued growth in online real-time engagement. The PRC government and the U.S. federal and various state governments as well as foreign governments have in the past adopted, and may in the future adopt, laws or regulations affecting the use of the internet as a commercial medium. See “—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—We may be adversely affected by the complexity, uncertainties and changes in PRC laws, rules and regulations, particularly of internet businesses.”
The current legislative and regulatory landscape regarding the regulation of the internet and, in particular, internet neutrality, in the United States is subject to uncertainty. The Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, had previously passed Open Internet rules in February 2015, which generally provided for internet neutrality with respect to fixed and mobile broadband internet service. On December 14, 2017, the FCC voted to repeal Open Internet rules generally providing for internet neutrality with respect to fixed and mobile broadband internet service regulations and return to a “light-touch” regulatory framework known as the “Restoring Internet Freedom Order.” The FCC’s new rules, which took effect on June 11, 2018, repealed the neutrality obligations imposed by the 2015 rules and granted providers of broadband internet access services greater freedom to make changes to their services, including, potentially, changes that may discriminate against or otherwise harm our business. However, a number of parties have appealed this order. On October 1, 2019, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the FCC’s repeal but ordered the FCC to reconsider certain elements of the repeal. On October 27, 2020, the FCC adopted an order concluding that the issues remanded by the court did not provide a basis to alter its conclusions in the 2018 order. This order could be subject to further petitions for reconsideration or court appeals. In addition, in September 2018, California enacted the California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018, making California the fourth state to enact a state-level net neutrality law since the FCC repealed its nationwide regulations. This act mandated that all broadband services in California be provided in accordance with California's net neutrality requirements. The U.S. Department of Justice has sued to block the law going into effect; however, on February 23, 2021, a court in the Eastern District of California ruled that California could enforce the law pending further appeal. A number of other states are considering legislation or executive action that would regulate the conduct of
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broadband providers. In its recent decision on the FCC’s repeal, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled that the FCC does not have the authority to bar states from passing their own net neutrality rules. It is uncertain whether the FCC will argue that some state net neutrality laws are preempted by federal law and challenge such state net neutrality laws on a case-by-case basis. Democratic control of the Executive Branch, Congress, and the FCC following the 2020 elections increases the likelihood of legislative or FCC action to reverse the 2018 decision or adopt new national network neutrality rules. We cannot predict whether the FCC order or state initiatives will be modified, overturned or vacated by legal action. Additional changes in the legislative and regulatory landscape regarding internet neutrality, or otherwise regarding the regulation of the internet, could also harm our business.

Almost all access to the internet in China is maintained through state-owned telecommunication operators under the administrative control and regulatory supervision of the MIIT. In addition, the national networks in China are connected to the internet through state-owned international gateways, which are the only channels through which a domestic user can connect to the internet outside of China. We may face similar or other limitations in other countries in which we operate. We may not have access to alternative networks in the event of disruptions, failures or other problems with the internet infrastructure in China or elsewhere. In addition, the internet infrastructure in the countries in which we operate may not support the demands associated with continued growth in internet usage.
Changes in these laws or regulations could require us to modify our platform and products in order to comply with these changes. In addition, government agencies or private organizations have imposed and may impose additional taxes, fees or other charges for accessing the internet or commerce conducted via the internet. These laws or charges could limit the growth of internet-related commerce or communications generally, or result in reductions in the demand for internet-based products and services such as our products and platform. In addition, the use of the internet as a business tool could be adversely affected due to delays in the development or adoption of new standards and protocols to handle increased demands of internet activity, security, reliability, cost, ease-of-use, accessibility and quality of service. The performance of the internet and its acceptance as a business tool has been adversely affected by “viruses,” “worms,” and similar malicious programs. If the use of the internet is reduced as a result of these or other issues, then demand for our products could decline, which could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
Certain of our products are subject to telecommunications-related regulations, and future legislative or regulatory actions could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
As a provider of products used in communications applications, we may be indirectly or directly subject to existing or potential FCC regulations relating to the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, Telecommunications Relay Service fund contributions and other requirements. These laws require providers of certain advanced communications services to make those services accessible to parties with disabilities, including the hardware or software applications they provide, and to keep records of their compliance obligations. These laws may also require service providers to pay certain fees to support FCC accessibility initiatives. If requirements under these laws were imposed on us indirectly by our customers or directly upon us by the FCC, we would be subject to certain product design, record keeping or fee contribution obligations. FCC classification of our internet voice communications products as telecommunications services could result in additional federal and state regulatory obligations. If we do not comply with FCC rules and regulations, we could be subject to FCC enforcement actions, fines, and possibly restrictions on our ability to operate or offer certain of our products. Any enforcement action by the FCC, which may be a public process, could hurt our reputation in the industry, possibly impair our ability to sell our products to customers and could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition. In addition, changes pursuant to any revised FCC or state net neutrality regime may impact the regulatory classification of our business and the applicability of federal or state regulations to our business, which could adversely affect our business, operating results, and financial condition.
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We may also be subject to a number of rules and regulations in China that apply to internet businesses. See “—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—We may be adversely affected by the complexity, uncertainties and changes in PRC laws, rules and regulations, particularly of internet businesses.” As we continue to expand internationally, we may become subject to telecommunications laws and regulations in the foreign countries where we offer our products. Internationally, we currently offer our products in more than 100 countries.
Our international operations are subject to country-specific governmental regulation and related actions that may continue to increase our costs or impact our products and platform or prevent us from offering or providing our products in certain countries. Certain of our products may be used by customers located in countries where voice and other forms of IP communications may be illegal or require special licensing or in countries on a U.S. embargo list. Even where our products are reportedly illegal or become illegal or where users are located in an embargoed country, users in those countries may be able to continue to use our products in those countries notwithstanding the illegality or embargo. We may be subject to penalties or governmental action if end users continue to use our products in countries where it is illegal to do so, and any such penalties or governmental action may be costly and may harm our business and damage our brand and reputation. We may be required to incur additional expenses to meet applicable international regulatory requirements or be required to discontinue those services if required by law or if we cannot or will not meet those requirements.
We may be subject to governmental export controls and economic sanctions regulations that could impair our ability to compete in international markets due to licensing requirements and could subject us to liability if we are not in compliance with applicable laws.
Certain of our products and services may be subject to export control and economic sanctions regulations, including the U.S. Export Administration Regulations, U.S. Customs regulations and various economic and trade sanctions regulations administered by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Controls. Exports of our products and the provision of our services must be made in compliance with these laws and regulations. If we fail to comply with these laws and regulations, we and certain of our employees could be subject to substantial civil or criminal penalties, including: the possible loss of export privileges; fines, which may be imposed on us and responsible employees or managers; and, in extreme cases, the incarceration of responsible employees or managers. Obtaining the necessary authorizations, including any required license, for a particular deployment may be time-consuming, is not guaranteed and may result in the delay or loss of sales opportunities. In addition, changes in our products or services, or changes in applicable export or economic sanctions regulations may create delays in the introduction and deployment of our products and services in international markets, or, in some cases, prevent the export of our products or provision of our services to certain countries or end users. Any change in export or economic sanctions regulations, shift in the enforcement or scope of existing regulations, or change in the countries, governments, persons or technologies targeted by such regulations, could also result in decreased use of our products and services, or in our decreased ability to export our products or provide our services to existing or prospective customers with international operations. Any decreased use of our products and services or limitation on our ability to export our products and provide our services could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
Further, we incorporate encryption technology into certain of our products. Various countries regulate the import of certain encryption technology, including through import permitting and licensing requirements, and have enacted laws that could limit our customers’ ability to import our products into those countries. Encryption products and the underlying technology may also be subject to export control restrictions. Governmental regulation of encryption technology and regulation of exports of encryption products, or our failure to obtain required approval for our products, when applicable, could harm our international sales and adversely affect our revenue. Compliance with applicable regulatory requirements regarding the export of our products and provision of our services, including with respect to new releases of our products and services, may create delays in the introduction of our products and
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services in international markets, prevent our customers with international operations from deploying our products and using our services throughout their globally-distributed systems or, in some cases, prevent the export of our products or provision of our services to some countries altogether.
Our business activities are subject to the FCPA and similar anti-bribery and anti-corruption laws, and any allegation or determination that we have violated these laws could have a material adverse effect on our business or our reputation.
Our business activities are subject to the FCPA and similar anti-bribery or anti-corruption laws, regulations or rules of the countries in which we operate. These laws generally prohibit companies and their employees and third party business partners, representatives and agents from engaging in corruption and bribery, including offering, promising, giving, or authorizing the provision of anything of value, either directly or indirectly, to a government official or commercial party in order to influence official action, direct business to any person, gain any improper advantage, or obtain or retain business. We are also subject to the Chinese anti-corruption and anti-unfair competition laws, which strictly prohibits commercial bribery and bribes to government officials. The FCPA also requires public companies to make and keep books and records that accurately and fairly reflect the transactions of the corporation and to devise and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls.
Our operations are dependent in part upon transmission bandwidth provided by third-party network providers and access to co-location facilities to house our servers, which in some countries may be state-owned, and some of our customers may also be state-owned, in each case exposing us to potential risks. As we continue our international expansion, we may face further challenges related to compliance with global anti-corruption laws. In addition to our own employees, we use third parties to assist us in the process of obtaining government licenses and approvals, including patent and trademark rights. We and our third-party business partners, representatives and agents may have direct or indirect interactions with officials and employees of government agencies, or state-owned or affiliated entities, and we may be held liable for inaccurate or incomplete accounting records, internal accounting controls deemed inadequate by applicable regulatory authorities and corrupt or other illegal activities of our employees, affiliates, third-party business partners, representatives and agents, even if we do not explicitly authorize such activities.
There can be no assurances that our employees or the employees of our third-party business partners, representatives and agents will comply with all applicable laws and regulations, particularly given the high level of complexity of these laws. Violations of these laws and regulations could result in whistleblower complaints, adverse media coverage, investigations, loss of export privileges, debarment from U.S. government contracts, substantial diversion of management’s attention, significant legal fees and fines, severe criminal or civil sanctions against us, our officers, or our employees, disgorgement, and other sanctions and remedial measures, and prohibitions on the conduct of our business. Any such violations could include prohibitions on our ability to offer our products in one or more countries and could materially damage our reputation, our brand, our international expansion efforts, our ability to attract and retain employees, and our business, prospects, operating results, financial condition and the trading price of our ADSs.
Our ADSs may be delisted under the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act if the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, or the PCAOB, is unable to inspect auditors who are located in China. The delisting of our ADSs, or the threat of their being delisted, may materially and adversely affect the value of your investment. Additionally, the inability of the PCAOB to conduct inspections deprives our investors of the benefits of such inspections.
The Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, or the HFCAA, was enacted on December 18, 2020. The HFCAA states if the SEC determines that we have filed audit reports issued by a registered public accounting
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firm that has not been subject to inspection by the PCAOB for three consecutive years beginning in 2021, the SEC shall prohibit our shares or ADSs from being traded on a national securities exchange or in the over the counter trading market in the United States.
Our auditor, the independent registered public accounting firm that issued the audit report included elsewhere in this annual report, as an auditor of companies that are traded publicly in the United States and a firm registered with the PCAOB, is subject to laws in the United States pursuant to which the PCAOB conducts regular inspections to assess its compliance with the applicable professional standards. Since our auditor is located in China, a jurisdiction where the PCAOB has been unable to conduct inspections without the approval of the Chinese authorities, our auditor is currently not inspected by the PCAOB.
On March 24, 2021, the SEC adopted an interim final rule relating to the implementation of certain disclosure and documentation requirements of the HFCAA. We will not be required to comply with these rules until the SEC has identified us as having a “non-inspection” year under a process to be subsequently established by the SEC. The SEC is assessing how to implement other requirements of the HFCAA, including the listing and trading prohibition requirements described above. The SEC may propose additional rules or guidance that could impact us if our auditor is not subject to PCAOB inspection. For example, on August 6, 2020, the President's Working Group on Financial Markets, or the PWG, issued the Report on Protecting United States Investors from Significant Risks from Chinese Companies to the then President of the United States. This report recommended the SEC implement five recommendations to address companies from jurisdictions that do not provide the PCAOB with sufficient access to fulfil its statutory mandate. Some of the concepts of these recommendations were implemented with the enactment of the HFCAA. However, some of the recommendations were more stringent than the HFCAA. For example, if a company was not subject to PCAOB inspection, the report recommended that the transition period before a company would be delisted would end on January 1, 2022.
It is unclear when the SEC will complete its rulemaking and when such rules will become effective and what, if any, of the PWG recommendations will be adopted. The implications of this possible regulation in addition to the requirements of the HFCAA are uncertain. Such uncertainty could cause the market price of our ADSs to be materially and adversely affected, and our securities could be delisted or prohibited from being traded “over-the-counter” earlier than would be required by the HFCAA. If our securities are unable to be listed on another securities exchange by then, such a delisting would substantially impair your ability to sell or purchase our ADSs when you wish to do so, and the risk and uncertainty associated with a potential delisting would have a negative impact on the price of our ADSs.
The PCAOB’s inability to conduct inspections in China prevents it from fully evaluating the audits and quality control procedures of our independent registered public accounting firm. As a result, we and investors in our ADSs are deprived of the benefits of such PCAOB inspections. The inability of the PCAOB to conduct inspections of auditors in China makes it more difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of our independent registered public accounting firm’s audit procedures or quality control procedures as compared to auditors outside of China that are subject to the PCAOB inspections, which could cause investors and potential investors in our ADSs to lose confidence in our audit procedures and reported financial information and the quality of our financial statements.
In May 2013, the PCAOB announced that it had entered into a Memorandum of Understanding on Enforcement Cooperation with the CSRC and the PRC Ministry of Finance, which establishes a cooperative framework between the parties for the production and exchange of audit documents relevant to investigations undertaken by the PCAOB in the PRC or by the CSRC or the PRC Ministry of Finance in the United States. The PCAOB continues to be in discussions with the CSRC and the PRC Ministry of Finance to permit joint inspections in the PRC of audit firms that are registered with the PCAOB and audit Chinese companies that trade on U.S. exchanges.
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Proceedings instituted by the SEC against certain PRC-based accounting firms, including the affiliate of our independent registered public accounting firm, or any related adverse regulatory development in the PRC, could result in our financial statements being determined to not be in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act.
In December 2012, the SEC instituted administrative proceedings against the Big Four PRC-based accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm, alleging that these firms had violated U.S. securities laws and the SEC’s rules and regulations thereunder by failing to provide to the SEC the firms’ audit work papers with respect to certain PRC-based companies that are publicly traded in the United States.
On January 22, 2014, the administrative law judge presiding over the matter rendered an initial decision that each of the firms had violated the SEC’s rules of practice by failing to produce audit papers and other documents to the SEC. The initial decision censured each of the firms and barred them from practicing before the SEC for a period of six months.
On February 6, 2015, the four China-based accounting firms each agreed to a censure and to pay a fine to the SEC to settle the dispute and avoid suspension of their ability to practice before the SEC and audit U.S.-listed companies. The settlement required the firms to follow detailed procedures and to seek to provide the SEC with access to Chinese firms’ audit documents via the CSRC. Under the terms of the settlement, the underlying proceeding against the four China-based accounting firms was deemed dismissed with prejudice four years after entry of the settlement. The four-year mark occurred on February 6, 2019. While we cannot predict if the SEC will further challenge the four China-based accounting firms’ compliance with U.S. law in connection with U.S. regulatory requests for audit work papers or if the results of such a challenge would result in the SEC imposing penalties such as suspensions, if the accounting firms are subject to additional remedial measures, our ability to file our financial statements in compliance with SEC requirements could be impacted. A determination that we have not timely filed financial statements in compliance with SEC requirements could ultimately lead to the delisting of our ADSs or the termination of the registration of our ADSs under the Exchange Act, or both, which would substantially reduce or effectively terminate the trading of our ADSs in the United States.
We may have additional tax liabilities, which could harm our business, operating results and financial condition.
We are subject to income taxes and other taxes in the United States, the PRC and other foreign jurisdictions. Significant judgments and estimates are required in determining our provision for income taxes and other tax liabilities. Our tax expense may be impacted, for example, if tax laws change or are clarified to our detriment or if tax authorities successfully challenge the tax positions that we take, such as, for example, positions relating to the arms-length pricing standards for our intercompany transactions and our state sales and use tax positions. In determining the adequacy of income taxes, we assess the likelihood of adverse outcomes that could result if our tax positions were challenged by the State Administration of Taxation, or SAT, the Internal Revenue Service, or IRS, and other tax authorities. Should the SAT, the IRS or other tax authorities assess additional taxes as a result of audits or examinations, we may be required to record charges to operations that could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
Our global operations and structure subject us to potentially adverse tax consequences.
We generally conduct our global operations through subsidiaries and report our taxable income in various jurisdictions worldwide based on our business operations in those jurisdictions. In particular, our intercompany relationships are subject to complex transfer pricing regulations administered by taxing authorities in various jurisdictions. Also, our tax expense could be affected depending on the applicability of withholding and other taxes (including withholding and indirect taxes on software licenses and related intercompany transactions) under the tax
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laws of certain jurisdictions in which we have business operations. The relevant revenue and taxing authorities may disagree with positions we have taken generally, or our determinations as to the value of assets sold or acquired or income and expenses attributable to specific jurisdictions. If such a disagreement were to occur, and our position were not sustained, we could be required to pay additional taxes, interest and penalties, which could result in one-time tax charges, higher effective tax rates, reduced cash flows and lower overall profitability of our operations. The tax laws of certain countries in which we do business could also change on a prospective or retroactive basis, and any such changes could increase our liabilities for taxes, interest and penalties, and therefore could harm our business, cash flows, operating results and financial position.
We may be a passive foreign investment company, which could result in adverse U.S. federal income tax consequences to U.S. investors owning the ADSs or Class A ordinary shares.
A non-U.S. corporation, such as our company, will be considered a passive foreign investment company, or PFIC, for any tax year if either (1) at least 75% of its gross income is passive income or (2) at least 50% of the value of its assets (based on an average of the quarterly values of the assets during a tax year) is attributable to assets that produce or are held for the production of passive income. A separate determination must be made after the close of each tax year as to whether a non-U.S. corporation is a PFIC for that year. Although the law in this regard is not entirely clear, we treat our VIEs as being owned by us for U.S. federal income tax purposes because we control their management decisions and are entitled to substantially all of the economic benefits associated with them. As a result, we consolidate their operating results in our consolidated U.S. GAAP financial statements. If it were determined, however, that we are not deemed the owner of our VIEs for U.S. federal income tax purposes, we would likely be treated as a PFIC for the current tax year and any subsequent tax year.
For purposes of the PFIC asset test, the value of our assets will generally be determined by reference to our market capitalization. However, if we are considered to be a “controlled foreign corporation,” or CFC, that is not “publicly traded” for purposes of the PFIC rules during the tested period, the value of our assets will generally be determined by reference to our adjusted bases in our assets. We do not believe we are a CFC, and we further believe that the ADSs are “publicly traded.” Therefore, assuming that we are deemed the owner of our VIEs for U.S. federal income tax purposes and based on our current and projected market capitalization and composition of our income and assets, we do not believe we were a PFIC for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2020 and we do not expect to be a PFIC for the current tax year or the foreseeable future. However, no assurance can be given in this regard because the determination of whether we will be or will become a PFIC is a factual determination made annually that will depend, in part, upon the composition of our income and assets. Fluctuations in the market price of the ADSs may cause us to be a PFIC for the current or future tax years because the value of our assets for purposes of the asset test, including the value of our goodwill and unbooked intangibles, may be determined by reference to the market price of the ADSs from time to time (which may be volatile). If our market capitalization subsequently declines, we may be or become a PFIC for the current tax year or future tax years. Under circumstances where our revenue from activities that produce passive income significantly increases relative to our revenue from activities that produce non-passive income, or where we determine not to deploy significant amounts of cash for active purposes, our risk of becoming a PFIC may substantially increase.
If we are a PFIC for any tax year during which a U.S. Holder (as defined in “Item 10. Additional Information—E. Taxation—U.S. Federal Income Tax Considerations—General”) holds an ADS or a Class A ordinary share, certain adverse U.S. federal income tax consequences could apply to the U.S. Holder. See the section of this annual report captioned “Item 10. Additional Information—E. Taxation—U.S. Federal Income Tax Considerations—Passive Foreign Investment Company Rules.”
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If a United States person is treated as owning at least 10% of our share capital, such person may be subject to adverse U.S. federal income tax consequences.
If a United States person is treated as owning (directly, indirectly or constructively) at least 10% of the value or voting power of our share capital, such person may be treated as a “United States shareholder” with respect to each CFC in our group (if any). While we do not believe that we are a CFC, the rules to determine CFC status are complex, and a tax authority may disagree with our determination. Because our group includes one or more U.S. subsidiaries, certain of our non-U.S. subsidiaries could be treated as CFCs. A United States shareholder of a CFC may be required to report annually and include in its U.S. taxable income its pro rata share of “Subpart F income”, “global intangible low-taxed income” and investments in U.S. property by CFCs, regardless of whether we make any distributions. Failure to comply with such reporting requirements could result in adverse tax effects for United States shareholders and potentially significant monetary penalties. We cannot provide any assurances that we will assist investors in determining whether we or any of our non-U.S. subsidiaries is treated as a CFC or furnish to any United States shareholders information that may be necessary to comply with the aforementioned obligations. A United States investor should consult its advisors regarding the potential application of these rules to an investment in our ADSs.
Negative publicity about us, our services, operations and our management may adversely affect our reputation and business.
We may, from time to time, receive negative publicity, including negative internet and blog postings about our company, our business, our management or our services. Certain of such negative publicity may be the result of malicious harassment or unfair competition acts by third parties. We may even be subject to government or regulatory investigation as a result of such third-party conduct and may be required to spend significant time and incur substantial costs to defend ourselves against such third-party conduct, and we may not be able to conclusively refute each of the allegations within a reasonable period of time, or at all. Our brand and reputation may be materially and adversely affected as a result of any negative publicity, which in turn may cause us to lose market share, customers and other third parties with which we conduct business.
We may require additional capital to support our business, and this capital might not be available on acceptable terms, if at all.
We intend to continue to make investments to support our business and may require additional funds. In particular, we may seek additional funds to develop new products and enhance our platform and existing products, expand our operations, including our sales and marketing organizations and our presence outside of China and the United States, improve our infrastructure or acquire complementary businesses, technologies, services, products and other assets. Accordingly, we may need to engage in equity or debt financings to secure additional funds. If we raise additional funds through future issuances of equity or convertible debt securities, our shareholders could suffer significant dilution, and any new equity securities we issue could have rights, preferences and privileges superior to holders of our Class A and Class B ordinary shares. Any debt financing that we may secure in the future could involve restrictive covenants relating to our capital raising activities and other financial and operational matters, which may make it more difficult for us to obtain additional capital and to pursue business opportunities. We may not be able to obtain additional financing on terms favorable to us, if at all. If we are unable to obtain adequate financing or financing on terms satisfactory to us when we require it, our ability to continue to support our business growth, scale our infrastructure, develop product enhancements and to respond to business challenges could be significantly impaired, and our business, operating results and financial condition may be adversely affected.
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We face exposure to foreign currency exchange rate fluctuations, and such fluctuations could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
We have operations primarily in China and the United States but sell to customers worldwide. As we continue to expand our international operations, we will become increasingly exposed to the effects of fluctuations in currency exchange rates. Although the majority of our cash generated from revenue is denominated in U.S. dollars and Renminbi, a small amount is denominated in other currencies, and our expenses are generally denominated in the currencies of the jurisdictions in which we conduct our operations. Because we conduct business in currencies other than U.S. dollars but report our operating results in U.S. dollars, we also face translation exposure to fluctuations in currency exchange rates, which could hinder our ability to predict our future results and earnings and could materially impact our operating results. We do not currently maintain a program to hedge exposures to foreign currencies.
The value of the Renminbi against the U.S. dollar and other currencies has in the past fluctuated significantly, and may in the future continue to do so, affected by, among other things, changes in political and economic conditions and the foreign exchange policy adopted by the PRC government. With the development of the foreign exchange market and progress towards interest rate liberalization and Renminbi internationalization, the PRC government may in the future announce further changes to the exchange rate system, and we cannot assure you that the Renminbi will not appreciate or depreciate significantly in value against the U.S. dollar in the future. It is difficult to predict how market forces or PRC or U.S. government policy may impact the exchange rate between the Renminbi and the U.S. dollar in the future.
We are a holding company and we rely on dividends paid by our subsidiaries in China for our cash needs. Any significant fluctuation of Renminbi against the U.S. dollar could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition, and the value of any dividends payable in U.S. dollars. If we decide to convert our Renminbi into U.S. dollars for the purpose of making payments for dividends on our ordinary shares or for other business purposes, appreciation of the U.S. dollar against the Renminbi would have a negative effect on the U.S. dollar amount.
Our ability to use our net operating losses to offset future taxable income may be subject to certain limitations.
As of December 31, 2020, Agora Lab, our subsidiary located in Santa Clara, California, had federal and state net operating loss carryforwards, or NOLs, of US$35.5 million and US$35.4 million, respectively, due to prior period losses. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, or the Tax Act, made broad and complex changes to the U.S. tax code, including changes to the uses and limitations of NOLs. For example, while the Tax Act, as modified by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020, allows for federal NOLs incurred in tax years beginning after December 31, 2017 to be carried forward indefinitely, the Tax Act also imposes an 80% limitation on the use of NOLs that are generated in tax years beginning after December 31, 2017 and carried forward to tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2021. However, NOLs generated prior to December 31, 2017 will still have a 20-year carryforward period, but are not subject to the 80% limitation. Other limitations may apply under state law, including California, which has enacted legislation to suspend the use of NOLs through the end of 2022. Furthermore, our ability to use Agora Lab’s NOLs is conditioned on Agora Lab maintaining profitability in the future and generating U.S. federal taxable income. Since we do not know whether or when Agora Lab will generate the U.S. federal taxable income necessary to use its remaining NOLs, its NOLs generated prior to December 31, 2017 could expire unused.
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We have identified material weaknesses in our internal control over financial reporting. If our remediation of the material weaknesses is not effective, or if we experience additional material weaknesses in the future or otherwise fail to maintain proper and effective internal control over financial reporting, our ability to produce accurate and timely consolidated financial statements could be impaired, investors may lose confidence in our financial reporting and the trading price of the ADSs may decline.

As a public company, we are subject to the reporting requirements of the Exchange Act, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, or the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and the rules and regulations of the applicable listing and corporate governance standards of the Nasdaq Stock Market. We expect that the requirements of these rules and regulations will continue to increase our legal, accounting, and financial compliance costs, make some activities more difficult, time-consuming and costly and place significant strain on our personnel, systems and resources.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires, among other things, that we maintain effective disclosure controls and procedures and internal control over financial reporting. Commencing with our fiscal year ended December 31, 2021, we must perform system and process evaluation and testing of our internal control over financial reporting to allow management to report on the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting in our Form 20-F filing for that year, as required by Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
In the course of preparing and auditing our consolidated financial statements for the years ended December 31, 2018 and 2019, we and our independent registered public accounting firm identified a material weakness in our internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2019. According to the U.S. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, a “material weakness” is a deficiency, or a combination of deficiencies, in internal control over financial reporting, such that there is a reasonable possibility that a material misstatement of our company’s annual or interim consolidated financial statements will not be prevented or detected on a timely basis. The material weakness relates to our lack of sufficient financial reporting and accounting personnel with appropriate knowledge of U.S. GAAP and the SEC reporting requirements to address complex U.S. GAAP technical accounting issues, to prepare consolidated financial statements and related disclosures in accordance with U.S. GAAP and financial reporting requirements set forth by the SEC, and to formalize our existing period-end financial reporting policies and procedures to address the aforementioned complex U.S. GAAP accounting issues. We cannot assure you that there will not be additional material weaknesses or any significant deficiencies in our internal control over financial reporting in the future. Any failure to maintain internal control over financial reporting could severely inhibit our ability to accurately report our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows. If we are unable to conclude that our internal control over financial reporting is effective, or if our independent registered public accounting firm determines we have a material weakness or significant deficiency in our internal control over financial reporting once that firm begins its Section 404 reviews, investors may lose confidence in the accuracy and completeness of our financial reports, the market price of the ADSs could decline, and we could be subject to sanctions or investigations by Nasdaq, the SEC or other regulatory authorities. Failure to remedy any material weakness in our internal control over financial reporting, or to implement or maintain other effective control systems required of public companies, could also restrict our future access to the capital markets.
To remedy our identified material weakness that has been identified during our initial public offering, we have started to undertake steps to strengthen our internal control over financial reporting, including: (1) hiring more qualified resources equipped with relevant U.S. GAAP and SEC reporting experience and qualifications to strengthen the financial reporting function and to set up a financial and system control framework, (2) implementing regular and continuous U.S. GAAP accounting and financial reporting training programs for our accounting and financial reporting personnel, (3) establishing effective oversight and clarifying reporting requirements for non-recurring and complex transactions to ensure consolidated financial statements and related disclosures are accurate, complete and in compliance with SEC reporting requirements, and (4) enhancing an internal audit function as well as engaging an external consulting firm to help us assess our compliance readiness under rule 13a-15 of the Exchange Act and improve overall internal control. However, the implementation of these measures have not been
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fully implemented in the limited time that elapsed since our initial public offering and we concluded that the material weakness in our internal control over financial reporting have not been remediated as of December 31, 2020. We will continue to implement measures to remediate the material weakness. However, we cannot assure you that all these measures will be sufficient to remediate our material weakness in time, or at all. Our internal control over financial reporting will not prevent or detect all errors and all fraud. A control system, no matter how well designed and operated, can provide only reasonable, not absolute, assurance that the control system’s objectives will be met. Because of the inherent limitations in all control systems, no evaluation of controls can provide absolute assurance that misstatements due to error or fraud will not occur or that all control issues and instances of fraud will be detected.
We are continuing to develop and refine our disclosure controls and other procedures that are designed to ensure that information required to be disclosed by us in the reports that we will file with the SEC is recorded, processed, summarized and reported within the time periods specified in SEC rules and forms and that information required to be disclosed in reports under the Exchange Act is accumulated and communicated to our principal executive and financial officers. We are also continuing to improve our internal control over financial reporting. In order to maintain and improve the effectiveness of our disclosure controls and procedures and internal control over financial reporting, we have expended, and anticipate that we will continue to expend, significant resources, including accounting-related costs and significant management oversight.
Our current controls and any new controls that we develop may become inadequate because of changes in conditions in our business. Further, weaknesses in our disclosure controls and internal control over financial reporting may be discovered in the future. If government authorities were to re-impose shelter-in-place mandates due to the COVID-19 pandemic or another public health crisis, it may challenge our ability to maintain effective disclosure controls and procedures and internal control over financial reporting while such mandates remain in place. Any failure to develop or maintain effective controls or any difficulties encountered in their implementation or improvement could harm our operating results or cause us to fail to meet our reporting obligations and may result in a restatement of our financial statements for prior periods. Any failure to implement and maintain effective internal control over financial reporting also could adversely affect the results of periodic management evaluations and annual independent registered public accounting firm attestation reports regarding the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting that we will eventually be required to include in our periodic reports that will be filed with the SEC. Ineffective disclosure controls and procedures and internal control over financial reporting could also cause investors to lose confidence in our reported financial and other information, which would likely have a negative effect on the trading price of our ADSs. In addition, if we are unable to continue to meet these requirements, we may not be able to remain listed on the Nasdaq Global Select Market. We are not currently required to comply with the SEC rules that implement Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and are therefore not required to make a formal assessment of the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting for that purpose. As a public company, we are required to provide an annual management report on the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting commencing with our second annual report on Form 20-F.
We qualify as an “emerging growth company” pursuant to the JOBS Act and our independent registered public accounting firm is not required to formally attest to the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting until after we are no longer an “emerging growth company.” When we lose our status as an “emerging growth company,” which we expect to occur at the end of 2021, our independent registered public accounting firm will be required to attest to the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting.
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Our business is subject to the risks of earthquakes, fire, floods, pandemics and other natural catastrophic events, and to interruption by man-made problems such as power disruptions, computer viruses, data security breaches or terrorism.
A significant natural disaster, such as an earthquake, fire, flood or pandemic, occurring at one of our headquarters, at one of our other facilities or where a business partner is located could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition. Further, if a natural disaster or man-made problem were to affect our service providers, this could adversely affect the ability of our customers to use our products and platform. In addition, natural disasters and acts of terrorism could cause disruptions in our or our customers’ businesses, national economies or the world economy as a whole, as is the case currently due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We also rely on our network and third-party infrastructure and enterprise applications and internal technology systems for our engineering, sales and marketing, and operations activities. Although we maintain incident management and disaster response plans, in the event of a major disruption caused by a natural disaster or man-made problem, we may be unable to continue our operations and may endure system interruptions, reputational harm, delays in our development activities, lengthy interruptions in service, breaches of data security and loss of critical data, any of which could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
In addition, computer malware, viruses and computer hacking, fraudulent use attempts and phishing attacks have become more prevalent in our industry, have occurred on our platform and have impacted some of our services providers in the past and may occur on our platform in the future. Any failure to maintain performance, reliability, security, integrity and availability of our products and technical infrastructure, including third-party infrastructure and services upon which we rely, may give rise to litigation, consumer protection actions, or harm to our reputation, and as a result, may hinder our ability to retain existing users and attract new users.
Legal or administrative proceedings or allegations of impropriety against us or our management could have a material adverse impact on our business, operating results and financial condition.
We and members of our management may be subject to allegations, lawsuits or legal or administrative proceedings brought by our competitors, individuals, government and regulatory authorities or other persons in the future. Any such lawsuit, allegation or proceeding, with or without merit, or any perceived unfair, unethical, fraudulent or inappropriate business practice by us or perceived wrong-doing by any key member of our management team could harm our reputation and cause our user base to decline and distract our management from day-to-day operations of our company. We cannot assure you that we or key members of our management team will not be subject to lawsuits, allegations or proceedings of a similar nature in the future. For example, while we have been continually making efforts and devoting our resources to comply with labor-related laws and regulations in China, and as of the date of this annual report we are not aware of any pending claims raised by our employees or any notice of proceedings from regulatory authorities in this regard, there can be no assurance that our employment practices will at all times be in full compliance, which may subject us to labor disputes or other legal or administrative proceedings.
Where we can make a reasonable estimate of the liability relating to pending litigation and determine that an adverse liability resulting from such litigation is probable, we will record a related contingent liability. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, we did not record any contingent liabilities relating to pending litigation. However, when we record or revise our estimates of contingent liabilities in the future, the amount of our estimates may be inaccurate due to the inherent uncertainties relating to litigation. In addition, the outcomes of actions we institute against third parties may not be successful or favorable to us. Litigation and allegations against us or any of our management members, irrespective of their veracity, may also generate negative publicity that significantly harms our reputation, which may materially and adversely affect our user base and our ability to attract content providers and advertising customers. In addition to the related cost, managing and defending litigation and related indemnity obligations can
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significantly divert our management and the board of directors’ attention from operating our business. We may also need to pay additional compensation or damages, or settle the litigation with a substantial amount of cash. All of these could have a material adverse impact on our business, operating results and financial condition.
Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure
If the PRC government deems that the contractual arrangements in relation to our VIEs do not comply with PRC regulatory restrictions on foreign investment in the relevant industries, or if these regulations or the interpretation of existing regulations change in the future, we could be subject to severe penalties or be forced to relinquish our interests in those operations.
The PRC government regulates telecommunications-related businesses through strict business licensing requirements and other government regulations. These laws and regulations also include limitations on foreign ownership of PRC companies that engage in telecommunications-related businesses. Specifically, foreign investors are not allowed to own more than a 50% equity interest in any PRC company engaging in value-added telecommunications businesses, except for those in a few categories, such as e-commerce, domestic multiparty communication, storage-and-forward, and call center services according to the Special Administrative Measures (Negative List) for Foreign Investment Access effective on July 23, 2020, which may be amended, supplemented or otherwise modified from time to time, or the Negative List. The primary foreign investor must also have experience and a good track record in providing value-added telecommunications services, or VATS, overseas. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulations—PRC Regulation—Foreign Investment Law.”
Because we are an exempted company incorporated in the Cayman Islands, we are classified as a foreign enterprise under PRC laws and regulations, and each of our wholly foreign-owned enterprises in the PRC is a foreign-invested enterprise, or FIE. As our business operations may be regarded as a certain kind of business that is subject to foreign investment restrictions according to above mentioned restrictions, we established certain contractual arrangements to conduct our business in China. Our WFOEs have entered into a series of contractual arrangements with our VIEs and their shareholders, respectively, which enable us to (1) exercise effective control over our VIEs, (2) receive all of the economic benefits of our VIEs and (3) have an exclusive option to purchase all or part of the equity interests in our VIEs when and to the extent permitted by PRC law. As a result of these contractual arrangements, we have control over and are the primary beneficiary of our VIEs and hence consolidate its financial results as our VIEs under U.S. GAAP. We mainly operate our business in the PRC through Zhaoyan, one of our VIEs, and have effective control over Zhaoyan through the contractual arrangements between and by Dayin, Zhaoyan and its shareholders. See the section of this annual report captioned “Item 4. Information on The Company—Organizational Structure—Contractual Arrangements among Dayin, Zhaoyan and Zhaoyan’s Shareholders.”

We believe that our corporate structure and contractual arrangements comply with the current applicable PRC laws and regulations. Our PRC legal counsel, King & Wood Mallesons, based on its understanding of the relevant laws and regulations, is of the opinion that each of the contracts among our WFOEs, our VIEs and their shareholders is valid, binding and enforceable in accordance with its terms. However, as there are substantial uncertainties regarding the interpretation and application of PRC laws and regulations, including the Foreign Investment Law, the Regulations on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors, or the M&A Rules, and the Telecommunications Regulations and the relevant regulatory measures concerning the telecommunications industry, there can be no assurance that the PRC government authorities, such as the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China, or the MOFCOM, or the MIIT or other authorities that regulate internet content providers and other participants in the telecommunications industry, would agree that our corporate structure or any of the above contractual arrangements comply with PRC licensing, registration or other regulatory requirements, with existing policies or with requirements or policies that may be adopted in the future. PRC laws
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and regulations governing the validity of these contractual arrangements are uncertain and the relevant government authorities have broad discretion in interpreting these laws and regulations.
If our corporate structure and contractual arrangements are deemed by the MIIT or the MOFCOM or other regulators having competent authority to be illegal, either in whole or in part, we may lose control of our VIEs and have to modify such structure to comply with regulatory requirements. However, there can be no assurance that we can achieve this without material disruption to our business. Further, if our corporate structure and contractual arrangements are found to be in violation of any existing or future PRC laws or regulations, the relevant regulatory authorities would have broad discretion in dealing with such violations, including:
revoking our business and operating licenses;
levying fines on us;
confiscating any of our income that they deem to be obtained through illegal operations;
restricting our right to collect revenue;
shutting down our services;
discontinuing or restricting our operations in China;
imposing conditions or requirements with which we may not be able to comply;
requiring us to change our corporate structure and contractual arrangements;
restricting or prohibiting our use of the proceeds from overseas offerings to finance our VIEs’ business and operations; and
taking other regulatory or enforcement actions that could be harmful to our business.
Furthermore, new PRC laws, rules and regulations may be introduced to impose additional requirements that may be applicable to our corporate structure and contractual arrangements. See “—Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to the interpretation and implementation of the newly promulgated PRC Foreign Investment Law, and its enactment could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.” Occurrence of any of these events could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition. In addition, if the imposition of any of these penalties or requirement to restructure our corporate structure causes us to lose the rights to direct the activities of our VIEs or our right to receive its economic benefits, we would no longer be able to consolidate the financial results of such VIEs in our consolidated financial statements. However, we do not believe that such actions would result in the liquidation or dissolution of our company, our wholly owned subsidiaries in China or our VIEs. See the section of this annual report captioned “Item 4. Information on The Company—Organizational Structure—Contractual Arrangements among Dayin, Zhaoyan and Zhaoyan’s Shareholders.”
We rely on contractual arrangements with our VIEs and their respective shareholders to operate our business, which may not be as effective as direct ownership in providing operational control and could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
We rely on contractual arrangements with our VIEs and their respective shareholders to operate our business in the PRC, mainly, the contractual arrangements between Dayin, Zhaoyan and its shareholders. See the section of this annual report captioned “Item 4. Information on The Company—Organizational Structure—
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Contractual Arrangements among Dayin, Zhaoyan and Zhaoyan’s Shareholders.” These contractual arrangements may not be as effective as direct ownership in providing us with control over our VIEs. If our VIEs or their respective shareholders fail to perform their respective obligations under these contractual arrangements, our recourse to the assets held by our VIEs is indirect and we may have to incur substantial costs and expend significant resources to enforce such arrangements in reliance on legal remedies under PRC law. These remedies may not always be effective, particularly in light of uncertainties in the PRC legal system. Furthermore, in connection with litigation, arbitration or other judicial or dispute resolution proceedings, assets under the name of any of record holder of equity interest in our VIEs, including such equity interest, may be put under court custody. As a consequence, we cannot be certain that the equity interest will be disposed pursuant to the contractual arrangement or ownership by the record holder of the equity interest. In addition, though we have entered into equity pledge agreements with the shareholders of our VIEs, our remedies under the equity pledge agreements are primarily intended to help us collect debts owed to us by our VIEs or their shareholders under the contractual arrangements and may not help us in acquiring the assets or equity of our VIEs. Furthermore, pursuant to PRC laws, the pledge takes effect upon the completion of registration with relevant local branch of the State Administration for Market Regulation, or SAMR. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—C. Organizational Structure—Contractual Arrangements among Dayin, Zhaoyan and Zhaoyan’s Shareholders.”
All the agreements under our contractual arrangements are governed by PRC laws and provide for the resolution of disputes through arbitration in China. Accordingly, these contracts would be interpreted in accordance with PRC laws and any disputes would be resolved in accordance with PRC legal procedures. The legal system in the PRC is not as developed as in some other jurisdictions, such as the United States. As a result, uncertainties in the PRC legal system could limit our ability to enforce these contractual arrangements. Meanwhile, there are very few precedents and little formal guidance as to how contractual arrangements in the context of a VIE should be interpreted or enforced under PRC laws. Significant uncertainties exist regarding the ultimate outcome of such arbitration should legal action become necessary. In addition, under PRC laws, rulings by arbitrators are final and parties cannot appeal arbitration results in court unless such rulings are revoked or determined unenforceable by a competent court. If the losing parties fail to carry out the arbitration awards within a prescribed time limit, the prevailing parties may only enforce the arbitration awards in PRC courts through arbitration award recognition proceedings, which would require additional expenses and delay. In the event that we are unable to enforce these contractual arrangements, or if we suffer significant delay or other obstacles in the process of enforcing these contractual arrangements, we may not be able to exert effective control over our VIEs and relevant rights and licenses held by it which we require in order to operate our business, and our ability to conduct our business may be adversely affected. See “—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—We may be adversely affected by the complexity, uncertainties and changes in PRC laws, rules and regulations, particularly of internet businesses.”
The arbitration provisions under these contractual arrangements have no effect on the rights of our shareholders to pursue claims against us under U.S. federal securities laws.
The shareholders of our VIEs may have potential conflicts of interest with us, which could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
The interests of the shareholders of our VIEs in their capacities as such shareholders may differ from the interests of our company as a whole, as what is in the best interests of our VIEs, including matters such as whether to distribute dividends or to make other distributions to fund our offshore requirement, may not be in the best interests of our company. There can be no assurance that when conflicts of interest arise, any or all of these shareholders will act in the best interests of our company or those conflicts of interest will be resolved in our favor. In addition, these shareholders may breach or cause our VIEs to breach or refuse to renew the existing contractual arrangements with us.
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Currently, we do not have arrangements to address potential conflicts of interest the shareholders of our VIEs may encounter, on the one hand, and as a beneficial owner of our company, on the other hand. We, however, could, at all times, exercise our option under the exclusive option agreement to cause them to transfer all of their equity ownership in our VIEs to our WFOEs or an entity or individual designated by us as permitted by the then applicable PRC laws. In addition, if such conflicts of interest arise, we could also, in the capacity of attorney-in-fact of the then existing shareholders of our VIEs as provided under the power of attorney agreements, directly appoint new directors of our VIEs. We rely on the shareholders of our VIEs to comply with PRC laws and regulations, which protect contracts and provide that directors and executive officers owe a duty of loyalty to our company and require them to avoid conflicts of interest and not to take advantage of their positions for personal gains, and the laws of the Cayman Islands, which provide that directors have a duty of care and a duty of loyalty to act honestly in good faith with a view to our best interests. However, the legal frameworks of China and the Cayman Islands do not provide guidance on resolving conflicts in the event of a conflict with another corporate governance regime. If we cannot resolve any conflicts of interest or disputes between us and the shareholders of our VIEs, we would have to rely on legal proceedings, which could result in disruption of our business and subject us to substantial uncertainty as to the outcome of any such legal proceedings.
Contractual arrangements in relation to our VIEs may be subject to scrutiny by the PRC tax authorities and they may determine that our VIEs owe additional taxes, which could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
Under applicable PRC laws and regulations, arrangements and transactions among related parties may be subject to audit or challenge by the PRC tax authorities. The PRC enterprise income tax law requires every enterprise in China to submit its annual enterprise income tax return together with a report on transactions with its related parties to the relevant tax authorities. The tax authorities may impose reasonable adjustments on taxation if they have identified any related party transactions that are inconsistent with arm’s length principles. We may face material and adverse tax consequences if the PRC tax authorities determine that the contractual arrangements among our WFOEs, our VIEs and their shareholders were not entered into on an arm’s length basis in such a way as to result in an impermissible reduction in taxes under applicable PRC laws, regulations and rules, and adjust their income in the form of a transfer pricing adjustment, which could increase their PRC tax liabilities and our overall tax liabilities. A transfer pricing adjustment could, among other things, result in a reduction of expense deductions recorded by our WFOEs or our VIEs for PRC tax purposes, which could in turn increase their tax liabilities without reducing their tax expenses. In addition, if our WFOEs request the shareholders of our VIEs to transfer their equity interests in our VIEs at nominal or no value pursuant to these contractual arrangements, such transfer could be viewed as a gift and subject the relevant subsidiary to PRC income tax. Furthermore, the PRC tax authorities may impose late payment fees and other penalties on our WFOEs and VIEs for adjusted but unpaid taxes according to applicable regulations. Our financial position could be materially and adversely affected if the tax liabilities of our WFOEs and VIEs increase, or if they are required to pay late payment fees and other penalties.
We may lose the ability to use and enjoy assets held by our VIEs that are material to the operation of our business if the entity goes bankrupt or becomes subject to a dissolution or liquidation proceeding.
Our VIEs hold substantially all of our assets in China. Under the contractual arrangements, our VIEs may not and their shareholders may not cause them to, in any manner, sell, transfer, mortgage or dispose of its assets or their legal or beneficial interests in the business without our prior consent. However, in the event that the shareholders of our VIEs breach these contractual arrangements and voluntarily liquidate our VIEs, or our VIEs declare bankruptcy and all or part of their assets become subject to liens or rights of third-party creditors, or are otherwise disposed of without our consent, we may be unable to continue some or all of our business activities or otherwise benefit from the assets held by our VIEs, which could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition. If any of our VIEs undergoes a voluntary or involuntary liquidation proceeding, independent
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third-party creditors may claim rights to some or all of these assets, thereby hindering our ability to operate our business, which could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
If the custodians or authorized users of our controlling non-tangible assets, including chops and seals, fail to fulfill their responsibilities, or misappropriate or misuse these assets, our business and operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Under PRC law, legal documents for corporate transactions, including agreements and contracts that our business relies on, are executed using the chop or seal of the signing entity or with the signature of a legal representative whose designation is registered and filed with the relevant local branch of the SAMR. We generally execute legal documents by affixing chops or seals, rather than having the designated legal representatives sign the documents.
We have three major types of chops — corporate chops, contract chops and finance chops. We use corporate chops generally for documents to be submitted to government agencies, such as applications for changing business scope, directors or company name, and for legal letters. We use contract chops for executing leases and commercial contracts. We use finance chops generally for making and collecting payments, including issuing invoices. Use of corporate chops and contract chops must be approved by our legal department and administrative department, and use of finance chops must be approved by our finance department. The chops of our subsidiary and VIEs are generally held by the relevant entities so that documents can be executed locally. Although we usually utilize chops to execute contracts, the registered legal representatives of our subsidiary and VIEs and their subsidiaries have the apparent authority to enter into contracts on behalf of such entities without chops, unless such contracts set forth otherwise.
In order to maintain the physical security of our chops, we generally have them stored in secured locations accessible only to the designated key employees of our legal, administrative or finance departments. Our designated legal representatives generally do not have access to the chops. Although we have approval procedures in place and monitor our key employees, including the designated legal representatives of our subsidiaries and VIEs and their subsidiaries, the procedures may not be sufficient to prevent all instances of abuse or negligence. There is a risk that our key employees or designated legal representatives could abuse their authority, for example, by binding our subsidiaries and VIEs and their subsidiaries with contracts against our interests, as we would be obligated to honor these contracts if the other contracting party acts in good faith in reliance on the apparent authority of our chops or signatures of our legal representatives. If any designated legal representative obtains control of the chop in an effort to obtain control over the relevant entity, we would need to have a shareholder or board resolution to designate a new legal representative and to take legal action to seek the return of the chop, apply for a new chop with the relevant authorities, or otherwise seek legal remedies for the legal representative’s misconduct. If any of the designated legal representatives obtains and misuses or misappropriates our chops and seals or other controlling intangible assets for whatever reason, we could experience disruption to our normal business operations. We may have to take corporate or legal action, which could involve significant time and resources to resolve while distracting management from our operations, and our business and operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to the interpretation and implementation of the newly promulgated PRC Foreign Investment Law, and its enactment could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
The MOFCOM published a discussion draft of the proposed Foreign Investment Law (2015), or the 2015 Draft, in January 2015 aiming to, upon its enactment, replace the major existing laws and regulations governing foreign investment in China. In December 2018, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, or the SCNPC published the draft Foreign Investment Law (2018), which was further amended and published in January
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2019, as a second draft for comment. In March 2019, a new draft of Foreign Investment Law was submitted to the National People’s Congress for review and was approved on March 15, 2019, which came into effect on January 1, 2020. The Foreign Investment Law replaces the three laws on foreign investment, i.e., the Wholly Foreign-owned Enterprise Law, the Cooperative Joint Venture Law of the PRC and the Equity Joint Venture Law of the PRC.
The 2015 Draft introduced certain concepts for the regulation of “variable interest entity” structure, or the VIE structures, such as “actual control” and “controlling PRC companies by contracts or trusts.” However, the enacted Foreign Investment Law, as well as its implementation rules promulgated on December 26, 2019 and took effect on January 1, 2020, no longer mention the relevant concepts for the regulation of these variable interest entity structures. Instead, the newly promulgated Foreign Investment Law contains a catch-all provision, stating that investments made by foreign investors through means stipulated in laws or administrative regulations or other methods prescribed by the State Council shall also be deemed as foreign investments. In consideration of the above, there are significant uncertainties as to the interpretation and implementation of such new legislation and how the control status of our VIEs would be determined under the enacted Foreign Investment Law. In addition, it is uncertain whether any of the businesses that we currently operate or plan to operate in the future through our VIEs would be on the “negative list” updated by the governmental authority from time to time and therefore be subject to any foreign investment restrictions or prohibitions. If any of the businesses that we operate were in the “restricted” category on the to-be-issued “negative list”, such determination would materially and adversely affect the value of our ADSs. We also face uncertainties as to whether the interpretation and implementation of such new legislation or regulations promulgated in the future would mandate further actions, such as MOFCOM market entry clearance or certain restructuring of our corporate structure and operations, to be completed by companies with existing VIE structure and whether these actions can be timely completed, or at all, and our business and financial condition may be materially and adversely affected. If we are not able to obtain any approval when required, our VIE structure may be regarded as invalid and illegal, which could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition, for instance, we may not be able to (1) continue our business in China through our contractual arrangements with our VIEs, (2) exert effective control over our VIEs or (3) consolidate the financial results of, and receive economic benefits from our VIEs under existing contractual arrangements.
In addition, our corporate governance practice may be impacted and our compliance costs could increase if our FIE was considered as a FIE under the Foreign Investment Law. For instance, the Foreign Investment Law purports to impose ad hoc and periodic information reporting requirements on foreign investors and the applicable FIEs. Any company found to be non-compliant with these information reporting obligations could potentially be subject to fines or administrative liabilities.
Risks Related to Doing Business in China
Changes in the political and economic policies of the PRC government could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition, and may result in our inability to sustain our growth and expansion strategies.
A substantial part of our operations are conducted in the PRC and a significant portion of our revenue is sourced from the PRC. Accordingly, our business, operating results and financial condition are affected to a significant extent by economic, political and legal developments in the PRC.
The PRC economy differs from the economies of most developed countries in many respects, including the extent of government involvement, level of development, growth rate, control of foreign exchange and allocation of resources. Although the PRC government has implemented measures emphasizing the utilization of market forces for economic reform, the reduction of state ownership of productive assets, and the establishment of improved corporate governance in business enterprises, a substantial portion of productive assets in China is still owned by the
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government. In addition, the PRC government continues to play a significant role in regulating industry development by imposing industrial policies. The PRC government also exercises significant control over China’s economic growth by allocating resources, controlling payment of foreign currency-denominated obligations, setting monetary policy, regulating financial services and institutions and providing preferential treatment to particular industries or companies.
While the PRC economy has experienced significant growth in the past three decades, growth has been uneven, both geographically and among various sectors of the economy. The PRC government has implemented various measures to encourage economic growth and guide the allocation of resources. Some of these measures may benefit the overall PRC economy, but may also have a negative effect on us. Our business, operating results and financial condition could be materially and adversely affected by government control over capital investments or changes in tax regulations that are applicable to us. In addition, the PRC government has implemented in the past certain measures to control the pace of economic growth. These measures may cause decreased economic activity, which in turn could lead to a reduction in demand for our services and consequently adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
We may be adversely affected by the complexity, uncertainties and changes in PRC laws, rules and regulations, particularly of internet businesses.
A significant portion of our operations are conducted in the PRC and are governed by PRC laws, rules and regulations. Our subsidiaries in the PRC and our VIEs are subject to laws, rules and regulations applicable to foreign investment in China. The PRC legal system is a civil law system based on written statutes. Unlike the common law system, prior court decisions may be cited for reference but have limited precedential value.
In 1979, the PRC government began to promulgate a comprehensive system of laws, rules and regulations governing economic matters in general. The overall effect of legislation over the past three decades has significantly enhanced the protections afforded to various forms of foreign investment in China. However, China has not developed a fully integrated legal system, and recently enacted laws, rules and regulations may not sufficiently cover all aspects of economic activities in China or may be subject to significant degrees of interpretation by PRC regulatory agencies. In particular, because these laws, rules and regulations are relatively new, and because of the limited number of published decisions and the nonbinding nature of such decisions, and because the laws, rules and regulations often give the relevant regulator significant discretion in how to enforce them, the interpretation and enforcement of these laws, rules and regulations involve uncertainties and can be inconsistent and unpredictable. In addition, the PRC legal system is based in part on government policies and internal rules, some of which are not published on a timely basis or at all, and which may have a retroactive effect. As a result, we may not be aware of our violation of these policies and rules until after the occurrence of the violation. Moreover, any administrative and court proceedings in China may be protracted, resulting in substantial costs and diversion of resources and management attention. Since PRC administrative and court authorities have significant discretion in interpreting and implementing statutory and contractual terms, it may be more difficult to evaluate the outcome of administrative and court proceedings and the level of legal protection we enjoy than in more developed legal systems. These uncertainties may impede our ability to enforce the contracts we have entered into and could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
The Chinese government heavily regulates the internet industry, including relevant market access restrictions and limitations on foreign investment, license and permit requirements for service providers in the internet industry. Since some of the laws, regulations and legal requirements with respect to the internet are relatively new and evolving, their interpretation and enforcement involve significant uncertainties. Because the Chinese legal system is based on written statutes, such that prior court decisions can only be cited for reference and have little precedential value, it is in many cases difficult to determine what actions or omissions may result in
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liabilities. Issues, risks and uncertainties relating to China’s government regulation of the Chinese internet sector include the following:
We operate our business in China through businesses controlled via contractual arrangements versus direct ownership due to restrictions on foreign investment in businesses related to value-added telecommunication services.
Uncertainties relating to the regulation of the internet business in China, including evolving licensing practices, give rise to the risk that some of our permits, licenses or operations may be subject to challenge, which may be disruptive to our business, subject us to sanctions or require us to increase capital, compromise the enforceability of relevant contractual arrangements, or have other adverse effects on us. The numerous and often vague restrictions on acceptable content in China subject us to potential civil and criminal liability, temporary blockage or complete shut-down of our products. For example, the State Secrecy Bureau, which is directly responsible for the protection of state secrets of all Chinese government and Chinese Communist Party organizations, is authorized to block any website or mobile applications it deems to be leaking state secrets or failing to meet the relevant regulations relating to the protection of state secrets in the distribution of online information. In addition, the newly amended Law on Preservation of State Secrets which became effective on October 1, 2010 provides that whenever an internet service provider detects any leakage of state secrets in the distribution of online information, it should stop the distribution of such information and report to the authorities of state security and public security. As per request of the authorities of state security, public security or state secrecy, the internet service provider should delete any content on its website that may lead to disclosure of state secrets. Failure to do so on a timely and adequate basis may subject the service provider to liability and certain penalties imposed by the State Security Bureau, Ministry of Public Security or MIIT, or their respective local counterparts.
Due to the increasing popularity and use of the internet and other online services, it is possible that a number of laws and regulations may be adopted with respect to the internet or other online services covering issues such as user privacy, cybersecurity, data protection, pricing, content, copyrights, distribution, antitrust and characteristics and quality of products and services. The adoption of additional laws or regulations may impede the growth of the internet or other online services, which could, in turn, decrease the demand for our products and services and increase our cost of doing business. The interpretation and application of existing PRC laws, regulations and policies, the stated positions of relevant PRC government authorities and possible new laws, regulations or policies have created substantial uncertainties regarding the legality of existing and future foreign investments in, and the businesses and activities of, internet businesses in China, including our business.
We may be required to obtain and maintain permits and licenses to operate our business in China.
We operate our business in China mainly through Zhaoyan, whose business activities mainly include offering real-time engagement products that enable interactions through audio, video or message within mobile applications, which may be regarded as value-added telecommunications services under the Catalogue of Telecommunications Business, or the Catalogue, which was revised and promulgated on June 6, 2019. Considering the products we offer and the way our services are provided to our customers, we understand that our RTE-PaaS business activities do not clearly fit into any current category under the Catalogue, and there is no specific license that is expressly and completely applicable to such business under the Catalogue. However, the RTE-PaaS industry is still in a nascent stage of development and the laws and regulations regarding licenses for value added telecommunication services in the PRC are continuously evolving. It is possible that the businesses described in the Catalogue, along with other relevant rules and regulatory requirements for the licenses, may be interpreted and applied in a manner that is inconsistent with our understanding above, which means there can be no assurance that
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the PRC regulators would take a view that our operations are not required to obtain a license or a series of licenses under the current Catalogue, or under future laws, rules and regulations applicable to our business as promulgated and amended from time to time.
To minimize the risk arising from the PRC regulator’s different interpretation and enforcement on relevant laws, rules and regulations, Zhaoyan has applied for and been granted Internet Data Center and CDN licenses covering certain areas in the PRC, as well as a license for providing multiparty communication services with national coverage. We will continually assess the need to obtain and renew permits and licenses to operate our business, including applying for permits and licenses for our other subsidiaries and VIEs, subject to relevant laws, rules and regulations including the Catalogue, expanding the geographic coverage of our current Internet Data Center and CDN licenses, and ongoing and closely consult the supervisory authority having jurisdiction over us, and follow their guidance in a timely manner to ensure we run our business legitimately. However, we may fail, on acceptable terms and on a timely basis, or at all, to obtain and maintain the permits and licenses we may need to operate and expand our business from time to time and as required by the supervisory authorities. Business operations without proper permits and licenses may subject us to administrative penalties by relevant PRC regulators with measures including fines, and in very extreme cases, confiscation of the gains derived from the operations, being required to discontinue or restrict our operation and being placed in the credit blacklist made by the PRC regulator, and our business, operating results and financial condition could be materially adversely affected.

The Regulation on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors establishes more complex procedures for acquisitions conducted by foreign investors that could make it more difficult for us to grow through acquisitions.
On August 8, 2006, six PRC regulatory agencies, including the MOFCOM, the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, or the SASAC, the SAT, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, or the SAIC, the CSRC, and the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, or the SAFE, jointly adopted the Regulations on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors, or the M&A Rules, which came into effect on September 8, 2006 and were amended on June 22, 2009. The M&A Rules include, among other things, provisions that purport to require that an offshore special purpose vehicle that is controlled by PRC domestic companies or individuals and that has been formed for the purpose of an overseas listing of securities through acquisitions of PRC domestic companies or assets to obtain the approval of the CSRC prior to the listing and trading of such special purpose vehicle’s securities on an overseas stock exchange. On September 21, 2006, the CSRC published on its official website procedures regarding its approval of overseas listings by special purpose vehicles. However, substantial uncertainty remains regarding the scope and applicability of the M&A Rules to offshore special purpose vehicles.
These regulations established additional procedures and requirements that are expected to make merger and acquisition activities in China by foreign investors more time-consuming and complex. For example, the M&A rules require that the MOFCOM be notified in advance of any change-of-control transaction in which a foreign investor takes control of a PRC domestic enterprise if (1) any important industry is concerned, (2) such transaction involves factors that have or may have impact on the national economic security or (3) such transaction will lead to a change in control of a domestic enterprise which holds a famous trademark or PRC time-honored brand. The approval from the MOFCOM shall be obtained in circumstances where overseas companies established or controlled by PRC enterprises or residents acquire affiliated domestic companies. Mergers, acquisitions or contractual arrangements that allow one market player to take control of or to exert decisive impact on another market player must also be notified in advance to the MOFCOM when the threshold under the Provisions on Thresholds for Prior Notification of Concentrations of Undertakings issued by the State Council in August 2008 (as amended in September 2018) is triggered. In addition, the Provisions of the Ministry of Commerce on the Implementation of the Security Review System for Merger and Acquisition of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors, or MOFCOM Security Review Rules, issued by the MOFCOM that became effective in September 2011 specify that mergers and acquisitions by foreign investors that raise “national defense and security” concerns and mergers and acquisitions through which
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foreign investors may acquire de facto control over domestic enterprises that raise “national security” concerns are subject to strict review by the MOFCOM, and the rules prohibit any activities attempting to bypass a security review, including by structuring the transaction through a proxy or contractual control arrangement. We may grow our business in part by acquiring other companies operating in our industry. Complying with the requirements of the new regulations to complete such transactions could be time-consuming, and any required approval processes, including approval from the MOFCOM or other relevant governmental authorities, may delay or inhibit our ability to complete such transactions, which could affect our ability to expand our business or maintain our market share. See the section of this annual report captioned “Regulation—PRC Regulation—Regulations Related to Mergers and Acquisitions and Overseas Listings.”
PRC laws and regulations mandate complex procedures for some acquisitions of Chinese companies by foreign investors, which could make it more difficult for us to make acquisitions in China.
PRC laws and regulations, such as the M&A Rules, and other relevant rules, established additional procedures and requirements that are expected to make merger and acquisition activities in China by foreign investors more time-consuming and complex, including requirements in some instances that the MOFCOM be notified in advance of any change-of-control transaction in which a foreign investor takes control of a PRC domestic enterprise, or that the approval from the MOFCOM be obtained in circumstances where overseas companies established or controlled by PRC enterprises or residents acquire affiliated domestic companies. PRC laws and regulations also require certain merger and acquisition transactions to be subject to a merger control security review. In August 2011, the MOFCOM promulgated the MOFCOM Security Review Rules, effective from September 1, 2011, further provide that, when deciding whether a specific merger or acquisition of a domestic enterprise by foreign investors is subject to a security review by the MOFCOM, the principle of substance over form should be applied and foreign investors are prohibited from bypassing the security review requirement by structuring transactions through proxies, trusts, indirect investments, leases, loans, control through contractual arrangements of offshore transaction. Factors that the MOFCOM considers in its review are whether (1) an important industry is involved, (2) such transaction involves factors that have had or may have an impact on national economic security and (3) such transaction will lead to a change in control of a domestic enterprise that holds a well-known PRC trademark or a time-honored PRC brand. Furthermore, on December 19, 2020, the NDRC and the MOFCOM promulgated the Measures for Security Review of Foreign Investment, or the Foreign Investment Security Review Measures, which took effect on January 18, 2021. Under the Foreign Investment Security Review Measures, investment in certain key areas which results in acquiring the actual control of the assets is required to obtain approval from designated governmental authorities in advance. As the Foreign Investment Security Review Measures are recently promulgated, there are great uncertainties with respect to its interpretation and implementation. If a business of any target company that we plan to acquire falls into the ambit of security review, we may not be able to successfully acquire such company. In addition, the PRC Anti-monopoly Law requires that where concentration of undertakings reaches the filing threshold stipulated by the State Council, a filing must be made with the anti-monopoly authority before the parties implement the concentration. On October 23, 2020, the SAMR further issued the Interim Provisions on the Review of Concentration of Undertakings, which took effect on December 1, 2020, to further enhance the enforcement on the supervision of concentration of undertakings. Complying with the requirements of the relevant regulations to complete any such transaction could be time-consuming, and any required approval process, including approval from the MOFCOM or other governmental authorities, may delay or inhibit our ability to complete such transactions, which could affect our ability to expand our business.
PRC regulations relating to investments in offshore companies by PRC residents may subject our PRC-resident beneficial owners, our subsidiaries in the PRC or our VIEs to liability or penalties, limit our ability to inject capital into our subsidiaries in the PRC and our VIEs or limit the ability of our subsidiaries in the PRC and our VIEs to increase their registered capital or distribute profits.
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The SAFE promulgated the Circular on Relevant Issues Concerning Foreign Exchange Control on Domestic Residents’ Offshore Investment and Financing and Roundtrip Investment through Special Purpose Vehicles, or SAFE Circular 37, on July 4, 2014, which replaced the former circular commonly known as “SAFE Circular 75” promulgated by the SAFE on October 21, 2005. SAFE Circular 37 requires PRC residents to register with local branches of the SAFE in connection with their direct establishment or indirect control of an offshore entity, for the purpose of overseas investment and financing, with such PRC residents’ legally owned assets or equity interests in domestic enterprises or offshore assets or interests, referred to in SAFE Circular 37 as a “special purpose vehicle.” Pursuant to SAFE Circular 37, “control” refers to the act through which a PRC resident obtains the right to carry out business operation of, to gain proceeds from or to make decisions on a special purpose vehicle by means of, among others, shareholding entrustment arrangement. SAFE Circular 37 further requires amendment to the registration in the event of any significant changes with respect to the special purpose vehicle, such as change of shareholders of the special purpose vehicle, increase or decrease of capital contributed by PRC individuals, share transfer or exchange, merger, division or other material event. In the event that a PRC shareholder holding interests in a special purpose vehicle fails to fulfill the required SAFE registration, the PRC subsidiaries of that special purpose vehicle may be prohibited from making profit distributions to the offshore parent and from carrying out subsequent cross-border foreign exchange activities, and the special purpose vehicle may be restricted in its ability to contribute additional capital into its PRC subsidiaries. Moreover, failure to comply with the various SAFE registration requirements described above could result in liability under PRC law for evasion of foreign exchange controls. According to the Notice on Further Simplifying and Improving Policies for the Foreign Exchange Administration of Direct Investment released on February 13, 2015 by the SAFE and amended on December 30, 2019, local banks will examine and handle foreign exchange registration for overseas direct investment, including the initial foreign exchange registration and amendment registration, under SAFE Circular 37 from June 1, 2015.
Mr. Zhao has completed the SAFE registration pursuant to SAFE Circular 37 in 2014, with Soundscape Limited and VoiceCrew Limited being registered as the “special purpose vehicle.” We have notified substantial beneficial owners of ordinary shares who we know are PRC residents of their filing obligation, including the obligation to complete the SAFE registration and to make updates under SAFE Circular 37. Nevertheless, we may not be continuously aware of the identities of all of our beneficial owners who are PRC residents. We do not have control over our beneficial owners and there can be no assurance that all of our PRC-resident beneficial owners will comply with SAFE Circular 37 and subsequent implementation rules, and there is no assurance that the registration under SAFE Circular 37 and any amendment will be completed in a timely manner, or will be completed at all. The failure of our beneficial owners who are PRC residents to register or amend their foreign exchange registrations in a timely manner pursuant to SAFE Circular 37 and subsequent implementation rules, or the failure of future beneficial owners of our company who are PRC residents to comply with the registration procedures set forth in SAFE Circular 37 and subsequent implementation rules, may subject such beneficial owners, our subsidiaries in the PRC or our VIEs to fines and legal sanctions. Failure to register or comply with relevant requirements may also limit our ability to contribute additional capital to our subsidiaries in the PRC and our VIEs and limit the ability of our subsidiaries in the PRC to distribute dividends to our company. These risks could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
Any failure to comply with PRC regulations regarding employee equity incentive plans may subject the PRC plan participants or us to fines and other legal or administrative sanctions.
Pursuant to SAFE Circular 37, PRC residents who participate in equity incentive plans in overseas non-publicly-listed companies due to their position as director, senior management or employees of the PRC subsidiaries of the overseas companies may submit applications to SAFE or its local branches for the foreign exchange registration with respect to offshore special purpose companies. Our directors, executive officers and other employees who are PRC residents and who have been granted options may follow SAFE Circular 37 to apply for the foreign exchange registration before our company becomes an overseas listed company. As an overseas listed
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company, we and our directors, executive officers and other employees who are PRC residents and who have been granted options are subject to the Notice on Issues Concerning the Foreign Exchange Administration for Domestic Individuals Participating in Stock Incentive Plan of Overseas Publicly Listed Company, issued by SAFE in February 2012, according to which, employees, directors, supervisors and other management members participating in any equity incentive plans of an overseas publicly listed company who are PRC residents are required to register with SAFE through a domestic qualified agent, which could be a PRC subsidiary of such overseas listed company, and complete certain other procedures. We are making, and will make efforts to comply with these requirements, but there can be no assurance that they can successfully register with SAFE in full compliance with the rules. Failure to complete the SAFE registrations may subject relevant participants in our share incentive plans to fines and legal sanctions and may also limit the ability to make payment under our equity incentive plans or receive dividends or sales proceeds related thereto, or our ability to contribute additional capital into our wholly-foreign owned enterprise in China and limit our wholly-foreign owned enterprise’s ability to distribute dividends to us. We also face regulatory uncertainties that could restrict our ability to adopt additional equity incentive plans for our directors and employees under PRC law.
We may rely on dividends, loans and other distributions on equity paid by our principal operating subsidiaries to fund offshore cash and financing requirements. Any limitation on the ability of our PRC operating subsidiary to make payments to us could adversely affect our ability to conduct our business.
We are a holding company and may rely on dividends, loans and other distributions on equity paid by our principal operating subsidiaries and on remittances from our VIEs for our offshore cash and financing requirements, including the funds necessary to pay dividends and other cash distributions to our shareholders, fund inter-company loans, service any debt we may incur outside of China and pay our expenses. When our subsidiaries in the PRC or our VIEs incur additional debt, the instruments governing the debt may restrict their ability to pay dividends, make loans or make other distributions or remittances to us. Furthermore, the laws, rules and regulations applicable to our subsidiaries in the PRC and our VIEs permit payments of dividends only out of its retained earnings, if any, determined in accordance with applicable accounting standards and regulations.
Under PRC laws, rules and regulations, our subsidiaries in the PRC and our VIEs are required to set aside at least 10% of their net income each year to fund certain statutory reserves until the cumulative amount of such reserves reaches 50% of their registered capital. These reserves, together with the registered capital, are not distributable as cash dividends. As a result of these laws, rules and regulations, our subsidiaries in the PRC and our VIEs are restricted in their ability to transfer a portion of their respective net assets to their shareholders as dividends, loans or advances. In addition, registered share capital and capital reserve accounts are also restricted from withdrawal in the PRC, up to the amount of net assets held in each operating subsidiary.
Limitations on the ability of our VIEs to make remittance to the wholly-foreign owned enterprise and on the ability of our subsidiary to pay dividends to us could limit our ability to access cash generated by the operations of those entities, including to make investments or acquisitions that could be beneficial to our businesses, pay dividends to our shareholders or otherwise fund and conduct our business.
The discontinuation of the preferential tax treatment available to us in China could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
Under PRC tax laws and regulations, Dayin is qualified to enjoy a certain preferential income tax benefit. The modified Enterprise Income Tax Law, effective on December 29, 2018, or the EIT Law, and its implementation rules generally impose a uniform income tax rate of 25% on all enterprises, but grant preferential treatment to “high and new technology enterprises strongly supported by the state,” or HNTEs, to enjoy a reduced enterprise tax rate of 15%. According to the relevant administrative measures, to qualify as a HNTE, Dayin must meet certain financial
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and non-financial criteria and complete verification procedures with the administrative authorities. Continued qualification as a HNTE is subject to a three-year review by the relevant government authorities in China, and in practice certain local tax authorities also require annual evaluation of the qualification. In addition to the foregoing tax benefit, Dayin is now qualified to enjoy certain preferential value-added tax benefits, according to the Notice on Value-added Tax Policies for Software Products issued by the Ministry of Finance, or the MOF, and the SAT, on October 13, 2011. Apart from that, Dayin obtained the certificate of Qualified Software Enterprise and once meeting other criteria, Dayin will be qualified to enjoy certain preferential enterprise income tax benefits, according to relevant rules including the Notice on Enterprise Income Tax Policies for Further Encouraging the Development of Software and Integrated Circuit Industries issued by the MOF and the SAT on April 20, 2012, the Notice on Issues Concerning Preferential Enterprise Income Tax Policies for the Software and Integrated Circuit Industries issued by the MOF, the SAT, the National Development and Reform Commission, or the NDRC, and the MIIT and Announcement on the Enterprise Income Tax Policies for Promoting the High-quality Development of the Integrated Circuit Industry and the Software Industry jointly issued by the MOF, the SAT, the NDRC and the MIIT on December 11, 2020. In the event the preferential tax treatment for Dayin is discontinued or is not verified by the local tax authorities, and the affected entity fails to obtain preferential tax treatments based on other qualifications such as Advanced Technology Service Enterprise, it will become subject to the standard tax rates and policies, including the PRC enterprise income tax rate of 25%. We cannot assure you that the tax authorities will not, in the future, discontinue our preferential tax treatment, potentially with retroactive effect.
We may be treated as a resident enterprise for PRC tax purposes under the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law, and we may therefore be subject to PRC income tax on our global income.
Under the modified Enterprise Income Tax Law and its implementing rules, enterprises established under the laws of jurisdictions outside of China with “de facto management bodies” located in China may be considered PRC tax resident enterprises for tax purposes and may be subject to the PRC enterprise income tax at the rate of 25% on their global income. “De facto management body” refers to a managing body that exercises substantive and overall management and control over the production and business, personnel, accounting books and assets of an enterprise. The SAT issued the Notice Regarding the Determination of Chinese-Controlled Offshore-Incorporated Enterprises as PRC Tax Resident Enterprises on the Basis of De Facto Management Bodies, or Circular 82, on April 22, 2009. Circular 82 provides certain specific criteria for determining whether the “de facto management body” of a Chinese-controlled offshore-incorporated enterprise is located in China. Although Circular 82 only applies to offshore enterprises controlled by PRC enterprises or PRC enterprise groups, not those controlled by foreign enterprises or individuals, the determining criteria set forth in Circular 82 may reflect the SAT’s general position on how the “de facto management body” test should be applied in determining the tax resident status of offshore enterprises, regardless of whether they are controlled by PRC enterprises or PRC enterprise groups. If we were to be considered a PRC resident enterprise, we would be subject to PRC enterprise income tax at the rate of 25% on our global income. In such case, our profitability and cash flow may be materially reduced as a result of our global income being taxed under the Enterprise Income Tax Law. We believe that none of our entities outside of China is a PRC resident enterprise for PRC tax purposes. However, the tax resident status of an enterprise is subject to determination by the PRC tax authorities and uncertainties remain with respect to the interpretation of the term “de facto management body.”
It may be difficult for overseas regulators to conduct investigations or collect evidence within China.
Shareholder claims or regulatory investigation that are common in the United States generally are difficult to pursue as a matter of law or practicality in China. For example, in China, there are significant legal and other obstacles to providing information needed for regulatory investigations or litigation initiated outside China. Although the authorities in China may establish a regulatory cooperation mechanism with the securities regulatory authorities of another country or region to implement cross-border supervision and administration, such cooperation
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with the securities regulatory authorities in the Unities States may not be efficient in the absence of mutual and practical cooperation mechanism. Furthermore, according to Article 177 of the PRC Securities Law, which became effective in March 2020, no foreign securities regulator is allowed to directly conduct investigations or evidence collection activities within the PRC territory. While detailed interpretation of or implementation rules under Article 177 have yet to be promulgated, the inability for an foreign securities regulator to directly conduct investigations or evidence collection activities within China may further increase the difficulties you face in protecting your interests. See also "—Risks Related to the ADSs—You may face difficulties in protecting your interests, and your ability to protect your rights through U.S. courts may be limited, because we are incorporated under Cayman Islands law and conduct a significant portion of our business operations in emerging markets."
Dividends payable to our foreign investors and gains on the sale of ADSs or our ordinary shares by our foreign investors may become subject to PRC tax.

Under the modified Enterprise Income Tax Law and its implementation regulations issued by the State Council, a 10% PRC withholding tax is applicable to dividends payable to investors that are non-resident enterprises, which do not have an establishment or place of business in the PRC or which have such establishment or place of business but the dividends are not effectively connected with such establishment or place of business, to the extent such dividends are derived from sources within the PRC. Similarly, any gain realized on the transfer of ADSs or ordinary shares by such investors is also subject to PRC tax at a current rate of 10%, subject to any reduction or exemption set forth in applicable tax treaties or under applicable tax arrangements between jurisdictions, if such gain is regarded as income derived from sources within the PRC. If we are deemed a PRC resident enterprise, dividends paid on our ordinary shares, and any gain realized from the transfer of our ordinary shares or the ADSs, would be treated as income derived from sources within the PRC and would as a result be subject to PRC taxation. Furthermore, if we are deemed a PRC resident enterprise, dividends payable to individual investors who are non-PRC residents and any gain realized on the transfer of ADSs or ordinary shares by such investors may be subject to PRC tax at a current rate of 20%, subject to any reduction or exemption set forth in applicable tax treaties or under applicable tax arrangements between jurisdictions. If we or any of our subsidiaries established outside China are considered a PRC resident enterprise, it is unclear whether holders of ADSs or our ordinary shares would be able to claim the benefit of income tax treaties or agreements entered into between China and other countries or areas. If dividends payable to our non-PRC investors, or gains from the transfer of ADSs or our ordinary shares by such investors, are deemed as income derived from sources within the PRC and thus are subject to PRC tax, the value of your investment in ADSs or our ordinary shares may decline significantly.
We and our shareholders face uncertainties with respect to indirect transfers of equity interests in PRC resident enterprises or other assets attributed to a Chinese establishment of a non-Chinese company, or immovable properties located in China owned by non-Chinese companies.
On February 3, 2015, the SAT issued the Bulletin on Issues of Enterprise Income Tax on Indirect Transfers of Assets by Non-PRC Resident Enterprises, or Bulletin 7, which partially replaced and supplemented previous rules under the Notice on Strengthening Administration of Enterprise Income Tax for Share Transfers by Non-PRC Resident Enterprises, or SAT Circular 698, issued by the SAT on December 10, 2009. Pursuant to this Bulletin 7, an “indirect transfer” of assets, including equity interests in a PRC resident enterprise, by non-PRC resident enterprises may be re-characterized and treated as a direct transfer of PRC taxable assets, if such arrangement does not have a reasonable commercial purpose and was established for the purpose of avoiding payment of PRC enterprise income tax. As a result, gains derived from such indirect transfer may be subject to PRC enterprise income tax. According to Bulletin 7, “PRC taxable assets” include assets attributed to an establishment in China, immovable properties located in China, and equity investments in PRC resident enterprises, in respect of which gains from their transfer by a direct holder, being a non-PRC resident enterprise, would be subject to PRC enterprise income taxes. When determining whether there is a “reasonable commercial purpose” of the transaction arrangement, features to be taken
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into consideration include: whether the main value of the equity interest of the relevant offshore enterprise derives from PRC taxable assets; whether the assets of the relevant offshore enterprise mainly consists of direct or indirect investment in China or if its income mainly derives from China; whether the offshore enterprise and its subsidiaries directly or indirectly holding PRC taxable assets have real commercial nature which is evidenced by their actual function and risk exposure; the duration of existence of the business model and organizational structure; the replicability of the transaction by direct transfer of PRC taxable assets; and the tax situation of such indirect transfer and applicable tax treaties or similar arrangements. In respect of an indirect offshore transfer of assets of a PRC establishment, the resulting gain is to be included with the enterprise income tax filing of the PRC establishment or place of business being transferred, and would consequently be subject to PRC enterprise income tax at a rate of 25%. Where the underlying transfer relates to the immovable properties located in China or to equity investments in a PRC resident enterprise, which is not related to a PRC establishment or place of business of a non-resident enterprise, a PRC enterprise income tax of 10% would apply, subject to available preferential tax treatment under applicable tax treaties or similar arrangements, and the party who is obligated to make the transfer payments has the withholding obligation. Bulletin 7 does not apply to transactions of sale of shares by investors through a public stock exchange where such shares were acquired from a transaction through a public stock exchange. On October 17, 2017, the SAT promulgated the Announcement of the State Administration of Taxation on Issues Concerning the Withholding of Non-resident Enterprise Income Tax at Source, or SAT Circular 37, which was amended and became effective on June 15, 2018, and SAT Circular 698 then was repealed with effect from December 1, 2017. SAT Circular 37 also amends certain provisions in Bulletin 7, but does not touch upon other provisions of Bulletin 7, which remain in full force. SAT Circular 37, among other things, simplified procedures of withholding and payment of income tax levied on non-resident enterprises.
There is uncertainty as to the application of Bulletin 7 and SAT Circular 37. We face uncertainties as to the reporting and other implications of certain past and future transactions where PRC taxable assets are involved, such as offshore restructuring, sale of the shares in our offshore subsidiaries or investments. Our company may be subject to filing obligations or taxed if our company is transferor in such transactions, and may be subject to withholding obligations if our company is transferee in such transactions under Bulletin 7. For transfer of shares in our company by investors that are non-PRC resident enterprises, Dayin may be requested to assist in the filing under Bulletin 7. As a result, we may be required to expend valuable resources to comply with Bulletin 7 and SAT Circular 37 or to request the relevant transferors from whom we purchase taxable assets to comply with Bulletin 7 and SAT Circular 37, or to establish that our company should not be taxed under Bulletin 7 and SAT Circular 37, which could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
We are subject to restrictions on currency exchange.
A substantial portion of our revenue is denominated in Renminbi. The Renminbi is currently convertible under the “current account,” which includes dividends, trade and service-related foreign exchange transactions, but not under the “capital account,” which includes foreign direct investment and loans, including loans we may secure from our subsidiaries in the PRC or our VIEs. Currently, Dayin may purchase foreign currency for settlement of “current account transactions,” including payment of dividends to us, without the approval of the SAFE by complying with certain procedural requirements. However, the relevant PRC governmental authorities may limit or eliminate our ability to purchase foreign currencies in the future for current account transactions. Foreign exchange transactions under the capital account remain subject to limitations and require approvals from, or registration with, the SAFE and other relevant PRC governmental authorities. Since a significant amount of our future revenue and cash flow will be denominated in Renminbi, any existing and future restrictions on currency exchange may limit our ability to utilize cash generated in Renminbi to fund our business activities outside of the PRC or pay dividends in foreign currencies to our shareholders, and may limit our ability to obtain foreign currency through debt or equity financing for our subsidiaries in the PRC and our VIEs.
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PRC regulations on loans to, and direct investment in, PRC entities by offshore holding companies and governmental control of currency conversion may affect our ability to capitalize or otherwise fund our PRC operations.
We, as an offshore holding company, are permitted under PRC laws and regulations to provide funding to our subsidiaries in the PRC, which are treated as a foreign-invested enterprise under PRC laws, through loans or capital contributions. However, loans by us to our subsidiaries in the PRC to finance its activities cannot exceed statutory limits and must be registered with the local counterpart of SAFE and capital contributions to our subsidiaries in the PRC are subject to the requirement of making necessary filings or registrations through enterprise registration system with relevant governmental authorities in China.
SAFE promulgated the Notice of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Reforming the Administration of Foreign Exchange Settlement of Capital of Foreign-invested Enterprises, or Circular 19, effective on June 1, 2015 and was amended on December 30, 2019, in replacement of the Circular on the Relevant Operating Issues Concerning the Improvement of the Administration of the Payment and Settlement of Foreign Currency Capital of Foreign-Invested Enterprises, or SAFE Circular 142, the Notice from the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Relevant Issues Concerning Strengthening the Administration of Foreign Exchange Businesses, or Circular 59, and the Circular on Further Clarification and Regulation of the Issues Concerning the Administration of Certain Capital Account Foreign Exchange Businesses, or Circular 45. According to Circular 19, the flow and use of the Renminbi capital converted from foreign currency-denominated registered capital of a foreign-invested company is regulated such that Renminbi capital may not be used for the issuance of Renminbi entrusted loans, the repayment of inter-enterprise loans or the repayment of banks loans that have been transferred to a third party. Although Circular 19 allows Renminbi capital converted from foreign currency-denominated registered capital of a foreign-invested enterprise to be used for equity investments within the PRC, it also reiterates the principle that Renminbi converted from the foreign currency-denominated capital of a foreign-invested company may not be directly or indirectly used for purposes beyond its business scope. Thus, it is unclear whether SAFE will permit such capital to be used for equity investments in the PRC in actual practice. SAFE promulgated the Notice of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Reforming and Standardizing the Foreign Exchange Settlement Management Policy of Capital Account, or Circular 16, effective on June 9, 2016, which reiterates some of the rules set forth in Circular 19, but changes the prohibition against using Renminbi capital converted from foreign currency-denominated registered capital of a foreign-invested company to issue Renminbi entrusted loans to a prohibition against using such capital to issue loans to non-associated enterprises. Violations of SAFE Circular 19 and Circular 16 could result in administrative penalties. Circular 19 and Circular 16 may significantly limit our ability to transfer any foreign currency we hold to our subsidiaries in the PRC and our VIEs, which may adversely affect our liquidity and our ability to fund and expand our business in the PRC.
Due to the restrictions imposed on loans in foreign currencies extended to any PRC domestic companies, we are not likely to make such loans to our VIEs, each a PRC domestic company. Meanwhile, we are not likely to finance the activities of our VIEs by means of capital contributions given the potential restrictions on foreign investment in the businesses that are currently conducted by our VIEs.
In light of the various requirements imposed by PRC regulations on loans to, and direct investment in, PRC entities by offshore holding companies and governmental control of currency conversion, we cannot assure you that we will be able to complete the necessary government registrations or obtain the necessary government approvals on a timely basis, if at all, with respect to future loans to our subsidiaries in the PRC or our VIEs or future capital contributions by us to our subsidiaries in the PRC. As a result, uncertainties exist as to our ability to provide prompt financial support to our subsidiaries in the PRC or our VIEs when needed. If we fail to complete such registrations or obtain such approvals, our ability to use foreign currency and to capitalize or otherwise fund our PRC operations
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may be negatively affected, which could materially and adversely affect our liquidity and our ability to fund and expand our business.
Risks Related to the ADSs
The trading price of our ADSs is likely to be volatile, which could result in substantial losses to investors.
The trading price of our ADSs has been, and is likely to continue to be, volatile and could fluctuate widely due to multiple factors, some of which are beyond our control. This may happen because of broad market and industry factors, including the performance and fluctuation of the market prices of other companies with business operations located mainly in China that have listed their securities in the United States. In addition to market and industry factors, the price and trading volume for the ADSs may be highly volatile for factors specific to our own operations, including the following:
variations in our revenue, earnings and cash flows;
regulatory developments affecting us, our customers, or our industry;
announcements of new products or service offerings and expansions by us or our competitors;
announcements of new investments, acquisitions, strategic partnerships or joint ventures by us or our competitors;
changes in financial estimates by securities analysts;
changes in end-user and customer demand as end-users increase and decrease their time online due to the imposition or easing of stay-at-home, travel and other government mandates or changes in end-user or customer demand for our products in response to the COVID-19 pandemic;
detrimental adverse publicity about us, our products or services or our industry;
additions or departures of key personnel;
detrimental negative publicity about us, our management or our industry;
release of lock-up or other transfer restrictions on our outstanding equity securities or sales of additional equity securities;
sales of additional ADSs in the public markets or the perception that such sales may occur; and

actual or potential litigation or regulatory investigations.
Any of these factors may result in large and sudden changes in the volume and price at which the ADSs will trade.
In the past, shareholders of public companies have often brought securities class action suits against companies following periods of instability in the market price of their securities. If we were involved in a class action suit, it could divert a significant amount of our management’s attention and other resources from our business and operations and require us to incur significant expenses to defend the suit, which could harm our operating results. Any such class action suit, whether or not successful, could harm our reputation and restrict our ability to
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raise capital in the future. In addition, if a claim is successfully made against us, we may be required to pay significant damages, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, operating results and financial condition.
The dual class structure of our ordinary shares may prevent the inclusion of our ADSs representing Class A ordinary shares in indices that exclude companies with multiple classes of shares, and may also cause shareholder advisory firms to publish negative commentary about our corporate governance practices or otherwise seek to cause us to change our capital structure. Any such exclusion from indices could result in a less active trading market for our ADSs, and any actions or publications by shareholder advisory firms critical of our corporate governance practices or capital structure could also adversely affect the trading price of our ADSs.
Our dual-class share structure with different voting rights will limit your ability to influence corporate matters and could discourage others from pursuing any change of control transactions that holders of our Class A ordinary shares and ADSs may view as beneficial.
Our ordinary shares are divided into Class A ordinary shares and Class B ordinary shares (with a third class of undesignated shares). Holders of Class A ordinary shares are be entitled to one vote per share, while holders of Class B ordinary shares are entitled to 20 votes per share. Each Class B ordinary share is convertible into one Class A ordinary share at any time by its holder, while Class A ordinary shares are not convertible into Class B ordinary shares under any circumstances. As of March 2, 2021, our chief executive officer beneficially owned all of our issued Class B ordinary shares. These Class B ordinary shares constitute approximately 16.4% of our total issued and outstanding share capital and 79.7% of the aggregate voting power of our total issued and outstanding share capital, due to the disparate voting powers associated with our dual-class share structure. See the section of this annual report captioned “Share Ownership.”
Any sale, transfer, assignment or disposition of any Class B ordinary shares by their holder or a change of ultimate beneficial ownership of any Class B ordinary shares will generally result in the conversion of such Class B ordinary shares into Class A ordinary shares, except for transfers to certain permitted transferees, which include Agora Partners L.P., an exempted limited partnership to be established in the Cayman Islands (the limited partners of which shall consist primarily of members of management of our company and its affiliates, and which we refer to as the Management Partnership), and affiliates controlled by our chief executive officer, Mr. Zhao. Because of the 20-to-one voting ratio between our Class B ordinary shares and Class A ordinary shares, Mr. Zhao and any permitted transferees holding Class B ordinary shares, including potentially the Management Partnership, will continue to control a majority of the combined voting power of our ordinary shares and therefore be able to control all matters submitted to our shareholders for approval.
Our board of directors will have the authority without further action by our shareholders to issue additional Class B ordinary shares, which will further dilute the voting power of our Class A ordinary shareholders. As a result of the dual-class share structure and the concentration of ownership, our chief executive officer and any future holder of Class B ordinary shares, including potentially the Management Partnership, will have considerable influence over matters such as mergers, consolidations and the sale of all or substantially all of our assets, election of directors, amendments to organizational documents and other significant corporate actions.
Our chief executive officer and any future holder of Class B ordinary shares, including potentially the Management Partnership, may take actions that are not in the best interest of our other shareholders. This concentration of ownership may discourage, delay or prevent a change in control of our company, which could have the effect of depriving our other shareholders of the opportunity to receive a premium for their shares as part of a sale of our company and may reduce the price of our ADSs. This concentrated control will limit your ability to
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influence corporate matters and could discourage others from pursuing any potential merger, takeover or other change of control transactions that holders of Class A ordinary shares and ADSs may view as beneficial.
The voting rights of our chief executive officer and, if Class B ordinary shares are transferred to it, the Management Partnership, will limit your ability to influence corporate matters, including any matters to be determined by our board of directors. The interests of our chief executive officer and, if Class B ordinary shares are transferred to it, the Management Partnership, may not coincide with your interests, and the Management Partnership may make decisions with which you disagree, including decisions on important topics such as compensation, management succession, acquisition strategy and our business and financial strategy. As of the date of this annual report, the partners of the Management Partnership have not been determined, and in the future the partners may change from time to time. Because the Management Partnership will primarily consist of members of our management team, our chief executive officer, the Management Partnership and any directors the election of which he, or it, controls, may focus on the long-term interests of our customers at the expense of our short-term financial results, which may differ from the expectations and desires of shareholders unaffiliated with our chief executive officer, or if Class B ordinary shares are transferred to it, the Management Partnership. To the extent that these interests differ from your interests, you may be disadvantaged by any action that our chief executive officer or the Management Partnership may seek to pursue.
In addition, our chief executive officer and any future holder of Class B ordinary shares, including potentially the Management Partnership, will continue to be able to control all matters submitted to our shareholders for approval even if their shareholdings represent substantially less than a majority of our issued and outstanding ordinary shares. This concentrated control will limit your ability to influence corporate matters for the foreseeable future, and, as a result, the trading price of our ADSs could be adversely affected.
We are a “controlled company” as defined under the Nasdaq Stock Market corporate governance rules. As a result, we are qualified for, and rely on, exemptions from certain corporate governance requirements that would otherwise provide protection to shareholders of other companies.
We are a “controlled company” as defined under the Nasdaq Stock Market corporate governance rules because Mr. Zhao, our chief executive officer and chairman, owns more than 50% of the aggregate voting power of our issued and outstanding share capital. If Mr. Zhao transfers shares to the Management Partnership, we may remain a controlled company even if Mr. Zhao ceases to be our employee, director or shareholder. For so long as we remain a controlled company, we may rely on certain exemptions from the corporate governance rules, including the rule that we have to establish a nominating and corporate governance committee composed entirely of independent directors. As a result, you will not have the same protection afforded to shareholders of companies that are subject to these corporate governance requirements. Even if we cease to be a controlled company, we may still rely on exemptions available to foreign private issuers, including being able to adopt home country practices in relation to corporate governance matters. See the sections of this annual report captioned “Risks Related to the ADSs—We are a foreign private issuer within the meaning of the rules under the Exchange Act, and as such we are exempt from certain provisions applicable to U.S. domestic public companies” and “—As an exempted company incorporated in the Cayman Islands, we are permitted to adopt certain home country practices in relation to corporate governance matters that differ significantly from the Nasdaq Stock Market corporate governance standards; these practices may afford less protection to shareholders than they would enjoy if we comply fully with the Nasdaq Stock Market corporate governance standards.”
If securities or industry analysts do not publish research or reports about our business, or if they adversely change their recommendations regarding the ADSs, the market price for the ADSs and trading volume could decline.
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The trading market for the ADSs will be influenced by research or reports that industry or securities analysts publish about our business. If one or more analysts who cover us downgrade the ADSs, the market price for the ADSs would likely decline. If one or more of these analysts cease to cover us or fail to regularly publish reports on us, we could lose visibility in the financial markets, which in turn could cause the market price or trading volume of the ADSs to decline.
Our memorandum and articles of association contain anti-takeover provisions that could have a material adverse effect on the rights of holders of our ordinary shares and ADSs.
Our memorandum and articles of association contains provisions which could limit the ability of others to acquire control of our company or cause us to engage in change-of-control transactions. These provisions could have the effect of depriving our shareholders and ADS holders of an opportunity to sell their shares or ADSs at a premium over prevailing market prices by discouraging third parties from seeking to obtain control of our company in a tender offer or similar transactions. Our board of directors has the authority, without further action by our shareholders, to issue preferred shares in one or more series and to fix their designations, powers, preferences, privileges, and relative participating, optional or special rights and the qualifications, limitations or restrictions, including dividend rights, conversion rights, voting rights, terms of redemption and liquidation preferences, any or all of which may be greater than the rights associated with our ordinary shares, in the form of ADS or otherwise. Preferred shares could be issued quickly with terms calculated to delay or prevent a change in control of our company or make removal of management more difficult. If our board of directors decides to issue preferred shares, the price of the ADSs may fall and the voting and other rights of the holders of our ordinary shares and ADSs may be materially and adversely affected.
You may face difficulties in protecting your interests, and your ability to protect your rights through U.S. courts may be limited, because we are incorporated under Cayman Islands law and conduct a significant portion of our business operations in emerging markets.
We are an exempted company incorporated under the laws of the Cayman Islands. Our corporate affairs are governed by our memorandum and articles of association, the Companies Act of the Cayman Islands (as revised), and the common law of the Cayman Islands. The rights of shareholders to take action against our directors, actions by our minority shareholders and the fiduciary duties of our directors to us under Cayman Islands law are to a large extent governed by the common law of the Cayman Islands. The common law of the Cayman Islands is derived in part from comparatively limited judicial precedent in the Cayman Islands as well as from the common law of England, the decisions of whose courts are of persuasive authority, but are not binding, on a court in the Cayman Islands. The rights of our shareholders and the fiduciary duties of our directors under Cayman Islands law are not as clearly established as they would be under statutes or judicial precedent in some jurisdictions in the United States. In particular, the Cayman Islands has a less developed body of securities laws than the United States. Some U.S. states, such as Delaware, have more fully developed and judicially interpreted bodies of corporate law than the Cayman Islands. In addition, Cayman Islands companies may not have standing to initiate a shareholder derivative action in a federal court of the United States.
Shareholders of Cayman Islands exempted companies like us have no general rights under Cayman Islands law to inspect corporate records (other than the memorandum and articles of association or to obtain copies of our register of mortgages and charges). Our directors have discretion under our articles of association to determine whether or not, and under what conditions, our corporate records may be inspected by our shareholders, but are not obliged to make them available to our shareholders. This may make it more difficult for you to obtain the information needed to establish any facts necessary for a shareholder motion or to solicit proxies from other shareholders in connection with a proxy contest.
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Certain corporate governance practices in the Cayman Islands, which is our home country, differ significantly from requirements for companies incorporated in other jurisdictions such as the United States. If we choose to follow home country practice, our shareholders may be afforded less protection than they otherwise would under rules and regulations applicable to U.S. domestic issuers.
In addition, we conduct a significant portion of our business operations in emerging markets, including China. The SEC, U.S. Department of Justice, or the DOJ, and other authorities often have substantial difficulties in bringing and enforcing actions against non-U.S. companies and non-U.S. persons, including company directors and officers, in certain emerging markets, including China. Additionally, our public shareholders may have limited rights and few practical remedies in emerging markets where we operate, as shareholder claims that are common in the United States, including class action based on securities law and fraud claims, generally are difficult or impossible to pursue as a matter of law or practicality in many emerging markets, including China. For example, in China, there are significant legal and other obstacles for the SEC, the DOJ and other U.S. authorities to obtaining information needed for shareholder investigations or litigation. Although the competent authorities in China may establish a regulatory cooperation mechanism with the securities regulatory authorities of another country or region to implement cross-border supervision and administration, the regulatory cooperation with the securities regulatory authorities in the United States has not been efficient in the absence of a mutual and practical cooperation mechanism. In China, without the consent of the competent PRC securities regulators and relevant authorities, no organization or individual may provide the documents and materials relating to securities business activities to foreign securities regulators. See “—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—It may be difficult for overseas regulators to conduct investigations or collect evidence within China.”
As a result of the above, our public shareholders may have more difficulty in protecting their interests in the face of actions taken by our management, members of our board of directors or our controlling shareholders than they would as public shareholders of a company incorporated in the United States.
Certain judgments obtained against us by our shareholders may not be enforceable.
We are a Cayman Islands exempted company and the majority of our assets are located outside of the United States. All of our current operations are conducted in China and the United States. In addition, most of our current directors and officers are nationals and residents of countries other than the United States. As a result, it may be difficult or impossible for you to bring an action against us or against these individuals in the United States in the event that you believe that your rights have been infringed under the U.S. federal securities laws or otherwise. Even if you are successful in bringing an action of this kind, there are significant legal and other obstacles to obtaining information needed for such actions. For example, in China, without the consent of the competent PRC securities regulators and relevant authorities, no organization or individual may provide the documents and materials relating to securities business activities to foreign securities regulators. See “—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—It may be difficult for overseas regulators to conduct investigations or collect evidence within China,” and “—You may face difficulties in protecting your interests, and your ability to protect your rights through U.S. courts may be limited, because we are incorporated under Cayman Islands law and conduct a significant portion of our business operations in emerging markets” for risks associated with investing in us as a Cayman Islands company. Furthermore, the laws of the Cayman Islands and of China may render you unable to enforce a judgment against our assets or the assets of our directors and officers.
The voting rights of holders of ADSs are limited by the terms of the deposit agreement, and you may not be able to exercise your right to direct how the Class A ordinary shares which are represented by your ADSs are voted.
Holders of ADSs do not have the same rights as our registered shareholders. As a holder of the ADSs, you will not have any direct right to attend general meetings of our shareholders or to cast any votes at such meetings.
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You will only be able to exercise the voting rights which are carried by the underlying Class A ordinary shares represented by your ADSs indirectly by giving voting instructions to the depositary in accordance with the provisions of the deposit agreement. Under the deposit agreement, you may vote only by giving voting instructions to the depositary. If we instruct the depositary to ask for your instructions, then upon receipt of your voting instructions, the depositary will try, as far as is practicable, to vote the underlying Class A ordinary shares which are represented by your ADSs in accordance with your instructions. If we do not instruct the depositary to ask for your instructions, the depositary may still vote in accordance with instructions you give, but it is not required to do so. You will not be able to directly exercise your right to vote with respect to the underlying Class A ordinary shares represented by your ADSs unless you cancel and withdraw such shares and become the registered holder of such shares prior to the record date for the general meeting.
Under our memorandum and articles of association, the minimum notice period required to be given by our company to our registered shareholders to convene a general meeting is ten calendar days. When a general meeting is convened, you may not receive sufficient advance notice of the meeting to withdraw the underlying Class A ordinary shares represented by your ADSs and become the registered holder of such shares to allow you to attend the general meeting and to vote directly with respect to any specific matter or resolution to be considered and voted upon at the general meeting. In addition, under our memorandum and articles of association, for the purposes of determining those shareholders who are entitled to attend and vote at any general meeting, our directors may close our register of members or fix in advance a record date for such meeting, and such closure of our register of members or the setting of such a record date may prevent you from withdrawing the underlying Class A ordinary shares represented by your ADSs and becoming the registered holder of such shares prior to the record date, so that you would not be able to attend the general meeting or to vote directly. If we ask for your instructions, the depositary will notify you of the upcoming vote and will arrange to deliver our voting materials to you. We have agreed to give the depositary at least 45 days’ prior notice of shareholder meetings. Nevertheless, we cannot assure you that you will receive the voting materials in time to ensure that you can instruct the depositary to vote the underlying Class A ordinary shares represented by your ADSs. In addition, the depositary and its agents are not responsible for failing to carry out voting instructions or for their manner of carrying out your voting instructions. This means that you may not be able to exercise your right to direct how the underlying Class A ordinary shares represented by your ADSs are voted and you may have no legal remedy if the underlying Class A ordinary shares represented by your ADSs are not voted as you requested.
The depositary for the ADSs will give us a discretionary proxy to vote our Class A ordinary shares underlying your ADSs if you do not vote at shareholders’ meetings, which could adversely affect your interests.
Under the deposit agreement for the ADSs, if you do not vote, the depositary may give us a discretionary proxy to vote the Class A ordinary shares underlying your ADSs at shareholders’ meetings if:
we have timely provided the depositary with notice of meeting and related voting materials;
we have instructed the depositary that we wish a discretionary proxy to be given;
we have informed the depositary that there is no substantial opposition as to a matter to be voted on at the meeting; and
a matter to be voted on at the meeting would not have a material adverse impact on shareholders.
The effect of this discretionary proxy is that if you do not vote at shareholders’ meetings, you cannot prevent the Class A ordinary shares underlying your ADSs from being voted, except under the circumstances
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described above. This may make it more difficult for shareholders to influence the management of our company. Holders of our ordinary shares are not subject to this discretionary proxy.
You may not receive dividends or other distributions on our ordinary shares and you may not receive any value for them, if it is illegal or impractical to make them available to you.
The depositary of the ADSs has agreed to distribute, subject to the terms of the deposit agreement, the cash dividends or other distributions it or the custodian receives on our Class A ordinary shares or other deposited securities underlying the ADSs, after deducting its fees and expenses. You will receive these distributions in proportion to the number of Class A ordinary shares your ADSs represent. However, the depositary is not responsible if it decides that it is unlawful or impractical to make a distribution available to any holders of ADSs. For example, it would be unlawful to make a distribution to a holder of ADSs if it consists of securities that require registration under the Securities Act but that are not properly registered or distributed under an applicable exemption from registration. The depositary may also determine that it is not feasible to distribute certain property. Additionally, the value of certain distributions may be less than the cost of distribution. In these cases, the depositary may determine not to distribute such property. We have no obligation to register under U.S. securities laws any ADSs, ordinary shares, rights or other securities received through such distributions. We also have no obligation to take any other action to permit the distribution of ADSs, ordinary shares, rights or anything else to holders of ADSs. This means that you may not receive distributions we make on our ordinary shares or any value for them if it is illegal or impractical for us to make them available to you. These restrictions may cause a material decline in the value of the ADSs.
You may experience dilution of your holdings due to inability to participate in rights offerings.
We may, from time to time, distribute rights to our shareholders, including rights to acquire securities. Under the deposit agreement, the depositary will not distribute rights to holders of ADSs unless the distribution and sale of rights and the securities to which these rights relate are either exempt from registration under the Securities Act with respect to all holders of ADSs, or are registered under the provisions of the Securities Act. The depositary may, but is not required to, attempt to sell these undistributed rights to third parties, and may allow the rights to lapse. We may be unable to establish an exemption from registration under the Securities Act, and we are under no obligation to file a registration statement with respect to these rights or underlying securities or to endeavor to have a registration statement declared effective. Accordingly, holders of ADSs may be unable to participate in our rights offerings and may experience dilution of their holdings as a result.
You may be subject to limitations on the transfer of your ADSs.
Your ADSs are transferable on the books of the depositary. However, the depositary may close its books at any time or from time to time when it deems expedient in connection with the performance of its duties. The depositary may close its books from time to time for a number of reasons, including in connection with corporate events, such as a rights offering, or “for record date or processing purposes” in emergencies, and on weekends and public holidays. The depositary may refuse to deliver, transfer or register transfers of the ADSs generally when our share register or the books of the depositary are closed, or at any time if we or the depositary thinks it is advisable to do so because of any requirement of law or of any government or governmental body, or under any provision of the deposit agreement, or for any other reason.
ADS holders may not be entitled to a jury trial with respect to claims arising under the deposit agreement, which could result in less favorable outcomes to the plaintiffs in any such action.
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The deposit agreement governing the ADSs representing our Class A ordinary shares provides that, to the fullest extent permitted by law, ADS holders waive the right to a jury trial of any claim they may have against us or the depositary arising out of or relating to our shares, the ADSs or the deposit agreement, including any claim under the U.S. federal securities laws.
If we or the depositary opposed a jury trial demand based on the waiver, the court would determine whether the waiver was enforceable based on the facts and circumstances of that case in accordance with the applicable state and federal law. To our knowledge, the enforceability of a contractual pre-dispute jury trial waiver in connection with claims arising under the federal securities laws has not been finally adjudicated by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, we believe that a pre-dispute contractual waiver of jury trial is generally enforceable, including under the laws of the State of New York, which govern the deposit agreement, by a federal or state court in the City of New York, which has non-exclusive jurisdiction over matters arising under the deposit agreement. In determining whether to enforce a pre-dispute contractual waiver of jury trial, courts will generally consider whether a party knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waived the right to a jury trial. We believe that this is the case with respect to the deposit agreement and the ADSs. It is advisable that you consult legal counsel regarding the jury waiver provision before entering into the deposit agreement.
If you or any other holders or beneficial owners of ADSs bring a claim against us or the depositary in connection with matters arising under the deposit agreement or the ADSs, including claims under federal securities laws, you or such other holder or beneficial owner may not be entitled to a jury trial with respect to such claims, which may have the effect of limiting and discouraging lawsuits against us and the depositary. If a lawsuit is brought against either or both of us and the depositary under the deposit agreement, it may be heard only by a judge or justice of the applicable trial court, which would be conducted according to different civil procedures and may result in different outcomes than a trial by jury would have, including results that could be less favorable to the plaintiffs in any such action.
Nevertheless, if this jury trial waiver provision is not permitted by applicable law, an action could proceed under the terms of the deposit agreement with a jury trial. No condition, stipulation or provision of the deposit agreement or ADSs serves as a waiver by any holder or beneficial owner of ADSs or by us or the depositary of compliance with any substantive provision of the U.S. federal securities laws and the rules and regulations promulgated thereunder.
We are a foreign private issuer within the meaning of the rules under the Exchange Act, and as such we are exempt from certain provisions applicable to U.S. domestic public companies.
Because we are a foreign private issuer under the Exchange Act, we are exempt from certain provisions of the securities rules and regulations in the United States that are applicable to U.S. domestic issuers, including:
the rules under the Exchange Act requiring the filing of quarterly reports on Form 10-Q or current reports on Form 8-K with the SEC;
the sections of the Exchange Act regulating the solicitation of proxies, consents, or authorizations in respect of a security registered under the Exchange Act;
the sections of the Exchange Act requiring insiders to file public reports of their stock ownership and trading activities and liability for insiders who profit from trades made in a short period of time; and
the selective disclosure rules by issuers of material nonpublic information under Regulation FD.
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We are, however, required to file an annual report on Form 20-F within four months of the end of each fiscal year. In addition, we intend to continue to publish our results on a quarterly basis through press releases, distributed pursuant to the rules and regulations of the Nasdaq Stock Market. Press releases relating to financial results and material events will also be furnished to the SEC on Form 6-K. However, the information we are required to file with or furnish to the SEC will be less extensive and less timely compared to that required to be filed with the SEC by U.S. domestic issuers. As a result, you may not be afforded the same protections or information which would be made available to you were you investing in a U.S. domestic issuer.
We incur significant costs as a result of being a public company, particularly after we cease to qualify as an “emerging growth company.”
We incur significant legal, accounting and other expenses as a result of being a public company. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, as well as rules subsequently implemented by the SEC and the Nasdaq Stock Market, impose various requirements on the corporate governance practices of public companies. We qualify as an “emerging growth company” pursuant to the JOBS Act. An emerging growth company may take advantage of specified reduced reporting and other requirements that are otherwise applicable generally to public companies. These provisions include exemption from the auditor attestation requirement under Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the assessment of the emerging growth company’s internal control over financial reporting. The JOBS Act also permits an emerging growth company to delay adopting new or revised accounting standards until such time as those standards apply to private companies. We will rely on such exemption provided by the JOBS Act.
As a result, our financial statements may not be comparable to companies that comply with public company effective dates.
We expect these rules and regulations to increase our legal and financial compliance costs and to make some corporate activities more time-consuming and costly. After we cease to be an “emerging growth company,” which we anticipate will occur at the end of 2021, we expect to incur significant expenses and devote substantial management effort toward ensuring compliance with the requirements of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the other rules and regulations of the SEC. For example, as a result of becoming a public company, we have increased the number of independent directors and adopted policies regarding internal controls and disclosure controls and procedures. Operating as a public company has also made it more expensive for us to obtain and maintain director and officer liability insurance, and we may be required to accept reduced policy limits and coverage or incur substantially higher costs to obtain the same or similar coverage. In addition, we incur additional costs associated with our public company reporting requirements, and it may also be more difficult for us to find qualified persons to serve on our board of directors or as executive officers. We are currently evaluating and monitoring developments with respect to these rules and regulations, and we cannot predict or estimate with any degree of certainty the amount of additional costs we may incur or the timing of such costs.
As an exempted company incorporated in the Cayman Islands, we are permitted to adopt certain home country practices in relation to corporate governance matters that differ significantly from the Nasdaq Stock Market corporate governance standards; these practices may afford less protection to shareholders than they would enjoy if we comply fully with the Nasdaq Stock Market corporate governance standards.
As a Cayman Islands exempted company that is listed on the Nasdaq Global Select Market, we are subject to the Nasdaq Stock Market corporate governance rules. However, Nasdaq Stock Market rules permit a foreign private issuer like us to follow the corporate governance practices of its home country. Certain corporate governance practices in the Cayman Islands, which is our home country, may differ significantly from the Nasdaq Stock Market corporate governance standards. If we choose to follow home country practice in the future, our shareholders may be
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afforded less protection than they would otherwise enjoy under the Nasdaq Stock Market corporate governance standards applicable to U.S. domestic issuers.
ITEM 4. INFORMATION ON THE COMPANY
A. History and Development of the Company
Agora, Inc., or Agora, was incorporated in November 2013 as an exempted company with limited liability in the Cayman Islands. In January and March 2014, respectively, we incorporated Agora Lab, Inc., or Agora Lab, a California corporation, and formed Shanghai Zhaoyan Network Technology Co., Ltd., or Zhaoyan, a PRC limited liability company. We commenced operations through Agora Lab and Zhaoyan in those same months, providing RTE-PaaS products.
In December 2014, we incorporated Agora IO, Inc, or Agora IO, a Cayman Islands exempted company with limited liability, and Agora IO Hongkong Limited, or Agora HK, a Hong Kong corporation. In the same month, Agora IO, Agora and Agora Lab and their respective shareholders entered into a share swap arrangement which resulted in Agora and Agora Lab becoming wholly owned subsidiaries of Agora IO.
In April 2015, we incorporated Dayin Network Technology Co., Ltd., or Dayin, a PRC limited liability company. Dayin is a wholly owned subsidiary of Agora HK and has entered into certain contractual arrangements with Zhaoyan and Zhaoyan’s shareholders. See the section of this annual report captioned “Item 4. Information on The Company—Organizational Structure—Contractual Arrangements among Dayin, Zhaoyan and Zhaoyan’s Shareholders.”
In July 2019, we incorporated Agora.IO Ltd. in the United Kingdom as a wholly owned subsidiary of Agora Lab, which we reorganized in August 2020 such that Agora Lab became a wholly owned subsidiary of Agora.IO Ltd.
In January 2020, we completed a reorganization, which we refer to as the Corporate Reorganization, resulting in Agora IO becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of Agora and Agora becoming wholly owned by former Agora IO shareholders. See the section of this annual report captioned “Item 4. Information on The Company—Organizational Structure—Contractual Arrangements among Dayin, Zhaoyan and Zhaoyan’s Shareholders.”
In May 2020, we incorporated Shanghai Jiyin Network Technology Co., Ltd., or Jiyin, a PRC limited liability company. Jiyin is a wholly owned subsidiary of Agora HK.
In November 2020, we incorporated Agora.IO Singapore PTE. Ltd. in Singapore. Agora.IO Singapore PTE. Ltd. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Agora.
In February 2021, an accredited investor purchased through a private placement a total of US$250 million of our newly issued Class A ordinary shares, representing approximately 4.5% of our total outstanding shares.
In February 2021, we acquired Easemob, a leading provider of instant messaging application programming interfaces, or APIs, and customer engagement cloud services in China.
PRC laws and regulations place certain restrictions on foreign investment in and ownership of companies involved in the provision of internet-related services. Accordingly, we established certain contractual arrangements for our business operation in the PRC. We conduct our operations in the PRC mainly through Zhaoyan. We have effective control over Zhaoyan through a series of contractual arrangements by and among Dayin, Zhaoyan and Zhaoyan’s shareholders. These contractual arrangements collectively allow us to (1) exercise effective control over
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Zhaoyan, (2) receive substantially all of the economic benefits of Zhaoyan and (3) purchase all or part of the equity interests in Zhaoyan pursuant to exclusive call option exercisable when so permitted under PRC laws. For more details, including risks associated with the VIE structure, see “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure.”
As a result of our contractual arrangements with Zhaoyan and Zhaoyan’s shareholders, we are the primary beneficiary of Zhaoyan, and, therefore, have consolidated the financial results of Zhaoyan in our consolidated financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP.
Our ADSs have been listed for trading on the NASDAQ Global Select Market under the symbol “API” since June 26, 2020. We raised approximately US$483.6 million in net proceeds from the issuance of new shares from the initial public offering and concurrent private placement after deducting underwriting commissions and the offering expenses payable by us.
Our principal executive offices are located at Floor 8, Building 12, Phase III of ChuangZhiTianDi, 333 Songhu Road, Yangpu District, Shanghai, People’s Republic of China. Our telephone number at this address is +86-400-632-6626. We maintain a second headquarter located at 2804 Mission College Blvd, Santa Clara, California 95054, United States. Our telephone number at this address is +1-408-879-5885.
Our registered office in the Cayman Islands is located at the offices of Maples Corporate Services Limited, PO Box 309, Ugland House, Grand Cayman, KY1-1104, Cayman Islands.
Our main website is www.agora.io. The information contained on, or that can be accessed through, our main website is not a part of, and is not incorporated by reference into, this annual report.
B. Business Overview
People increasingly use real-time video or voice to interact and engage with others online. Traditionally, such engagement happens as standalone experiences in dedicated communication applications. However, in more and more cases users are looking for contextual real-time video or voice engagement embedded in the application they are already using, rather than having to use another application for that functionality. For example, students in an education application want to see their classmates and work on a group assignment together; players in a poker application want to see each other’s faces to pick up on visual tells; users in a dating application want to see their potential partners as they get to know one another; and buyers in a shopping application want to talk to sellers. The potential opportunities for such contextual real-time video or voice engagement are only limited by one’s imagination.
However, for many application developers, real-time video and voice engagement functionalities are too difficult and expensive to build. Real-time video or voice engagement requires reliable multi-way transmission of large amounts of data between users at millisecond latency. The public internet, however, is an open and best effort network with no assurance of service quality. Network conditions vary across time of day, geographies and network operators, often causing significant data packet loss and high latency. Furthermore, hardware and software proliferation and fragmentation have exacerbated the challenge developers face in providing broadly compatible solutions.
We founded Agora to solve these problems.
We want to empower every developer—whether working as a solo entrepreneur or as part of a larger organization—to leverage real-time engagement to create innovative products, elevate user experiences and differentiate themselves from competition.
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We pioneered Real-Time Engagement Platform-as-a-Service, or RTE-PaaS, and we are the global leader by market share in this rapidly growing industry. Our platform provides developers simple-to-use, highly customizable and widely compatible APIs to embed real-time video and voice functionalities into their applications without the need to develop the technology or build the underlying infrastructure themselves. The real-time data transmission is handled by our Software-Defined Real-Time Network, or SD-RTN, which is a virtual network overlay on top of the public internet running on more than 200 co-located data centers worldwide. Using sophisticated algorithms, the SD-RTN continually monitors and optimizes data transmission paths through the network to minimize latency and packet loss, enabling high quality real-time engagement across millions of concurrent users.
Our business employs a freemium model, offering 10,000 free minutes of real-time engagement per month per account, to encourage adoption and innovation by developers and proliferation of real-time engagement use cases. As usage exceeds the allotted free minutes, we charge based on usage and developers become customers. In 2020, we powered more than 500 billion minutes of real-time engagement for end users in more than 100 countries through more than 10,000 active applications. We define an active application as an application that uses one of our video or voice products for at least one minute in a given month. These applications cover a wide range of industries, including social, education, entertainment, gaming, e-commerce, financial services and healthcare. As of December 31, 2020, we had 2,095 active customers, which we define as customers who generate more than US$100 of revenue during the preceding 12 months. As our customers succeed, we share in their success through our usage-based revenue model. We believe a useful indicator of the increased activity from our customers is our Constant Currency Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate, which was 133%, 131% and 179% for 2018, 2019 and 2020 respectively. See the section of this annual report captioned “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects—Key Operating and Financial Metrics.”
For 2018, 2019 and 2020, our total revenue was US$43.7 million, US$64.4 million, and US$133.6 million respectively, an increase of 47.6%, and 107.3% respectively. For 2018, 2019 and 2020, our net income (loss) was US$0.4 million, US$(6.2) million and US$(3.1) million, respectively, and our Adjusted EBITDA was US$4.0 million, US$31.0 thousand and US$11.2 million respectively. Adjusted EBITDA is a non-GAAP measure. See the section of this annual report captioned “Item 3. Key Information—A. Selected Financial Data—Non-GAAP Financial Measure” for a discussion of the limitations of Adjusted EBITDA and a reconciliation of Adjusted EBITDA to net income (loss), the most comparable GAAP measurement, for the periods presented.
The Agora Platform
Our cloud-native platform enables real-time engagement for millions of concurrent users worldwide. The key components of our platform are our SDK and the SD-RTN, which are the foundation of the products we offer developers such as Real-Time Video, Real-Time Voice, Real-Time Messaging and Real-Time Recording, among others. These products can be accessed through simple APIs and are fully programmable.
The Agora SDK contains all the software modules a developer needs to embed real-time engagement capabilities into an application, such as video and audio capturing, rendering, pre- and post-processing, encoding and decoding, packet loss compensation, as well as first- and last-mile transmission. The Agora SDK is customizable based on the functionalities needed by the developer and runs on end users’ devices as part of the developer’s application.
The SD-RTN is a virtual network overlay on top of the public internet that runs on more than 200 co-located data centers worldwide and handles real-time data transmission between end-user devices when using the Agora SDK. The SD-RTN uses a full-mesh architecture and continually measures the transmission performance between each of the data centers. Because we have total control over every data center within the SD-RTN, we are able to use sophisticated algorithms to plan traffic and optimize routing within the SD-RTN with the local
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transmission situation taken into account. Such global routing optimization is not directly available on the public internet, as it is decentralized and managed by disparate network operators. As a result, the SD-RTN is able to achieve superior performance compared to the public internet in terms of latency and packet loss, which ultimately translates into superior end-user experience.
Our Products
Our enterprise-grade products include Real-Time Video, Real-Time Voice, Live Interactive Video and Audio Streaming, Real-Time Messaging, Real-Time Recording, Real-Time Streaming Acceleration, Agora Analytics and various use case products, which serve as building blocks for developers to embed the respective functions in their applications.
Video Products
Real-Time Video. Our Real-Time Video product enables real-time video interactions at up to full high-definition resolution among multiple users. Our Real-Time Video product offers features such as adaptive compression according to network conditions, perceptual video coding and resolution enhancement. The SDK allows for seamless integration with third-party plugins and functions as well as deep customization of video resolution and layout.
Live Interactive Video Streaming. Our Live Interactive Video Streaming product enables real-time video interactions that are simultaneously streamed to up to millions of users, offering immersive video streaming experiences.
Audio Products
Real-Time Voice. Our Real-Time Voice product enables real-time voice interactions among multiple users. Our Real-Time Voice product offers features such as 3D spatial audio, active speaker detection, audio mixing, noise reduction, echo cancellation, surge control and voice effects.
Live Interactive Audio Streaming. Our Live Interactive Audio Streaming product enables real-time audio interactions that are streamed to up to millions of users.
Other Products
Real-Time Messaging. Our Real-Time Messaging product provides a highly reliable and low latency messaging service through the SD-RTN, including peer-to-peer messaging as well as channel messaging that can send messages to millions of recipients simultaneously.
Real-Time Recording. Real-Time Recording is an add-on service to our Video and Audio products to record and save video and voice interactions and live interactive streaming, either on our platform or on servers designated by our customers. Our Real-Time Recording product enables a wide range of use cases such as course recording, regulatory compliance, record keeping and customer service quality evaluations.
Real-Time Streaming Acceleration (RTSA). Our Real-Time Streaming Acceleration product facilitates ultra-low latency transmission of streaming content over the internet. It is intended to be used by developers who have developed their own media processing modules that can otherwise be provided by our SDK but would benefit from access to the SD-RTN to accelerate their streaming transmissions. In 2020, we have upgraded our RTSA with two different versions, RTSA Lite and RTSA Pro. RTSA
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Lite has an extremely small device package with ultra-low power consumption. RTSA Pro brings a better overall experience while maintaining a lower power consumption level, suitable for other high-performance device ends.
Agora Analytics. Agora Analytics provides customers with the tools to track voice and video quality, performance, and streaming usage. The dashboard enables customers to quickly see trends, monitor issues, and solve problems in real-time.
Use Case Products. Our use case products provide value-added functionalities for common use cases, such as content moderation to remove inappropriate content in a video stream, interactive whiteboard for education applications and transcription services. In 2020, we introduced the Agora Flexible Classroom, to offer a low-code application Platform as a Service, or aPaaS, solution for education providers. It combines video, voice, messaging, whiteboard and recording functionalities into one cloud-based solution that allows developers to build an online classroom in the matter of minutes. Agora Flexible Classroom allows developers to use their own brands and have complete control of their own user data. It is modular, which means developers can customize their apps to create differentiated user experience.
We do not access, share, record or store any of the real-time interactions that are facilitated by our platform other than transmission quality data that enables us to continue to improve our platform and in select cases where developers choose to integrate our Real-Time Recording product, for example to enable content replay or ensure customer service levels.
Technology and Infrastructure
We built our cloud-native platform to enable worldwide, real-time video and voice engagement and messaging for up to millions of concurrent users. The key components of our platform are the Agora SDK and the SD-RTN.
Agora SDK. The Agora SDK contains all the software a developer needs to integrate our real-time engagement products into an application, is customizable by the developer and runs on end users’ devices as part of the developer’s application. The main software modules of the Agora SDK include:
Capturing modules that capture audio and video streams, and rendering modules that combine and synchronize multiple video or audio streams.
Pre-processing modules that modify the raw streams to reduce background noise, cancel echo, enable users to “beautify” their video appearance and add a variety of video special effects in real time, among other things, as well as post-processing modules that enhance the received streams, including resolution enhancement, noise reduction, image sharpening, concealment of audio or video defects such as jitter and color blocks, and video frame interpolation.
Encoding and decoding modules that compress and decompress the streams before and after transmission. Our video and audio codecs dynamically adapt the size of video and audio streams based on network transmission environment and end-user device capabilities.
“First-mile” and “last-mile” transmission modules that transmit data between end-user devices and an edge node of the SD-RTN. Our transmission modules dynamically select the optimal edge nodes based on changes in the network environment, for example, when the end-user device switches from a WiFi to a cellular network connection. Our transmission modules also use
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adaptive channel coding based on predicted packet-loss rate, as well as other strategies, to compensate for packet loss.
We have developed our SDK to overcome hardware and software compatibility issues and to be as compact as possible once embedded within an application. Our SDK is widely compatible with major operating systems, development frameworks and programming languages, and a wide variety of phones, PCs and other connected devices, including relatively older and less sophisticated models.
SD-RTN. The SD-RTN is a virtual network overlay on top of the public internet that runs on more than 200 co-located data centers worldwide and handles real-time data transmission between end-user devices when using our SDK. A key distinguishing feature of the SD-RTN is its all-software architecture; we do not own or lease physical or private data transmission lines. We believe our all-software approach is cost-effective, enables highly flexible routing optimization and will continue to improve through iterative development.
The public internet is an open and best effort network with no assurance of service quality. As data is transmitted, data packets pass through various segments managed by disparate network operators with their own routing protocols that do not always take into account the conditions of the other segments. The SD-RTN compensates for this absence of centralization with its virtual, software overlay. Because we have total control over every data center within the SD-RTN, we are able to optimize routing and plan traffic holistically.
Using sophisticated proprietary algorithms, the SD-RTN constantly probes the transmission quality across the public internet to determine optimal routes between data centers within the SD-RTN in terms of latency, bandwidth and packet loss. The SD-RTN maintains a real-time routing map to direct data transmission, taking into consideration transmission needs from up to several million concurrent end users, available bandwidth at each data center and other potential constraints such as network operator and infrastructure provider restrictions on data outflow from particular data centers and load balancing among edge nodes and between different routes. We also send redundant data packets through multiple optimized paths and the data packet that arrives to the destination first is used while any lost or subsequently received redundant data packets are ignored. The SD-RTN is based on the User Datagram Protocol, or UDP, for sending data packets, rather than the Transmission Control Protocol, or TCP, because UDP prioritizes lower latency and is more suitable for real-time engagement.
Our platform uses artificial intelligence, or AI, during encoding, transmission, processing and rendering, among other processes. For example, our AI algorithms predict focal points in a video, such as a person speaking compared to a background detail, to encode and render the video using more or less data, and predict packet loss rate to dynamically compensate for packet loss. They also enable a variety of transmission enhancements, such as identifying and eliminating echoes, distinguishing spoken language from other sounds to prioritize transmission of spoken language, filtering and suppressing noises that end users are more likely to be sensitive to, and enhancing video resolution by predicting and filling in details that have been lost or distorted during transmission due to packet loss.
We own and operate a substantial majority of our servers and network equipment that we host at the co-located data centers on which the SD-RTN runs. While we procure and operate our equipment, the premises are maintained by third parties. At each data center in the SD-RTN, the routing and other functions such as recording and data analytics are performed by commodity servers. Because each node and server are independent, self-sufficient and not reliant on other nodes or servers to function, we can quickly expand the SD-RTN’s capacity by
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adding servers at a local data center, connecting more data centers at the continent level or purchase additional bandwidth to manage customer growth across geographies. If one server goes down, the SD-RTN is able to automatically reroute and re-establish all users in an active session to a different server with little perceptible interruption. In addition, we continually monitor our systems for any signs of problems, and we strive to take preemptive action when necessary. We have not encountered significant service interruptions since our inception. We maintain a formal and comprehensive security program designed to protect against security threats and data breaches.
Sales and Marketing
Our go-to market strategy is focused on building developer community and enthusiasm for our products. We also employ more targeted sales efforts focused on large potential customers with proven use cases that could benefit from our products.
We reach developers through brand marketing, developer portals such as GitHub and developer conferences and events including our own RTE Conference both in the United States and China, one of the largest conferences in the world for real-time engagement technology, and the AllThingsRTC Conference in the United States. Once developers are introduced to our platform, we provide them with a low-friction trial experience consisting of 10,000 free minutes per month per account. Developers whose needs grow beyond the free minutes pay based on usage. Our team works directly with developers to help generate ideas and share best practices to ultimately promote new use cases for our technology. As developers innovate with our platform and share their experience with peers, awareness of our platform spreads in the developer community by word of mouth and attracts additional developers, creating a positive flywheel effect. We have built a large and engaged developer community, as evidenced by the more than 270,000 applications that have registered on our platform from our inception through December 31, 2020.
When a use case becomes sufficiently well-established, such as online education using our Real-Time Video product, we deploy our sales team to identify and actively approach similarly situated companies that could benefit from our products. For certain large customers who are developing promising but complex use cases, we deploy our own engineers to assist with the integration of our products into their applications. This is a key element of our strategy to enable new use cases and accelerate usage of our platform and we do not usually charge customers for such services.
As of December 31, 2020, we had 142 employees in our global sales and marketing organization.
Customer Support
Our platform is designed to allow developers to self-serve and they typically require minimal individual customer support from us. We provide helper libraries, comprehensive user guides and a wide range of code samples and demos. To supplement our extensive self-help resources, we also engage directly with our developer community in online forums such as Stack Overflow and provide individual customer support by e-mail and phone. We provide developers with a suite of Agora Analytics tools that help them independently monitor and diagnose quality concerns, identify root causes and address issues related to our products to improve their end users’ experience. As customers grow, we assign them to a dedicated service team to ensure their continued satisfaction and for our largest customers we provide ongoing support from our own engineers.
Competition
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The global market for RTE-PaaS is relatively new and rapidly evolving. Currently, our competitors mainly include:
PaaS providers in China and the United States, as well as smaller software companies, which compete with all or portions of our platform and products;
open-source projects, such as WebRTC, which offer capabilities that compete with some of the functionalities in our SDK; and
network operators or cloud providers that offer private lines on which similar functionalities to ours can be built.
In many cases, we encounter either custom software developed in-house or by consultants, or legacy solutions repurposed by in-house developers of our potential customers to meet specific use cases.
We believe that the principal competitive factors in our market are:
quality of data transmission and user experience;
credibility with developers;
global reach;
ease of integration and programmability;
product features;
platform scalability, reliability, compatibility, security and performance;
brand awareness and reputation;
the strength of sales and marketing efforts;
customer support; and
the cost of deploying and using our products.
We believe that we compete effectively on each of the factors listed above; however, we expect competition to intensify in the future. It is possible that the large software vendors or cloud providers who currently do not have an offering in the RTE-PaaS category, some of which operate in adjacent product categories today, may in the future bring such a solution to market through product development, acquisitions or other means. In addition, several of our competitors have greater name recognition, longer operating histories, more and better-established customer relationships, larger sales forces, larger marketing and software development budgets and significantly greater resources than we do. As a result, certain of our competitors may be able to respond more quickly and effectively than we can to new or changing opportunities, technologies, standards or customer requirements. In addition, some competitors may offer products or services that address one or a limited number of functions at lower prices or with greater depth than our products.
Research and Development
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Innovation is the lifeblood of everything we do at Agora and we intend to continue to invest significant resources in our research and development capabilities. Our ability to deliver leading products in our markets depends on our rapid development of new technologies, features and functionality, and ensuring that our platform continues to deliver a high quality of service at all times. We actively respond to developers’ needs to drive positive user experiences and our engineers aim to stay on the cutting edge of real-time engagement technologies. Our value proposition lies in helping developers bring innovative use cases to reality using our products because we ultimately share in their success.
As of December 31, 2020, we had 568 employees in our global research and development organization, representing approximately 67.5% of our total employee base.
Intellectual Property
Intellectual property is an important aspect of our business and we seek protection for our intellectual property as appropriate. To establish and protect our proprietary rights and our brand, we rely on a combination of patent, copyright, trade secret and trademark laws as well as contractual restrictions such as confidentiality agreements, licenses and intellectual property assignment agreements. We also maintain a policy requiring our employees, contractors, consultants and other third parties to enter into confidentiality and proprietary rights agreements to control access to our proprietary information. As of the date of this annual report, we had 23 issued patents and 17 pending patent applications in the United States, four issued patents and 17 pending patent applications in China, two issued patents and six pending patent applications in Europe and India. We own 28 and nine trademarks in the United States and China, respectively.
Intellectual property laws, procedures and restrictions provide only limited protection and any of our intellectual property rights may be challenged, invalidated, circumvented, infringed or misappropriated. Moreover, the laws of certain countries do not protect proprietary rights to the same extent as the laws of the United States and we may therefore be unable to protect our proprietary technology in certain jurisdictions. In addition, our products incorporate software components licensed to the general public under open source software licenses, which grant recipients broad permissions to use, copy, modify and redistribute the licensed software components, but which generally do not offer warranties, support, or other similar protections often provided with commercial software. Some open source software licenses include requirements that, under certain circumstances, require the distribution of software based on or derived from the open source software to be made available in source code form under the terms of an open source software license. As a result, inclusion of open source software in our products could limit the value of our intellectual property assets, or expose us to liability. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry—Our use of open source software could negatively affect our ability to sell our products and subject us to possible litigation.”
Regulations
This section sets forth a summary of the principal PRC and U.S. laws and regulations relevant to our business and operations in the PRC and the United States, respectively.
PRC Regulation
China has not developed a fully integrated legal system, and recently enacted laws, rules and regulations may not sufficiently cover all aspects of economic activities in China or may be subject to significant degrees of interpretation by PRC regulatory agencies. In particular, because these laws, rules and regulations are relatively new, and because of the limited number of published decisions and the nonbinding nature of such decisions, and because the laws, rules and regulations often give the relevant regulator significant discretion in how to enforce them, the
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interpretation and enforcement of these laws, rules and regulations involve uncertainties and can be inconsistent and unpredictable. In addition, the PRC legal system is based in part on government policies and internal rules, some of which are not published on a timely basis or at all, and which may have a retroactive effect. As a result, we may not be aware of our violation of these policies and rules until after the occurrence of the violation. Since PRC administrative and court authorities have significant discretion in interpreting and implementing statutory and contractual terms, it may be more difficult to evaluate the outcome of administrative and court proceedings and the level of legal protection we enjoy than in more developed legal systems. These uncertainties may impede our ability to enforce the contracts we have entered into and could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition. In particular, the Chinese government heavily regulates the internet industry, including relevant market access restrictions and limitations on foreign investment, license and permit requirements for service providers in the internet industry. Since some of the laws, regulations and legal requirements with respect to the internet are relatively new and evolving, their interpretation and enforcement involve significant uncertainties.
Foreign Investment Law
On March 15, 2019, the National People’s Congress reviewed the submitted draft and approved the Foreign Investment Law, which came into effect on January 1, 2020. The newly promulgated Foreign Investment Law replaces the three laws on foreign investment (the Wholly Foreign-owned Enterprise Law, the Cooperative Joint Venture Law of the PRC and the Equity Joint Venture Law of the PRC) and the Foreign Investment Law provides a five-year transition period for the existing foreign invested enterprises, or the FIEs, to adjust their business structures. On December 26, 2019, the State Council issued the Implementation Rules of the Foreign Investment Law, which came into effect on January 1, 2020, to clarify and elaborate relevant provisions of the Foreign Investment Law. While silent on specific issues including the discussion on the contractual arrangement with variable interest entities, the Foreign Investment Law and its implementation regulations emphasize the principle of applying “national treatment” to foreign investors. Industries that are not listed in the negative list issued by, amended or released upon approval by the State Council from time to time are permitted areas for foreign investments, and are generally open to foreign investment unless specifically restricted by other PRC regulations. The current effective negative list is the Foreign Investment Catalog or the Special Administrative Measures (Negative List) for Foreign Investment Access, or the 2020 Negative List, which became effective in July 2020. Foreign investment and domestic investment in industries outside the scope of the negative list would be treated equally.
Regulations on Value-added Telecommunications Services
The Telecommunications Regulations of the PRC, or the Telecom Regulations, implemented on September 25, 2000 and amended on July 29, 2014 and February 6, 2016, are the primary PRC law governing telecommunication services and set out the general framework for the provision of both “basic telecommunication services” and “value-added telecommunication services” by domestic PRC companies. “Value-added telecommunication services” is defined as telecommunications and information services provided through public networks, and, according to the Telecom Regulations, operators of value-added telecommunications services shall obtain operating licenses prior to commencing operations from the MIIT or its provincial level counterparts.
The Catalogue, which was issued as an attachment to the Telecom Regulations and revised and promulgated on June 6, 2019, further categorizes telecommunications services as “basic” or “value-added.”
On March 5, 2009, the MIIT issued the Measures on the Administration of Telecommunications Business Operating Permits, or the Telecom License Measures, which initially became effective on April 10, 2009 and was amended on July 3, 2017, effective on September 1, 2017, to supplement the Telecom Regulations. The Telecom License Measures provide that there are two types of telecommunications operating licenses in China, one for basic
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telecommunications services and one for value-added telecommunications services. A distinction is also made to licenses for value-added telecommunications services, or the VAT Licenses as to whether a license is granted for “intra-provincial” or “trans-regional” (inter-provincial) activities. An appendix to each license granted will detail the permitted activities of the enterprise to which it was granted. An approved telecommunication services operator must conduct its business (whether basic or value-added) in accordance with the specifications recorded in its telecommunication license.
Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment in Value-added Telecommunications Companies
Foreign direct investment in telecommunications companies in China is governed by the Provisions on the Administration of Foreign-Invested Telecommunications Enterprises, or the FITE Regulations, which were issued by the State Council on December 11, 2001, became effective on January 1, 2002 and amended and issued on February 6, 2016, and the Industry Guidelines on Encouraged Foreign Investment (Year 2020), which were jointly issued by the National Development and Reform Commission, or the NDRC, and the MOFCOM, on December 27, 2020. Under the aforesaid regulations and the 2020 Negative List mentioned above, foreign invested telecommunications enterprises in the PRC, or FITEs, are generally required to be established as Sino-foreign equity joint ventures with limited exceptions. In general, the foreign party to a FITE engaging in value-added telecommunications services may hold up to 50% of the equity of the FITE, of which the geographical area it may conduct telecommunications services is provided by the MIIT in accordance with relevant provisions as mentioned above. In addition, the major foreign investor in a value-added telecommunications business in China must satisfy a number of stringent performance and operational experience requirements, including demonstrating a good track record and experience in operating a value-added telecommunications business overseas.
On June 30, 2016, the MIIT issued an Announcement of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on Issues concerning the Provision of Telecommunication Services in Mainland China by Service Providers from Hong Kong and Macau, or the MIIT Announcement, which provides that investors from Hong Kong and Macau may hold no more than 50% of the equity in FITEs engaging in certain specified categories of value-added telecommunications services.
On July 13, 2006, the MIIT issued the Notice of the Ministry of Information Industry on Intensifying the Administration of Foreign Investment in Value-added Telecommunications Services, or the MIIT Notice, which reiterates certain provisions of the FITE Regulations. In addition to the provisions stated in FITE Regulations, the MIIT Notice further provide that a domestic company that holds a value-added telecommunication license, is prohibited from leasing, transferring or selling the value-added telecommunication license to foreign investors in any form, and from providing any assistance, including providing resources, sites or facilities, to foreign investors to conduct value-added telecommunications businesses illegally in China. The MIIT Notice also requires each value-added telecommunication license holder to have appropriate facilities for its approved business operations and to maintain such facilities in the regions covered by its license, and specifically, with regard to the domain names and trademarks, the MIIT Notice required that trademarks and domain names that are used in the provision of internet content services must be owned by the VAT License holder or its shareholders.
Due to a lack of interpretative materials from the relevant PRC governmental authorities, there are uncertainties regarding whether PRC governmental authorities would consider our corporate structure and contractual arrangements to constitute foreign ownership of a value-added telecommunications business. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—We may be adversely affected by the complexity, uncertainties and changes in PRC laws, rules and regulations, particularly of internet businesses.” In order to comply with PRC regulatory requirements, we operate a portion of our business through our VIEs, with which we have contractual relationships but in which we do not have an actual ownership interest. If our current
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ownership structure is found to be in violation of current or future PRC laws, rules or regulations regarding the legality of foreign investment in the PRC internet sector, we could be subject to severe penalties.
Regulation on Internet Information Services
The Administrative Measures on Internet Information Services, or the Internet Content Measures, which was promulgated by the State Council on September 25, 2000 and amended on January 8, 2011, set out guidelines on the provision of internet information services. The Internet Content Measures classifies internet information services into commercial internet information services and non-commercial internet information services, and commercial internet information services refer to services that provide information or services to internet users with charge. A provider of commercial internet information services must obtain an internet content provider license, or the ICP License, and, prior to the application for such ICP License from the MIIT or its local branch at the provincial or municipal level, entities providing online information services regarding news, publishing, education, medicine, health, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment must procure the consent of the national authorities responsible for such areas. As a provider of non-commercial internet information services, there is no need for Zhaoyan to obtain an ICP License as mentioned above, which authorize relevant companies’ provision of information services via the internet without charge the internet users.
In addition to the approval and license requirements, various ministries and agencies in the PRC, including the MIIT, the News Office of the State Council, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the General Administration of Press and Publication, have promulgated multiple measures relating to internet content, all of which specifically prohibit internet activities that result in the dissemination of any content that infringes the legal rights of others, is found to contain pornography, promote gambling or violence, instigate crimes, undermine public morality or the cultural traditions of the PRC, or compromise State security or secrets. For example, the Internet Content Measures specifies a list of prohibited content. Internet information providers are prohibited from producing, copying, publishing or distributing information that is humiliating or defamatory to others or that infringes the legal rights of others. Internet information providers that violate these measures may face criminal charges or administrative sanctions, such as fines, revoking any relevant business operation licenses. Internet information providers must monitor and control the information posted on their websites. If any prohibited content is found, they must remove the content immediately, keep a record of such content and report to the relevant authorities. On December 15, 2019, Cyberspace Administration of China, or the CAC, promulgated the Provisions on Ecological Governance of Network Information Content, which became effective on March 1, 2020, to further regulate the network information and content.
Regulation on Information Security and Censorship
The SCNPC enacted the Decisions on the Maintenance of Internet Security on December 28, 2000, which was amended in August 27, 2009. Such decision makes it unlawful to: (1) gain improper entry into a computer or system of strategic importance; (2) disseminate politically disruptive information; (3) leak State secrets; (4) spread false commercial information; or (5) infringe intellectual property rights. The Ministry of Public Security has promulgated measures as below that prohibit the use of the internet in ways which, among other things, result in a leakage of State secrets or distribution of socially destabilizing content. The Ministry of Public Security has supervision and inspection rights in this regard.
On December 16, 1997, the Ministry of Public Security issued the Administration Measures on the Security Protection of Computer Information Network with International Connections which was amended on January 8, 2011. Such administration measures prohibit using the internet to leak state secrets or to spread socially destabilizing materials. If any operating license holder violates these measures, the PRC government may revoke its operating license and shut down its websites. Pursuant to the Ninth Amendment to the Criminal Law issued by the SCNPC on
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August 29, 2015 and becoming effective on November 1, 2015, any internet services provider that fails to fulfill the obligations related to internet information security administration as required by applicable laws and refuses to rectify upon orders, will be subject to criminal liability for (1) any dissemination of illegal information in large scale, (2) any severe effect due to the leakage of the client’s information, (3) any serious loss of evidence of criminal activities or (4) other severe situations, and any individual or entity that (a) sells or provides personal information to others unlawfully or (b) steals or illegally obtains any personal information, will be subject to criminal liability in severe situations.
The Provisions on Technological Measures for Internet Security Protection, or the Internet Security Protection Measures, promulgated on December 13, 2005 by the Ministry of Public Security require all internet services providers to keep records of certain information about their users (including user registration information, log-in and log-out time, IP address, content and time of posts by users) for at least 60 days and submit the above information as required by laws and regulations. Under these measures, value-added telecommunications services license holders must regularly update information security and content control systems for their websites and must also report any public dissemination of prohibited content to local public security authorities. If a value-added telecommunications services license holder violates these measures, the Ministry of Public Security and the local security bureaus may revoke its operating license and shut down its websites.
The Communication Network Security Protection Administrative Measures, which were promulgated by the MIIT on January 21, 2010, require that all communication network operators, including telecommunications service providers and Internet domain name service providers, divide their own communication networks into units. These communication network units shall be rated in accordance with degree of damage to national security, economic operation, social order and public interest in the event a unit is damaged. Communication network operators must file the division and ratings of their communication networks with MIIT or its local counterparts. If a communication network operator violates these measures, the MIIT or its local counterparts may order rectification or impose a fine up to RMB30,000 in case a violation is not duly rectified.
On November 7, 2016, the SCNPC promulgated the PRC Cybersecurity Law, which took effect on June 1, 2017. The PRC Cybersecurity Law applies to the construction, operation, maintenance, and use of networks as well as the supervision and administration of internet security in the PRC. The PRC Cybersecurity Law defines “networks” as systems that are composed of computers or other information terminals and relevant facilities used for the purpose of collecting, storing, transmitting, exchanging, and processing information in accordance with certain rules and procedures. “Network operators,” who are broadly defined as owners and administrator of networks and network service providers, shall meet their cybersecurity obligations and shall take technical measures and other necessary measures to protect the safety and stability of their networks.
On April 13, 2020, the CAC, together with 11 other government agencies, jointly issued the Cybersecurity Review Measures, or the Review Measures. The Review Measures, under which the scope of application, reporting procedures, evaluation factors and legal responsibilities are stipulated, was implemented on June 1, 2020 to replace the Measures for Security Review of Cyber Products and Services (for Trial Implementation) issued by the CAC on May 2, 2017. According to the Review Measures, any operator of critical information infrastructure, which, according to the Reply to Questions on the Review Measures published by the CAC, includes critical network and information system operators in the telecommunications industry, purchases any network product or service that may pose potential risks to or otherwise affect national security, they must apply for a cybersecurity review to be conducted by Cybersecurity Review Office.
The CAC is responsible for organizing and implementing cybersecurity reviews, while the competent departments in key industries such as finance, telecommunications, energy, and transport are responsible for organizing and implementing security review of cyber products and services in their respective industries and fields.
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On November 15, 2018, the Cyberspace Administration issued the Provisions on Security Assessment of the Internet Information Services with Public Opinion Attributes or Social Mobilization Capacity, which came into effect on November 30, 2018. The provisions require internet information providers to conduct security assessments on their internet information services if their services include forums, blogs, microblogs, chat rooms, communication groups, public accounts, short-form videos, online live-streaming, information sharing, mini programs or other functions that provide channels for the public to express opinions or have the capability of mobilizing the public to engage in specific activities. Internet information providers must conduct self-assessment on, among other things, the legality of new technology involved in the services and the effectiveness of security risk prevention measures, and file the assessment report with the local competent cyberspace administration authority and public security authority.
Internet security in China is also regulated and restricted from a national security standpoint. On July 1, 2015, the SCNPC promulgated the new National Security Law, which took effect on the same date and replaced the former National Security Law promulgated in 1993. According to the new National Security Law, the state shall ensure that the information system and data in important areas are secure and controllable. In addition, according to the new National Security Law, the state shall establish national security review and supervision institutions and mechanisms, and conduct national security reviews of key technologies and IT products and services that affect or may affect national security. There are uncertainties on how the new National Security Law will be implemented in practice.
Regulation on Privacy Protection
On December 28, 2012, the SCNPC enacted the Decision to Enhance the Protection of Network Information, or the Information Protection Decision, to enhance the protection of user personal information in electronic form. The Information Protection Decision provides that internet services providers must expressly inform their users of the purpose, manner and scope of the internet services providers’ collection and use of user personal information, publish the internet services providers’ standards for their collection and use of user personal information, and collect and use user personal information only with the consent of the users and only within the scope of such consent. The Information Protection Decision also mandates that internet services providers and their employees must keep strictly confidential user personal information that they collect, and that internet services providers must take such technical and other measures as are necessary to safeguard the information against disclosure.
On July 16, 2013, the MIIT issued the Order for the Protection of Telecommunication and Internet User Personal Information, or the Order. Most of the requirements under the Order that are relevant to internet services providers are consistent with the requirements already established under the MIIT provisions discussed above, except that under the Order the requirements are often more strict and have a wider scope. If an internet services provider wishes to collect or use personal information, it may do so only if such collection is necessary for the services it provides. Further, it must disclose to its users the purpose, method and scope of any such collection or use, and must obtain consent from the users whose information is being collected or used. Internet services providers are also required to establish and publish their protocols relating to personal information collection or use, keep any collected information strictly confidential, and take technological and other measures to maintain the security of such information. Internet services providers are also required to cease any collection or use of the user personal information, and de-register the relevant user account, when a given user stops using the relevant internet service. Internet services providers are further prohibited from divulging, distorting or destroying any such personal information, or selling or providing such information unlawfully to other parties. The Order states, in broad terms, that violators may face warnings, fines, and disclosure to the public and, in the most severe cases, criminal liability.
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On January 5, 2015, the SAIC promulgated the Measures on Punishment for Infringement of Consumer Rights and recently amended on October 23, 2020, pursuant to which business operators collecting and using personal information of consumers must comply with the principles of legitimacy, propriety and necessity, specify the purpose, method and scope of collection and use of the information, and obtain the consent of the consumers whose personal information is to be collected. Business operators may not (1) collect or use personal information of consumers without their consent, (2) unlawfully divulge, sell or provide personal information of consumers to others or (3) send commercial information to consumers without their consent or request, or when a consumer has explicitly declined to receive such information.
Regulations Related to Intellectual Property Rights
Trademarks
On August 23, 1982, the SCNPC promulgated the Trademark Law of the PRC, or the Trademark Law, which was amended in 1993, 2001, 2013 and 2019. The Implementation Regulation for the Trademark Law promulgated by the State Council came into effect on September 15, 2002 and was further amended on April 29, 2014.
Under the Trademark Law and the implementing regulation, the Trademark Office of the State Administration for Market Regulation, or the Trademark Office, is responsible for the registration and administration of trademarks. The Trademark Office handles trademark registrations. As with patents, China has adopted a “first-to-file” principle for trademark registration. If two or more applicants apply for registration of identical or similar trademarks for the same or similar commodities, the application that was filed first will receive preliminary approval and will be publicly announced. Registered trademarks are valid for ten years from the date the registration is approved. A registrant may apply to renew a registration within 12 months before the expiration date of the registration. If the registrant fails to apply in a timely manner, a grace period of six additional months may be granted. If the registrant fails to apply before the grace period expires, the registered trademark shall be deregistered. Renewed registrations are valid for ten years.
In addition to the above, the SAIC has established a Trademark Review and Adjudication Board for resolving trademark disputes. According to the Trademark Law, within three months since the date of the announcement of a preliminarily validated trademark, if a titleholder is of the view that is such trademark in application is identical or similar to its registered trademark for the same type of commodities or similar commodities which violates relevant provisions of the Trademark Law, such titleholder may raise an objection to the Trademark Office within the aforesaid period. In such event, the Trademark Office shall consider the facts and grounds submitted by both the dissenting party and the party being challenged and shall decide on whether the registration is allowed within 12 months upon the expiration of the announcement after investigation and verification, and notify the dissenting party and the person challenged in writing.
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Patents
The National People’s Congress adopted the Patent Law of the People’s Republic of China in 1984 and amended it in 1992, 2000, 2008 and 2020, respectively. Under the newly issued version of the Patent Law, which will come into effect on June 1, 2021, a patentable invention or utility model must meet three conditions: novelty, inventiveness and practical applicability. A patentable design shall not be an existing design, nor shall any entity or individual has filed an application for the same design with the competent authorities prior to the filing date and recorded in the patent documents published after the filing date. Patents cannot be granted for scientific discoveries, rules and methods for intellectual activities, methods used to diagnose or treat diseases, animal and plant breeds, means of nuclear transformation or substances obtained by means of nuclear transformation, etc. The Patent Office under the State Intellectual Property Office is responsible for receiving, examining and approving patent applications. A patent is valid for a twenty-year term for an invention, a ten-year term for a utility model and a fifteen-year term for a design, starting from the application date. Except under certain specific circumstances provided by law, any third party user must obtain consent or a proper license from the patent owner to use the patent, or else the use will constitute an infringement of the rights of the patent holder.
Copyrights
On September 7, 1990, the SCNPC promulgated the Copyright Law, which took effect on June 1, 1991 and was amended in 2001, in 2010, and in 2020 (the 2020 amendment will come into effect on June 1, 2021). The Copyright Law extends copyright protection to internet activities, products disseminated over the internet and software products. In addition, there is a voluntary registration system administered by the China Copyright Protection Center.
In order to further implement the Computer Software Protection Regulations, promulgated by the State Council on June 4, 1991 and amended on January 30, 2013, the National Copyright Administration, or the NCA, issued the Computer Software Copyright Registration Procedures on April 6, 1992 and amended on February 20, 2002, which specify detailed procedures and requirements with respect to the registration of software copyrights. The China Copyright Protection Center shall grant registration certificates to the computer software copyrights applicants which meet the requirements of both the software copyright registration procedures and the computer software protection regulations.
Domain Names
The MIIT promulgated the Measures on Administration of Internet Domain Names, or the Domain Name Measures, on August 24, 2017, which took effect on November 1, 2017 and replaced the Administrative Measures on China Internet Domain Name promulgated by MIIT on November 5, 2004. According to the Domain Name Measures, the MIIT is in charge of the administration of PRC internet domain names. The domain name registration follows a first-to-file principle. Applicants for registration of domain names shall provide the true, accurate and complete information of their identifications to domain name registration service institutions. The applicants will become the holder of such domain names upon the completion of the registration procedure.
Regulations on Foreign Exchange
Under the Foreign Currency Administration Rules of the PRC promulgated by the State Council on January 29, 1996 and amended on August 5, 2008 and various regulations issued by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, or the SAFE, and other relevant PRC government authorities, Renminbi is convertible into other currencies for current account items, such as trade-related receipts and payments and payment of interest and dividends. The conversion of Renminbi into other currencies and remittance of the converted foreign currency
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outside the PRC for of capital account items, such as direct equity investments, loans and repatriation of investment, requires the prior approval from the SAFE or its local office. Payments for transactions that take place within the PRC must be made in Renminbi. Unless otherwise approved, PRC companies may not repatriate foreign currency payments received from abroad or retain the same abroad. FIEs may retain foreign exchange in accounts with designated foreign exchange banks under the current account items subject to a cap set by the SAFE or its local office. Foreign exchange proceeds under the current accounts may be either retained or sold to a financial institution engaged in settlement and sale of foreign exchange pursuant to relevant SAFE rules and regulations. For foreign exchange proceeds under the capital accounts, approval from the SAFE is generally required for the retention or sale of such proceeds to a financial institution engaged in settlement and sale of foreign exchange.
Pursuant to the Circular of the SAFE on Further Improving and Adjusting Foreign Exchange Administration Policies for Direct Investment, or the SAFE Circular 59 promulgated by SAFE on November 19, 2012, which became effective on December 17, 2012 and was further amended on May 4, 2015, October 10, 2018 and December 30, 2019, approval is not required for opening a foreign exchange account and depositing foreign exchange into the accounts relating to the direct investments. SAFE Circular 59 also simplified foreign exchange-related registration required for the foreign investors to acquire the equity interests of PRC companies and further improve the administration on foreign exchange settlement for FIEs.
The SAFE promulgated the Circular on Printing and Distributing the Provisions on Foreign Exchange Administration over Domestic Direct Investment by Foreign Investors and the Supporting Documents in May 2013, which was amended on October 10, 2018 and December 30, 2019, which specifies that the administration by SAFE or its local branches over direct investment by foreign investors in the PRC shall be conducted by way of registration and banks shall process foreign exchange business relating to the direct investment in the PRC based on the registration information provided by SAFE and its branches. On February 13, 2015, the SAFE promulgated the Circular on Simplifying and Improving the Foreign Currency Management Policy on Direct Investment, or the SAFE Circular 13, effective from June 1, 2015, which was amended on December 30, 2019. SAFE Circular 13 cancels the administrative approvals of foreign exchange registration of foreign direct investment and overseas direct investment. In addition, SAFE Circular 13 simplifies the procedure of foreign exchange-related registration, under which investors shall register with banks for foreign direct investment and overseas direct investment.
Regulations on Dividend Distribution
The principal laws and regulations regulating the dividend distribution of dividends by FIEs in the PRC include the Company Law of the PRC, as amended in 2018 and Foreign Investment Law promulgated by SCNPC on March 15, 2019 and came into effect on January 1, 2020 and its implementation regulations that took effect the same day.
Under the current regulatory regime in the PRC, FIEs in the PRC may pay dividends only out of their retained earnings, if any, determined in accordance with PRC accounting standards and regulations. A PRC company is required to set aside as statutory reserve funds at least 10% of its after-tax profit, until the cumulative amount of such reserve funds reaches 50% of its registered capital unless laws regarding foreign investment provide otherwise. A PRC company shall not distribute any profits until any losses from prior fiscal years have been offset. Profits retained from prior fiscal years may be distributed together with distributable profits from the current fiscal year. In addition, failure to comply with the registration procedures set forth in the SAFE Circular 37 may result in bans on the foreign exchange activities of the relevant onshore company, including the payment of dividends and other distributions to its offshore parent or affiliates. See the section of this annual report captioned “Regulation—PRC Regulation—Regulations Related to Mergers and Acquisitions and Overseas Listings.”
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Regulations on Taxation
Enterprise Income Tax
On March 16, 2007, the SCNPC promulgated the Law of the PRC on Enterprise Income Tax, which was amended on December 29, 2018 and on December 6, 2007, the State Council enacted the Regulations for the Implementation of the Law on Enterprise Income Tax, collectively, the EIT Law, which was amended on April 23, 2019. Under the EIT Law, both resident enterprises and non-resident enterprises are subject to tax in the PRC. Resident enterprises are defined as enterprises that are established in China in accordance with PRC laws, or that are established in accordance with the laws of foreign countries but are actually or in effect controlled from within the PRC. Non-resident enterprises are defined as enterprises that are organized under the laws of foreign countries and whose actual management is conducted outside the PRC, but have established institutions or premises in the PRC, or have no such established institutions or premises but have income generated from inside the PRC. Under the EIT Law and relevant implementing regulations, a uniform corporate income tax rate of 25% is applied. However, if non-resident enterprises have not formed permanent establishments or premises in the PRC, or if they have formed permanent establishment or premises in the PRC but there is no actual relationship between the relevant income derived in the PRC and the established institutions or premises set up by them, enterprise income tax is set at the rate of 20% with respect to their income sourced from inside the PRC.
Withholding Tax
The EIT Law provides that since January 1, 2008, an income tax rate of 10% will normally be applicable to dividends declared to non-PRC resident enterprise investors which do not have an establishment or place of business in the PRC, or which have such establishment or place of business but the relevant income is not effectively connected with the establishment or place of business, to the extent such dividends are derived from sources within the PRC.
Pursuant to an Arrangement Between the Mainland of China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with respect to Taxes on Income, or the Double Tax Avoidance Arrangement, promulgated by the SAT on August 21, 2006, and other applicable PRC laws, if a Hong Kong resident enterprise is determined by the competent PRC tax authority to have satisfied the relevant conditions and requirements under such Double Tax Avoidance Arrangement and other applicable laws, the 10% withholding tax on the dividends the Hong Kong resident enterprise receives from a PRC resident enterprise may be reduced to 5%. However, based on the Circular on Certain Issues with Respect to the Enforcement of Dividend Provisions in Tax Treaties, or the SAT Circular 81, issued on February 20, 2009 by the SAT, if the relevant PRC tax authorities determine, in their discretion, that a company benefits from such reduced income tax rate due to a structure or arrangement that is primarily tax-driven, such PRC tax authorities may adjust the preferential tax treatment.
Value-added Tax
The Provisional Regulations of the PRC on Value-added Tax, or the VAT Regulations, were promulgated by the State Council on December 13, 1993 and were most recently amended on November 19, 2017. The Detailed Rules for the Implementation of the Provisional Regulations of the PRC on Value-added Tax (Revised in 2011) were promulgated by the MOF on December 25, 1993 and amended on October 28, 2011, collectively with the VAT Regulations, the VAT Law. According to the VAT Law, all enterprises and individuals engaged in the sale of goods, the provision of processing, repair and replacement services, and the importation of goods within the territory of the PRC must pay value-added tax. For taxpayers providing value-added telecommunication services, a rate of 6% applies, according to the Notice on Fully Promoting the Pilot Plan for Replacing Business Tax by Value-Added Tax,
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which was jointly promulgated by the MOF and the SAT on March 23, 2016 and became effective on May 1, 2016, as amended.
On April 4, 2018, the MOF and the SAT issued the Notice on Adjustment of VAT Rates, which came into effect on May 1, 2018. According to the notice, the taxable goods previously subject to VAT rates of 17% and 11% become subject to lower VAT rates of 16% and 10% starting from May 1, 2018.
Regulations on Employment
Labor Law and Labor Contract Law
The Labor Law, which was promulgated on July 5, 1994 and most recently amended on December 29, 2018 and the Labor Contract Law of the PRC, or the Labor Contract Law, which took effect on January 1, 2008 and was amended on December 28, 2012, are primarily regulating rights and obligations of employer and employee relationships, including the establishment, performance and termination of labor contracts. Pursuant to the Labor Contract Law, labor contracts shall be concluded in writing if labor relationships are to be or have been established between employers and the employees. Employers are prohibited from forcing employees to work above certain time limit and employers shall pay employees for overtime work in accordance to national regulations. In addition, employee wages shall be no lower than local standards on minimum wages and shall be paid to employees timely. Violations of the Labor Contract Law and the Labor Law may result in the imposition of fines and other administrative and criminal liability in the case of serious violations.
Regulations on Social Insurance and Housing Fund
Under the Social Insurance Law of the PRC that was promulgated by the SCNPC on October 28, 2010, came into force as of July 1, 2011 and amended on December 29, 2018 and the Interim Regulations on the Collection and Payment of Social Insurance Premiums that was promulgated by the State Council on January 22, 1999 and was amended on March 24, 2019, employers are required to pay basic endowment insurance, unemployment insurance, basic medical insurance, employment injury insurance, maternity insurance and other social insurance for its employees at specified percentages of the salaries of the employees, up to a maximum amount specified by the local government regulations from time to time. Where an employer fails to fully pay social insurance premiums, relevant social insurance collection agency shall order it to make up for any shortfall within a prescribed time limit, and may impose a late payment fee at the rate of 0.05% per day of the outstanding amount from the due date. If such employer still fails to make up for the shortfalls within the prescribed time limit, the relevant administrative authorities shall impose a fine of one to three times the outstanding amount upon such employer.
In accordance with the Regulations on the Management of Housing Fund which was promulgated by the State Council in 1999 and amended in 2002 and 2019, employers must register at the designated administrative centers and open bank accounts for depositing employees’ housing funds. Employer and employee are also required to pay and deposit housing funds, with an amount no less than 5% of the monthly average salary of the employee in the preceding year in full and on time.
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Regulations on Employee Share Incentive Plans
Pursuant to SAFE Circular 37, PRC residents who participate in share incentive plans in overseas non-publicly-listed companies may submit applications to SAFE or its local branches for the foreign exchange registration with respect to offshore special purpose companies. In addition, pursuant to the Notice of Issues Related to the Foreign Exchange Administration for Domestic Individuals Participating in Stock Incentive Plan of Overseas Listed Company, or SAFE Circular 7, which was issued by the SAFE on February 15, 2012, employees, directors, supervisors, and other senior management participating in any share incentive plan of an overseas publicly-listed company who are PRC citizens or who are non-PRC citizens residing in China for a continuous period of not less than one year, subject to a few exceptions, are required to register with SAFE through a domestic agency as regulated in SAFE Circular 7.
In addition, the SAT has issued certain circulars concerning employee stock options and restricted shares, including the Circular on Issues Concerning the Individual Income Tax on Share-option Incentives, or the Circular 461, which was promulgated and took effective on August 24, 2009. Under Circular 461 and other relevant laws and regulations, employees working in the PRC who exercise stock options or are granted restricted shares will be subject to PRC individual income tax. The PRC subsidiaries of an overseas listed company are required to file documents related to employee stock options and restricted shares with relevant tax authorities and to withhold individual income taxes of employees who exercise their stock option or purchase restricted shares. If the employees fail to pay or the PRC subsidiaries fail to withhold income tax in accordance with relevant laws and regulations, the PRC subsidiary may face sanctions imposed by the tax authorities or other PRC governmental authorities.
Regulations Related to Mergers and Acquisitions and Overseas Listings
M&A Rules
On August 8, 2006, six PRC governmental and regulatory agencies, including MOFCOM and the China Securities Regulatory Commission, or the CSRC, promulgated the Regulations on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors, or the M&A Rules, governing the mergers and acquisitions of domestic enterprises by foreign investors that became effective on September 8, 2006 and was revised on June 22, 2009. The M&A Rules, among other things, requires that offshore special purpose vehicles that are controlled by PRC companies or individuals and that have been formed for overseas listing purposes through acquisitions of PRC domestic interest held by such PRC companies or individuals, to obtain the approval of the CSRC prior to publicly listing their securities on an overseas stock exchange.
SAFE Circular 37
Under the Circular of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Issues Concerning the Foreign Exchange Administration over the Overseas Investment and Financing and Round-trip Investment by Domestic Residents via Special Purpose Vehicles, or the SAFE Circular 37, issued by the SAFE and effective on July 4, 2014, PRC residents are required to register with the local SAFE branch prior to the establishment or control of an offshore special purpose vehicle, or the SPV, which is defined as offshore enterprises directly established or indirectly controlled by PRC residents for offshore equity financing of the enterprise assets or interests they hold in China. An amendment to registration or subsequent filing with the local SAFE branch by such PRC resident is also required if there is any change in basic information of the offshore company or any material change with respect to the capital of the offshore company. At the same time, the SAFE has issued the Operation Guidance for the Issues Concerning Foreign Exchange Administration over Round-trip Investment regarding the procedures for SAFE registration under the SAFE Circular 37, which became effective on July 4, 2014 as an attachment of Circular 37.
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Under the relevant rules, failure to comply with the registration procedures set forth in the SAFE Circular 37 may result in bans on the foreign exchange activities of the relevant onshore company, including the payment of dividends and other distributions to its offshore parent or affiliates, and may also subject relevant PRC residents to penalties under PRC foreign exchange administration regulations.
U.S. Regulation
We are subject to a number of U.S. federal and state laws and regulations that involve matters central to our business. These laws and regulations may involve privacy, cybersecurity, data protection, intellectual property, competition, consumer protection, export taxation, telecommunications or other subjects. For example, as a provider of products used in communications applications, we may be indirectly or directly subject to existing or potential Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, regulations relating to the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, Telecommunications Relay Service fund contributions and other requirements. These laws require providers of certain advanced communications services to make those services accessible to parties with disabilities, including the hardware or software applications they provide, and to keep records of their compliance obligations. These laws may also require service providers to pay certain fees to support FCC accessibility initiatives. If requirements under these laws were imposed on us indirectly by our customers or directly upon us by the FCC, we would be subject to certain product design, recordkeeping or fee contribution obligations. FCC classification of our internet voice communications products as telecommunications services could result in additional federal and state regulatory obligations. If we do not comply with FCC rules and regulations, we could be subject to FCC enforcement actions, fines, and possibly restrictions on our ability to operate or offer certain of our products. Any enforcement action by the FCC, which may be a public process, could hurt our reputation in the industry, possibly impair our ability to sell our products to customers and could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.
Many of the laws and regulations to which we are subject are still evolving and being tested in courts and could be interpreted in ways that could harm our business. In addition, the application and interpretation of these laws and regulations often are uncertain, particularly in the new and rapidly evolving industry in which we operate. Because these laws and regulations have continued to develop and evolve rapidly, it is possible that we may not be, or may not have been, compliant with each such applicable law or regulation.
C. Organizational Structure
We conduct our operations in the PRC mainly through Zhaoyan. We have effective control over Zhaoyan through a series of contractual arrangements by and among Dayin, Zhaoyan and Zhaoyan’s shareholders. These contractual arrangements, as described in more detail below, collectively allow us to (1) exercise effective control over Zhaoyan, (2) receive substantially all of the economic benefits of Zhaoyan and (3) purchase all or part of the equity interests in Zhaoyan pursuant to exclusive call option exercisable when so permitted under PRC laws. For more information, see “—Our Contractual Arrangements.”
The following diagram illustrates our corporate structure as of the date of this annual report, including primarily our significant subsidiaries and VIE:
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https://cdn.kscope.io/f9f29d77e0f867db8309533b4f56c6a1-api-20201231_g1.jpg
(1)Mr. Zhao, our founder, chief executive officer and chairman, holds 90% of the equity interests in Zhaoyan, and Ms. Yan Chen, an employee and a nominee shareholder, holds the remaining 10%.

Contractual Arrangements among Dayin, Zhaoyan and Zhaoyan’s Shareholders
Below is a summary of the currently effective contractual arrangements by and among Dayin, Zhaoyan and Zhaoyan’s shareholders.
Agreements that Provide us with Effective Control over Zhaoyan
Share Pledge Agreement. Pursuant to the Share Pledge Agreement, dated June 18, 2015, by and among Dayin, Zhaoyan and Zhaoyan’s then shareholders, and a joinder agreement entered into by and among Ms. Yan Chen, Dayin and Zhaoyan on January 19, 2021, each of Zhaoyan’s shareholders pledged and the joinder shareholder agrees to pledge all of their equity interests in Zhaoyan to Dayin to guarantee their and Zhaoyan’s performance of their obligations under the contractual arrangements. In the event of a breach by Zhaoyan or Zhaoyan’s shareholders of contractual obligations under these agreements, Dayin, as pledgee, will be entitled to dispose of the pledged equity interests in Zhaoyan. The shareholders of Zhaoyan also undertake that, during the term of the share pledge agreement, without the prior written consent of Dayin, they shall not dispose of the pledged equity interests, create or allow any encumbrance on the pledged equity interests or increase the registered capital of Zhaoyan. If there is any increased registered capital pursuant to the terms of this agreement, such increased registered capital would also be deemed as pledged equity interest. Following the terms of the Share Pledge Agreement, the shareholders of
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Zhaoyan, except for the joinder shareholder, have registered the pledge at the State Administration for Market Regulation on July 29, 2015. The joinder shareholder shall register the pledge in the future.
Voting Rights Proxy Agreement and Irrevocable Powers of Attorney. Under the Voting Rights Proxy Agreement, dated as of June 18, 2015, by and among Dayin, Zhaoyan and Zhaoyan’s then shareholders, the related irrevocable powers of attorney executed by Zhaoyan’s then shareholders on the same date pursuant to the Voting Rights Proxy Agreement, and a joinder agreement entered into by and among Ms. Yan Chen, Dayin and Zhaoyan on January 19, 2021, each of Zhaoyan’s shareholders irrevocably granted Dayin’s designated representative full power of attorney to exercise his or her rights as a shareholder of Zhaoyan, including rights to convene and attend shareholders’ meetings, nominate and elect directors, and appoint and dismiss the senior management of Zhaoyan. Unless otherwise agreed pursuant to the Voting Rights Proxy Agreement, it will remain effective until the earlier of: (1) the end of a ten-year term, which will automatically extend annually unless Dayin provides 30 days’ prior written notice to Zhaoyan and Zhaoyan’s shareholders; and (2) the termination of the term of operation of Zhaoyan. The related irrevocable powers of attorney will remain effective until the expiration or early termination of the Voting Rights Proxy Agreement.
Agreement that Allows us to Receive Economic Benefits from Zhaoyan
Exclusive Technology Consulting and Services Agreement. Under the Exclusive Technology Consulting and Services Agreement, dated as of June 18, 2015, by and between Dayin and Zhaoyan, and a joinder agreement entered into by and among Ms. Yan Chen, Dayin and Zhaoyan on January 19, 2021, Dayin has the exclusive right to provide to Zhaoyan consulting and services related to, among other things, information consulting, assisting in information collection and market research, and providing training to personnel. Dayin has the exclusive ownership of intellectual property rights created as a result of the performance of this agreement. Zhaoyan shall pay Dayin an annual service fee, which may only be adjusted with the approval of Dayin and Agora HK. Unless otherwise agreed pursuant to the agreement, this agreement will remain effective until the earlier of: (1) the end of a ten-year term, which will automatically extend annually unless Dayin provides 30 days’ prior written notice to Zhaoyan; (2) Dayin terminates the agreement because of Zhaoyan’s breach of the agreement; and (3) the termination of the term of operation of Zhaoyan.
Agreement that Provides us with the Option to Purchase the Equity Interest in Zhaoyan
Exclusive Option Agreement. Pursuant to the Exclusive Option Agreement, dated as of June 18, 2015, by and among Dayin, Zhaoyan and Zhaoyan’s then shareholders, and a joinder agreement entered into by and among Ms. Yan Chen, Dayin and Zhaoyan on January 19, 2021, each of Zhaoyan’s shareholders irrevocably granted Dayin an exclusive option to purchase, or have its designated person to purchase, at its discretion, to the extent permitted under PRC law, all or part of their equity interests in Zhaoyan, and the purchase price shall be the registered capital of Zhaoyan pro rata to Zhaoyan’s shareholders’ shareholdings or the lowest price permitted by applicable PRC law, as applicable. The shareholders of Zhaoyan undertake that, without the prior written consent of Dayin or us, they shall not, among other things, increase or decrease the registered capital of Zhaoyan, dispose of its assets, incur any debts or guarantee any liabilities, terminate any material agreements or enter into any agreements that are in conflict with any of the existing material agreements, distribute or vote to distribute any profits, interests or dividends, amend its articles of association or provide any loans to third parties. Unless otherwise agreed pursuant to the agreement, the Exclusive Option Agreement will remain effective until the earliest of: (1) the end of a ten-year term that is automatically extended annually unless Dayin gives Zhaoyan a termination notice 30 days before the term ends; (2) all equity interests in Zhaoyan held by Zhaoyan’s shareholders are transferred or assigned to Dayin or its designated representatives; and (3) the termination of the term of operation of Zhaoyan.
In the opinion of King & Wood Mallesons, our PRC legal counsel:
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the ownership structures of Dayin and Zhaoyan in China do not and will not violate any applicable PRC law, regulation or rule currently in effect; and
the contractual arrangements among Dayin, Zhaoyan and Zhaoyan’s shareholders governed by PRC laws are valid, binding and enforceable in accordance with their terms and applicable PRC laws, rules and regulations currently in effect, and will not violate any applicable PRC law, regulation or rule currently in effect.
However, we have been further advised by King & Wood Mallesons that there are substantial uncertainties regarding the interpretation and application of current and future PRC laws, rules and regulations. In particular, in January 2015, the Ministry of Commerce of the PRC published a discussion draft of the proposed Foreign Investment Law (2015), or the 2015 Draft, for public review and comments. The 2015 Draft was replaced by the draft Foreign Investment Law (2018), which was published by the SCNPC in December 2018 and further amended in January 2019. The new Foreign Investment Law was approved by the National People’s Congress on March 15, 2019 and came into effect on January 1, 2020. Among other things, the 2015 Draft expands the definition of foreign investment and introduces the principle of “actual control” in determining whether a company is considered a foreign-invested enterprise, or FIE. Under the 2015 Draft, VIEs would also be deemed as FIEs, if they are ultimately “controlled” by foreign investors, and be subject to restrictions on foreign investments. However, the relevant terms with regard to the VIE structure in the 2015 Draft have been removed in their entirety in the newly effective Foreign Investment Law and there are significant uncertainties as to how the control status of Zhaoyan would be determined under the Foreign Investment Law, and furthermore, whether any of the businesses that we currently operate or plan to operate in the future through Zhaoyan would be subject to any foreign investment restrictions or prohibitions under the “negative list” then effective.
Accordingly, the PRC regulatory authorities may in the future take a view that is contrary to the opinion of our PRC legal counsel. We have been further advised by King & Wood Mallesons that if the PRC government finds that the agreements that establish the structure for operating our business do not comply with PRC government restrictions on foreign investment in the aforesaid business we engage in, we could be subject to severe penalties including being prohibited from continuing operations. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure.”
All the agreements under our contractual arrangements are governed by PRC laws and provide for the resolution of disputes through arbitration in China. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure—We rely on contractual arrangements with our VIEs and their respective shareholders to operate our business, which may not be as effective as direct ownership in providing operational control and could adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition.” Such arbitration provisions have no effect on the rights of our shareholders to pursue claims against us under United States federal securities laws.
D. Property, Plant and Equipment
We maintain dual headquarters in Shanghai, China and Santa Clara, California, where we lease office space with an area of approximately 9,199 and 525 square meters, respectively.
We lease all of our facilities and do not own any real property. We believe our facilities are adequate and suitable for our current needs and that, should it be needed, suitable additional or alternative space will be available to accommodate our operations.
ITEM 4A. UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS
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None.
ITEM 5. OPERATING AND FINANCIAL REVIEW AND PROSPECTS
You should read the following discussion and analysis of our financial condition and results of operations together with the consolidated financial statements and related notes included elsewhere in this annual report. This discussion contains forward-looking statements based upon current plans, expectations and beliefs that involve risks and uncertainties. Our actual results may differ materially from those anticipated in these forward-looking statements as a result of various factors, including those set forth in the section of this annual report captioned “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors” and in other parts of this annual report. Our fiscal year ends on December 31.
A. Operating Results
Overview
We pioneered Real-Time Engagement Platform-as-a-Service, or RTE-PaaS, and we are the global leader by market share in this rapidly growing industry. Our platform provides developers simple-to-use, highly customizable and widely compatible Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, to embed real-time video, voice and messaging functionalities into their applications without the need to develop the technology or build the underlying infrastructure themselves. The real-time data transmission is handled by our Software-Defined Real-Time Network, or SD-RTN, which is a virtual network overlay on top of the public internet running on more than 200 co-located data centers worldwide. Using sophisticated algorithms, the SD-RTN continually monitors and optimizes data transmission paths through the network to minimize latency and packet loss, enabling high quality real-time engagement across millions of concurrent users.
Our business employs a freemium model, offering 10,000 free minutes of real-time engagement per month per account, to encourage adoption and innovation by developers and proliferation of real-time engagement use cases. As usage exceeds the allotted free minutes, we charge based on usage and developers become paying customers. In each of the periods presented, the vast majority of the minutes of real-time engagement on our platform were attributable to paid usage. Our platform is designed for developers to self-serve, and they typically require minimal individual customer support to deploy our products. Once customers reach a certain spending level with us, we support them with a dedicated account manager who coordinates internal resources to drive customer success. For certain large customers, who are developing promising but complex use cases, we deploy our own engineers to assist with the integration of our products into their applications. This is a key element of our strategy to enable new use cases and accelerate usage of our platform and we do not usually charge customers for such services. When a use case becomes sufficiently well-established, such as online education using our Real-Time Video product, we deploy our sales team to identify and actively approach similar companies that could also benefit from our products. We also generate a slight portion of our sales through our revenue-sharing relationships with channel partners, such as referral partners, resellers and integration partners. Revenue generated through our channel partners may become a more meaningful contributor over time.
We generate substantially all of our revenue from usage of our platform. Generally, customers enter into 12-month contracts and are invoiced monthly in arrears based on usage. In some cases, we offer tiered, volume-based discounts to our largest customers in return for minimum revenue commitments. Most customers with a minimum revenue commitment contract generate a significant amount of revenue in excess of their minimum revenue commitment in any period. Historically, the aggregate minimum commitment revenue from customers with which we have contracts has constituted a small portion of our revenue in any period, and we expect this to continue in the future.
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We use our SD-RTN, a virtual network overlay on top of the public internet, to handle the real-time data transmission for our products. We own the majority of our servers and network equipment that we host at the more than 200 co-located data centers on which the SD-RTN runs. Our network architecture design allows us to quickly add server capacity at the local data center, connect more data centers at the continent level or purchase additional bandwidth to manage customer growth. We have arrangements with network operators and cloud providers around the world from which we purchase bandwidth. These arrangements are typically one-year renewable agreements with monthly payments due at a fixed unit price based on periodically sampled peak bandwidth usage, and a smaller number of the agreements contain minimum usage commitments or maximum limits on available bandwidth, or both. Historically, a majority of our cost of revenue has been bandwidth, co-location space and cost of our customer management and services teams. We seek to optimize our network coverage and connectivity through continuous improvements in routing and sourcing. In the past, as usage volume has increased, we have been able to achieve lower pricing for bandwidth and co-location services. Additionally, as our customer base has diversified, we have improved bandwidth and server utilization as peak usage of customers usually occur at different times. To date, we have chosen to pass on the cost savings from lower pricing and higher utilization to our customers in the form of lower prices to drive increased usage of our platform while maintaining gross margin. We intend to continue this pricing strategy in the near term. This strategy may not result in increased revenue or the growth of our business and may delay or otherwise impair our ability to achieve profitability. Over the longer term, we may leverage these costs savings to expand gross margin.
For 2018, 2019 and 2020, our total revenue was US$43.7 million, US $64.4 million and US$133.6 million, respectively, an increase of 47.6% and 107.3%, respectively. For 2018, 2019 and 2020, our net income (loss) was US$0.4 million, US$(6.2) million and US$(3.1) million, respectively, and our Adjusted EBITDA was US$4.0 million, US$31.0 thousand and US$11.2 million. Adjusted EBITDA is a non-GAAP measure.
Major Factors Affecting Our Results of Operations
Product and Market Leadership
We are committed to delivering market-leading products to continue to build and maintain credibility with the global software developer community. We believe we must maintain our technology, product and market leadership position and the strength of our brand to drive further revenue growth. We intend to continue to invest in our engineering capabilities and marketing activities to maintain our strong position in the developer community. Our results of operations may reflect sustained high levels of investments to drive increased customer adoption and usage.
Acquiring New Customers
We are focused on continuing to grow the number of customers that use our platform. Our operating results and growth prospects will depend in part on our ability to attract new developers and convert them into active customers.
Our self-service model allows us to more efficiently leverage our investments in sales and marketing activities. In order to maintain our efficient customer acquisition, we must maintain and expand our grassroots developer outreach and targeted sales efforts to larger organizations that could potentially benefit from our products, both of which will require significant investments in advance of realizing revenue growth resulting from such investments.
Expanding Usage of Existing Customers
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We believe that there is a significant opportunity for growth with many of our existing customers. Many customers adopt our products through self-managed deployments and often materially expand their usage over time. In order for us to continue to expand usage within our customer base we will need to maintain engineering-level customer support and continue to introduce new products and features as well as innovative new use cases that are tailored to our customers’ needs. Given our usage-based model, we depend on the success of our customers and their applications.
We quantify our expansion across existing customers through our Constant Currency Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate. Our Constant Currency Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate reflects adoption and usage within our customers, as our revenue is primarily driven by the customers’ usage of our video and voice products, while removing the impact of currency translations which we do not believe reflect our core operating performance. Constant Currency Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate may fluctuate as a result of several factors, including the level of penetration within our customer base, expansion of products and features, the mix of use cases and products adopted by customers, fluctuations in the usage of our customers’ applications by their end users and our ability to retain our customers.
Innovation and Enhancement of Our Platform
We continue to invest resources to enhance the capabilities of our platform and release product updates. For example, in 2020, we introduced our Agora Flexible Classroom, to offer an aPaaS solution for education providers. We believe that the more developers and other third parties use our platform and integrate it with third-party applications, the more we become the ubiquitous platform for real-time engagement. We will need to expend additional resources to continue introducing new products, features and functionality, and to continue supporting the integration efforts of third parties that enhance the value of our platform.
International Growth
Our products serve end users in over 100 countries. A majority of our revenue was generated from customers operating primarily in the PRC in each of the periods presented. Although we believe that adoption of real-time engagement solutions in China is still in the early stages, it is further advanced there than in other countries, especially for consumer-oriented applications. Currently, we maintain dual headquarters in the PRC and the United States as well as a small presence in other countries. We expect to continue to expand our international go-to-market efforts in the future. The expansion of the reach of our platform and our global sales efforts will add increased complexity and cost to our business.
Effect of Currency Translations
As a result of our international operations, primarily in the PRC and the United States, we are exposed to currency translation impacts. Our reporting and functional currency is the U.S. dollar. The functional currency of our subsidiaries and VIEs in the PRC, which generate the majority of our revenue, is the Renminbi. The financial statements of our entities using functional currencies other than the U.S. dollar are translated to the U.S. dollar. Revenue and expense items are translated at average exchange rates prevailing during the fiscal year. As a result, as the Renminbi depreciates or appreciates against the U.S. dollar, our revenue presented in U.S. dollars, as well as our Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate, will be negatively or positively affected. Constant Currency Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate is calculated using fixed exchange rates to remove the impact of foreign currency translations.
Impact of COVID-19
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On January 30, 2020, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic a public health emergency of international concern, and on March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization declared the global COVID-19 a pandemic. The COVID-19 virus continues to impact countries worldwide, including where our end users and customers are located and Shanghai, China and Santa Clara, California where we have business operations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, government authorities around the world have ordered schools and businesses to close, imposed restrictions on non-essential activities and required people to remain at home while imposing significant restrictions on traveling and social gatherings.
While the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is uncertain, during the first half of 2020 we experienced significant usage and revenue growth, as people spent more time learning, gaming and otherwise interacting online due to work, school, travel and other restrictions. This dynamic was particularly pronounced in China, our largest market and one that was impacted by government-imposed restrictions designed to slow the pandemic for a significant portion of the quarter. In the second quarter of 2020, we have continued to observe higher usage than the same period in the prior year; however, the pace of usage growth has moderated sequentially, as restrictions in China have been eased. We also observed increases in numbers of developers and active applications. While we may continue to observe increases in usage and developer adoption of our products to meet end-user demand for RTE, we do not anticipate that we will experience the same level of revenue growth we did in the first half of 2020.
During the first half of 2020, we benefited from increase in the number of minutes our video products were used, as well as a trend of shifting towards higher resolution video products. On the other hand, the increased online activity generated higher demand for bandwidth and servers in general, which led to increases in their prices, which offset the mix shift towards higher priced products and resulted in relatively flat gross margin. Although we were able to scale our network infrastructure despite the COVID-19 related headwinds, failure to contain the further spread, or any resurgence, of COVID-19 may affect our ability to cost-effectively maintain and expand our network infrastructure, which could severely disrupt our business and operations and adversely affect our operating results and financial condition.
Stay-at-home restrictions were imposed on our Shanghai headquarters beginning in February 2020 (which have subsequently been removed) and Santa Clara, California headquarters beginning in March 2020 (which remain in place). Even prior to the imposition of such restrictions, we conducted significant portion of our sales and customer support activities remotely, although certain marketing activities that have historically occurred offline, such as our AllThingsRTC Conference in the United States, have been canceled, postponed or moved online. In addition, our research and development personnel remained productive despite requirements to work from home. While COVID-19 has not materially adversely impacted our operations through the date of this annual report, the impact of COVID-19 on our ability to attract, serve, retain or upsell customers is inherently uncertain and depends on the duration, severity or potential resurgence of the pandemic and its impact on end users, customers and the macroeconomic environment as a whole. Existing and potential customers may choose to reduce or delay technology investments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, or attempt to renegotiate contracts and obtain concessions, which may materially and negatively impact our operating results, financial condition and prospects.
We believe the COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate end users’ shift towards RTE applications. To capture the market opportunity, we intend to continue to invest in the development of market-leading products, maintaining and expanding our grassroots developer outreach and targeted sales efforts to larger organizations, customer support, our platform and international expansion. However, there continues to be significant uncertainties associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, including with respect to the ultimate spread of the virus, the severity of the disease, the duration of the pandemic and further actions that may be taken by governmental authorities around the world to contain the virus or to treat its impact, and these investments may not generate the expected results.
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Except for the impact discussed above, we do not anticipate any prolonged material adverse impact on our business, results of operations and financial condition from the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has gradually lifted the restrictions and other quarantine measures in China and economic activities have begun to recover and return to normal nationwide. We are nonetheless closely monitoring the development of the COVID-19 pandemic and continuously evaluating any potential impact on our business, results of operations and financial condition. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry—The COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted our business and operations and it, or any future health epidemic or other adverse public health developments, may continue to do so.”
Key Operating and Financial Metrics
We measure our business using both financial and operating metrics. We use these metrics to assess the progress of our business, make decisions on where to allocate capital, time and technology investments and assess the near-term and long-term performance of our business. The key financial and operating metrics we use are:
Year Ended December 31,
201820192020
(US$ in thousands)
Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate135 %127 %179 %
Constant Currency Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate133 %131 %179 %
Active customers586 1,041 2,095 
Adjusted EBITDA$4,035 $31 $11,243 
Free cash flow$(1,725)$(4,096)$(6,314)

Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate
Our ability to drive growth and generate incremental revenue depends, in part, on our ability to maintain and grow our relationships with customers and to increase their usage of our platform. An important way in which we track our performance in this area is by measuring the Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate for our customers. Our Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate increases when our customers increase usage of a product, extend usage of a product to new applications or adopt a new product. Our Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate decreases when our customers cease or reduce usage of a product or when we lower prices.
Our Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate measures our ability to increase revenue generated from our existing customer base. To calculate Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate for a given year, we first identify all customers in the prior year, then calculate the quotient from dividing the revenue generated from such customers in the given year by the revenue generated from the same group of customers in the prior year.
We calculate our Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate on a year-over-year basis because our revenue is subject to fluctuations from quarter to quarter, such as in the first half of 2020 when we experienced a spike in the usage of our products as a result of demand for online real-time engagement spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Constant Currency Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate
We generate the majority of our revenue in Renminbi and for financial-reporting purposes translate our Renminbi and other non U.S.-dollar denominated revenue into U.S. dollars at average exchange rates prevailing during the fiscal year. As a result, as the Renminbi depreciates or appreciates against the U.S. dollar, our revenue presented in U.S. dollars, as well as our Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate, will be negatively or positively affected.
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See the section of this annual report captioned “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects—A. Operating Results—Major Factors Affecting Our Results of Operations—Effect of Currency Translations” for additional information. Constant Currency Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate is calculated the same way as our Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate but using fixed exchange rates based on the daily average exchange rates prevailing during the prior year to remove the impact of foreign currency translations. We believe Constant Currency Dollar-Based Net Expansion Rate facilitates operating performance comparisons on a period-to-period basis as we do not consider the impact of foreign currency fluctuations to be indicative of our core operating performance.
Active Customers
We believe that our ability to expand our customer base is an important indicator of market acceptance of our platform, the growth of our business, and future business opportunities. We define an active customer at the end of any particular period as an organization or individual developer from which we generated more than US$100 of revenue during the preceding 12 months. We count customers based on unique customer account identifiers. Generally, one software application uses the same customer account identifier throughout its life cycle while one account may be used for multiple applications. In each of the periods presented, revenue from active customers represented substantially all of our revenue.
Adjusted EBITDA
Adjusted EBITDA is a non-GAAP financial measure that we calculate as net income (loss) before exchange gain (loss), interest and investment income, income taxes, depreciation and amortization, and adjusted to exclude the effects of share-based compensation expense. Adjusted EBITDA is a key measure used by management to evaluate our operating performance, generate future operating plans and make strategic decisions regarding the allocation of capital. In particular, the exclusion of share-based compensation expense in calculating Adjusted EBITDA facilitates operating performance comparisons on a period-to-period basis and excludes an item that we do not consider to be indicative of our core operating performance. Adjusted EBITDA is not a measure calculated in accordance with GAAP. See the section of this annual report captioned “—Non-GAAP Financial Measure” for a discussion of the limitations of Adjusted EBITDA and a reconciliation of Adjusted EBITDA to net income (loss), the most comparable GAAP measurement, for the periods presented.
Free Cash Flow
Free cash flow is a non-GAAP financial measure that we calculate as net cash generated from (used in) operating activities less purchases of property and equipment. We believe this is a useful indicator of liquidity that provides information to management and investors about the amount of cash generated from our core operations that, after the purchases of property and equipment, can be used for strategic initiatives, including investing in our business and strengthening our balance sheet. We expect our free cash flow to fluctuate in future periods as we invest in our business to support our plans for growth. Free cash flow is not a measure calculated in accordance with GAAP. See the section of this annual report captioned “—Non-GAAP Financial Measure” for a discussion of the limitations of free cash flow and a reconciliation of free cash flow to as net cash generated from (used in) operating activities, the most comparable GAAP measurement, for the periods presented.
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Non-GAAP Financial Measure
Adjusted EBITDA
To provide investors with additional information regarding our financial results, we have disclosed in the table above Adjusted EBITDA, a non-GAAP financial measure that we calculate as net income (loss) before exchange gain (loss), interest and investment income, income taxes, depreciation and amortization, and adjusted to exclude the effects of share-based compensation expense. We have provided a reconciliation below of Adjusted EBITDA to net income (loss), the most directly comparable GAAP financial measure.
We have included Adjusted EBITDA in this annual report because it is a key measure used by management to evaluate our operating performance, generate future operating plans and make strategic decisions regarding the allocation of capital. In particular, the exclusion of share-based compensation expense in calculating Adjusted EBITDA facilitates operating performance comparisons on a period-to-period basis and excludes an item that we do not consider to be indicative of our core operating performance. Accordingly, we believe that Adjusted EBITDA provides useful information to investors and others in understanding and evaluating our operating results in the same manner as our management and board of directors.
Adjusted EBITDA has limitations as an analytical tool, and it should not be considered in isolation or as a substitute for analysis of our results as reported under GAAP. Some of these limitations are:
although depreciation and amortization are non-cash charges, the assets being depreciated and amortized may have to be replaced in the future, and Adjusted EBITDA does not reflect cash capital expenditure requirements for such replacements or for new capital expenditure requirements;
Adjusted EBITDA does not reflect changes in exchange gain (loss);
Adjusted EBITDA does not reflect changes in, or cash requirements for, our working capital needs;
Adjusted EBITDA does not consider the potentially dilutive impact of share-based compensation;
Adjusted EBITDA does not reflect tax payments that may represent a reduction in cash available to us; and
other companies, including companies in our industry, may calculate Adjusted EBITDA differently, which reduces its usefulness as a comparative measure.
Because of these limitations, you should consider Adjusted EBITDA alongside other financial performance measures, including various cash flow metrics, net income and our other GAAP results.
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A reconciliation of non-GAAP Adjusted EBITDA to net income (loss) is as follows:
Year Ended December 31,
201820192020
(US$ in thousands)
Net income (loss)$376 $(6,177)$(3,114)
Excluding:
Exchange gain (loss)(21)87 (65)
Interest income239 626 2,704 
Income taxes(105)(801)(562)
Depreciation and amortization922 1,868 4,460 
Share-based compensation expense2,850 4,253 11,974 
Adjusted EBITDA$4,035 $31 $11,243 
Free Cash Flow
To provide investors with additional information regarding our financial results, we have also disclosed in the table above and elsewhere in this annual report free cash flow, a non-GAAP financial measure that we calculate as net cash generated from (used in) operating activities less cash used in purchases of property and equipment. We have provided a reconciliation of free cash flow to net cash generated from (used in) operating activities, the most directly comparable GAAP financial measure.
We have included free cash flow in this annual report because we believe it is a useful indicator of liquidity that provides information to management and investors about the amount of cash generated from our core operations that, after the purchases of property and equipment, can be used for strategic initiatives, including investing in our business, making strategic acquisitions, and strengthening our balance sheet.
Free cash flow has limitations as an analytical tool, and it should not be considered in isolation or as a substitute for analysis of our results as reported under GAAP. There are limitations to using non-GAAP financial measures, including that other companies, including companies in our industry, may calculate free cash flow differently. Because of these limitations, you should consider free cash flow alongside other financial performance measures, including net cash generated from (used in) operating activities, purchases of property and equipment and our other GAAP results.
The following table presents a reconciliation of free cash flow to net cash generated from operating activities, as well as information regarding net cash used in investing activities and net cash provided by financing activities, for each of the periods indicated:
Year Ended December 31,
201820192020
(US$ in thousands)
Net cash generated from operating activities$536 $706 $6,564 
Purchases of property and equipment(2,261)(4,802)(12,878)
Free cash flow(1,725)(4,096)(6,314)
Net cash used in investing activities(1)
(3,773)(3,353)(535,052)
Net cash provided by financing activities65,772 — 533,638 
(1)Net cash used in investing activities includes payments for purchases of property and equipment, which is also included in our calculation of free cash flow.

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