Guiding startups in implementing the right infrastructure

With the launch of Build on AWS, AWS simplified the first steps of launching scalable, reliable, secure, and optimised infrastructure tailored to startups’ industry or use case. This enables startups to focus on building their core product knowing they’re using AWS best practices for their underlying cloud infrastructure. We spoke to Katie Drucker, Director and Global Leader, Business Development, on how AWS is continuing to help guide startups in their journeys to choose and implement the right infrastructure for their business needs.

Can you explain to me a little more about AWS and your role there?

I lead a passionate global team whose backgrounds include startup founders, investors, top tier accelerators, and other experiences from the startup world. We wake up every day driven by the opportunity to work with startups to make their journey successful. The goal, whether it’s a program at scale or a one-to-one meeting with a founder, is to meet the startup where they are, to demonstrate the empathy and acumen of that journey, and to be obsessed with harnessing the resources of AWS on their behalf. Everyone on our team knows being an entrepreneur is not easy. There are good days and bad days when you’re building a startup. We know that. We are the quiet unwavering partner that cares about helping their success. That is one of the values that sets us apart and, as someone who’s been around startups for most of my career, it’s why I joined the company.

How specifically can you help startup businesses?

There are many things we currently do, and many more things we are looking to do. I get to wake up every morning with the same obsession of how our team can add the most value, to be the greatest help. We are a technology platform, so it starts with giving startups a cloud platform that lets them virtually do anything they can imagine, across basically every industry and use case. It’s a rich toolbox of possibility. But we also know our start-up customers need support in a lot of other areas and that those needs vary according to their growth stage.

For the earliest stage startups, a key program is Activate. We’ve provided hundreds of thousands of startups with free credits (more than $1bn just in 2020), training, and technical resources through that program to help them get started on AWS and scale quickly. We also match them with experienced mentors from across the AWS organisation and collaborate with VCs, universities, underrepresented founder organisations, and others to make sure they’re getting the build support they need. And tens of thousands of startups have used an AWS Startup Loft in one of several startup hubs around the world to learn, network, and collaborate.

But as we know, building is just part of the journey. Our team all over the world works with startups to help find funding, to accelerate product market fit, to gain new market insights, to acquire customers, to rapidly grow, and to even develop new channels of selling. We have a number of programs in place and a number more we are building. We too are like a startup in our Day one culture. We always need to be asking what is the highest and best use of our start-up customers’ time, and how can we make sure that any engagement we have meets that bar. I think we have tried things in the past that were meant to help, but might not have met that bar, while other times we’ve delivered more than we hoped. We are always listening, self-critical, and looking to improve. This is an area in particular where I am focused.

Are there any criteria when it comes to startups?

The startups we work with range from one or two people working out of a dorm room or coffee shop to global companies preparing for an IPO. Where new thinking and innovation is happening is where we want to be - anywhere around the globe. What is incredibly rewarding is helping a customer on that full journey from one end of the spectrum to the other.

Where is best to start when it comes to infrastructure? How can you identify what will be the best infrastructure for certain businesses?

Well, I believe AWS is the best place to start when it comes to not only infrastructure, but the build journey as a whole. AWS changed the game for startups. I recall when Werner Vogels, Vice President and CTO of Amazon, was out in the Seattle VC community talking with us about what 'the cloud' could do. Now, we see those impacts profoundly. Building in the cloud allows anyone to start on an MVP without making a big upfront capital investment or focusing on the heavy lifting of building out their infrastructure. We now have a world in which founders come in all flavors and ideas can originate from anywhere with minimal spend. We invented the cloud concept and have been at it the longest, and as a result we have a robust set of capabilities to meet these diverse needs. But we also recognise that getting started often requires a simpler approach.

For a startup, choosing where to start comes down to the solution they’re building, a particular use case, or even their industry. We’ve learned so much over the last 15 years about what and how startups build in the cloud that we’re able to give some pretty prescriptive guidance, much of which we deliver directly through our global team of solutions architects who specialise in working with startups.

We also make it easier for startups taking their first steps in building a product by providing a number of abstracted services such as Amplify (ideal for mobile and web apps) and App Runner (a fully-managed service that helps developers quickly deploy containerised applications and APIs).

In addition to these services, we recently launched 'Build on AWS,' which is part of our Activate program and provides additional guidance to make those first choices simpler for customers. Startups can deploy basic cloud configurations in just a few clicks, from setting up an EC2 instance to launching and hosting a website. They can then move on to dozens of solution templates and reference architectures recommended to them based on those factors I mentioned before. A healthcare startup gets to leverage what’s worked for other healthcare startups, and the same for fintech, gaming, and other industries. That’s powerful for a founder just getting started in the cloud.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see when it comes to infrastructure?

There are a couple of particular areas where we see startups make mistakes. The first can be trying to build for some sort of perfect future environment - to make sure that their solutions are architecturally elegant and comprehensive - instead of building what they need for the product they have right now (while giving some thought to growing for scale, for example). Startups are typically case studies in iteration, and this should hold true in their approach to infrastructure as well.

Secondly, startup customers sometimes forget to take basic steps to save money and remain as secure as possible in their hurry to get moving quickly. These include simple things like taking advantage of discount programs we offer, such as savings plans (ultimately, we want our customers to spend the minimum they can on AWS), or enabling multi-factor authentication on their account — the kinds of important, simple steps that are often missed.

What is next for AWS? 

That’s a big question and one I'm not sure I have the comprehensive answer for, but I can tell you what's next for startups building on AWS. You can expect to see us take an even more holistic view of the startup journey. We see more areas to add value than there are hours in a day, and we have a team of builders and entrepreneurs who are obsessed with finding solutions. We will be doing our job when every startup customer says that they couldn’t have been successful in what they built, in how they grew, and who they are today, without our help.