AWS remains focused on startup sector despite global reach

Amazon Web Services believes it will benefit everyone if the startup ecosystem is successful.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has some of the most globally successful startups on its books, including the likes of Airbnb, Spotify, Pinterest, Slack, and more recently Netflix.

Despite having household names on its platform, however, AWS places a heavy focus on startups still in their infancy, with AWS head of startup ecosystem for Australia and New Zealand Ian Gardiner telling ZDNet his organisation believes startups are the future.

"Whether it's for us or the economy, they're the drivers of innovation and wealth creation and all sorts of creation," Gardiner explained. "So it's a really important sector and it's kind of where AWS' roots came from; in the early days, we were selling to the startup sector, as they were the ones that were willing to embrace what others saw as a less normal proposition. The startups were the ones that were pushing that agenda early -- it's the new normal now."

Since AWS started in 2006, the company has been focused on giving the same access to a startup with two people out of their garage that could be gained by a scaled, multinational corporation.

Gardiner said that AWS still looks to startups as the ones leading the way with new "innovative" services coming out of the cloud giant, in particular the Lambda compute service and Greengrass for IoT development.

In the Australia and New Zealand region, AWS boasts customers such as Atlassian, Xero, Canva, Campaign Monitor, and Jemsoft.

Atlassian undertook the biggest ever float from an Australian company in the United States in December 2015; Xero surpassed 1 million subscribers last month; and Canva's co-founder Cliff Obrecht told ZDNet recently that his company now boasts 500 million active users, with over 20 million designs created per month on his company's AWS-hosted platform.

Pointing to machine-learning startup Jemsoft, Gardiner said the 20-something duo from Adelaide is solving a difficult problem within their organisation, one that major companies have struggled to do.

"When you see super talented engineers solving a really hard problem in a unique way and having demonstrable success the way they have -- we can sort of spot the ones that are going to be the next Atlassians," he said.

"It's not that we only want the next Atlassians -- we definitely want the next Atlassians on the platform -- but we want all startups on the platform. Part of our role is to try and pick the winners from that and do whatever we can to help.

"Our objective is to help them be more successful. It's ultimately the measure of success for us."

Before joining AWS in Sydney almost three years ago, Gardiner was an entrepreneur. Now with AWS, he gets to live his startup life vicariously through customers.

"I think it's the best job in the company. Really, the job is to try identify the next best thing in the startup world, get them to build with us, and support them as they scale," he said.

"It is a super important sector for us. Amazon has a very long-term view of the customer -- we want them for the next 10, 20 years."

AWS Australia and New Zealand managing director Paul Migliorini said he is proud to have a number of successful local startups choosing to build on AWS, and that many of them still choose to build on AWS as they've grown.

"Those organisations have shown us that the power of disruption and globalisation, the power of iteration and experimentation, and these are a set of core principals now I think are embedded in all cloud-based transformation, not just startups," Migliorini said.

"Here in Australia, I think it's a particularly interesting time. We're seeing a huge in-flow of capital investment into the sector ... we've seen about AU$2.4 billion that has been raised in the last 24 months to fund new startups and new investments."

The local managing director said AWS is lucky to have the privilege of being able to think in a long-term context about the relationships it has with customers.

"We don't have to worry necessarily about the return that we get this year, next year, or the year after; we think about it over a really long-term horizon, which means we make significant investments in those companies in the short term," he said.

"The fact is that our business model doesn't lock the customers in, so after that, it's our job to continue to win the trust of those customers and we do that by trying to innovate as quickly as we can on their behalf."

Pointing to the slew of announcements made by AWS last year, Migliorini said 90 percent of the 1,000-plus features and enhancements came directly from customer requests, with the remaining 10 percent the result of AWS interpreting customers' feedback and trying to invent on their behalf.

"It's about seeding the best startups and supporting them in the early stages of their journey and ensuring that we continue to win trust every day over the course of what we hope to be a very long-term relationship," he added. "We've earned the trust to be the platform that a lot of these organisations build on."

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