Ask Me Anythings
August 6, 2022

Sarah Herman, Head of the Startup Business Development Team at AWS for the UK & Ireland

Sarah Herman runs the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Startup Business Development team for the UK and Ireland, working with startups and their partners in the startup ecosystem on cloud solutions that can help startups accelerate their business growth.

Can we get some badly needed AWS credit?! Thanks!

Make sure you took advantage of the Activate program with Scale Ireland to get your $5k!  You can stack offers with other Activate providers, as well - the best way to figure out which other Activate providers you work with is to check with your investors if they are also Activate providers, and they can help you get in touch with the AWS Business Development team to see how we can best help you get those credits.  Some Activate providers are not who you'd expect - we work with challenger banks and other startup-focused service providers as well.

What are the best free tools that AWS offers for startups? I see you're also looking after the UK, how do you see the Irish startup ecosystem compared to the UK?

Best free tools: definitely the Startup Loft! https://aws-startup-lofts.com/emea/ We have tons of opportunities there to access webinars and expertise.

As far as Ireland vs. the UK, I do see a number of similarities but also a bit more overall diversity in terms of the startups (we are quite heavy on Fintech here in the UK) and I also see many deeply technical and complex startups out of Ireland.  Irish startups have great access to technical talent and I believe it shows in the quality of tech strategy & product.

How long should a free trial be for a SaaS, is 7 days too short?

If you are doing a B2B SaaS product targeted at enterprises, it can be challenging to even get the product up and running in that time given integration challenges.

One thing that we sometimes do in AWS is help folks with integration through our AWS Marketplace, which makes it easier for customers to click and deploy your software.

Whilst we don't offer free trials, we can help do limited "sandbox" deployments for $1 on the Marketplace.  Though it definitely depends on where you are at in your product cycle - if you're quite early, it may take time to integrate with the Marketplace and that may not be the right priority until later.

I’ve gotten some credit from AWS (not via Activate but from the Community builders and events) can I still apply for AWS Activate credits?

Yes!  Activate is a self-contained program and any other credits you might get would not affect your ability to get Activate.  Though you can get multiple Activate offers if you work with different Activate partners, please note that there is a limit of $100k lifetime credits through Activate.  Please make sure you claim your $5k credits through Scale Ireland!

Do you have a list of AWS trusted partners for app development?

We have a whole network of partners in our Amazon Partner Network here: https://aws.amazon.com/partners/work-with-partners/

I think it'd ultimately depend on what you needed underlying your app development (is this some compute, storage, and a database or are you also looking for more specialized support). We have our AWS Amplify product that is focused on app development and is designed to be lightweight and agile - I'd recommend looking into that and some partners that specialize in Amplify.

Finally, I wanted to mention a few of our partners that specialize in working with Startups in Ireland and the UK.  Several of them have self-service office hours signups as well as company factsheets here: https://fuchsia-deposit-d25.notion.site/AWS-Startups-UK-48fd82eefdd044598cef6200a1f886c8

Having looked a little at your background it's interesting to see you went from Law and being corporate counsel at Amazon to working on business development. Was there something that prompted this move away from law? Additionally and more specifically was there something that excited you about going into working with startups, over other positions/previous?

I actually started as a lawyer for startups!  I was in Silicon Valley and my very first deal was selling SuccessFactors to SAP followed immediately by a small Series A - I got great exposure to startups in tons of different stages and always really wanted to go back to that world.

The main reason to move to the business was that I loved building.  I ended up running our global expansion team for moving into new countries, focusing especially on low-latency services.  That brought me to London where I was very excited to get closer to my customers, and ended up finding the right opportunity to pop back into the startup world.

What kind of tools/practices do you use to keep the team informed and on track at such a big organisation like AWS?

Always one of the biggest challenges, especially with the proliferation of communication channels!  There's no substitute for a good old face-to-face meeting to cut through a lot of the noise we get across email, Slack, Discord, project management tools, etc.

At Amazon, we like to talk about building mechanisms that don't require "best intentions," though.  To move beyond just relying on "having good meetings" it is important to build structure and tools for how you prioritize in those meetings, especially using things like project management tools (we have in house ones that we use as well as ones that integrate with Salesforce - which is always important in a biz dev organization!)

We have rapid scaling potential once we get to market. Can I ask why would we choose AWS over other providers at this stage?

Hi Rena, the main reasons that we highlight for early stage startups are our ability to support you now as well as to scale with you.  Our diverse set of services means that we can right-size your application to you.  We understand startups and offer enablement both in webinars and 1-1 through our startup loft (https://aws-startup-lofts.com/emea/) even on topics like Cost Optimization to help you reduce your bill as you run lean. (We also have reduced our prices continuously through time!)

We also offer a number of programs to help offset cost like our Activate program, as well as our Jumpstart program and other programs that can help fund working with an AWS Partner that can accelerate your build & time to launch.

Given the size and scale of Amazon, what advice does AWS give to stay agile and innovative  as innovation usually slows with size and scale?

One thing that really helps is embedding it in your culture!  We have a tenet (a Leadership Principle) around "Invent & Simplify" and we ask each of our employees to continue inventing constantly.

We use our annual planning cycles to make sure we also raise up big and innovative ideas, but we also proactively discuss opportunities to invent and simplify in our day-to-day.

Any events coming up that we can meet more founders in the AWS ecosystem?

Yes, I know we have several events coming up - I'll have to confirm the calendar and I'm happy to share the list with Dave to send out to the community.

What is AWS offering in partnership with Scale Ireland?

In addition to the Activate credits, we also work with Scale Ireland on events (like this one!) and help to serve as a point-of-entry to the world of AWS.  One of AWS's greatest strengths is the number of programs and features we offer, but we also know it can be a lot to navigate - if you ever need a signpost, you can work with the AWS BD team to learn more about how we can help you grow your business alongside optimizing the tech stack.  If there are events you'd like to see us run with Scale Ireland, as well, we're all ears!

What educational services do you find most valuable for start-ups?

On the technical side, AWS offer several deep-dive courses to users: https://explore.skillbuilder.aws/learn.  There are also loads of good courses like Acloudguru.  On the business side,  there are a number of resources for startups but I do want to highlight our Startup Loft Accelerator (https://aws-startup-lofts.com/emea/program/accelerator) which also focuses on business training and we're always keen to get more applicants.  And of course, you have great resources here with Scale Ireland!

Do you see any difference in leadership style of Jeff and Andy? Is AWS becoming a bit cautious about startups after recent hiring freeze in Meta and Dara's email to Uber employees?

On the first one, I think the org is still evolving - Andy's got a lot to get his head around!  And on the AWS side, Andy's always been a leading voice, so I haven't necessarily seen a huge change as he's really imparted a strong set of values on the leadership team here.

And I would say we are not at all hesitant about startups! We've put a lot of investment in the startup team this year and everyone is really excited to keep working with startups.

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