AWS Activate: Pros, Cons, and Everything in Between

Amazon-Web-Services-AWS-activateFirst and foremost, it is important to define what AWS Activate is and what it is used for before we can take a deeper look. Exactly one year ago, Amazon created a program specifically designed for a particular group of customers that often times is in need of as much help as they can get (AKA startups). This program supports startups in their initial phase of building their businesses. This includes providing AWS credits, taking part in startup contests, and receiving benefits from third party solutions on the AWS cloud. Activate allows AWS partners that want to create a presence within the Activate community offer perks to member startups. Some of which include discounts and extended free tiers.

Some startups that have attained high levels of success with AWS include Spotify, Pinterest, and Dropbox. With the big shots maintaining their places in startup stardom, Amazon has opened its doors to the next generation of innovators. As such, Amazon offers two different Activate packages. The Self-Starter package is comprised of a limited amount of each of the offerings listed above, whereas the Portfolio package includes some added bonuses along the lines of more high-profile and technical support as well as more in-depth training.
On his blog AWS’ CTO, Werner Vogel, reiterated the importance of startups,

“Startups will forever be a very important customer segment of AWS. They were among our first customers and along the way some amazing businesses have been built by these startups, many of which running for 100% on AWS.”
“We’re excited to be a part of this global momentum in the startup ecosystem. The challenge now is to support and assist an increasing number of startups across the world.”

The fun doesn’t stop there. In April of this year, AWS expanded the Activate package to offer much more than generalupport. This entailed sponsoring solution architects to take startups through step by step consultations in the fields of security, architecture and performance. Consequently, though Amazon’s professional services teams were established for customers, it was natural to have them take part in Activate. By nurturing new startups and making them rely heavily on the AWS cloud. As we can see today, companies that started with AWS 4 years ago are now worth billions of dollars. Airbnb and Dropbox, for example, now thoroughly enjoy the flexibility Amazon offers, as well as the fact that they no longer have to maintain cumbersome IT operations.

Why not from the get-go?

So the question is, if Amazon essentially built AWS on startups, why hasn’t Activate been around from the get-go, 6 years ago? AWS owes a great deal of its success to scalable startups that wanted and needed servers to run their businesses, yet didn’t have the initial capital to build their own data centers. No one really knows why Amazon did not provide startups back then with the kind of support they do today. However, as the market matured, it became clear that Amazon realized that an increasing number of startups could use their help. As a result, Amazon discovered that marketing their support services through Venture Capitalists and incubators around the world would include them as partners in this program and aid in marketing the service to startups of all kinds.

“AWS Activate requires a special registration that allows startup customers with a valid AWS account to apply for either a self-starter package or a portfolio package. If a startup is a member of one of the accelerators, seed funds, or startup organizations that Amazon already works with, they may apply for the more exclusive AWS Activate Portfolio Package.”  Learn More

Incubators and Accelerators

It was a natural step for Amazon to partner with accelerators all over the world with the Activate package. In addition to supporting startups, as mentioned above, these accelerators act as channels in the startup scene.At the first AWS re:Invent, Bezos jokes to his fellow investors, saying that eventually some of the investments will return to him because of how heavily the startup scene relies on Amazon. Activate and the approximately 150 accelerators across the world, including White Accel, Techstars, Appwest, and Battery Ventures, genuinely support and understand the values of the AWS service. They are happy to be able to use the Activate platform to help their startups flourish within the AWS clouds.

3rd Party Partners

Aside from the accelerators, as an Amazon  partner, you can enroll special offers to Activate members. For example, members that are part of the Self-Starter package may receive a 3 month free trial for Chef, whereas Portfolio members may receive a 6 month trial. Most of the partners will provide an extended free trial or credits via Activate. For instance, Trend Micro, one of Amazon’s biggest partners in the security domain, provides $2500 credit for Activate members in the Portfolio package. While there are not many partners on the list, the ones that are mentioned are very helpful and provide nice benefits for Activate members.
Reviews of the program from both the partners’ and startups’ side showed that Activate is ideal for startups that have resource constraints. While members within the Self-Starter package are able to use the AWS Free Usage Tier, Portfolio members can receive anywhere from $1,000 to $15,000 in AWS Promotional Credit. The credit is maybe the most important value for these startups. Bearing in mind that Google also has their own line of packages and credit for new companies, it makes sense for AWS to start giving more life to these companies, above the free tier. Everyone has access to the free tier, these startups simply get more of it. Seems that there is no downside to participating. There is no obligation and the worst thing that can happen is that you will find that the services are great, and simply continue using them, which may result in you being locked-in to the point where you need to eventually pay.
On the other hand, seems that the last announcement in April, which  is actually “meet our architects”. Meaning the knowledge that Amazon’s architects share with startups in their consultation sessions help them get a better grasp on the ecosystem, as well as understand that more resource utilization is ultimately the next logical step for growth.
All in all, although Amazon didn’t offer with this program 4 years ago, the AWS cloud was still the natural choice for startups. It included all of the benefits a startup can get using and online and on-demand infinite amount of resources. As a result, it is the clear choice for web scale startups. There are many reasons why Amazon only recently decided to offer free benefits to their prized potential customers. While it could have stemmed from competition from Microsoft and Google, or Amazon may want to simply show their support for their potential customers, demonstrating their cloud’s benefits at an early stage. Aside from that, Amazon understands and is built on companies with long term goals and possibilities. Therefore Amazon sees startups as a long term investment, which starts off with little risk.

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