The Toad @ JFDI: Amazon’s Dr Werner Vogels visits startups

Startup founders in Asia have an advantage over peers in US because they are brought up in a multi-cultural environment, said the CTO to a starstruck audience at JFDI

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The startups were starstruck. Dr Werner Vogels, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Amazon, and one of the most prominent leaders in the technology industry stood before them. They immediately asked me to help take a photo of them with him to cement the moment.

The event that took place yesterday evening was jointly organised by JFDI and Amazon. The objective of it was to encourage the startups and inspire them, while also demonstrating Amazon’s interest in the startup ecosystem in Asia. It attracted over 250 individuals from startups of various stages, specialists and students.

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Markku Lepisto, Senior Tehnology Evangelist, Amazon

The first session was by Markku Lepisto, Senior Tehnology Evangelist for Amazon. He talked about Amazon Web Services, educating the startups on scaling their business with the cloud. He showed how Amazon Web Services makes it cheaper and easier for startups like those in JFDI to scale their business across the region.

He also demonstrated Amazon’s AWS Elastic Beanstalk deployment technology, which automates the process of combining the web server, database and static files, instead of startups having to do so manually.

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Dr Werner Vogels, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Amazon addressing the startups

Dr Vogels next took stage. He appeared to be much less formal, pulling his blazer off, putting across a point that Amazon really wants to be where the “cool kids” are, despite being a large corporation.

He gave the startups valuable advice on how they should be customer-centric. He said that startup founders in Asia have an advantage over their peers in the US because they are brought up in a more multi-cultural environment and are better equipped to handle global expansion into different markets.

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Next, echoing the sentiments of a post entitled ‘Don’t f**k up the culture‘ by Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, Dr Vogels explained how Amazon tries to keep its startup culture intact despite becoming a company that generates billions of dollars in revenue. He also referenced Joi Ito, Director of MIT Media Labs, in saying that the way to promote innovation is to reduce the cost of failure to zero.

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The panel in session

This was followed by a panel discussion with Amit Anand, Founding Partner of Jungle Ventures; Steve Leonard, Executive Deputy Chairman of IDA; Cameron Priest, CEO and Founder of TradeGecko; Meng Weng Wong, Co-founder and social engineer at JFDI; and Dr Vogels.

During the panel discussion, a couple of hard-ball questions were asked. One of them was, ‘what are the characteristics that make a good CTO, and how are they different in a startup environment?’ Dr Vogels paused for a moment before answering that we are lucky that a company only has one CTO. He shared an anecdote of when Nathan Paul Myhrvold (former Microsoft CTO) was hired by Bill Gates, Founder and CEO, Microsoft. Gates told him (Myhrvold) he wasn’t sure what a CTO does, but said “we’ll know it when we see it”.

He said that as a startup matures, the technical co-founder can turn into either the vice president of engineering or product, which focuses more on leading the best possible teams to create the best products, or the CTO which focuses more on the broad picture and overall strategy for the business.

When asked about what are some top technology trends he sees happening in the next few years, Dr Vogel talked a large deal about the ‘Internet of Things’ and Big Data. He said there are many possibilities given the advances in processing technology are getting smaller and better.

Lastly, there were also a few questions about startup funding in Singapore. The general consensus was that the money is available, but there needs to be a match between the investor’s interests and the startup’s key metrics before Series A funding can be carried out.

Theon Leong

Theon is a skeptic who believes in possibilities after learning that three thirds of a pie does not add up to one and that cats can be dead and alive at the same time. He writes about business and technology, and is particularly interested in deconstructing complex ideas into bite-sized chunks. His favorite novel is The Little Prince, and spends his free time on chess and video games.

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