Retailers along San Francisco's Market Street have struggled to make a buck over the past decade, in large part because of competition from online stores like Amazon.com. So it isn't without irony that Amazon Web Services opened a brick-and-mortar pop-up store in their midst.
At first, the 30-foot wide, three-story high storefront looks empty compared to the carefully decorated windows and sales banners in neighboring stores. Then you spot the burly bouncer guarding the door, suggesting that something private is going on behind the whited-out windows. Finally, you see the modest lettering for Amazon Web Services somewhat above eye level. And still, you wonder, what is this?
This is a month-long experiment for AWS that blends one part Apple Genius Bar, two parts hip startup and a smidge of trade show marketing to produce a coffee-scented, loft-like environment where Amazon's cloud clients can ask for some free advice, attend events, get some training or, perhaps, just wash down a handful of M&Ms with a complimentary cappuccino. Day-long boot camps, normally $600, are free, like everything else here.
Going Out of Business
By their nature, pop-up stores don't last long and the AWS store is scheduled to close at the end of June. However, given the careful attention to costly design features -- you could call it "calculated casual" -- will it really shut down so soon?
Yes, it will, according to Matt Wood, AWS's general manager for data science.
After that, Amazon will gather feedback, consider the benefits and decide what to do next. He called the current store a "pilot" program that has demonstrated "terrific uptake" among local entrepreneurs who are the target audience.
It isn't hard to imagine that AWS could re-open the store later, given the elaborate work that has gone into building it. Most pop-up stores focus on bringing goods to the public, but this is designed to be a comfortable learning environment.
The floors are connected by sleek iron-and-wood stairs. There are defined spaces for lectures and events, classes, one-on-one consultation with AWS architects. The requisite kitchen area comes stocked with free beer, hot drinks, cold drinks, granola bars and two varieties of M&Ms. There are desk chairs in the computer workshop, straight-back chairs for events and even a few posh leather club lounges for power naps.
Not for Everyone
All this explains the bouncer, who carefully screens each person who wishes to enter: Who are you? Why are you here? Are you meeting someone? If you say, " I'm here for the 10 am boot camp," you're in, but a single wrong answer leaves you among the tourists and panhandlers.
Those who gained entry seemed delighted by it all.
"I think it's great. I mean, free classes? Who's not going to like that?," said Gary Matoorah, founder of Friendizmo, which he described as "Salesforce for friendship."
Matoorah is recruiting a CTO, but isn't waiting for answers to his questions about the cloud. "I want to understand how to make sure we have up time, how to make sure we have enough resources and, if there's a spike in user registration, what I need to do."
The Next Amazon?
Waiting with him for a seven-hour "beginner bootcamp" is another entrepreneur, Jun Dam, found of Peerhub.com. He hopes his startup will become the next "eBay or Craigslist," or maybe even the next Amazon.com.
"We're using another cloud provider right now and I'm trying to get as familiar as possible with AWS to see if it makes sense down the road to, maybe, switch over," said Dam. "I'm more on the business side, but I figured this would give me enough information about what potential it has and what kind of resources we'd use."
His thoughts reflect Amazon's stated goals here: to help startups "learn more about our services and features from AWS solution architects, product managers and evangelists." In essence, this spacious "loft" serves as a giant trade show booth, hoping to win over startup owners shopping for some space in the cloud.