Retailers along San Francisco's Market Street have struggled to make a buck over the pastdecade, 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-mortarpop-up store in their midst.
At first, the 30-foot wide, three-story high storefront looks empty comparedto the carefully decorated windows and sales banners in neighboring stores. Then you spot theburly 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 eyelevel. And still, you wonder, what is this?
This is a month-long experiment for AWSthat blends one part AppleGenius Bar, two parts hip startup and a smidge of trade show marketing to produce acoffee-scented, loft-like environmentwhere Amazon's cloud clients can ask for some free advice, attend events, get some trainingor, perhaps, just wash down a handful of M&Ms with a complimentarycappuccino. Day-long boot camps, normally $600, are free, like everything elsehere.
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 ofJune. However, given the carefulattention 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 whatto do next. He called the current store a "pilot" program that hasdemonstrated "terrific uptake" among local entrepreneurs who are thetarget audience.
It isn't hard to imagine that AWS could re-open the store later, given theelaborate work that has gone into building it. Most pop-up stores focus onbringing goods to the public, but this is designed to be a comfortable learningenvironment.
The floors are connected by sleek iron-and-wood stairs. There are definedspaces for lectures and events, classes, one-on-one consultation with AWSarchitects. The requisite kitchen area comes stocked with free beer,hot drinks, cold drinks, granola bars and two varieties of M&Ms. There aredesk chairs in the computer workshop, straight-back chairs for events and even afew posh leather club lounges for power naps.
Not for Everyone
All this explains the bouncer, who carefully screens each person who wishesto 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 singlewrong 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 likethat?," 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 questionsabout the cloud. "I want to understand how to make sure we have up time, how tomake 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 anotherentrepreneur, Jun Dam, found of Peerhub.com. He hopes his startup will becomethe 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 asfamiliar 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 figuredthis would give me enough information about what potential it has and what kindof resources we'd use."
His thoughts reflect Amazon's stated goals here: to help startups "learn moreabout our services and features from AWS solution architects, product managersand evangelists." In essence, this spacious "loft" servesas a giant trade show booth, hoping to win over startup owners shopping for somespace in the cloud.