Meet the tech alums leading the next generation of startups

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Tech alums are emerging as some of the most successful founders in today’s startup landscape. After careers at global tech powerhouses, they’re ready to innovate, and it’s not just their technical expertise that’s helping fast-track their startup success.

Many tech alums started at tech giants in their growth phases and know what it truly takes to scale. They’re unafraid to engineer a software fix, close a deal, and put together office furniture in the same day.

Tech alums are also ready to take ownership of the bright ideas they’ve cultivated while working in tech and are excited to move fast to make an impact with bold and ambitious concepts. Through tech jobs, they’ve fostered relationships with everyone from venture capitalists (VCs) to a vast talent network—skills and connections they can carry with them as they strike out on their own in the startup space.

Critically, tech alums have seen firsthand where fresh ideas are needed to solve the urgent problems that current tech solutions can’t. They’re ready to take the startup ecosystem by storm with smarter, stronger products that today’s consumers need.

Meet the next generation of startup leaders 

Several tech alums have already taken the startup leap and are taking advantage of the support and resources that AWS offers startup founders. Because AWS is a company made up of several founders itself, these innovators have found it a welcoming and exciting place to launch their new endeavors.

From developing for tech giants to becoming a founder

One such founder is Anna Bofa, who worked at Google and was one of the first members of the business team at Dropbox, where she learned tons of important business lessons, including the importance of market timing and the power of great customer feedback.

Most importantly, she learned a lot about herself. Anna said she realized that her career enthusiasm was not in completing assigned tasks, but in the creative freedom to take a lofty goal and develop a plan to execute it. Drawing on lessons from her time at tech giants, she launched Crate, an entirely new way for consumers to collect and share info they find from anywhere on the internet.

Anna said the transition was a natural one once she realized that she had been honing her leadership skills throughout her tech career.

“I’ve always wanted to actually talk to the user, the partner, the consumer,” she said. “I was always out on the road, trying to understand the pain points, trying to understand what made them tick. I didn’t realize it at the time, but now looking back on it, I realized that was a really important quality of an entrepreneur.”

Chasing and committing to founder dreams

Argun Kilic is another founder who realized he’d been developing critical entrepreneurial skills while working on a small, startup-like team within Cisco. While he worked to help Cisco bring enterprise-based VOIP communication to the cloud, he saw firsthand how startup employees had to wear several hats to get the job done, and learned the best practices for snagging that first critical customer.

Long hours, sacrifice, and hard work would always be part of his career path. “But the ah-ha moment was … I didn't want to spend that amount of energy for somebody else's dream,” Argun explained. He decided to strike out and solve real-world problems with his company, which builds end-to-end automation platforms for mortgage and title industries.

Argun advised that if a tech alum has a great idea to solve a problem, they should commit 100% to the concept rather than trying to build something on the side, stressing that it’s only that dedication that can lead to a startup-worthy product.

Leveraging experiences to start fresh

That’s the same principle that led Kathy Zhu to launch her startup, Streamline AI, which helps companies automate in-house legal intake, triage, and workflows. With Streamline, legal departments can not only be more efficient with their work, but also give their business partners more transparency as to where matters stand and capture key metrics of the legal request and matter management process.

The idea came to her after launching a legal career focused on corporate law that eventually led her to being DoorDash’s first and only in-house contracts lawyer. Immediately upon starting at DoorDash, her inbox and Slack were inundated with legal requests ranging from sales and vendor contracts to non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). Around the same time, she had a conversation with a friend on the product team at a big tech company who was frustrated by slow response times from his own legal department—he simply did not realize how swamped an in-house lawyer could be because he had no real-time insight with his legal requests.

Zhu looked for a solution on the market but could not find one that solved her company’s needs. When talking to in-house counsel at other companies, she found that legal departments were facing similar pains but had resigned themselves to Frankensteined, jerry-rigged tools that didn’t entirely solve their key pain. Zhu saw an opportunity to design a solution that could streamline the legal workflow and provide more transparency and automation for all stakeholders involved in the process—including business partners.

At first, she asked herself why such a software tool didn’t already exist. “I realized that it’s because we need a founder with lived experience—not just experience at a law firm, but someone who was on the ground every single day as in-house counsel. Such an idea needed someone with both in-house legal leadership and individual contributor perspectives, and that just was not the make-up of your typical founder,” she said.

What’s more, she realized that by asking herself why she should go forward and launch a startup despite already having a successful career, she had the exact questions that investors would later ask her: "Why now?" "Who needs this?" "What can it do that other solutions can’t?" By working out the answers as she decided whether or not to take the startup leap, she was perfecting her investor pitch and honing in on the details that would make her startup a success.

Fostering the tech alum to startup pipeline

AWS is uniquely positioned to offer tech alums industry-leading support as they take the leap from tech worker to startup founder. We provide a platform to build any startup, along with the technical and business support they need from inception to IPO. Other tailored resources tech alums can take advantage of include:

  • AWS Activate: Our AWS Activate program gives founders free tools, resources, expert support, and AWS credits in order to build a scalable, reliable, and cost-optimized startup.
  • Accelerators: AWS understands that collaborating with like-minded founders can give startups an extra leg up as they enter the startup landscape. We offer accelerators tailored to the unique experiences of different groups and industries, helping founders foster the connections that will allow them to thrive.
  • AWS Connections: When founders build on AWS, they gain immediate access to a global network of potential partners, mentors, investors, and experts who can become the missing link that helps their startup succeed.

If you’re a tech alum in a similar position—sitting on an idea that only you have the skill set, connections, and drive to make succeed—AWS wants to be your partner on this journey. We want to connect with potential founders in the ideation or inception phases, who haven’t received VC funding yet. Through Magnet, we provide a platform to build any startup, along with the technical and business support they need from inception to IPO.

Amy Chen

Amy Chen

Amy Chen loves meeting founders and supporting them with resources that are a fit for their stage of growth or for their industry. She’s helped startups secure speaking opportunities, meet internal and external experts for product development and fundraising advice, and connect with go-to-market programs to partner and reach joint customers.

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