Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

My first job after graduation was vendor management at Amazon Video.

I managed all aspects of our relationship with digital video partners like NBC Universal that licensed their movies and TV shows to our service. I was responsible for these partners’ P&L: exploring opportunities to increase sales, running campaigns and promotions, smoothing out the digital supply chain, and constantly negotiating about this, that, or the other.

Negotiating was such a critical skill that everyone on my team was encouraged to take a three-day training course. Shoutouts to the two ex-Target instructors! That course was easily the best corporate training I’ve done.

Those years of experience came in handy, as one of the things I do most at Persona is find, evaluate, and negotiate with vendors. A core value proposition of our platform is solving any use case related to consumer identity so vendor integrations are key to our strategy, enabling us to extend the range of our product while saving the precious time needed to build it ourselves.

One of our first customers was a property rental startup that needed background checks and credit reports for tenant screening. We had two weeks to get something up-and-running before they launched — it was one of the most stressful two weeks I’ve ever had.

While I frantically read up on these unfamiliar industries, I juggled conversations with over a dozen different vendors. I was trying to negotiate about something I barely knew anything about, in a legal gray area, with zero leverage (I quickly learned how to deftly navigate questions about company size), and with insufficient insight into how these vendors actually worked.

Note: The personal data industry in the US is incredibly opaque. There’s a never-ending chain of resellers and it’s nearly impossible to know who’s a source provider or from who they’re getting their information from. It’s a Russian doll — whichever vendor you work with is actually working with another vendor underneath the hood, and so on.

On minimal sleep, I somehow managed to write a product spec and get two vendors signed and ready to integrate. As luck would have it, our customer didn’t end up launching but I’m glad it wasn’t throwaway work. As I write this, we’re actively integrating with the background check provider I signed in 2018.

I could tell many more stories, but I wanted to share some learnings on the art of vendor management:

  1. Game recognize game: If you want to get in the head of a vendor, sell like one. In the early days of Persona, we all had to sell. The strategies I learned then are the same ones used on me now.

Endlessly curious, always optimizing. Startup and product enthusiast. vincenttsao.com