Jennifer Yador is a serial entrepreneur, speaker and Senior Business Development Manager at Amazon with an extensive background in finance and technology.
In her role, she advises Amazon’s largest brands on how to grow their e-commerce business internationally. She also leverages this expertise to help small businesses understand how to build a global profile as online retailers.
She’s worked in finance at T-Mobile, Microsoft, Shutterfly and Sears, and previously ran her own organization called Sistah Sinema, a media startup featuring queer women of color in cinema.
I spoke with Yador about what’s lessons she’s applied to her full-time roles from her experience as an entrepreneur, what professional traits are important for succeeding at leading tech companies and the challenges she’s faced in the workplace.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Brian Honigman: In the past, you had your own media startup showcasing queer women of color and sold the company in 2015. Could you talk about what you’ve been able to apply from your experience as an entrepreneur to your full-time role at Amazon and previous positions?
Jennifer Yador: The reason I’m focused on business development is because I started a company called Sistah Sinema in 2011 and realized I was an entrepreneur.
I was really good at the business development aspect, in terms of leveraging relationships to drive a business goal and creating value for both parties.
It’s been very interesting to use that skill set in my day-to-day job and transitioning from finance to business development allowed me to do that.
One thing I often think about from my experience as an entrepreneur is if I’m driving true business value, beyond the politicking or getting the gold sticker from a manager.
As an entrepreneur, if you don’t drive true bottom-line value to the customer than there’s no sustainable business model.
When I come to work, I try to really apply that. When you’re working in tech companies, there’s so much conversation and debate.
Even if you’re doing something that’s in the best interest of the customer, there will always be a lot of pushback to determine the true mission and intention of an action on delivering business value.
It makes engaging in those debates much more rewarding and enriching and that’s an experience that I got from doing Sistah Sinema.
Whether I was convincing a filmmaker to trust me with their work, if it was trying to engage a location to allow us to host our event there or if it was trying to create a community around a crowdfunding campaign for a film that might come out years from now, those were the spaces were I learned to articulate that value and be comfortable with those debates.
Honigman: You’ve worked at many large, well-known brands throughout your career like T-Mobile, Microsoft and now Amazon, what traits do you think professionals should cultivate to thrive in a corporate environment in the tech industry?
Yador: I’m currently reading Ego is the Enemy and the framework the author presents is similar to how I think about my career.
The first trait is to look at your fear of failure and acknowledge that it’s there. If you’re really driving forward, creating value and doing something innovative, at some point you’ll fail. You can’t let that fear of failure be crippling to you.
The second trait is having the ability to self-assess. Be very honest about what your strengths and weaknesses are. Coming to Amazon was actually extremely scary for me. I knew how the situation would work for me, as well as any potential shortfalls.
I came in very eyes wide open about what some of my weaknesses were in coming to the role. I alerted my manager ahead of time about my familiarity level with SQL for example and that I wasn’t an expert on that.
When I came into the role, I thought about how I might manage around and through my weaknesses to overcome them and develop them into a strength. I was able to do that, but by being honest with myself and those around me that I’ll need resources to fill those particular gaps.
The third one, particularly for women and people of color in tech, is to be able to not internalize your failures. When things didn’t work out as planned in past roles, I would think that I’m deficient.
As I continued to advance in my career, the story that I told myself changed and it’s not that I’m deficient, but instead, a situation didn’t work for me and that’s it.
It’s not good or bad, but it’s about being able to step back and analyze what about that situation didn’t work for you and how you might adjust or how you can influence the situation to work better in the future.
As I advanced in my career, having that framework has been key. In terms of books that have helped me and turned on that light for me were Do What You Are and The First 90 Days.
Both focus on how you set yourself up for success, which I think it’s critical for people of color because there are so many ways we can internalize that we are deficient and the whole situation is set up against us.
Honigman: What challenges have you experienced while navigating your career as a queer woman?
Yador: I can only answer that as a queer woman because I’ve never been anything else. I know that navigating a career in corporate America is hard for everyone, but for me, I realized that my worldview is just very different.
I don’t think in terms of ‘the winner takes all’ or ‘I’m in it for my personal gain’, I really come to work to address how I can make the world a better place for everyone for people of all backgrounds.
For people who are affluent and people that are not that affluent. I think that’s different because I’m a queer woman of color or just because I’m different. The way I dealt with this in the past was just not bringing this part of me to work.
What I’ve learned is that bringing that part of myself to work is valuable for me and the company. And if I silence that, then that’s value I’m literally taking off the table and literally throwing in the trash. I guess that’s a challenge, but bigger than that it’s an opportunity that I try to remind myself of every day.
Brian Honigman is a gay entrepreneur, marketing consultant and CEO of Honigman Media. Sign up for his newsletter to hear more stories on LGBTQ leadership and how to win with marketing.