Interview With an Expert: Disha Harjani Talks Integration Partnerships and Disrupting the Marketplace
Disha Harjani is a tech partnerships pro, who’s spent her career pioneering integration partnerships. We talk tech, disruption, and when to walk away.
Disha Harjani started her career in partnerships, and she’s been building bridges and disrupting industries ever since. After eight years with Shutterstock pioneering the tech partnership space for the big dogs, she decided to go rogue as a partnerships consultant for startups and early-stage companies.
Today, she sits down with us to discuss charting a course in a partnerships career, exploring depth and diversity in the industry, and finding the right partner to close the show.
Sarah: Tell us about your career in partnerships.
Disha: I started my career in media partnerships with Viacom, NBC Universal, and Comcast.
I was in ad sales marketing, which meant supporting their sales teams and selling on-air or digital real estate across their portfolio.
It was great, but I realized that the digital space was really picking up along with all the new technology. It was an incredibly exciting chance to be involved in something new and trending, so I decided to pivot to tech partnerships.
Sarah: How did you find out about tech?
Disha: Around 2012-2013, what I noticed in my media partnerships work was that, every time we were selling something digital there was always a tracking component associated with it. Everything was data and mapping customer behaviors, and then one day it hit me: this is the future! I had to be a part of it.
I started looking, and in 2014 I transitioned to Shutterstock. I was with them for eight years, and I was employee number 2 on a team that was tasked with monetizing product integrations.
Sarah: Was it a difficult transition?
Disha: When I started with them I knew nothing about the product. I had no idea what an API was! My experience up to that point was selling digital ad space, tracking, and clicks. Shutterstock were the only ones that had figured out how to scale and standardize the monetization of product partnerships in a way that was recurring.
Think about that: the only ones.
We were breaking ground with integration partnerships for website creation tools, and we closed out the first ever video integration partnership. Oh, and all that generative AI you’re seeing in the news today? We were partnering in that space on the ground level.
It was a really cool time to be working in the tech industry and evolving partnership strategies. Nearly 100% of my job was helping our external partners and large tech companies buy into a new vision, and educating them in the power of investing in native integrations.
And then back at Shutterstock we were simultaneously selling leadership on the potential of computer vision and machine learning. What our team realized—and this is the unique position a partnerships team can occupy for their company because they specialize in the ecosystem—is that we were destined to transform from a content marketplace company to an AI company. Our job as a partnerships team was to prepare that vision back home.
Talk about selling a narrative. It was a profoundly rewarding time in my career.
Sarah: You left Shutterstock last year. Why, and what are you doing now?
Disha: There were several reasons. First, eight years is a long time to be at a company, and our team had grown from two to fifty people around the world. I’d seen the company go through several different life cycles, I’d played my part, and I just felt like it was time to move on.
At the same time, I was no longer a junior team member trying to build my career in partnerships.
When you work for a large company you’re taking a deep dive into their products and services, but there’s a whole universe of startups out there. It made me think about why I got into tech in the first place. I wanted to be a part of something new and exciting! There was much going on in generative AI partnerships, and there were plenty of startups looking to disrupt the space.
When I looked around, I noticed there was a huge appetite from series A, B, and C companies that were product led, and they had a lot of data but weren’t monetizing it through integration partnerships.
I figured, “If I can do this for a public company, why not them?” That’s how I became a consultant.
Sarah: Has it been challenging?
Disha: With consulting, you’re always developing your pipeline, and I have a lot of connections who are doing similar things. That’s definitely helpful. Also, instead of focusing on one set of goals, you’re helping companies disrupt their own individual spaces in very different ways. One day you’re disrupting the tax industry, and the next, it’s personal hygiene. So, you end up wearing a lot of different hats, but it’s incredibly cool.
Sarah: Last thing: best advice for someone new to partnerships?
Disha: Tech and integration partnerships were exploding during my time with Shutterstock, and everybody wanted to get in on the action. When I first started, I thought revenue was everything, but I learned that not every partnership is the right one. You need to know when to walk away.
If a partnership doesn’t make sense from an economic or business model perspective, it’s just not going to work. There’s usually a lot of red flags along the way, but when you’re new it’s easy to miss them because you’re excited about the deal.
For instance, we once spent two years putting together a contract worth millions, and it wasn’t until it fell apart that we realized we’d been talking to the wrong person the whole time. The contract provisions they proposed didn’t make sense, there was territorial friction, and in the end, they never delivered on the contract. The incentives simply weren’t aligned, and that’s when it’s time to leave.
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