Karthik explains how noticing a gap in the SaaS market for a tool supporting product marketeers led to Ignition’s development. He discusses the pros of working in start-ups versus large corporations, and what marketers should consider when undertaking a product launch.
Karthik also shares how to approach putting together a go-to-marketing plan, from establishing a target audience to communicating the value proposition of a new product.
Listen to the podcast now via the links below:
Transcript: Interview with Karthik Suresh – Ignition
Speakers: Mike Maynard, Karthik Suresh
Mike: Thanks for listening to marketing B2B Tech, the podcast from Napier, where you can find out what really works in B2B marketing today.
Welcome to marketing B2B technology, the podcast from Napier. Today I’m joined by Karthik Suresh Karthik is the co-founder of ignition. Welcome to the podcast, Karthik.
Karthik: Thanks for having me on the show.
Mike: It’s great to have you here. I mean, to start off with, can you tell me about your career journey and how you’ve ended up at ignition?
Karthik: Sure. So I have a tech background, I started my career in high frequency and algorithmic trading in New York, did that for about seven years. But you know, wanting to get into something more tangible and then went to business school and after that had been in startups for a while, was early early on, was a co founder at a fin tech startup, for alternative lending, then was the second employee at this company called craft, its enterprise intelligence company, where and I was a second employee, and I was there to seize a CIO, I was there for four years, had them build a product, an operations team and help them find product market fit. And after craft, I joined Facebook, wanted to see what it is like to build products at scale. I was a pm on the Facebook search team, and then a pm on the Facebook reality labs team. And that’s where I met my co founder, Derek to on deck, Derek was heading Product Marketing at rippling, which is another B2B, HR tech company.
And when you’re brainstorming ideas, for a B2B SaaS business, we felt like, there’s so many tools for engineers, there’s so many tools for product managers, and auto sales. There’s like project management tools, task management tools, everyone has a go to tool, but there’s no real tools for product marketers, and specifically for planning, go to market, planning your product launches, and managing all your go to market plans. And yeah, that’s how Ignitionwas born. So we’ve been doing this for about a year and a half.
Mike: That’s amazing. I mean, I’m always impressed with people who want to create something new. You obviously love working at startups. I mean, what is it that that really gets you excited about creating and building something new?
Karthik: Yeah, yeah. So let’s port on. I think, for example, when I was at any of the large companies, I was also at Morgan Stanley, and that Facebook, it’s great. And you have you have probably have a stable income, but you’re still a cog in the wheel, and you don’t have that much of an impact on on the product as a whole. And, and also, like, there’s so many, I think so many stakeholders and people you need to get buy in from and even to build a new product in a large company, it takes a lot of time and efforts. And 80% of the time is in meetings and in getting approvals and buying. And whereas early on in startups, or even smaller companies, you have a lot of autonomy, and you can really get your vision to kind of come into life. And
like, for me, that was one of the one of the most important things where, you know, it’s not just about improving and maintaining existing products, but like rapidly building new products, which have a real use case for the for the people and the being able to have a say, and being able to be autonomous into the work. So that is what has always taught me to be in small companies or startups.
Mike: That’s awesome. I love the fact that it’s a combination of what you can achieve and how you can work. So being autonomous, but also being able to achieve more. That’s, that’s awesome.
So you mentioned that the premise for Ignitionwas to provide something to help product marketers with go to market. I mean, that’s a very broad range of things that you could do. So just the high level, can you talk about what Ignition actually does for product marketers?
Karthik: Sure. So initially, as a platform to manage all your go to market plans and plan your product launches, just to before going into ignition, just to talk about just the go to market process in general. A lot of the times even in several late stage companies, sometimes, you know, just shipping code to production as a launch, just sending an email to customers or doing a blog post launch. But that’s not really a launch you need to like go into in that core market planning process. And a lot of the companies are leaving money on the table by not doing it right. So just talking about go to market plan in general. First, you need to figure out who’s your target audience you need to have a research done about your ideal customer persona.
Then you need to figure out the messaging for them like how do you clearly communicate the value prop of the product in a way that resonates with your target users. Then you need to come up with a positioning you need to figure out who your competitors are and how you position yourself so that you stand out. And then you need to price your product, you need to package your product, you figure out what channels you need to use to reach your target audience. And then you need to work with designers and copywriters to come up with your campaigns and execute your campaigns. The same time getting buy in from the execs getting buy in from legal and everybody else, their training your customer support people training salespeople to talk about it, there’s a huge process, which is like very fragmented and done, like, you know, you have documentation tools, project management tools, asset management tools, but it’s all fragmented. And there’s no like structured process, and also all the learnings of the past launches have lost because not everything is in one place. So Ignition is specifically built to solve this problem. And you can manage your end to end go to market planning process in one place, and also deal with all the stakeholder communication.
Mike: That’s really interesting, because it sounds like this is actually not just a product for product marketers. But it’s also important for everyone from marketing, communication through through to sales, I mean, it’s really pulling together all the different departments during a product launch. That’s exactly right. So the primary person who might be driving the launch may be a product marketer, maybe a brand marketer, or maybe even a product manager if there’s no product marketers, but but the idea is to like basically bring in all the stakeholders for the launch in one place and be able to find it.
And in terms of the tool, I mean, obviously pulling that data together is really important. Are you doing things to make each of the steps a little bit easier, I mean, how you, for example, accelerating things like customer research?
Karthik: Yeah, so talking about FICM, specifically, customer research, you know, you can run all the surveys, for example, like you know, you can run a pricing survey, you can run your brand survey in a messaging test survey or an NPS survey. And then once you have all the survey results, you can aggregate all the insights, you can categorise, you can summarise. And then make sure to use this as inputs for your all your messaging in various launches.
Mike: That’s great. So you’re bringing in something again, that that might previously been done in multiple different tools into that same one platform to make it easier it sounds.
Karthik: That’s exactly it. So customer search is one competitive intelligence, where you can track all your competitors and create battle cards. And we automatically track all the data on them, and news and websites, screenshots. And then once you’re done with the market research and coming up with a launch planning, you have a timeline, your go to market calendar. And then after all the launch is done, this is another thing I forgot to mention. You know, a lot of the times, in companies when you do a launch, you just go party and you forget about a launch and move on to the next. There’s not a lot of times when you have to go back and actually have any attribution. So we’re also building and analytics to actually measure the impact of the launch post on the business metrics, and also the product metrics. So that’s that’s another component in English.
Mike: That’s amazing. I mean, I think one of the things we ought to bear in mind is a lot of the listeners here are more on the marketing, communications or marketing side, rather than the product management or product marketing side. I mean, what do you think people on the marketing end can actually learn about product launches? And do better when they next launch their next new product?
Karthik: Yeah, so absolutely. So I think the most important thing is having a structured process, almost like a two year process, for like a tier one launched here to launch tier three launch depending on the on the importance and budget and size of the launch. And making sure that the product and engineering teams give the marketers enough time and notice to make sure they can do justice to the go to market planning process, which is probably one of the most important pain points because a lot of the times, and also I come from a pm background, I’ve learned the mistake as well. They’re just there’s just a week left for the product to be shipped. And I’ll be like, hey, this product is shipping in a week. And there was a word no, I need at least like two months. And so there’s a lot of disconnect between the product and marketing teams, sometimes in terms of the timeline. So that’s one of the first issues to make sure you’re on top of it. The second one is just sending an email is not a launch, you really need a multi channel approach to getting in front of target users, you need to layer in messaging, and you need to hit them again and again, in different channels to make sure you they understand the value prop. The last thing I would say is like, also make sure to get the marketing objective, right. A lot of the times like there’s very different strategies for whether you’re creating a new category versus you know, you’re competing in a crowded market. Maybe you’re creating a new category, don’t invest in SEO because nobody’s gonna be searching for you. versus you know, if you’re if you’re doing going after competitive market, maybe it’s easier to just go after the customers of your competitors, rather than have them discount or something. So really. So just to recap, you know, make sure you really understand your users. Make sure you have a multi channel
approach to getting in front of your target users have a bit of a structured clearing process in place. And you’re in sync with the product and engineering teams regarding the launch cadence. And finally, make sure you have very clear objectives and KPIs to track the largest.
Mike: I think that’s great advice. I mean, obviously, that applies across pretty much all product launches. But are there particular products that Ignition was really aimed for a particular industries?
Karthik: Not necessarily. We have. We have bought, for example, even software and hardware company that is the biggest companies are on a platform are actually hardware companies who plan to hardware launch in different markets. We also want to expand to like CPG companies. I think typically, typically you have brand marketers and CPG companies, and they do a tonne of launches. So we want to target them. And also like gaming and entertainment gaming is also something which my co founder worked on early on in his career, he was a product manager and PlayStation. So I think the fundamental go to market planning process is pretty much the same. It’s more about the last 20%, and how do you customise the plan is what’s different. Actually, just one other thing I just thought off is like,
I think the go to market planning process has been always there for a long time. I guess the biggest trend right now is the growth of the product marketing as a function. You know, I think in 10 years ago, when you had all these new channels come up like Facebook, Google and all of the ads, it’s so easy to just throw in some money, and messaging and try to get as many users as possible. But right now, it’s not not the same case. Like everything’s expensive. And you know, product marketing as a function where you really need to invest in the user research thing about messaging, think about how you actually position the product and stand out is again becomes super important. And that’s where the Ignitioncomes in.
Mike: I love that it feels like a lot of what you’re trying to do is get people to invest the right time and effort into each stage of a product launch. And by structuring it, you’re giving them that framework, that’s gonna help them make sure they do that. That’s exactly right.
I’m just interested about, you know, size of your customers. I mean, it seems like like, again, the product really is not specific to a certain customer size, you know, if you’re launching products that it’s relevant is, is that the case? I mean, as long as you have the structure of a product, having a product marketing team, you know, does that mean you’re big enough for ignition?
Karthik: Yeah, so right now we see like our just our, the size of the product marketing teams, we, we have like mid-market enterprise, which at least the minimum is like 100 to 200 employees. And that’s where the go to market planning really becomes very painful. It’s no longer just a vitamin, you know, because you have so many stakeholders and so many other departments, you need to like, make sure you bring them on the same page. But we have like even public companies, somebody like square using us. So we have, you know, a few 100 employees all the way to 1000s of employees range on a platform.
Mike: Sounds great. Sounds like there’s there’s a lot of success at the moment. And it’s good to hear you’ve got such a wide range of customers.
One of the things I, you know, I’m interested in is you obviously see a lot of your customers launching products. And one of the things I think a lot of marketers struggle with is getting really good competitive intelligence. What are your recommendations for getting better intelligence on what your competitors are doing either by research or begun and maybe asking customers?
Karthik: Yeah, so I come from a product perspective. So I always believe that, make sure you’re working on your own vision and value prop and then not focus as much on competitors. You know, keep an eye on them track what they’re doing, but don’t lose sight of what you’re doing. Because it’s so easy to like, oh, yeah, they’re building this cool feature, we should build it. Oh, yeah, they’re doing this amazing thing, we should build it. But that’s not how great products are built the spiritual product perspective. But yeah, it is really important to attract customers so that you’re not caught off guard, especially if they are building an exact same feature, which is probably not a much differentiation. And in those cases, it all comes down to the data. You can track everything from you know, the locations that job openings, you can see like what they are, who they’re hiring for what they’re doing. Then you can see what kind of people are they’re hiring. You can see if there’s any new changes in the exec or executive level to see like what they’re bringing on a new function, then you can see that they were probably going to expand, you can see that they’re acquiring any smart companies or they’re partnering with any companies. That’s another data set. You can also track the website traffic, the keywords, they rank for keywords they’re placing ads for so that gives you another good sort of intelligence are what they are doing.
Finally, there’s obviously there’s news you can also screenshot their website every few weeks to make sure how their messages is changing and any new products. So there’s a few different ways. But it all comes down to how good you are at tracking all these kinds of different data sets about competitors.
Mike: And for that, I guess you need some sort of structure and maybe some sort of tool.
Karthik: That’s exactly right. And one of the, one of the components within Ignition is tracking your competitors. So we don’t just pull all the data on competitors for you. We also make it very easy to structure the data in a in a battle card format. And you can share that around in your company to your sales, customer success and other other teams who would get a lot of value using the intelligence collected for them.
Mike: And that’s awesome. I want to change tack a bit because it’s great to have someone on who’s actually not a marketer, they’re a founder and an executive. Because I think a lot of marketing people are really interested to know, what do you want from a marketing team? What are you looking for from a great marketing team?
Karthik: Yeah, that’s a great question. And as you said, you know, I come from a product management background. But obviously, we have been working closely with marketing for a long time, as a founder, what I want from a marketing team is, I really want them to be very strategic and analytical. It’s not just about executing, or just doing the tactical day to day stuff, but really like system thinkers, who are like thoughtfully designing the marketing activity around the whole customer journey. And also, it’s very important that they do understand the customer really well. They’ve done their research, they’ve spoken to the customers, they really understand what the pain points are. But at the same time, they’re not afraid to take like big swings based on insight into, you know, kind of intuition. So again, deep customer empathy is the most important skill. And
Mike: I think that’s great. I mean, I love that that need for, you know, someone’s thinking strategically, but also someone prepared to take risks without those big swings. And, you know, maybe the next question is, you know, what do you see as being the really great marketing campaign so that there’s some campaigns you’ve been involved with, that you think of have massively moved the needle for the business?
Karthik: Yeah, I think it all comes down to, you know, the great customer insight, the great the customer empathy and customer insight, that’s what really enables, like being able to tap into like the pain of the customers viscerally and concisely with your communication, and deliver that message multiple times across multiple channels, to your target audience, right, we talked about how multi channel approach is very important, but you need to be able to layer in that every reader standout, not just blend into like hundreds of ads and blogs and everything a user sees, but being able to stand out, but at the same time having a creative twist. That’s what makes a great marketing campaigns.
Mike: That’s great. I think getting to the bottom of the customer’s pain is always that’s always key in a marketing campaign, isn’t it?
Karthik: Yeah, exactly. It’s, it’s not always just bright and splashy stuff, it’s really being able to like, tap into the pain, the customer pain point and then communicate the value prop of your product.
Mike: So awesome. I’m interested. I mean, you’re not a marketer, would you recommend if a young person was thinking of marketing as a career for them to choose marketing? Or maybe you’d recommend a different approach?
Karthik: Yeah, for a young person who think of marketing as a career. First, I want to say that marketing is not always about the big splashy stuff that’s advertising. Like marketing is really about like customer empathy, customer insights, first understanding the customer pain points, and being able to tell the story, that how a product can actually solve that pain point. The real success in marketing doesn’t come from this big, like once a year, splashy launch, but really like mundane day to day stuff. It’s like doing that little campaigns and promotions and feature launches, doing it every day. And make sure they all roll up into this bigger narrative of the company’s vision and mission and being able to tell that story, you know, in in multiple channels, and being able to really resonate with your target users. So that’s what marketing is all about. And if this is what excites you, then great.
Mike: That’s awesome. I think it’s really good today. And it’s true, I think, a lot of marketing. It’s the unsexy and exciting things that actually at the end of the day, when they’re all add together make the biggest difference. I love that.
I’m, you know, I’m obviously aware of time, you know, I just wonder, is there anything else you feel we should have covered in this interview?
Karthik: No, I think I think we covered quite a bit is great. The one one other thing I just start off for any young person starting their career is like, always take risks. Make sure especially when you’re young and you don’t have a tonne of responsibilities, be don’t just get into a large company and get into a cushy job. Just take risks and you never know where life might take you.
Mike: Right. It’s such an optimistic view. I’m sure people you know, they’ll have been interested in some people certainly will be very much involved in go to market for new products. If people want to ask you questions or maybe find out more about ignition, where should they go?
Karthik: Yes, you can. You can sign up for our free trial on our website, which is haveignition.com. And you feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you just post my it’s my first name, last name, Karthik Suresh, that’s my Twitter handle. And I’m also on LinkedIn. So feel free to connect with me. I’m always happy to talk about anything, go to market product management and B2B technology in general.
Mike: That’s amazing. It’s been a great conversation. Thanks so much for being a guest. Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed the conversation.
Karthik: Thanks so much for listening to marketing B2B Tech.
Mike: We hope you enjoyed the episode. And if you did, please make sure you subscribe on iTunes, or on your favourite podcast application. If you’d like to know more, please visit our website at Napier B2B dot com or contact me directly on LinkedIn.