Episode 218 Featuring Alex Bond

Evaluating the Go-To-Market Life Cycle with Karthik Suresh

Evaluating the Go-To-Market Life Cycle with Karthik Suresh

Karthik Suresh is the CTO and Co-Founder of a Go-To-Market platform called Ignition. His experience leading product teams led him to co-found Ignition, the world's first go-to-market platform that allows businesses to manage all stages of the product life cycle. Karthik's career journey revealed to him that product roadmapping was a major pain point. He has since become an expert on building, launching, and scaling products across consumer, enterprise, and data domains. On this episode we discuss the life cycle of a product, the Go-To-Market process, how to acquire funding, and much more.


What is Ignition

Karthik Suresh: We co-founded Ignition about two years ago. The story to that is like, so I was a product manager at Facebook before and we were launching several products and a lot of the times the go to market plan was like a spreadsheet with hundred tabs, which, and then like there was a tab to keep track of other tabs. Nobody could find what's going. 

The co-founder Derek, who was employee at HR tech company and when we brainstorming ideas we're like, there's so many tools to help build products, manage your task or project management systems. There's nothing really to like actually help you up with a go-to-market plan and manage that end to end. And that's how Ignition was born. 

So Ignition is basically a system of record for go to market. It's a platform where you can, you know, create your go to market plans, collaborate and manage everything in like one place. 

Go-To-Market process

Karthik Suresh: So, you know, does it matter, you know, if you're an entrepreneur in tech or you're building an e-commerce business or you know, it's a brand new industry. A lot of the times when you start building a product, let's say when the product is built and then you want to take the product to market, there is a tendency to like just jump to tactics.

You know, just jump to like spending a bunch of money on Google search ads or Instagram ads or TikTok or whatever challenge you're using without actually having to really invest in coming up with a robust go go to market strategy. And I think that can make all the difference between the success and failure of the product.

You know, there's there all this debate about whether distribution is important or the product is important. In my opinion, distribution is at least as important as the product. And that that should be, so any product you build should, you should always have distribution in mind from day one. So now let me explain.

So I'm not gonna go into the detail of the execution site on the, on the marketing channels. I'm going talk a lot in depth about. The planning and the strategy outside are the go to market side because that's what I think a lot of people miss. And by doing that, they're leaving a ton of money on the table.

So what does a good go-to-market plan even look like? So even let's say even before you first, let's say you have an e-commerce store, you start like, okay, now I need to drive traffic to this store. Let's say it's a store for curtains or whatever you're selling and or, you know, it's a tech business. The first thing to do is like, really understand who your target audience is, like who your persona is, right? First you define your icp, which is your ideal customer profile. 

For example, if you're targeting companies, that would be like, okay, you know, I sell to companies. With less than 50 employees who are in manufacturing space, or you define a specific persona in that icp, it's like, okay, I'm gonna be selling to a product manager who is, you know, who is from 20 to 35 earning about this income in a company of, you know, 200 to 500 range. And who is focused on building B2B software. That's number one. 

And I'm hoping like you already have spoken to a ton of people and your potential users even before you build your product. So the number one step is, you know, defining your target audience or defining your persona you're gonna go after.

And then once you do that, then you do you try to do a market research, you figure out who the competitors are in this space, and then you go through each competitor and figure out how they're positioning themselves, like what they're targeting which, which section of the market they're targeting, what are the differentiators and what are the gaps in the market?

There's different ways to do, you can even almost like come up with word cloud. And try to see like where, where the competitors are playing and where you wanna position yourself. So the next step is to then position yourself, which is an exercise on its own. So positioning is very important because then users can clearly differentiate you from your competitors.

And when they see your product, they can say, oh, this is different because compared to all these X, Y, and Z, you know, the value prop of your product is this. And that's why you're different. So like, I'm gonna make a purchase solution. Based on that. So you need to spend time in po positioning your product and then coming up with a messaging, a really strong messaging, using which the value prop of your product becomes really clear to your target audience.

Make it such a way that you know, you're not just selling a solution. But you're selling, you're actually targeting a problem, and that's how you kind of message to the users because you have all these problems, and then you talk about like how your own product can help that. Then once you have audience research, market research, positioning, messaging, exercise. 

The next step is pricing, like how do you price your product? There's so many different ways to do that. Even you can run surveys, you can, there's even different like pricing methodologies, like you can run or you can start experimenting, trial and error, see where it goes. But it should, the pricing and packaging should make sense and, you know, you need to spend time iterating really targeting the value of their products providing versus just like based on a cost, some kind of a cost plus basis. 

And then once you have the pricing done, that's when you think, okay, now which marketing channels should I, should I use to reach these target audience? You know, when we started this exercise, we had defined the persona. Now the goal is like, okay, where do this persona live? Do they live in Reddit? Do they live in TikTok? You know, do they, you know, you know, is it a conference I need to go to? Is there like an in-person event where lot of these people attend?

Like what are the different channels or is it blog or newsletters? Where these, these people in this persona actually read Then you a list of channels which I can use to then go target these, you know, target your ideal persona. And then once you decide with the channel, decide on the channels, then you work on, you know, your marketing campaigns.

And that's when the marketing campaigns actually start where you know, you come, you know, you work on your assets, you work on your copy, you work, you have a budget, and you start, you know, placing all these campaigns and optimizing them. But as you can see, there's so many steps you need to do.

Before you reach this the marketing campaign's part, a lot of the times one of the mistakes which I see entrepreneurs doing is jumping directly here, like jumping directly to like, you know, just start running Google search ads without doing the exercise of figuring out your actual persona, messaging, positioning your product in a way which appeals to that audience. And then jumping, you know, and then instead of that jumping directly to running this campaign.

So, I mean, so then it's the campaign. And once you run the campaigns, then you know, you measure success, then you constantly iterate and then, and then, you know, I'm sure there's so many other host in this podcast or talked in depth about how to run these campaigns, how to optimize these campaigns and then so on. So yeah. Lemme take a pause there. 

Alex Bond: It's extremely insightful first off, and my second thing is you mentioned something I wanna dive into a little bit, which is why brands and people struggle with this process. And that's because they're focused on the marketing before they have a base foundation on what their product is, what problem it's trying to solve it feels like. 

Why is that though specifically? Is it because they have an overconfidence in their product? Is it because they're not doing enough, you know, market research? They're kind of typically just going, I know my product, I like my product, and I think it can sell, so let's worry about selling it or kind of why is it that they're so focused on this backend instead of the front end do you think? 

Karthik Suresh: Yeah, I think there's a couple of reasons. One, I think it requires a lot of discipline and structure to actually an ontime investment to actually think through this. And a lot of the times when once you're built you, you immediately wanna see. If this product can can have an impact. Right? And then you wanna kinda jump directly into the tactics. I think more, more importantly, you know, I think this is, especially in the tech space where people think you built an amazing product will come.

You just build the best product out there and people will come, but they don't, there are thousands and thousands of software products being built every day unless, and until you have a really strong differentiation and being able to message that in a way where you can differentiate your competitors, you're not gonna succeed.

Which is why, you know, for example, I keep joking, like, you know, there's so many products which keep launching on Product Hunt. So Product Hunt is a place where, Software products, you know, launch every day and they won. And you know, you rank and sometimes I feel like it's a graveyard where products go to die because you just feel like, you know, I just go and put my name on product hunt and boom, all the users are just gonna start like flowing in, but doesn't really happen.

So I think it takes a lot of, you know, expertise and then especially if you, if you ask like a second or third time founder, this is something super obvious. But if you're starting for the first time, this is not, and that's why it's really important to like trust the process and actually invest time figuring out who your users are, you know, doing user research, market research, positioning, exercise. This will save you a lot of heartburn later in the process. 

Determining when a product is ready for the market

Alex Bond: How do you evaluate when a product is ready to go to market? I mean, it sounds like you've got a rubric of all these things that need to be done. But to dive into the actual development of the product itself, how do you know when it's ready? 

Karthik Suresh: Yeah, so I can speak to that more in the software space, given my background. So that's why you have like multiple phases in the product launch process. For example, the classic phases are like alpha, beta, and general availability. 

So what you generally do is when you have a new feature you want to add to your product you do like an alpha release, which is you basically release to a very, a small subset of customers who are very loyal and who's not gonna churn, even if they have a bad experience and who are willing to give you feedback and then test it out to see everything value.

And then only when you confirm that it's actually adding value, then you move to beta, which is basically a larger distribution. Otherwise you roll it back, you just roll it back and. Initial set of customers are happy, and then once you go to beta, it's a much larger distribution, and then you just kind of confirmed all the assumptions you made in the alpha, actually. Right? 

And that's when going to general availability is when you really kinda invest in like a, a full-fledged go-to market like campaign, you know, depending on your budget and so on. So that's kinda how, how approach rollout of products. But again, this is very different if you're starting out a business, if an entrepreneur, you're starting out a business, you don't have an existing set of customers to actually go test this. 

So you really have to then figure out, you know, what is like MVP or you know, what's your minimum lovable product, which without wasting a ton of resources. And incentivize them to try it and give you feedback. And only when you get an answer like, oh hell yeah. Or you know, when can I put my credit card down? Or things like that. That's when you know that you're ready to launch. Until that point, you need to keep iterating again and again and again. 

But the last point I would add to this is like, especially this is true if you're talking to users, if you're building a new product, A lot of the times you talk to your own network, which is your friends or family. Unfortunately, you would be getting a lot of wrong signals because you'll be getting a lot of false positives. People, humans, they tend to like not give you honest feedback, not because. 

Alex Bond: They wanna support you. I mean, empathetic and say, you did such a good job even though your product might not even work.

Karthik Suresh: So they don't wanna hurt your feelings. You know what I mean? So, and then you shouldn't rely only on that and go lunch. You should take with the big grain of salt. And that's why you, you don't just look out for signals like, yes, I'll use a product. 

You'll be like, hell yeah, I want it right now. Or, I'm ready to put on my credit card right now. You need like extreme signals, you know, for you to actually, you know, get confidence in and then you're taking your product to a more larger scale breadth of audience. 

Developing a product as a startup vs. an established brand

Alex Bond: And you mentioned something in there that I find very interesting that I want to expound upon a little bit. And that's the difference between, you know, making, developing, and going to market with a product for a startup versus someone who already has an established brand. 

So one of the differences you already mentioned is that an established company has an established audience. So really, as long as you make the product good, it most likely will sell versus with a startup company. I also think it's interesting that creating products to establish an identity and a brand for a startup is very different than establish or making products for a brand that already has an established identity. 

You know, apple has a very distinct identity in the products that they make, and they package and they, and they sell. So making something that complements that is gonna be very different than creating a whole new identity for a brand. So my question to you is, how do you approach developing a product for a startup versus one that's already well established like that? 

Karthik Suresh: Yeah, that's a great question. I think if you're well established, you're going into different problems. Again, talking from a more of a software perspective, like let's say you are launching a new product given that you have an existing customer base and you have a strong brand. There's a really high probability that all your customers will at least give it a shot, start using it, or at least start trying it out. 

But there, the problem is, like I've seen, like in larger companies, there's a huge alignment problem. For example, I've seen like the company will ship new features to this product and the salespeople won't even be aware of it. Other customer success people will be like, oh, when did we ship this new feature? 

And then if somebody asks questions, I'm like, oh, I have no idea. Go ask, you know, and ask the product owners and get back to you. So I think there's a more of alignment problem in larger companies around distribution and that results in like, you know, as talk as I was talking about my own experience, like sometimes you, I think when we ship the wrong logo or you know, we had the wrong campaigns in place because not everyone was on the same page and not everyone knew the timeline, what was launching when, and it was very disjointed, fragmented process.

To be honest that's what inspired me to build ignition. So, versus in a smaller company or even if you're starting off there, you have nothing. So, you know, you have a really steep, uphill decline, which is why it's even more important to do all the things I talked about. You know, really like investing time to talk to like 51st, defining your persona, talking to 50 people, incentivizing them to try it. 

Creating a minimal minimum level product and then making sure it actually solves the problem. Then trying to like figure out who your competitors are, figuring out what you know, how to position it, how to stand out, and then when you start creating your brand, that's a whole conversation on the brand.

We could have a separate podcast right now just focusing on, on the go to market side of things. So it's more on I would say really getting your fundamentals right about you know, your distribution strategy, your go to market strategy, like how are you, how are you gonna build a, like a found a strong foundation on which you can keep launching and iterating and iterating and then, and then build like a growth machine.

Product life cycle

Alex Bond: One of the things that your company does, Ignition, is you talk about being a part of the process for the entire products life cycle. Now, a products life cycle typically doesn't end once it is released, right? I mean, just in the example that you gave.

A product is released and people are, say they're struggling with it and they needed advice on how to use it. And then the brand, there's an alignment issue, I think is what you refer to it. So how do you guys continue to monitor a product and tweak it throughout its extended lifecycle

Karthik Suresh: Yeah, that's a good question. You know, the saying is like, you know, you do a product launch you go party. Because every launch is a success. But actually it's just the beginning of a new process. So, you know, at least in the software space, there's a few different things you need to do once you launch the product. 

The number one thing is, of course, monitor usage, monitor retention, make sure there's no churn. And also like if people are churning, figuring out why they're churning and really getting to the bottom of that, getting into the product analytics space. And then having both qualitative and quantitative data on how users are using your, either your new feature or a new product is important. 

The second thing is being able to, you know, continuously measure whether it's CSAT score or NPSs score for your product and being able to quantify that and key. And then if that score falls below threshold, being able to ready, jump on that to fix that. And then finally having, you know, a way to like solid feedback on new ideas.

Like, you know, for example, you asked about ignition and ignition. We have an idea management system where you can have a portal where users can actually come in and give feedback or request new ideas. They can vote on the existing roadmap, help you prioritize the roadmap, and give you feedback to some sort of a feedback management system to help you iterate on building new features, innovating your product.

I mean, I'm not talking about the customer support side where you have like a Zendesk or whatever software using to fix customer issues or you know, fix the bugs you find. This is figuring out, okay, like now directly you launched it. Are people happy? Are people using it? And then what new features do they want?

How does the customer want you to iterate on your existing product? Which is like an, it seems like a no-brainer when I talk about it, but it's it's almost funny that when I talk to a lot of product owners, how it's, a lot of it's based, based on intuition or, or the loudest voice in the room and not really like, based on data.

I mean, if you have customers, just listen to them and deploy platforms to be able to like get the information in a must as efficient way as possible and then divert it to the product owner so they can help the customer insights, prioritize the features in the roadmap. So that's another thing which you do for example. 

Knowing when to cut your losses

Alex Bond: And I can imagine that a lot of times when people launch product then it is sell, sell, sell put this in people's hands, let's increase the sales of it. We put all this time into developing it so you know, 90% of our efforts should go into selling it, not elevating it, not even like what I'm hearing you say is fixing it, but elevating it and developing it for when that next version or update comes out.

It's twice as good and then people will be even more invested in maybe wanting to buy that version if they're not buying this version because, you know, word of mouth is a very powerful thing. So now kind of moving on to the end game, you work with a lot of products and a lot of different companies.

So how do you know when to cut your losses on a product? So what does that evaluation look like eventually? There's gotta come to a point. Where no one's buying a product anymore, it's not really worth putting out anymore. Does that happen with you guys? Or what does that evaluation process look like?

Karthik Suresh: Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, for me personally, it comes down to usage. It's like, it's not even sales, it's not even revenue. It's basically like, basically like retention, right? For me, the retention is the single biggest driver of product market fit. Are the users coming back to use your product?

Every day or every other day, or every week or every month, if it's like a more of like a CPG kinda a product, you're selling to e-commerce businesses. Like then you, the people are they coming back to buy the product again, again every month? Are they offering people, you know, know, you can look at the reviews, some kind of analogy for the repeated usage, you know, in software products, like if you don't see users coming back and using your product again and again.

Or if you see the users decreasing over time, like basically if you product graph within the last three months, week over week, you see the nu the usage of your product for each user. And if that keeps coming down, if the people start churn and you cannot retain users, that's a clear sign you need to cut your losses.

Acquiring funding

Alex Bond: What I'm hearing you say is you take the financials off the table because it's just a matter of time anyway if people aren't using the product. I think that's a pretty sounds obvious. That's what you said that really resonated with me earlier in this conversation is a lot of this stuff seems obvious, but I think we get so unfocused on doing what we want to do that.

The base stuff that feels really obvious might fall through the cracks. Sometimes acquiring funding is a pretty difficult process that a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with. Some people think that's like a fun part of it. Some people are like, ah, that's the most difficult part. How do you navigate that and what advice do you have for entrepreneurs trying to acquire funding?

Karthik Suresh: Yeah, so again, really depends on the type of the business. A lot of the times I would always encourage people to at least the first phase, bootstrap and build something which they can show that there is value in the market and which is like basically building this mvp, showing it to like 50 users and then getting commits that they would use it if we build out the full product, for example.

I think you need to like do it yourself, and then once you get to that stage, then there's a few options, like especially in the tech world. The obvious thing to do is raise like a friends and family around or an angel round, you know? So basically you go to your boss, go to your professional connections and then see if you can raise a small round, which is just enough to, you know, get your product off the ground and get it into the hands of your persona.

And that's the first step. And then once you do that, then you get like great reviews. You see this, you see this increasing are your product. Then you want to scale usage and that's when you go raise a larger route. But that at that time you have like hard data with you, right? You have a product, you have a bunch of users, you have testimonials, you have case studies, so you have metrics.

You have some kinda willingness to pay idea, and then you have like all these metrics with you, an arm. With that you can go. You know, talk to VCs to raise like a proper you know, venture capital round or any kinda financial financing you wanna do or if you wanna borrow a loan or however you wanna do it. But it's very important that you get to this stage with as efficiently as possible without burning a ton of money.

Because a lot of the times, nine out of 10 times, you might realize, oh, this is not the right product. Or, I wanna pivot. I wanna build something else and it happens again and again and again. And then if you've already taken a lot of money in doing that, then you know nobody's gonna give you a second chance. So that's kinda how, what I would recommend. 

Alex Bond: Sure. And I think that the angel round with friends and family and professionals, people that are already kind of in your network, that's an easy way to take that pressure off. At the same time too, it's not like, this is do or die. I have to, you know, when you're talking, when you get these kind of once in a lifetime opportunities, when you're talking to people like, all right, I have to make this sale essentially, or my product is dead. I think it's a good way to boost that confidence a little bit and kind of take the pressure off of those bigger meetings.

Experience being a Product Manager at Facebook

Alex Bond: So you mentioned earlier that you worked as a PM or or product manager at Facebook. And you actually worked in their reality labs division, if my research is correct, yes. How did that role prepare you for your work at Ignition, and what did you learn from that experience? 

Karthik Suresh: Yeah, I would say like, I think working at larger companies is probably a different kind of a gig compared to starting a company. Obviously, like you, you do learn a lot of lessons, but I wanna say that in a lot of the times, people at large companies who are very successful, who are execs are like, hey, like, you know, I built this amazing product at Facebook. Now I'm gonna build a new startup on my own. And it's not easy, it's not the same thing.

You have so much support and resources. Like when I was Facebook, you know, I had my own design team, my data analytics team, obviously my engineering team, and have all these resources at my hand I could use. And then if I'm building like a startup from scratch, I don't have any of these resources, I need to do everything myself.

Like I need to hustle and do a little bit of a design, write a little bit of sequel, or whatever is required for me to actually do it without a ton of resources. So that's the difference. The things which you learn or things, which I learned is like, I think one thing I would say is like, You know, you basically surrounded by so many smart people and you know, the drive and the ambition and the way you look at problems and problem solving, it's so different.

And then you really like up your game by doing that. And then you're also looking at, the second thing is looking at scale. Like, you know, that you deploy a feature, you know, like a hundred million people will be using it the next day. This is insane to think about it. Like, you know, you know if you're a startup, you're looking to get one person to buy it at the beginning, and there you just like you are deploying something and a hundred million people are gonna be using it the next day.

So the attention to details and amount of experimentation, everything you need to do is so different. And this, that just like really helps you to think more strategically. You know, as we was talking about strategy at the thing where you can't just go and experiment. So it really, you know, sharpens your strategic skills and really exposes you to a smart people and, you know, really helps with your problem solving skills.

And you also develop an intuition around, okay, is this gonna be something which is gonna become bigger? I should not work on this. Especially if you're Facebook, every person has a thousand ideas, even know if you have a 3 billion audience. There's like millions and millions of product ideas you can ship to, you know, kinda event. So you really like sharpen your, like product, product prioritization skills and strategy skills. So yeah, that's I would say those are some of the things I kinda learned. 

Alex Bond
Alex Bond

Meet Alex Bond—a seasoned multimedia producer with experience in television, music, podcasts, music videos, and advertising. Alex is a creative problem solver with a track record of overseeing high-quality media productions. He's a co-founder of the music production company Too Indecent, and he also hosted the podcast "Get in the Herd," which was voted "Best Local Podcast of 2020" by the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia, USA.

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