This week on Product Marketing Life we’re joined by Derek Osgood, CEO and Founder of Ignition, the up and coming game-changing go-to-market tool, set to change GTM for PMMs everywhere. Derek shares his career journey to date, his drive to become a CEO, the value his PMM skills have proven to be, top tips for go-to-market as well as up and coming PMMs, and more.

Full transcript:

Mark Assini  0:04

Hi, everyone and welcome to the Product Marketing Life podcast brought to you by the Product Marketing Alliance. My name's Mark Assini, Product Marketing Manager at Voices. As part of this series, we're connecting with PMMs all over the world about various product marketing topics.

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Today's guest is Derek Osgood, Founder, and CEO of Ignition. A former director-level product marketer at Rippling, BBVA, and various other Bay Area high-growth startups, Derek has now set his sights on launching his own company.

This new venture, Ignition, hopes to solve a problem a lot of product marketers face regularly. That's having to coordinate, collaborate on, and execute a go-to-market plan across various platforms, tools, and stakeholders.

With Ignition, product marketers can create bigger, more impactful go-to-market plans and communicate them internally with the first dedicated platform for go-to-market planning. In other words, Ignition is designed to be your mission control for go to market.

Alright, with that out of the way, let's get into it. Hey Derek, thanks so much for joining me today.

Derek Osgood  1:30

Yeah, thanks for having me, excited to jam on this.

Mark Assini  1:33

Likewise. I know you and I connected a while back about Ignition and you had some exciting things to show me in kind of a rough beta. I'm excited to see that things have progressed quite well and you're getting ready for full launch from what I understand?

Derek Osgood  1:45

Yeah, we're getting close. We're starting to roll early beta customers on probably in the next week or so. So it’s good timing.

Mark Assini  1:53

That's awesome. Yeah, incredibly good timing. So we'll get right into it and I've got a couple of questions for you, as always, and we'll just dive right in.

Derek Osgood  1:59

Cool. Sounds good.

Mark Assini  2:01

All right. So like I said, obviously, I know a little bit about you from previous conversations. But if you wouldn't mind, could you give our listeners a little bit more information about you, your product marketing journey, and how it led you to where you are today at Ignition?

Derek Osgood  2:12

Yeah, no problem. The TLDR on me is that I kind of started my career in entertainment, launching a bunch of big triple-A games as a PM at PlayStation. That role looked a lot like product marketing, it was titled product management but really, it was closer to traditional brand management from CVG, where it was very marketing heavy, but did have end-to-end P&L responsibility.

I've basically been in and around venture-backed startups pretty much ever since. I ran marketing and product marketing for a bunch of early-stage startups in every possible vertical you can imagine from messaging to payments to field service management.

Then I did some corporate innovation stuff, running marketing across a whole portfolio of companies in BBVA's FinTech innovation arm launching and scaling companies that we've either incubated or acquired. Which again, had a very product marketing heavy slant to it, because we were trying to get out of the gate, establish initial positioning and messaging and what the story was for these, and sell that both internally and externally.

Most recently, I was one of the first couple of dozen folks at Rippling, set up the product marketing function there, and helped them go from zero to $20 million in ARR. So I've kind of straddled a bunch of stuff from product marketing to growth to product management. But interestingly, a big part of why I got into product marketing in the first place was the desire to long term be a CEO.

I actually felt like, when I was even back in college, product marketing is probably the best possible function to learn how to become a great strategist because more so than pretty much any other role, it just sits at the center of everything. So you see how all of the moving parts within a company come together from product strategy to UX and design to growth and sales.

So product marketing was kind of like a gateway drug for me to start my own company. So to give back to the role that shaped who I am today, I decided to make my company one that serves product marketers.

Mark Assini 4:13

That's amazing. I think you're maybe the first guest I've had on the show, or at least even product marketer I've heard on any podcast, describe it as a gateway drug to anything. Kudos to that analogy, I like that a lot.

I'm sure a lot of our listeners who are product marketers, and maybe one-day aspiring entrepreneurs themselves are going to be happy to hear you say that product marketing more so than many other functions was that next jumping-off point into, like you said, running your own business. Cool.

So on that topic of obviously, you've got a wealth of experience as a product marketer, and in that world of executing all the different elements of a go-to-market plan, positioning and messaging, as you said earlier, now that you yourself are a founder, what would you say are some of the differences between launching a product as a product marketing manager versus a CEO and founder of your own business, what are some of those differences? Or maybe even similarities?

Derek Osgood 5:07

Man, I mean, they're both just so messy, but for different reasons. I think probably the biggest difference as a CEO has just been that it's such a cold start. You don't have all of the infrastructure and existing audience and communication channels in place that you do as a more mature company. So it's just a lot trickier to actually do these big splashy launches.

But honestly, though, I think a lot of early-stage founders, at the very outset of their company, put too much emphasis on having a big, quote-unquote, launch. I think the much, much, much more important part of launching stuff as a CEO is doing all the hard product marketing work. It's figuring out positioning and messaging, and getting that to work so that when you are talking, and when you do launch, you have a really resonant story that's speaking to the right audience.

At Ignition, for example, we aren't really doing a big launch until much further down the road, we're spending a lot of time right now nailing down the way that we talk to customers and acquiring them in much more of a one on one hand to hand combat fashion. But I think as a PMM, you have all these existing communication channels, and you have early customers as advocates so you would think that it would be really easy.

But the reality is, you have so many more moving parts and internal stakeholders to wrangle, that it actually becomes much, much harder. I actually think launching as the CEO has been easier. When you're a PMM you have to context switch between all these different frameworks and tools, and one minute, you're thinking about crafting positioning, and the next minute, you're relearning how to set up conjoint surveys for pricing research.

It's just really hard when you're also juggling all the executional balls involved in getting a product across the finish line. It's even hard just getting the right info to the right people because nobody wants to read your big 10 page launch documents, you have to do all these personalized status updates, to re-explain for the 100th time that your positioning statement is not copy.

So I actually think product marketing has been harder than the early-stage CEO launch.

Mark Assini  7:15

Well, there you go. That's the insight for our listeners, all you've got to do is be your own boss, and everything becomes a lot easier, apparently. I appreciate you sharing that because there are two things you said that I really wanted to touch on quickly.

I loved your analogy around this idea of it being a cold start as a CEO. I'm sure much like cold starting an engine, there might be a few kickbacks, maybe you're struggling to get up to speed but once it gets going and humming, things are running smoothly, things are a little bit warmer, you've got that real high efficiency, smooth-sounding engine.

I'm sure that's something that a lot of CEOs are familiar with, but also just any product marketer who's looking to start up their own product marketing function, or that first-time product marketing hire. We'll chat a little bit more about that in a couple of minutes here.

But the other thing that I thought you said that was really interesting, is the flexibility that being a CEO and founder gives you around, not necessarily making that huge immediate big splash right away. I think you're right, I'm sure a lot of other founders and CEOs who are so super excited about their project finally getting out, they want to make this big bang, and they want to get the rest of the market and their customers and employees excited about it.

But from the way you're explaining it, it sounds like maybe your colleagues might even appreciate the fact that it's a little bit quieter of a start because you don't have this crazy, hectic rush to this artificially set deadline. You're giving yourself the time to breathe and to try things out and to learn and make a real conscious decision on when you're actually ready to go loud as it were.

I'm sure a lot of other product marketers listening think, "Oh, I wish my boss took that approach".

Derek Osgood  8:41

Yeah, totally. I mean it's much, much more impactful if you just know that you have built something that people actually want. And you know that you're talking about it in a way that people understand so that when you do actually go out and launch, you can actually turn whatever momentum you create there into actual customers.

I couldn't tell you how many founders I've talked to who hit number one on Product Hunt and they're like, "Yeah, we got zero customers out of that." It's because they either just haven't built enough product yet or the audience wasn't right or they just didn't figure out their story enough to actually convert those people down funnel.

Mark Assini  9:18

Yeah, it's amazing what just taking a breath and pausing will do for you and figuring all that stuff out before, like you said, getting number one on Product Hunt is great, but you kind of really only have one chance of doing that and blowing your chance and you have nothing to show for it, maybe you didn't make the right call. I appreciate you sharing that.

Alright, so like you were talking about kind of setting up a PMM function, as someone who obviously has a lot of experience doing that, where would you suggest that whole process even begin?

Derek Osgood  9:47

Yeah, I think so many first-time, first product marketing hires in companies they are so eager to get into the work that they just jump into starting to do the work. I think the step that they all skip, which is really important is actually just getting alignment on definitions.

It's very important to first understand how other folks in the org actually perceive product marketing and its role and level set on what their understanding of what we mean when we talk about positioning or go to market is. Because chances are they think it means something different than you do.

They may have never worked with a good product marketer, or they may have worked with somebody who had the title of product marketing, but wasn't really a product marketer, it was a growth person who got shoved into the role. So their understanding is very often, wildly different. You have to get that out of their heads and then you can start to say, "Hey, actually, here's the way that I view product marketing's role in this. And the reason that it looks like this is because it allows me to do X, Y, Z for your team".

I think that part's like, super, super important. Because you just need to tie your definition of product marketing back to the value that it's going to create for your cross-functional teammates because otherwise you just come off as this annoying houseguest who's trying to invite yourself into all these strategic decisions that those people already feel ownership over.

You have to go slice by slice and just start carving out these parts of the role gradually by proving the value that you add for these teammates first.

Mark Assini  11:21

I think you're 100% right. You mentioned two things there I think a lot of other product marketers have probably felt is this experience of being the first hire or one of the first few hires in the function, and you hear people throw out terms like, "go to market", or "positioning", and to your point, copy interchangeably, and not really understanding the differences.

As a product marketer, you hear that and you cringe like, "Oh, that's just not what those things mean". But you have to give those people time and credit because if you haven't done the exercise of defining that for them or working through their process of defining, you can't expect people who don't come from a product marketing background to understand that.

I think like you said, in the same way that product marketers spend so much time positioning the company and the product and solution, you kind of need to start positioning product marketing first, internally, before you should even consider doing those other positioning exercises.

Derek Osgood  12:14

Yeah, so many marketers need to get better at marketing marketing.

Mark Assini  12:18

Yeah, exactly. It's a practice we take for granted, right? We just kind of live and breathe that stuff so you just expect everybody should get it, it's marketing. But it really is like an onion, there are lots of layers to it.

Derek Osgood  12:34

Yep. Yep.

Mark Assini  12:35

Cool. So for any of our listeners who are looking to start the function themselves, what should their initial hiring focus be?

Derek Osgood  12:45

I think especially when you're early on, and this relates to what we were just talking about, I think the biggest thing that I look for in product marketers, is product marketers who really understand that the scope of their role is basically infinite, and have sharp enough elbows to be able to advocate for that cross-functionally.

Because especially early on, like we just said, the hardest part is actually getting your hands into all the different parts of the pie that you need to have them in, in order to actually be effective at the job. I want people who come in, and they're like, "Well, product marketing's primary functions to own positioning. But positioning is not just what we say, it's the sum of many, many parts.

And so in order to shape positioning, I need to go impact pricing and product roadmaps and messaging and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah". I think if they don't have that holistic approach, you really run the risk of product marketing turning into just a really expensive copywriting team.

Mark Assini  13:44

Definitely. It's something that I think, again, a lot of product marketers are familiar with,  the joke that I like to use that I've heard used often is, you get hired, and you're ready to launch your first product or feature and the immediate ask is, "Okay, well, what's the blog post gonna look like?" It's like, you didn't hire me to just write blog posts, you hired me to do a lot more than that.

You're right, for those people looking for those first hires it's like, how can you play those roles and those relationships, to get yourselves in those conversations? To not necessarily take over and own those decisions, but at least play an influencing role in part of them to help expand your reach and grow your influence.

Derek Osgood  14:21

Yeah, I like to joke that product marketing owns everything, but it also owns nothing. You need to be involved in pretty much every decision but the problem is, you aren't actually the end owner in any of them so you have to wrestle out the involvement from everybody.

Mark Assini  14:40

Yeah, it's an incredibly unique and challenging thing to navigate at times. In terms of the more general focus, what should product marketers rolling out the function set their sights on in terms of where do we start, and what do we focus on from day one sort of thing?

Derek Osgood  14:57

Yeah, I think early on, obviously, you still need to get wins on the board in terms of copywriting, people are gonna have infinite asks around "you need to just create this piece of content". But really, you need to find the space to start with research. I think as a product marketer, your goal in months one and two should really be to surface one or two key insights that can be acted on quickly and create real immediate business impact.

That gets everybody internally more excited about thinking about PMM as a more strategic function. A great example of this, I was at a company called Flexi, which was a mobile keyboard app developer for iOS. I realized about a month in that we had 40% of our users coming from the UK, but they were retaining really poorly. So I jumped on the phone with a couple of them after surfacing that on our analytics stack and basically found out that it was because we didn't have a UK English option.

So our autocorrection wasn't changing words like color to the 'ou' spelling that the UK uses. Surfacing that one insight involved about a 24-hour engineering change, it was super fast, super easy for us to implement, and gave us an overnight 50% boost in retention.

Before that insight, I'd been feeling all this pressure to keep getting bogged down in all the tactical execution, and all the promotional channels that we needed to support. But after that one learning, I suddenly had so much freedom and encouragement from the leadership team to really focus on higher-level company strategy.

It's different in every company where that insight is gonna come from but you need to have some gut instinct about what it's going to be, go out and find some supporting evidence, and then start to present that because that's where you start to get buy-in from everybody across the company.

Mark Assini  16:43

Yeah, I love that example. I think you hit on something that I think oftentimes product marketers because we're tasked to do so much at the early stages, we forget. It's just like if you see something in the data, or even if you just have a hunch of something, hop on the phone and talk to your customers, go to the source, ask them the questions.

I think your example illustrates the power of exactly that. We so often just want to "Let's let's start an email thread. Let's get in a meeting. And let's figure this out internally". It's like, well, no, maybe we save everybody all this time and we just call the customer and ask them, maybe it's just that simple. You're right, sometimes coming to those insights is exactly that - simple, if you just take the right approach.

Derek Osgood  17:20

Yeah, you ask two questions and all of a sudden, you have this groundbreaking insight that totally changes the entire basis of the company's metrics.

Mark Assini  17:29

Exactly. And the alternative to that is you have three, four-hour meetings about this one metric that doesn't seem to be performing. And everybody across all these different departments has a different opinion as to why that might be the case. It's like, well, let's just ask the customer, I'm sure they know better than we do. Cool.

We talked a lot already about starting up this PMM function from scratch, and what the focus should be for first hires. But in addition to having a wealth of experience in that area, as you talked about earlier, you have a lot of experience going to market and that has translated itself into what you're doing here at Ignition.

Before we get into that, what would you say is the most important element of establishing a go-to-market function? Beyond just the PMM function, if you drill down more specifically in go to market, what does that look like for you?

Derek Osgood  18:17

Yeah, honestly, I think it's just getting a repeatable process in place. Everybody comes at launches thinking that their launch is some special snowflake and so they end up reinventing the wheel every single time it's time to bring something new to the market, which just takes so much time.

It basically means that you end up skipping launching stuff because you just don't have the mental bandwidth to think through everything from scratch again when you have all this other stuff flying around. So if you put a structured process in place for tiering the level of planning rigor and promotional support that different launches get, and then for cascading all the procedural tasks involved, you can really focus on just executing and also that ends up focusing your and the company's energy and effort on the more micro product level go to market launches that are really going to best support your macro company level go to market strategy.

That's a really important problem that most companies get wrong is they treat every launch as equally important, and there's some that are really going to impact your long term positioning in the market, whereas some of them are just going to be important to four or five of your users that had some feature request. So it's important to differentiate those two things.

Mark Assini  19:35

I'm glad you brought that up and full disclosure to our listeners, like I said earlier, Derek and I had a chance to chat prior to even talking about having Derek on the show and it was about Ignition. And you can really see Derek's experience come to life through the product because that problem he just identified of having this repeatable process in place, Ignition does exactly that, right?

It helps you build those templates and those tiered approaches to go to market so that you don't have to reinvent the wheel all the time and start from scratch with every single launch. Derek's obviously very close to getting Ignition in the hands of very, very talented and excited product marketers.

But as someone who's seen a very early version of it, I'm sure it's gonna help solve a lot of those problems and I'm excited about it. I'm sure others will be too. If having that lack of a template is a problem you're facing, then sit tight, and Ignition will be there soon.

Derek Osgood  20:34

Appreciate the plug.

Mark Assini  20:36

Happy to. So if we look back at this go-to-market, what would you say is one of the most challenging parts of go-to-market for product marketing teams who are just starting out? Or maybe just like in the early days, but are tasked with bringing something to market very early on?

Derek Osgood  20:55

I think this ties into the last answer a little bit where it's really balancing what the right fidelity of planning is. There's so much stuff flying around, that it's hard to actually do the work well in some of the more like labor-intensive areas, like pricing research for a new product. So it's easy to just say, "Oh, we're gonna skip that, and we'll come back and do the pricing research again, later".

So teams end up skipping these important steps, just because it's too hard and because there are so many frameworks to keep in your head, you have to relearn how to do these things every time you do them. Because you're not doing pricing research every month, you're doing it maybe once a quarter so you kind of just forget the process. I still forget how to do conjoint from time to time.

I think this goes back to the idea of just having a rapidly repeatable process in place, you need to find ways as much as possible, whether that's through a tool or a process, or just having cross-functional support from other teams, you need to find ways to offload some of the cognitive load and effort to still enable you to get those important strategy steps done, even when you're on a really fast planning cycle.

I'll plug Ignition once more here, we're trying to build those workflows for you so that you can actually just breeze through stuff like structuring pricing studies, and then you can focus on instead spending the time on the analysis part of it, getting to the right answer.

I think it's really just finding ways to build a process and set of frameworks that allow you to think about some of these hairier planning problems, without actually getting tripped up on them and turning what should be a three-week planning cycle into a three-month planning cycle.

Mark Assini  22:45

You hit the nail on the head when it comes to, and you said this earlier, product marketers being tasked with so much all the time, you're right, you might get asked to do an analysis of your pricing and take another critical look at it but you're not doing that all the time. So when you have to then go back in and do it, as you said, you're almost starting from scratch.

You have to go find the previous research, or you have to go remember how you approached it last time and what worked, what didn't work. For product marketing teams looking to start up a go-to-market function, in the early days, having those things and those processes nailed down and repeatable quickly, is gonna save them a huge amount of time and cause a lot fewer headaches I'm sure.

Here's my last question on all things go-to-market. We often talk about the customers being obviously one of if not the most important consumers of the executable end product of that go-to-market plan. But what would you say is another important audience of that plan? How would your approach to that audience need to change in terms of the overall communication style?

Derek Osgood  23:58

Honestly, your internal teammates are probably actually a more important audience than your customers when it comes to a launch and the message that you're trying to get across. Your customer success team effectively communicating a new product is going to be a hell of a lot more impactful than that MailChimp announcement email that you send out that half of your customers probably don't even read.

And the ones that do, they're like, "Oh, yeah, you're just marketing at me". When your customer success team really understands the product deeply, they can explain that thing one on one, give that customer a much more clear sense of how it fits into their life, and so making sure those cross-functional teammates are enabled is so much more important than just nailing the customer-facing messaging.

I think the biggest challenge teams have is that they just really under optimize for making that internal communication consumable. I think you really need to put a lot of like care into personalizing status updates so people understand them and so they focus on the right information and don't get just like their eyes roll into the back of their head, reading the whole launch plan doc.

Because even though it's easier for you as a product marketer to just share the Google Doc and say "Here's the whole thing, you can find the information if you want", that doesn't mean that you should, because you wouldn't do that to a customer, right? You wouldn't send a customer "Hey, here's every piece of information about this product", you focus on the important part so they can consume it and digest it really quickly.

This is another thing I'm gonna plug Ignition on, among other things, we're trying to make it really easy to super easily spit out personalized status updates to cross-functional teammates that just have the parts of the plan that are really relevant to them. I think you really need to spend extra time making sure that your internal teammates are not only going to receive the information that they need but also that they can digest it and consume it and focus on it properly.

Mark Assini  25:53

I love that answer. And this is one of those moments where I'm glad the podcast here is an audio-only podcast. Because as Derek was giving his answer, I could actually physically feel and see myself start to sweat because I've definitely been guilty of, "Well, let's just send the entire company the communications and launch plan, and they'll read it when they have a chance."

It's like, well, yeah, that may be the easier thing to do but to Derek's point, if you're not personalizing and customizing that approach and that message and highlighting what's important for them, no one's going to read it.

One of those reminders, I think, for me, and I'm sure for many others is exactly that. You wouldn't just blast all your customers with one generic message if you knew you could cater it to different segments or personas, you would be more critical about that and you should do that with your own internal audience as well. A good reminder for myself and for our listeners as well. I'm sure.

Derek Osgood  26:44

I'm guilty of it, too. So it's not just you.

Mark Assini  26:47

That makes me feel a little better. I'm sure there's a lot of us out there who are just as equally guilty. Well, this has been great, Derek, I really appreciate a lot of your insights and sharing with me and our listeners, your experiences about starting up the product marketing function, as well as being an expert in this area of go-to-market.

But before we wrap up my last question, and it's one I ask all the guests on the show, and that is what advice or tips would you have for people looking to get into or build their career in product marketing?

Derek Osgood  27:17

I think one is read a lot, go read Positioning, go read Obviously Awesome, go read Made to Stick, craft your storytelling and positioning skills above all else. Also, go join Product Marketing Alliance, I think all the content there is equally incredible.

I think also, it's really important to find a mentor. When I say find a mentor, I think it's really easy to go out and look for another product marketer, but I think really early young product marketers should try and get as close to a CMO who can teach you about the pure product marketing skillsets, like positioning, but also about all the other marketing sub-disciplines, because they're so interrelated to what we do.

And we have to really have an understanding more so than almost any other team, about how all these things fit together. I attribute a lot of my success as a product marketer and my learning to being able to work really closely with an absurdly great CMO, Terrence Sweeney, early in my career. It gave me such a more well-rounded understanding of the function than I would have had if I had just lived in product marketing land forever.

So yeah, as much as you can, find somebody that you can attach yourself to whether they're in your company or outside of your company, who can really help you round out your skillset, beyond just the core traditional product marketing stuff.

Mark Assini  28:37

Yeah, I think that's fantastic advice. And I have even seen in the PMA Slack community, a lot of non-product marketers join because they are looking to connect with product marketers to understand the discipline more. And there are people who are coming from broader backgrounds across the marketing function.

So if you're looking for a mentor that's not necessarily product marketing focused, join the PMA Slack community, send some feelers out, I'm sure you'll get some responses. And just to demonstrate the power of the community itself, that's how Derek and I met. Derek sent a message out to the community looking for some feedback on Ignition and his pitch seemed pretty interesting, I took him up on the offer.

Not only was I really impressed with Ignition as a solution to a lot of problems product marketers face during go to market, but just having that immediate connection with Derek ended up with me ultimately asking him to be a guest on the show, which he thankfully for me accepted and that's kind of where we are today.

So if you're not actively in that community, I strongly encourage you to be, and even if it's just to send an occasional message to people, take advantage of it while you can because it is really powerful.

Derek Osgood  29:39

Yeah, I mean a skill you need to learn as a product marketer, lean on other product marketers, everybody's got the same problems and I think Product Marketing Alliance is such an incredible, useful community for that.

Mark Assini  29:51

Couldn't agree more. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for chatting with me Derek. Every time we chat, even though it's only been a handful of times I really enjoy getting to hear you talk a little bit more about what you're doing with Ignition and more about your background because I think you've got such a wealth of experience not just in starting up product marketing and go to market but on all things product marketing and you launching your own business.

So if anybody wants to reach out to you to learn more about your background, your experiences, maybe tap you as a mentor, or even just learn more about Ignition, where can they go? How can they get in touch with you?

Derek Osgood  30:23

Yeah dude I loved jamming with you today. This was great. Yeah, I'd love to hear from everybody out there. My email is my Twitter's @OzBad03 and you can also sign up for beta access at Ignition we're starting to roll early folks on at

Mark Assini  30:43

Right on, awesome. If you haven't already, go check it out. And again, thank you so much, Derek, for your time today. I know I enjoyed it, I'm sure our listeners did as well.

Derek Osgood  30:52

Yeah, likewise. Really had a fun time.

Mark Assini  30:55