I turned my passion project Thingtesting into my full time job & built an Instagram brand with 25k+ followers – Jenny Gyllander πŸ‘‹Featured

I’m the founder of Thingtesting. Thingtesting started as my side-project next to my daytime job at Backed VC, but its mission has always been the same; to discover and learn more about young emerging brands. I’m also the former CMO of Slush, a tech event committed to building a global community of the next generation of entrepreneurs.I’d love to answer questions about community building, creating and growing a consumer brand from scratch, breaking into VC, or making your side hustle your main hustle.
Thanks so much for joining us, Jenny!Jenny will pop online to answer your questions on Thursday May 16th, so please share your questions for her before then.
I have a questions surrounding building a community. Why did you decide that Instagram was the best place to start? How were you able to transform your community into something that could be monetized?
Hi Soyo! When I started Thingtesting it was a side-project next to my work at a VC seed fund. Back then (a year ago) I didn't really think about what this will become long-term, I really just wanted a place to vent my thoughts on startups and brands. I remember thinking Twitter wasn't visual enough (I wanted to show the products I wrote about), and actually, as I was getting to know the direct-to-consumer scene I realised that many companies in that space actually start out with an Instagram page, not much else. So being close to where the companies, and products were made sense - therefore Instagram :) That would be my advice for anyone else - build where your core customer/audience is. I get a ton of positive feedback for being on Instagram, it makes it easy for people to follow along.Right now Thingtesting is powered by an Instagram Close Friends group. It's a $100 lifelong membership that gives you access to more content, discounts and event invites. I'm so so grateful for superfans converting to Thingtesting Close Friends, because that enables me to keep the feed adfree for now :)
Have been a longterm Thingtesting lover and have really enjoyed watching it grow.Something I've really struggled with is breaking beyond my network to grow both my social media accounts for SLOWE as well as the newsletter. I'm wondering if you have any tips for breaking out of your bubble to reach the people who might love your product the most?
Hi Ro! I know you are a follower, thank you - hi here too! :) πŸ‘‹I think it's important to think about content as a product-market fit just as you'd do with a product (maybe it should be called content-channel fit πŸ€”.. sorry thinking out loud here). With that I mean that in the beginning it's not always about growth, but about getting the right people onboard and building strong relationships with them. I think when the right people get excited they bring on their friends who most likely share the same interests too.
Such insightful advice on the content-channel fit. :) I love the term, by the way. Thank you for being here and sharing your wisdom, Jenny!
Amen to that. I *love* the term @jenny -- (and hey! my company is on IG, we love Thing Testing) πŸ‘‹
Hi Jenny! You rock! As someone in the medical field, I rarely get to meet awesome women out in the β€œreal world.” I’m about to incorporate my medtech startup (but I’m waiting until I graduate from residency next month so the university I train under has absolutely no claim to my IP). I will be based out of SF and am starting to put out all sorts of feelers re: recruiting and fundraising. My questions are:1) How do you break into VC (ie what is a concrete step I can take to start making meetings happen)?2) What are common questions that investors have for medtech companies?Thanks so much and ROCK ON,Quinn
I would also like to know how you were able to get into VC. Is there a particular skill/qualification that you need to have honed?Also on another note- what's the best way to approach them (VCs) just to get an understanding as to whether a start up idea (wellbeing service) is a good one in terms of ROI or to pitch?
I agree with DrQuinn and DrJulz - tips for getting into VC. Although, I'm already an "operator" in CPG startups. I'm curious not only breaking into VC for the investment, but getting to work with amazing entrepreneurs and helping their vision come to life. So to that end, it would be VC, Accelerators, Incubators, etc.
Hi friends! I wrote a reply on breaking into VC to abenaanim's question below :) Hope that's helpful! x
Just want to start off by saying that you are awesome and your work with ThingsTesting is inspiring! I just signed up for the Close Friends list and I'm looking forward to all the content that you will share! I am very interested in building brands and upcoming d2c companies and would like to transition into brand strategy. Do you have any tips or resources on how to strengthen a toolkit of helping companies build good brands? Additionally, with the uptick of venture capital firms investing in d2c companies, I am eager to jump into the world of VC. what are three pieces of advices that you have to anyone wanting to break into the mountain that is the world of VC with little or no investing experience ?
Hi Abena! Thank you so much for signing up for Thingtesting Close Friends - I so much appreciate it and hope you will enjoy the content and atmosphere there :)On brand building; How you communicate your strategy, be it through visuals, text, vision, product, values, packaging, anything - I think that is all brand strategy. It's everything and needs to start at the core of the company, be authentic and communicated consistently across everything you do. I think that the simpler, the more efficient :) I recently came across an Instagram page that I really like with bite-sized content; @howbrandsarebuilt . I don't know who's behind it, but really enjoy it.You often hear that VCs ended up working in the industry by accident. In my opinion I think it has to do with that the most important skill for a VC is to be curious. Before going into investing, they got curious about something, went down the rabbit-hole, became experts and that turned into a skill helpful to the VC job (like an interest in a specific industry, a network, a geography). I think building an area of expertise and an edge around something specific is a big benefit when looking to move into the industry. In my case I wrote my master thesis on Venture Capital firm brands, and it happened to be an intersection of skills that wasn't too common, and so my role was a hybrid of those two; brand and VC. :)
Thank you so much for your detailed response- I really appreciate it! A quick followup questions would be what three books that have helped shaped your career in the wonderful world of venture?
AMAZING! Congrats. I just followed you on Insta, and look forward to seeing your "things".
Thanks a lot Melissa :) Hope you enjoy the content!
Thanks for joining us. I have two questions for you:1) what has been your biggest challenge since working on Thingtesting, and 2) what do you find most rewarding?
Hi Elaine! Thanks for asking :)1) The biggest challenge so far was the decision to jump from side-project and to full-time. It was scary because it wasn't planned. I have student debt, I've never run a company myself before, and couldn't see any instant way to monetise it without losing credibility as an independent reviewer. I went through months of thinking not only about how to monetise, but also, did I want to turn a hobby and side-project into my full-time thing. I'm very glad I jumped now :)2) Learning. Always. Sometimes it's a small thing (yesterday I learned how to set up automated mailchimps lol it felt incredible when it worked), sometimes it's a big thing (like how to solve for productivity and focus). I'm very lucky that a big part of what I do today is learning and reading about new products and the companies building them, interviewing the founders and investors etc.
Hi Jenny. Loved your instagaram and your mission to discover and learn about young brand. Thanks for taking time to doing AMA. I started my baby food product about 6 months ago and i am now trying to identify influencers on instagram, youtube and other channels for marketing. What tips do you suggest young brands like me, while picking and choosing the right influencer apart from them being in the same target audience as my customers.
Hi there! Thank you so much!I don't monetise like an influencer myself (ie I don't charge for reviews/publicity/partnerships) so I might not be the right person to ask... but one thing I've noticed is that long-term partnerships work a lot better for many content creators I've talked with than short-term stunts. You really want to make it easy on the creators side - ie. send it to people who've said they've had the problem you are solving, let them make whatever content they want in whatever channel they want. You never know when a smaller influencer suddenly one day has more followers, and your early work and friendship pays off :) As soon as I started talking more openly about my own values (for example trying to find zero-waste products), some brands reached out and it was a perfect match for me. Also - make the pitch on DM very short and targeted; I can't even imagine how many DMs people with large followings get. Make it clear what the benefit of your product is to exactly that person. Hope that's helpful!
I run an ed-tech startup and we have to drive the community of students to sign-up. Can you please give some tips? Also, would love to know the lesser-known tips to build an Instagram (brand) community. Here is the link to my startup: 😊
What are three practical things startups like ours can do immediately to capture our audience on social media platforms?
I'm curious about how do you measure the quality of your audience on instagram? I've been running my account @leadershipandwomen for a couple of years now and have been getting some followers steadily. But sometimes I struggle to rationalize the effort because it often seems like what generates engagement (Silly, funny, musical, celebrity stuff) doesn't necessarily generate purchase actions so most of the time it feels like I'm chasing likes. Thanks in advance!
1) I'm curious about the role email marketing plays in your community building strategy. Is it still valuable? Do more of your conversions come from here, etc?2) I've always heard "profitability over popularity" when it comes to building a social following - so I'm also curious if you have the same philosophy and/or what %age of your following is estimated as actual customers (or potential)? How do you set your Instagram goals?
1) What did your audience growth look like over time? 2) Around how much time/week were you spending on growing your audience and developing your content, until it became your main hustle? At what point did you make that switch? 3) Did you have any hesitations or blocks in getting started, specifically around Instagram as a platform? If so, how did you break through those?