From the Thingtester: How to Build an Entire Business on Instagram

Published on
May 14th, 2019
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"My plan was that this was very much just going to be a side project to help me learn more."
Thing Testing has a clear mission: it’s a place to discover and learn more about new things that are changing how we live. That “place” happens to be on Instagram, with VC turned professional product tester Jenny Gyllander behind the curtain.
About a year ago, Jenny launched Thing Testing, an Instagram account dedicated to product reviews that help people find their next favorite brand. Brand is the key word here. Jenny’s first review was AirPods, a product made by a brand most of us recognize and use in our own day-to-day.
Flash forward to today. Jenny has grown Thing Testing from a side project to her full-time gig. The Instagram account now has over 25,000 followers. Jenny has also evolved her testing framework, shifting from products she was already using (like AirPods) to brands with a unique story to tell.
We caught up with Jenny to talk about how she plans to monetize Thing Testing, what brick-and-mortar window displays taught her about design, how she handles social media fatigue (hint: it’s with something physical) and why an account dedicated to sandwiches is one of her favorite Instagram influencers.
On her *aha* moment: I had been working in tech for a number years, and when I eventually moved from Helsinki to London I began to try a lot of products that I had read about on Twitter, TechCrunch, etc. It was everything from services to products — things like Amazon Prime, Sofar Sounds, Birchbox and Psycle. I thought, these things are cool and maybe everyone doesn’t know about them (like I didn’t), so I just wanted to write about them somewhere.
First I searched for “Testingthings” on Instagram, but that was taken. “Thing Testing” was available so I got the domain and 24 hours later, the first review was up. My plan was that this was very much just going to be a side project to help me learn more.
On growing her audience: It was extremely manual at the beginning. I just went into Instagram and followed, liked, commented, etc. After a while, the algorithm started to work in my favor, especially because a lot of the brands I was testing had an Instagram presence. I made a follower survey in February and learned that 30 percent of my followers found me through Instagram Explore and about 30-35 percent of folks say they heard about Thing Testing through friends.
At the beginning, I struggled to identify if I was building this more for VCs or for consumers. But what I think is a common trait among VCs and consumers who follow me is curiosity. People tell me that they’ve bought things I’ve reviewed and founders tell me that VCs contact them after being reviewed. It’s great to be a part of that. I’m also so grateful for Hunter Walk for writing that blog post.
On Thing Testing’s aesthetic: I took a gap year to get a visual merchandising degree, which is a one-year program where you learn how to make display windows. I loved it, but this was in 2012 and it was clear that e-commerce was going to eat the world. So we also learned Photoshop and InDesign to learn how to make digital shopping windows. Now I take the photos with an iPhone and do a bit of editing with those tools for the product photography.
On finding new products to test: I still spend 1-2 hours per day browsing Instagram and commenting on things. I think it’s a nice way to discover new brands. These days, I’m also starting to look at who follows me to find new products. And I read about products a lot still. The Time Magazine inventions of the year is like a mecca for me.
On her criteria for testing and reviewing a product: This is something that has 100 percent evolved. If you scroll back to the early products I tested, I reviewed things like Google Home. I wasn’t very strict about reviews — I just wrote about new products I was already trying. Now I have more of a framework because of the sheer amount of different products that launch every day. I look for something unique — whether it be a new material or a specific story — that sets a brand apart in the market. For example, that’s why I reviewed Veja (sustainable sneakers) and Oatly (oat-based milk) more recently.
On her review process: It depends on the product category. Beauty takes a bit of time. I’ve spoken with other beauty reviewers and they’ve said that testing something for 21 days is the golden rule for any given product. Whereas food takes a minute. Clothing can take longer. I’ve been wearing Sheertex stockings for three weeks waiting for them to break. But I always pre-filter products before testing them, so I can make sure that the brand “story” is there before I test and consume things. I also always try to do a call with the founder of a product to get insights directly from the company.
Overall, I probably get 100-200 suggestions of products to try per month. I actually go and test about 20 products per month. I’m aiming to post about two reviews per week now.
On why she posts blank photos: As I started to receive more and more products, I got intimidated by just how much stuff there is in the world. I realized that, on some level, I’m encouraging people to buy more. That’s not really something that resonated with me. So the first “blank” post was just me venting one night. I really believe that we need to make sure we research and read about products before we buy them, and I think Thing Testing fits into that space.
On monetizing Thing Testing: In December, I started to get really overwhelmed. I think I had more emails in my Thing Testing inbox than in my normal inbox. So I decided to take a couple of months to think about if I would want to do Thing Testing full-time and how I would do that. I really didn’t want to charge brands, because I wanted to keep journalistic integrity with my reviews. There wasn’t really a straightforward monetization route. In April, I decided to do this full-time and I started beta testing a Close Friends group. I’m going to use a Patreon-esque model where people can join Thing Testing Close Friends (it’s a $100 lifetime membership), where they’ll get get discount codes to products and see the whole pipeline of products that I’m testing.
On her long-term vision: A lot of people talk about Instagram being the mall of our generation and I buy into that. Company pages are becoming shops, and influencers are becoming the cool girls walking around the mall. I have a vision of Thing Testing being the small lab in the basement where products are being shipped in before they are really in any shops. I want it to be a pre-launch space for brands to be.
On social media fatigue: I think the more you need a certain social platform, the less you use it, and now I put rules around screen time for pure health reasons. One totally crucial thing I use is a best self journal. It has monthly, weekly and daily pages where you write your goals, as well as pages for simply journaling. I have this physical journal everywhere I go. Sometimes closing down and just writing is super helpful for me — especially during moments where I get Instagram mall laboratory-esque ideas.
On other Instagram accounts that inspire her: Gelcream. It’s a beauty review account with a no-ads and only reviews approach. I also follow Matchbook Diaries. Subway Book Review is great and I follow lokokitchen for her pies. The.xandwich is another favorite — any Londoner who loves sandwiches should follow that account. There’s also Fruit Stickers. It’s just fruit stickers.
These accounts are very simple and consistent in their content. For anyone doing work on Instagram, my recommendation is to find the right photography and text style. Then follow that concept all the way to the end.
Comments (2)
welcome to my profile
brands are forced to build a character, or characterize Instagram content, vintage fashion, handcrafted leather goods, homemade food... Your Instagram posts will reflect anything. That is what the public needs, not some clean in, discreet, perfect content like jewelry in a glass cage.