Angel Investing in Jenny Gyllander and Thingtesting
Long time follower, first time investor
Thingtesting is building the go-to destination on the internet for consumers to discover and learn about new online brands. Founded by Jenny Gyllander as an Instagram account in 2018, last week Thingtesting joined the portfolio of Forerunner Ventures with a $2M Seed round— poetically, the source of inspiration for some of Jenny’s very first brand reviews. Read about Forerunner’s investment from Partner Nicole Johnson here. I joined this round as an angel investor.
TL;DR: To keep this Thingtesting appropriate I’ve written this piece in Jenny’s signature style: (Part 1) The Story (how I met Jenny and ultimately made an angel investment); (Part 2) The Product (why I’m excited about the co).
(1) The Story: Finding Thingtesting
As both a venture capitalist and angel investor, I’m often asked how I meet founders and ultimately invest.
The reality is that no two stories are the same. In the spirit of providing more transparent resources around a topic — and in particular, around angel investment deal-sourcing — I thought I’d share this one.
I would also note that despite following Jenny and her work for some time, I only recently joined her journey. You can read about some of her earliest supporters here, who helped transform Jenny’s side hustle into a full-time reality (shoutout to Shakil Khan, Harry Stebbings, Hunter Walk, amongst others!).
I first met Jenny Gyllander in 2019 when she was working in venture capital and emailed me about a company she had featured on an Instagram account called “Thingtesting”. The idea of a visual space for reviewing new consumer brands was compelling to me. Like Jenny at the time, I was an investor closely following the consumer space and was finding it hard to keep track of all the new online product launches. I had never seen a dedicated platform to find unbiased consumer feedback.
I was struck by how beautiful it was. Its cleanly shot images and minimal aesthetic matched that of the pastel-hued products it was reviewing. The only part of the account that wasn’t minimalist was the comments section where early customers, design enthusiasts, marketeers, and lurking VCs (amongst others) gathered to fawn over brand launches and opine upon their fates. The whole experience reminded me a bit of a pre-Glossier intothegloss — except that Jenny also included a “VC perspective” for each product, touching on things like the company’s funding, total addressable market, and business model.
“People are confused right now by the sheer amount of products launching,” Gyllander said. “I want Thingtesting to be a filter for people to consume better … It’s a role department stores used to have back in the day, but nobody has really filled that role in the online world.” — Gyllander, talking to TechCrunch in 2019
In May 2019, Jenny announced that she had quit her VC job to work on Thingtesting full-time, raising a pre-seed round of investment.
“TL;DR: I’ve decided to jump and take Thingtesting from a side-project to my full-time gig. If you want to support me on the journey; here’s how you can become a Thingtesting Close Friend. You will get access to behind-the-scenes content, events, exclusive deals and receive my endless gratitude 💕.
My goal? To help you discover your next favourite brand.” — Gyllander writing about her move below.
Thingtester by day
TL;DR: I’ve decided to jump and take Thingtesting from a side-project to my full-time gig. Here’s how you can support…
It seemed clear to me that Jenny’s next chapter was going to be something special as she began transforming the platform from side-hustle to full-time reality. I continued to read her newsletter, regularly sending it (along with the IG and the website) to industry insiders, fellow investors, or founders who were launching a consumer brand.
What felt powerful was that Thingtesting carried a slightly different value for each user group — be it monitoring trends, checking out potential competition, or simply window shopping as you might once have done in your favourite department store (hint: check out the “👀” lucky dip brand feature on the website). As an investor, each time I was sent a new CPG startup I’d immediately check if it was on Thingtesting — and if it wasn’t, I’d wonder why.
April — December 2020
In April 2020 after sending one particular issue of Thingtesting’s newsletter to around five people (including a New York Times journalist!) I realised that a proper conversation with Jenny was long overdue. I replied to the newsletter, congratulating her on the edition and asking her if we could catch up.
When working in venture capital, there are certain founder calls that totally shift your way of thinking about a product or industry — and most importantly, confirm that the person you’re speaking with is the individual to do it. That conversation with Jenny was one of those calls.
It was clear throughout our chat that Jenny was building Thingtesting in an incredibly thoughtful way, from how she was hypothesising and testing product, evolving her monetisation strategy, structuring her team and constantly pushing the bounds of what the platform might achieve. We compared notes on the state of the direct-to-consumer sector, the evolution of the consumer purchase journey, and how COVID was refocusing customers’ priorities around trust. We talked about finding a model that scaled and the role of user-generated content relative to curated editorial. I left the call feeling energised and inspired by Jenny’s genuine passion, clarity of thought, and ability to execute.
Over the following months Jenny and I continued to chat as she began to prepare for raising a new round of investment, reviewing her seed deck and drawing up a list of target funds. Although Thingtesting had never really fit within Sweet Capital’s remit (read about our b2c mobile focused portfolio here!) I knew that I’d love to support Jenny personally.
When Jenny messaged me to say that she had signed the termsheet with Forerunner I was delighted, remembering just how much Forerunner’s portfolio had helped inspire Jenny’s initial brand sourcing. To use Jenny’s own words: it felt like “coming home”.
(2) The Product: A few reasons why I’m excited about Thingtesting
- The discovery process for new online brands is broken. The market has been inundated with online-only product launches but lack a single home from which customers can discover them. Put another way: Thingtesting is bringing window shopping back to the internet.
- The customer purchase journey has moved online, and while transparency is becoming more important to consumers, there is no destination helping consumers navigate this landscape in an unbiased way. In the first half of 2020 US ecommerce grew as much as it had in the previous ten years. As the primary means of shopping has moved online — expedited, but not initiated by COVID — customers have been forced to navigate misinformation, fake ads and opaque ‘influencer’ marketing. Thingtesting was founded with one core question in mind: “Has anyone tested this? The brands looked stunning in my Instagram feed, but are they actually “better”? Thingtesting helps customers filter out the noise and make informed purchase decisions. As Gyllander explained toTechCrunch in 2019: “It’s a role department stores used to have back in the day, but nobody has really filled that role in the online world.”
- It’s not just for customers: The entire ecosystem benefits from a scalable platform for independent, honest dialogue. As I realised in Thingtesting’s earliest days, conversations on the platform carry significant value for industry insiders, marketeers and most importantly — the brands themselves. This is going to be a really fun product journey and one that I know Jenny and the team are approaching in a transformational way.
- Hot off the press: Have you seen their team? Along with Forerunner’s funding announcement, Jenny unveiled some incredible new hires, including Natalie Sportelli, ex-Lerer Hippeau & Forbes who joins as Head of Content. Interested in learning more? Find the job posts right here.
Learn about Thingtesting’s mission to build the go-to destination on the internet for consumers to discover and learn about new online brands: https://thingtesting.com/about
And one last thanks again to @harrystebbings for inviting Jenny Gyllander to our 2018 Holiday Party!