Building A Media Arm from the Ground Up with Thingtesting’s Head of Content Natalie Sportelli

Known as a platform to read trustworthy reviews and discover new brands, Thingtesting is the consumer’s guide to modern retail. We caught up with Thingtesting's Head of Content Natalie Sportelli to learn more about what it takes to build a media arm from the ground up.
March 9, 2022
by
A purple background with the Thingtesting and Tydo logos and white text that says building a media arm

How to Build A Media Arm from the Ground Up with Thingtesting’s Head of Content Natalie Sportelli 

Why are there so many DTC olive oil brands? How are consumer brands entering the Web3 conversation? Does every DTC brand need to focus on building community? What’s the real difference between Parachute, Brooklinen, and Boll & Branch

Thingtesting’s content answers all these questions—and practically any question you might have about the DTC space. 

Known as a platform to read trustworthy reviews and discover new brands, Thingtesting is the consumer’s guide to modern retail. Led by Natalie Sportelli, Thingtesting’s content team is growing rapidly (check out their incredible TikTok). They’re on a mission to become a trusted resource for consumers looking to make more informed purchase decisions. 

We caught up with Natalie to learn more about what it takes to build a media arm from the ground up, how brands can evaluate emerging channels, and why the Thingtesting team is bullish on Thingdrops. 

Thingtesting’s Content Ethos 

At its core, Thingtesting is all about discovery and vetting of new brands.

Content is just one of the ways Thingtesting users can reach that discovery phase, especially through their social channels aka where Thingtesting was born

Ultimately, Thingtesting hopes to be a resource for consumers, who are curious about DTC brands and eager to learn more about what’s going on in the space. 

Most readers fall somewhere between total novices and expert-level DTC nerds. But, what’s the common thread? They’re all naturally curious. They want to discover new trends to watch and brands to follow, and they want to know if what they’re seeing on the internet is actually worth the hype. 

Paired with unique visuals, each content piece helps consumers understand what’s happening in DTC and whether or not they really should buy that adaptogenic drink or better-for-you Nutella brand through honest community reviews. Piece by piece, Thingtesting serves as your friendly guide to the modern retail space. 

“We answer high-level questions that consumers (and our team) are asking. Why are brands sending so many text messages? What’s up with QR codes?” 

The #1 Priority: Community and Audience-driven Content 

Every month, Natalie makes a conscious effort to reach out to the Thingtesting community, understand their curiosities, and ask what kinds of content they seek out. 

She explains, “The guiding force behind Thingtesting’s content is our community.” 

For example, one Thingtesting reader noticed a sudden surge in DTC tea companies and wanted to know why. So, the Thingtesting team listened, explored the topic, and wrote a killer story all about it.

Another great example is a Thingtesting story from early January: “Direct-to-consumer brands dip their toes in the world of NFTs.” 

From research and conversations, Natalie and her team noticed that Thingtesting readers were interested in learning more about the intersection of Web3 and DTC. So, they drafted up a story, and it’s one of Thingtesting’s most popular and shared pieces to date. 

How do they measure the value of community and content? 

Natalie looks at newsletter subscribers and overall engagement. 

Any consumer can join Thingtesting and start writing reviews. But, more engaged community members sign up for the newsletter and actively read and share Thingtesting’s content. 

“I want our community to be involved in the content creation process. We listen as much as possible, instead of saying we know best.” 

Building an All-Star Content Team 

Building a content team from ground zero is 10x more work than starting at level one. 

Based on her own experience, Natalie says that it’s much more effective to look at what’s already in the brand’s arsenal and start there. 

Some key questions to ask: 
  1. What do we have to work with? 
  2. Where is our audience spending the time? 

Instead of diving into brand new channels, focus on what’s already there and make an immediate impact. 

Before joining Thingtesting, Natalie was Director of Brand & Content at Lerer Hippeau. When she joined the team, she immediately saw value in building a newsletter. Lerer Hippeau’s audience lived in the inbox, and she saw an opportunity to take the newsletter to the next level. She focused on building that, and then she launched new channels down the line. 

Early content hires should focus on building the distribution engine. Then, they can expand into new channels. 

“Take what already exists, and make it as high-impact and valuable as possible. Then, amplify it.” 

Leaning into Emerging Channels with a Testing-First Mentality 

More and more DTC brands are making big moves into the content world. But, they all fall into crowded categories, and they’re all fighting for the same SEO

To stand out, brands should ask themselves: 
  1. What’s our unique POV? 
  2. How can we approach content in a way that only we can do? 

After nailing down the brand’s unique voice and perspective, it’s time for the team to decide which channels they’re going to test. 

The question on every brand’s mind: Should we be on every channel? 

Natalie says that approach only makes sense if the brand has the bandwidth to maintain and upkeep those channels. 

Ultimately, DTC brands should only show up in places where they can offer consistent value, not ghost customers. Otherwise, they’ll risk losing a ripe audience. 

She explains, “There’s no rush to show up everywhere at once. Test and see what performs well.” 

It all boils down to testing. That’s exactly what Thingtesting does with their content. For instance, they published a piece on how bootstrapped DTC brands grow on their own that resonated with their target audience. Based on that feedback, Natalie and her team now have a ton of ideas for future articles all around bootstrapping (i.e. how brand founders earned their first check). 

“Testing gets derisked the more you listen to your audience,” she notes.  

“The best way to distribute content is to understand where your audience spends their time. You don’t have to be everywhere at once.” 

Thingdrops 101: Encouraging and Rewarding Community

The hottest product launch at Thingtesting: Thingdrops. It’s their new product testing program exclusively for their reviewer community. 

Every other Tuesday, in their community newsletter run by Community Lead Emma Chozick, newly-launched brands offer their product at a heavily discounted rate, and in exchange, consumers share their reviews and feedback on Thingtesting. 

Brands such as Graza, Rootless, and Dandylion have all participated in recent Thingdrops.

To better understand the hype, Natalie says the Graza Thingdrop sold out in six minutes. 

So, why is the Thingtesting team pumped about Thingdrops? 

From user interviews and research, they know that so many DTC brands want reviews. They want product feedback. They want people to adopt the product. They want UGC. 

And, Thingdrops are the ideal opportunity for just that. 

“It’s a great way to get people to try out your product, especially since it’s so difficult to launch a brand right now.” 

Report Cards

Free

Report Cards is a customized glimpse into your business, delivered to your inbox for free.

Report Cards consolidates all your key metrics across platforms for an at-a-glance pulse of your business.

Discover metrics for every team member so they can stay updated with the right data on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

It's free because we believe everyone should have access to the basics.

Learn more
Base for feature illustration

Portfolio

Portfolio is a hub for analytics across multiple Shopify stores. The perfect tool for agencies.

See an aggregate view of all your data for all your stores in one place.

Make real time assessments on marketing initiatives across every storefront you manage.

Analyze the performance of one store versus another in seconds.

Learn more
Screen 1
Base for feature illustration

Noah Wunsch

Founder & CEO,
Ruby
BOOK PICK
Ramping Your Brand
James F. Richardson, PhD
0:00
2:00
Show transcript
Hide transcript

Paul Voge

Founder & CEO,
Aura Bora
BOOK PICK
High-Hanging Fruit: Build Something Great by Going Where No One Else Will
Mark Rampolla
0:00
2:00
Show transcript
Hide transcript

Andrew Benin

CEO & Cofounder,
Graza
BOOK PICK
Salt Sugar Fat
Michael Moss
0:00
2:00
Show transcript
Hide transcript

Becca Millstein

Cofounder & CEO,
Fish Wife
BOOK PICK
The Secret Life of Groceries Benjamin Lorr
0:00
2:00
Show transcript
Hide transcript

Allie Dempster

Cofounder,
Lupii
BOOK PICK
How to Change Your Mind Michael Pollan
0:00
2:00
Show transcript
Hide transcript

Michael Sharon

Cofounder & CEO,
Taika
BOOK PICK
The Beginning of Infinity
David Deutsch
0:00
2:00
Show transcript
Hide transcript

Michael Wieder

Cofounder, President, & CMO,
LALO
BOOK PICK
The Checklist Manifesto
Atul Gawande
0:00
2:00
Show transcript
Hide transcript

Stefany Nieto

Cofounder,
Mojo Microdose
BOOK PICK
The Immortality Key
Brian Muraresku
0:00
2:00
Show transcript
Hide transcript

Cattie Khoury

BOOK PICK
Extreme Ownership
Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
0:00
2:00
Show transcript
Hide transcript

Alex Onsager

Cofounder & CEO,
Character
BOOK PICK
Competing Against Luck Clayton Christensen
0:00
2:00
Show transcript
Hide transcript

Steph Hon

Founder & CEO,
Cadence
BOOK PICK
Open
Andre Agassi
0:00
2:00
Show transcript
Hide transcript

Katina Mountanos

Founder & CEO,
Kosterina
BOOK PICK
Pour Your Heart Into It
Howard Schultz
0:00
2:00
Show transcript
Hide transcript

Dee Charlemagne

Cofounder,
AVEC
BOOK PICK
Shoe Dog
Phil Knight
0:00
2:00
Show transcript
Hide transcript

Cristina Ros Blankfein

Cofounder,
Swoon
BOOK PICK
Shoe Dog
Phil Knight
0:00
2:00
Show transcript
Hide transcript

Peiman Raf

Cofounder & CEO,
Madhappy
BOOK PICK
Shoe Dog
Phil Knight
0:00
2:00
Show transcript
Hide transcript

Libie Motchan

Cofounder,
Fulton
BOOK PICK
Burn Rate
Andy Dunn
0:00
2:00
Show transcript
Hide transcript

Chris Meade

Cofounder,
Crossnet
BOOK PICK
Double Your Profits
Bob Fifer
0:00
2:00
Show transcript
Hide transcript

Maggy Nyamumbo

Founder,
Kahawa 1893
BOOK PICK
The Big Brand Lie
Eddie Yoon, Nicolas Cole, Christopher Lochhead
0:00
2:00
Show transcript
Hide transcript

David Phan

Founder,
Huppy
BOOK PICK
The Slight Edge
Jeff Olson
0:00
2:00
Show transcript
Hide transcript

Cole Pearsall

Cofounder & Chief Sales Officer,
Acid League
BOOK PICK
Business Stripped Bare Richard Branson
0:00
2:00
Show transcript
Hide transcript

David Fudge

Cofounder & CEO,
Aplos
BOOK PICK
The Big Leap
Gay Hendricks
0:00
2:00
Show transcript
Hide transcript

More about the project

Here at Tydo, we try to highlight DTC founders who run their business in various ways. And, that's because there's no "right" way to run a DTC brand.

This project illustrates exactly that. Whether it's how a founder supports their team or how they talk about mental health in the workplace, every founder has a different approach. How do they discover these different approaches? One way: reading. Discover the greatest books that have changed the way 15+ founders think about or operate their business.

You can also listen to these book picks on Spotify or Anchor.fm.

Brandon Amoroso

Founder & President,
Electriq
GIFT PICK
AM to PM Set
by Brooklinen
For the friend who has everything (or when I have no idea what else to get!) this Brooklinen candle set is my go-to gift. It has a classic look, and each scent gives off a homey, exceptionally cozy vibe—perfect for the winter months.

Juliana Casale

Head of Brand and Community,
Wonderment
GIFT PICK
Desert Planter
by Jungalow
A lot of my friends either have a ton of indoor plants, or aspire to be the kind of person who has tons of indoor plants. Jungalow has a nice little selection of live plants in their online store, and they sell super cute planters like this one to house them in. Instantly add ambiance to any party you attend!

Tom Shea

Cofounder,
Adgile
GIFT PICK
Long Jambys
by Jambys
I try not to show up to a dinner party empty-handed. I love bringing “performance inactivewear”—better known as Jambys!  After a night spent entertaining, every host needs time to sit back, relax, and reset. And, what better way to do that than in a pair of super soft, Jamby joggers?!

Rhian Beutler

CEO/Founder,
Govalo
GIFT PICK
The Mini Essentials
by Brightland
Brightland's capsule sets are one of my favorite things to gift a party host. This set does it all—perfect for a charcuterie board or a drizzle on a crusty loaf of bread. It comes in a beautifully designed gift box that makes you feel like you are giving a gift that everyone can enjoy together and use even after the party is over!

Mike De Santis

Direct of Biz Ops,
Doris Dev
GIFT PICK
Humidifier
by Canopy
With winter right around the corner, you have to make sure your loved ones and friends don't dry out! When the heat comes on, the Canopy Humidifier helps to provide humidity in your home! Plus, the built-in aroma diffuser is a great alternative to candles!

Yair Slasky

Business Operations,
Fondue
GIFT PICK
Sampler Pack
by Olipop
You can never go wrong with Olipop—the soda that tastes good and is good for you! Same-day delivery makes for a perfect last-minute gift! I'll be stocking up on a few Sampler Packs this holiday season.

Robi O’Cleirigh

Marketing Manager,
Relo
GIFT PICK
The Classics Box
by Bad Brownie
Whilst I’ve never needed a party as an excuse to chow down on these bad boys, they’re the perfect gift for your host! Easy to share, and a real crowd pleaser, Bad Brownies are a great go-to, holiday sweet treat.

Arjun Jolly

COO/Cofounder,
adQuadrant
GIFT PICK
Sandwich Thins
by Outer Aisle
A healthy and allergy-conscious addition to any dinner, these delicious cauliflower sandwich thins are a top-notch alternative to bread (gluten free and sugar free). They’ll be a fan favorite at the dinner table.

Never miss an update from Tydo

Thank you! Be on the lookout for updates.
Hmm, something when wrong

Zack Elias

Director, Partnerships,
Plobal Apps
GIFT PICK
Open House Bundle
by Life in Lilac
The name says it all—Open House. This is my go-to gift for anyone hosting during the holidays (and a bottle of wine, of course)! Open House is a clean, crisp scent perfect for every day. If fresh laundry isn’t your vibe and you prefer woodsy/smoky notes, Life in Lilac has plenty of A+ scent options.

Nik Sharma

GIFT PICK
Matcha Variety Pack
by Chamberlain Coffee
No one says no to a good cup of caffeine in the morning. In fact, if there was a way to inject caffeine in my veins, I'd be open to testing that. But, the issue with most caffeine is there's always a crash! The crash sucks... you feel tired and unfocused, you just wanna take a break. This is where matcha comes in... but for those who don't want JUST the taste of green soil, Chamberlain Coffee created the perfect flavored matcha. Emma personally worked on these blends, so you know they taste amazing and just as good (if not better) than they look.

Jessica Grossman

Founder/CEO,
In Social
GIFT PICK
Best Seller Bundle
by Three Ships
Who doesn't want the gift of better and brighter skin? Our friends at Three Ships Beauty are the leaders in natural skincare that actually works! Starting with the bestseller bundle helps giftees discover which products (if not all!) work best for their skin.

Kate Cassidy

Partner Marketing Manager,
Tydo
GIFT PICK
Drizzle & Sizzle
by Graza
I love showing up to a party with a practical gift the host can and will actually use. Graza's Sizzle and Drizzle squeezable olive oil set is a welcome addition to any kitchen—plus, they fit perfectly in a wine bottle sized gift bag.

Marcus Ohanesian

Partners Manager,
Trellis
GIFT PICK
Lastra Holiday Mug
by Vietri
This hand-painted Italian stoneware mug is a great gift for any hot cocoa or coffee drinker! If you want to go the extra mile, include a bag of coffee beans or hot chocolate mix.

Phillip Jackson

Cofounder,
Future Commerce
GIFT PICK
Tile Mat
by Letterfolk
I’ve waxed poetic about Pattern Brands over the last few years—and I’ve quickly fallen for one of their newest brand acquisitions. The Letterfolk Tile Mat is a unique gift for any host. It looks on point in any home. Plus, it’s endless fun to customize!

Maier Bianchi

Founder,
Bemeir
GIFT PICK
Haitian Moringa: Hair, Skin, & Nails Vitamins
by Kreyól Essence
Haitian Moringa vitamins are a versatile gift with multiple uses and beneficial health properties. I love giving the Pineapple Rhum Punch flavor! Introducing items from diverse cultures, especially ones from black-owned businesses that deserve recognition, brings me joy.

Never miss an update from Tydo

Thank you! Be on the lookout for updates.
Hmm, something when wrong