Slope Interview Series: Karine Hsu, Slope Agency

Karine Hsu, Slope Agency

For people that don’t know you, talk briefly about your background. What inspired you and your co-founders to start Slope?

I grew up in Palo Alto, so I was always surrounded by tech. After my first year at Harvard, I wound up taking a year off to work for an ed tech company; that experience got me super excited about working in tech and about entrepreneurship generally. When I went back to school, I became super involved with launching Dorm Room Fund in Boston. And over the rest of my college career I found myself always working on a project or starting something new. After graduation I went to work in fintech.

In terms of starting Slope, I actually stumbled into it after I’d left my previous job. I had been doing some consulting and marketing on the side, and I realized that many branding and design agencies aren’t flexible. They tend to just provide one-size-fits-all solutions for their clients. As a former founder, I knew that model doesn’t truly help startups; I realized I wanted to provide a service for other founders that would be useful, flexible, and that would really add value in terms of marketing, branding, and design. 

Slope prides itself on being “for founders, by founders.” Talk about what that means and how it differentiates Slope from other agencies.

Very few people in the agency world have ever started a venture-backed company—especially people who work at newer sorts of agencies. There’s a unique mindset that you possess when you’re a founder. At Slope we’re not just a service-provider; we see our clients as partners, and we help them solve strategic problems around marketing, branding, and facilitating growth. We’re all about helping founders make things that people want to use, as opposed to just giving them cookie-cutter processes for, say, optimizing Facebook ads or writing high-performing website copy.

In August 2020, Slope acquired Abacus Growth, a digital marketing agency with distinct expertise in TikTok. Talk about what doubling down on TikTok has meant for Slope.

Jeffrey and I had known Phil for a while, and we knew about the great work his team was doing at Abacus. We'd worked with Abacus on Octi’s TikTok marketing, and we saw an insane amount of growth (Octi rose from unranked to top 30 in the App Store). After that, we realized we wanted to keep working together! Abacus was one of the premier marketing agencies in the TikTok world, and their work aligned exactly with how Slope wanted to grow as an agency. TikTok seemed like a great channel for us to own and leverage, so acquiring Abacus was a great move.

What’s the biggest challenge you and your cofounders have encountered while growing and scaling Slope?

One of our biggest challenges has been making sure we hire the right people.

That’s definitely a common answer for most startups, but it’s also unique for us because, as a full service agency, we want to hire people that don’t necessarily fit into one singular category. In other words, we want people who aren’t just designers or marketers; we want people who can move between and contribute to all sides of the agency. That means we’re looking for people who are generally young and in-tune with what’s up and coming in marketing and design.

We’re also constantly improving our processes—we’re always evaluating what works, what doesn’t, and how we can continue streamlining our agency.

Slope works with a broad range of companies—from e-commerce to tech to DTC companies. Talk about some of your favorite types of projects/clients.

I really love the fact that we work with both startups and also big companies. Personally I love food and beverage, so I’ve really enjoyed working with companies in that space who are more experimental in their marketing. New CPG products like Nuggs, MudWtr, Function of Beauty, etc. are all in that space, and we've really enjoyed working with them. We also work with different fintech companies who are leveraging TikTok marketing in super interesting ways. 

On the design side, I’ve loved how branding continues to become more important, especially for tech startups.

The traditional mindset—launch an MVP as soon as possible—is starting to shift. With the rise of API’s and other backend tools, it’s much easier to launch a tech product or platform. That means that, now, it’s basically just a competition for attention; you need a quality brand story with a compelling “why.”

As tech startups realize this shift, they're putting more effort and resources into brand, tone of voice, and copy prior to launch.

What are you most excited about as we move into 2021? 

I’m super excited about continuing to work with all our clients and continuing to expand our team! We’ve got a great core group, a great company culture, and I'm excited to keep growing and serving our clients!

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