Citizen Femme describes itself as a global community of passionate female writers, speaking out to a community of passionate female travellers. The travel guide covers 30 cities across the globe, from tourist hot spots to lesser known alcoves. It provides honest, unbiased travel tips from women with first hand experience. I spoke to founder Sheena Bhattessa to discover more.
How did you come up with the idea for Citizen Femme?
A love for travel is the obvious answer but the idea came from a trip I did with several friends to Istanbul. We stayed in the W Hotel and there were so many elements which just didn’t suit my friends and I as female travellers. I thought, “Where would I stay if I came again? Who would I ask? Who would know what would suit me?”
There are many blogs, magazines, websites, tripadvisor (!) but is there a go-to that can give me advise like I’m talking to a friend who “gets me”, knows what I’m looking for, wants attainable luxury and can give me tips like a local. The definition of “luxury” has changed, and for so many, it means “your time”. When you take time out to go on an experience, you need each and every time to be memorable.
Citizen Femme was born. The idea of attainable luxury tips from your best friend, who knows what you mean, when you explain what you want!
Had you had any business experience before this?
I am mainly an actress, I do a lot of TV and Theatre in London and across the pond and that takes a lot of my time. I travel through this, I explore and always meet incredible people, and tell the story of inspiring people. I am also an entrepreneur at heart. I started a PR company a few years back and I love the idea of telling stories, this comes across in everything I do!
How many writers do you have working on CF?
CF doesn’t have full time writers, but we have 36 brilliant contributors (always growing) who are from completely different backgrounds. This is not only geographical, but also based on their professions: from people working in politics to media, finance to chefs, full time mothers to designers. The common thread is that everyone is a lover of travel. I think these varying backgrounds brings a lot of authenticity to the content; as an insider guide from each writer’s location, to curating content that meets the genuine needs of travellers.
What are CF’s income streams and how did your fundraise for the business?
I have funded the entire project myself. We look for partnerships that benefit the brands as well as the Citizen Femme reader and bring ideas to our audiences. Travel is now a lifestyle – there is such a big crossover with fashion, beauty, accessories and so much more. CF has a team of excellent writers and tastemakers and we curate partnerships and content that brings brands and travel stories together, with editorial, social media, video content. Anything is possible. Our income streams are based on telling this story, instead of straight advertising.
What are the challenges with running a company like CF?
There are no challenges that are insurmountable. Time is always a big challenge, there is always so much to do. But when you are excited about a project, it’s a challenge you are happy to accept. The biggest challenge of any digital platform is driving monthly views. I’m very happy that the readership is really engaged and the goal is just driving this!
And what are the rewards?
Everyone that approaches Citizen Femme is excited about the brand and they can see the growth and developments, that makes the challenge worthwhile. Its funny how other people’s recognition gives you the reward, but its true! As an actress, it’s the applause at the end of a performance. As the founder of Citizen Femme, a seal of approval by readers, audiences and people you respect makes you realise what you are doing is giving people enjoyment, that’s the reward in itself.
What future plans do you have for expanding your vision?
Lots of things, but this develops everyday when a new idea pops into my head! I have to be careful about curating the ideas that make the most sense and are the best use of time. I always want to do it all. But that’s not possible. Right now the focus is to grow Citizen Femme as a platform, a product range, and to use this platform as a voice of the next generation of traveller. Lets see where it goes. Watch this space!
What does a typical work day look like for you?
It is not typical, that’s for sure! The only consistent thing in my day is that it starts with a coffee and ginger shot. I love reading the articles and interviews that get sent to me – it makes me want to travel and meet people more than I am able to! I will work on CF developments across content, partnerships and I conduct a lot of interviews. Recently, I met with Megan Hess who is a phenomenal illustrator collaborating with brands like Chanel, Dior, Cartier, Montblanc and Tiffany & Co. Another day, I will be on set filming, or rehearsing a play or reading a script. Its good to mix it up!
What is your advice to solo female travellers?
Explore and have fun! Meet fellow travellers on your journey, these make for great long-term friends because you are both in a place of adventure and curiosity at the same time. On a more serious note – Trust your gut; we do in life, so do it more in your travels. If you are in new territories where you are unfamiliar, and something doesn’t seem right, avoid it. Use common sense and be aware all the time. Dress appropriately for wherever you travel and always walk around with confidence. There are some great female travel community Facebook groups. It’s incredible to see how helpful and engaged they are. Join these and there will always be someone out there to help if you ever need it.
Where is your favourite place in the world and why?
Italy! The people, the food, the wine. And it’s utterly romantic. I’m a sucker for romance. And home in London. I’m incredibly close to my family and I don’t go for long periods of time away from them!
I’m yet to come across somewhere I don’t like at all, but if I have to answer, a hospital in any country. Only then you know something went wrong on your travels.
What’s been your biggest achievement in life thus far?
Putting my mind to something and making it happen. If I have a dream, I won’t tire until it comes true. That is my biggest achievement and I hope always will be.
And biggest failure?
Not realising some things earlier on and getting side tracked. But everything happens in its own time. So its not so much a failure, just discovering and making things happen and enjoying them when they do.
What’s been the funniest moment of your career?
I can’t think of anything in business, usually it’s a lesson and not something I’ve laughed at. I’ve fallen flat on my face on stage, that was pretty funny/embarrassing.
What do you think the advantages and setbacks are for a female founder in the startup space?
The world is abundant with stories of the glass ceilings and male dominated industries, but the start up space is significant for small business and female entrepreneurs. Women are competitive in the right way, and make great directors and managers, but also understand the importance of collaboration. This is great in the startup space. Tenacity, intuition, collaboration – key skills that women have and give them advantage as a startup.
Setbacks are only the fact that it is still a male-dominated space, but with confidence, a good idea and knowledge behind it, it shouldn’t be a set back. I have a friend working in a fast rising new property company, she went in as entry level marketing and within weeks, they promoted her to head the department, because she was THAT good. In meetings, she would speak her opinion (the only female in the room). Her male colleagues suggested she not speak in meetings and share ideas outside the room with them first. Of course, she declined this! She spoke with confidence, intelligence and validity and there you have it!
Other than this, balance in life if you want or have a family. Its something I am thinking through, figuring out the balance that I have to learn, that will come through the support network of my partner, family and friends. Overall, the world is so open to entrepreneurs now, male and female. If you have a good idea, you have a good idea.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Make sure you have a stellar idea, once you create something that will help people in some way, run with it. There are many ideas out there, but if someone asks me, is it a good idea? I will ask them, does it help someone make life easier or add value to them? If so, go with it. Be thick skinned. And don’t don’t don’t give up. Work hard now, and enjoy later.
Did you have a mentor or people you asked for advice?
I always ask people for advice and opinions, anyone, everyone! This is imperative. Sometimes your head is so far into a project, you can’t see the wood from the trees. Only through other people’s experiences and opinions can you grow and make something that people will enjoy. My parents in particular. To be honest, they don’t ever say, “Really, is that a good idea?” But, “Great! Go for it!” I guess its that support that pushes me to keep going.
Who are your role models?
Everyone I interview, everyone I meet. I have a close circle of friends and when we meet, I will listen to their stories and experiences, and they are all my role models. Yes I will look to greatly successful people and see their career paths. But everyone has their own, in their own time. As long as everyone I meet inspires me, they are my role model because it is these people who spur me on to go bigger and better.
How has what you do, changed you as a person?
It’s made me more balanced. I work hard, then when I take time out, I do. Before I would just do lots of stuff, all the time, with a thousand tabs open on my computer and my to do list, and always get very distracted. I also use my time more effectively and have become more balanced. I read much more and listen to podcasts. Its soothing, and clears your mind.
How do you like to take time out for yourself and stay healthy and active?
I love movies and going to the theatre (although I will often go with actors and this makes you watch things very differently!) I love to exercise, running, boxing and yoga, and will exercise 4/5 times a week. It is complete sanity for me.
What are the top 5 books and blogs on your reading list?
Now I have learned to put my phone and computer away, and spend an hour in the evening reading, its wonderful! I have a pile of books that I am trying to get through. Top 5 here are:
Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss
Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin
I love Lena Dunham’s blog: http://www.lennyletter.com/
If you could do any other job, aside from what you do now, what would it be?
Absolutely nothing. I love what I do. I will only develop this further as I want to explore filmmaking. And soon enough, use everything I have learnt and built to work and speak with the UN for gender equality, empowerment and education. I’m big on reading, education and a voice for creativity and freedom of speech, without this there is no growth.
Do you have any unconventional words of advice?
Don’t be afraid to be “too”, too bold, too emotional, too straightforward, too whatever. Fitting in is no fun, don’t do that. Stand out.
What is your motto?
Find something you enjoy and get someone to pay you for it.
If money and time were no object, what would be on your to-do and to-see list?
Exploring South America, all of it!
Take months out of building everything I want, and spend time in India to build schools and teach children. Education is everything. I would spend time doing this.