We all have a wanderlust soul hidden within us. Some of us are lucky enough to discover that side and experience the unknown pleasures of exploring. TheCityStory.com is one such platform that captures the essence of places (currently Mumbai and London), and lets you relive their experiences through their chronicles. This website acts as a friend, taking you around and showing you hidden gems of the cities.
Get to know more about how they started and what it takes to sustain. In conversation with the two Co-founders of The City Story, Juhi Pande and Shivani Shah.
What was the inspiration behind starting The City Story?
Juhi: We want to make cities familiar; that’s really the long and short of it. Cities are full of amazing stories and incredible people, and the moment we have access to these stories we feel at home. We focus on every neighborhood, nook and corner of the city and publish stories that makes the city come to life. These stories are for travelers and residents alike.
Shivani: Juhi approached me in March last year with this idea she had for a website; it didn’t even have a name then. She explained that she wanted to create a site that featured the little-known places in Bombay and London, to tell the stories of these cities to help people understand them intimately. I love a good story, and I think there are infinite stories to tell about what makes our cities thrive. So, I told her without hesitation that I’d love to work on this together.
Tell us about the working dynamics of The City Story.
Juhi: We’re a very small team – three to be exact. Shivani (managing editor), Genesia (contributing editor) and me. I don’t even know what my designation is. But really, these titles are superficial because everyone does everything. From proofreading and editing, to commissioning writers, and to coming up with new ideas for the site, to tech maintenance and to incessant amounts of admin work – it’s all done by the three of us. What works in our favor is that we’re friends and we really like each other; so, there’s great synergy. I live in London and the rest of the team is in Bombay, so the work hours are unconventional to say the least.
Shivani: Juhi is in London and I’m in Bombay, so there are a lot of WhatsApp calls, emails, and very unorthodox working hours! I’m up before her and sending emails, so she starts working very early in her day when she wakes up to my dozens of emails. On the flip side, while I may not necessarily be at my desk late at night, we’re constantly communicating via text/calls even after hours because for me it’s still her working day. We, along with the third member of our team, Genesia Alves – handle bits of everything: editorial, photography, social media, WordPress, design, administrative, legal, and the business.
What is your take on the power of new-age content marketing?
Juhi: I’m not sure I have a very strong take just yet. It’s very nascent and its sort of all over the place right now; but it’s clear that digital publication is the way forward. That said, there is so much choice and noise on the internet currently that it can get confusing for consumers/readers. There’s information being flung at us at ridiculous speeds, and attention spans are reducing year by year. Consistency in content is key. Well-written, and engaging content over time is sure to last longer and reach a wider audience; therein lies the power, and we at City Story are strong believers in that.
Shivani: The internet has enabled us to reach audiences we could never have dreamed of. As much as I love print campaigns, digital is the way forward simply because of the potential reach. From social media marketing to brand partnerships, there are so many ways to get your brand out there. We’re a young site and still growing both in terms of content and our marketing plans. We’ve come a long way since our launch, but we’re just getting started.
How do you plan social media and digital campaigns to build brand awareness?
Juhi: Our social media handles reflect our website’s values; we post our stories, images sent by readers, videos made by our friends or film-makers who have reached out to us. Our central theme is travel and exploration so mostly everything revolves around that. Having said that, if there was any way for us to include cat videos and memes, I know I’d jump at that opportunity but would have to deal with a team mutiny.
Shivani: We’re particular about the tone of our social media and digital campaigns, because we want them to reflect The City Story’s values – high-quality content for a discerning audience. We have the most fun with Instagram, where we break apart from Bombay and London often to feature travel elsewhere. Our audience loves to travel and discover places, and the power of a beautiful photograph can take you a long way.
Tell us about your USP and business model.
Juhi: Instead of giving our audience top 10 lists, we present them with stories – short and long – written by locals about their neighborhoods. Reading The City Story is like having a friend take you around their favorite pockets of the city. We pin every story on a map, so the reader can navigate to stories in their hood or where they want to explore. You end up knowing names of people (shopkeepers, bartenders, entrepreneurs, bakers, yoga teachers, artists) their little stories, what times are best for visiting, what’s the spiciest thing on the menu, is the teacher grumpy, and all sorts of anecdotes that make you feel familiar. That’s our USP.
What social media platform has helped you get maximum footfall?
Juhi: Facebook. Though their algorithms are driving us all a bit mental.
Shivani: Definitely Facebook. Our Instagram account has great engagement, but the lack of live links on Instagram makes it harder to direct traffic to the site. Twitter is a tough nut to crack but our numbers are steadily increasing and we’re extremely happy with the retweets/likes/impressions. But in terms of traffic, Facebook has directed the most traffic to the site.
What are your future plans with The City Story?
Juhi: Many plans, many schemes, many more cities but first we want to dive deeper into London and Mumbai. Both these cities are kaleidoscopes – constantly changing, constantly churning new stories. We’re a very young publication and we’ve just about dug our heels in, so we’ll dive a little deeper and let you know when we kick off another city.
Shivani: So many plans! There are so many stories to tell in cities all over the world, but we’re still scratching the surface with Bombay and London. We would like to add more cities to the list – I won’t say when we’ve exhausted Bombay and London, because I don’t believe you can, but some day. Right now, we’re enjoying exploring our own cities