160. Elif Tanverdi of Cizenbayan on Being Yourself & Why Interaction Beats Analytics

Elif Tanverdi of CizenbayanOwner and blogger of cizenbayan, Elif Tanverdi has over 5 years experience dreaming, listening, creating, experiencing and sharing the moments that define her life.

What is the story behind cizenbayan? cizenbayan translates to “the lady who draws.” My inspiration came from Madame Tricote (“the lady who knits” translated from French; Orenbayan in Turkish) because at the beginning of cizenbayan in 2012 I was drawing all of my projects. I never could have imagined that it would become my life, my job. Thinking more long-term for this project I might have chosen a different name, but cizenbayan is catchy and at this point it’s impossible to change.

In 2010 I was staying up late drawing and tweeting funny links and thoughts under the twitter handle @cizenbayan as a fun break for me during my studies and interships. Later to my suprise the number of people following my work began growing very quickly!

I was loving this "thinking & sharing” thing, so a few months later I officially launched the cizenbayan blog about my travels, the music I loved, relationships, and my life in general. I also began uploading photos to Instagram and I was amazed that little by little I began getting invitations to galas, openings, parties and later on brands started approaching me about promoting their stuff.

I quit my job to focus on my final project for graduation, and when I graduated I had the summer ahead of me and I was faced with an important decision: Use my degree to find a job in architecture or focus full-time on cizenbayan and see what it could become.

After a few interviews and some live television shows, more and more brands began approaching me, I decided to dive in and turn my full attention to CizenBayan. Even today after nearly 4 years I am still not sure if it’s a sustainable business model but I still love the experience, all the possibilities that this project has brought me, all the places I have gone, all the people I have gotten to meet and most preciously not having to work “9 to 5.”

Elif Tanverdi of CizenBayan on Instagram

Do you manage CizenBayan by yourself? Yes. I manage it full-time and by myself and it’s a lot of work! I’m always busy going to clubs with my suitcase, catching a flight the next morning to some destination and catching up on my sleep during the flight. I can say that I work 24/7.

But I’m not like Essena O’Neall, the Australian girl who quit social media because she was miserable. I’m genuinely happy. I don’t live with photographers around me. I do not try to create scenes from a life that I’m not actually living. I never spend more than 2 mins on a photoshoot if I’m eating at a restaurant with a friend etc.

Yes I love taking pictures of my food if it’s served really nice and I really mock myself when I do that but I’m sure I’m not disturbing anyone because I’m not climbing up on my chair or letting my food get cold or anything. I try not to be antisocial, and I would feel really awkward and I’m really shy and honestly I don’t even like my photos being taken.

I’m living an amazing life! And whether I’m having lunch at a restaurant, watching a band perform, or travelling, I live by the same principle: When the moment hits me I stop to thank the universe for it by taking a moment to capture it in a photo, and later I find an adequate caption for it and post it. At the beginning of a live gig I snap a few photos with my mirrorless camera and then put it away and just enjoy the show and the moment.

I do not post or share something inspirational if I’m not enjoying it. What I have to do is to live. I live, try to capture the best memories of my life, and share them.

I see cizenbayan as a brand, So when I’m not travelling I:

  • Answer e-mails (I answer every email I receive)
  • Manage my agenda
  • Go to meetings
  • Send budget proposals
  • Go to my yoga classes
  • Write my blog
  • Write for magazines and platforms I work for, such as for Canim Istanbul and Yoga Journal Turkey
  • Take photographs and post some stuff on instagram / twitter / facebook / my blog etc.
  • Attend events, exhibitions, gallery openings, all kinds of launches, parties, festivals, gigs, dinner parties…
  • Dj and host events
  • Give speeches at universities

Who is your target demographic?Even though running CizenBayan is my full-time job I don’t really approach it like a traditional business; CizenBayan isn’t a mainstream portal aimed at giving EVERYONE what they want, it’s a niche boutique where image & quality content for a few.

I don’t track analytics so I cannot tell you precisely about my target demographic, traffic volume, click-through rates etc., Instead, I understand my audience through our interactions on social media. That is enough for me.

I receive emails, comments & likes from guys & girls alike, and I’m am often recognized by guys & girls on the street. But I do find that girls between the ages of 15-22 are writing me the most emails, asking me questions about my education, my travels, my life and expressing their adoration. I think those girls are the ones who are the more passionate/intense followers and so they get in touch with me. I also know that there are a lot of like-minded people who follow me.

I have lived in Berlin & Santiago de Chile, and currently I live in Istanbul, so I guess a lot of people who follow me are from Turkish, English, German & Spanish speaking countries. Most of my followers speak Turkish, which is most of my content is in Turkish, but I do post articles in English, German and Spanish. And when I travel I often get messages from local people who follow me and who offer to meet and hang out.

What are a few important Cizenbayan moments that made you so famous? One of them was being on live television: on a late night show hosted by one of the most influential men on television in Turkey. Other than that there are some projects I’m really proud of with some really important international brands, but I’m not sure that they brought me ‘the’ recognition.

It’s also worth mentioning that cizenbayan is in no way the most famous blog in Turkey. There is for example Buse Terim, a fashion blogger who’s father is a really famous guy in Turkey and this girl (and her team) have over a million followers on Instagram. I don’t compare myself to that. That’s more mainstream, whereas I’m more boutique.

As of this interview you have 132k instagram, 11k facebook, and 69k twitter followers. Do you spend money in advertising or do you grow through word of mouth? I have grown almost exclusively through my content, retweets, likes, suggested pages, television and magazine interviews and features, and through the projects and works I’ve collaborated with. One example of this was during the anti-government protesting in Turkey in 2013 when one of my tweets was picked up by Mashable.

I did once try facebook ads out of curiosity, but I didn’t feel as though it connected me with the right audience. I have an official cizenbayan Facebook page, but I have found that my personal facebook profile gives me more sincere interactions. So other than that one time I’ve never spent a penny on advertising, neither for Instagram nor for Twitter.

Does each social media platforms attract a different ‘type’ of person? Do you create content unique for each social media platform? Absolutely! Each platform attracts different people and therefore I create totally different content for each platform.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in my interview with Data Consultant Thomas Palugan that as soon as you have a facebook fan page, you have to handle important issues like:

  • “What is my community management style?”
  • “What is my conversation calendar?“
  • "What is the real value for the consumer of becoming a new fan?”
  • “How can I distinguish between fans who are merely fans and fans who are also buyers and owners of my product, service, or royalty program?”

Also, it’s really difficult to have a consolidated view of your market. If you’re a brand and you have 20 platforms, it’s not impossible, but it’s difficult to have a consumer-centric view. It’s also very important NOT to have a vertical strategy for each social media platform, but to link them all together. If you’re going to have that many platforms, you’re going to need an approach to help you organize all your data into one easy-to-read location so you can collect and analyse the data from the different social media platforms.]

What is the future for cizenbayan? I’m not really a planner; I’m a believer and a dreamer. Being able to make a living with cizenbayan wasn’t planned, and to be honest I couldn’t have imagined having a job like this. I still can’t believe it, it’s crazy!

So I guess I’ll just keep on doing what I’m doing the best: living, sharing & inspiring.

I’m not sure how instagram, Twitter and blogs will evolve, and what new social media platforms will emerge, and I definitely don’t even know if I’ll stay popular, but I’m confident that I have good know-how, experience, taste, original ideas, creativity and inspiration, so I’m not worried about the future. I would like to write a book, which I’ll force myself to write in 2016, and maybe I’ll run a business or do consulting. Who knows. I’m open to all.

Another plan for 2016 is to spend a couple of months in New York City, perhaps even making NYC a second home. For me, New York is like two poles that I can both benefit from:

  1. Social life in a constantly changing environment, life, and unbound possiblities and inspirations with parties, events galleries, galas, converts and openings,etc.
  2. Seclusion to concentrate on my work because I’m literally nobody there, so I can isolate myself and concentrate on my work.

What advice do you have for inspiring bloggers, writers? The most important thing is to be sincere. People can immediately sense it; people can instinctively feel it.

142. Joseph Donyo of Canım Istanbul on Newsletters & The First 10,000 Subscribers

Joseph Donyo of Canim IstanbulFounder of Canım Istanbul (pronounced JAH-nim), Joseph Donyo has +11 years experience managing businesses and turning consumer insight into a competitive business advantage. (photo by Mine Kasapoğlu)

What is Canım Istanbul and why did you launch it? Canım Istanbul is the lifestyle companion for Istanbulites and visitors to Istanbul. We send out a newsletter, in English and in Turkish, twice a week to our subscribers with a new restaurant, an interesting event, a cool bar, a cute boutique, etc. Canım Istanbul translates to “Istanbul, my love.”

Out of curiosity one day, I started researching the digital media lifestyle market for women in Istanbul and found it was not a very crowded space. When I asked my female friends what online women’s magazine(s) they relied on, I was surprised to find they could not name a single website or blog. When further research found that there were in fact no strong players in the market and no equivalent to what I envisioned, I leaped at the opportunity.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more great tips on identifying untapped market niches, watch the Ycombinator lectures:

Canım Istanbul went live in August 2014, and our first newsletter was sent out a month later. Just recently we celebrated our 1 year anniversary, which also coincided with our 10,000th newsletter subscriber and our brand new website launch.


How did you identify your target audience? Canım Istanbul was launched with a mostly women audience in mind, but I didn’t want to openly position it as such to not exclude men from it. So we gave it a feminine twist with the tone of the writing, the illustrations and the general design.

Today, Canım’s principle newsletter subscribers are Turkish and English-speaking women between the ages of 25 and 44 years old with a college-degree or higher. But with the launch of the Canım Istanbul website, it will be interesting to see how our readers evolve.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In his book Emotional Branding: The New Paradigm for Connecting Brands to People, Marc Gobé explains that “the rising influence of women extends far beyond their consumer power and evolving buying habits. Women are a veritable force to be reckoned with… and will continue to shape the economic landscape in ways we can only imagine.”

Conversely, recall in my interview with Hervé Godard, Owner of Blake Magazine saying that although Blake Magazine is geared for the modern man, a quick online questionaire found that “20% of my readers are actually women who browse for gift ideas for their men and because they like the models.”]

Why did you choose to start with a private email-only newsletter and not a full-on website? Personally, I have always been a heavy reader of newsletters; I love this medium. I just prefer the content coming to me rather than me having to go out and fish for it.

Having said that, my initial plan was to launch Canım Istanbul both as a newsletter and a website. But after several planning setbacks which risked pushing Canım Istanbul’s launch date further and further back. I decided not to postpone the launch but to start Canım Istanbul as a newsletter-only platform with a simple landing page inscription, knowing I could always launch the website version when I was better prepared.


After 4 months, the newsletter took off so quickly that I preferred to stay focused on the landing page and newsletter rather than speading myself thin on a website. The signup landing page has converted at an average rate of 17% since it’s launch (with peaks of 30-40% on certain segments).

What mistakes did you make that you would warn other entrepreneurs of? The only one I can think of would be to start with a mobile-first approach. I didn’t really account for this at the beginning, and after a few months I realized that over 50% of Canım’s newsletters were being opened on a mobile device.

Where do you go to for inspiration? At the moment my favorite newsletters are:

What are a few of your favorite ads?

10K subscribers in 1 year is impressive. What are the key decisions, marketing techniques, partnerships you made that made this possible? I think the most important thing here was focus. It sounds simple but it’s key. Once I decided to launch only as a newsletter, all my efforts and energy focused on two objectives :

  1. Consistently making the editorial content of the newsletter as relevant and high-quality as possible.
  2. Relentlessly reaching out to new people who would be interested in what Canım Istanbul had to offer.

The editorial part involves constantly exploring Istanbul’s new and up-and-coming places and brainstorming with the editors. You know you’ve gotten your content and target audience mix right when each newsletter email’s open rates are high and unsubscribe rate is very low.

The marketing part is more challenging and diverse, a typical challenge for every new venture. By far, our main source of subscribers for this year has been through Facebook. The first wave of people to sign up to the newsletter was my close friends, followed by my extended network (friends-of-friends).

Every new article was shared on our FB page so people who had liked our page but had not signed up to the newsletter could see the kind of stuff we talked about. I painstakingly posted every newsletter into every relevant group I could find, and with each newsletter publication the place/person/event we’d written about usually shared our newsletter with their loyal followers.

This organic social media groundwork led to a lot of word of mouth as well as our first press coverage in the Turkish media. Within four months we had our first 1,000 subscribers, and since then we’ve enjoyed a steady stream of press coverage, including Hürriyet Daily News, Turkey’s largest English-language newspaper. I also printed postcards which I put at cafes and stores, as well as little stickers that I gave to friends and asked them to stick them anywhere they went around town.

The real success came when I started experimenting with Facebook ads, which I discovered had amazing targeting capabilities. Needless to say, when you get your message in front of the right people, there’s a higher chance they’ll come to your site and when they do, the sign-up rate will be much higher than when people randomly find you. So I started running ads more frequently and trying out different audiences as well as more advanced Facebook features, and that’s worked very well.

Partnerships are good, too. Last December I partnered with French Oje, a beauty blogger for a one-off holiday beauty tips newsletter. I’ve also partnered with Cizenbayan, a well-known Turkish blogger for a monthly “live music picks” newletter edition available on the CanımIstanbul Soundcloud.

As her music tastes are very eclectic, this collaboration has had the benefit of both producing good content and reaching out to new people.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on how the online advertising industry works, check out the documentary Generation LIke by Douglas Rushkoff.

For more tips on how to identify your target audience, read my interview with Strategic Planner Ivan Pejcic.]

We are also very active on Instagram. Instagram is huge in Turkey but it’s really its own medium, so we give it its own content and don’t actually promote the newsleter very much. It doesn’t drive many sign-ups for now but it gets our name out there. Plus it’s growing steadily and it’s fun to play with.

Joseph Donyo of Canimistanbul.com on Instagram