Anna Zhang travels a lot for work. That may not seem like a big deal, but the Chappaqua resident is 15 years old. The sophomore at Horace Greeley High School is the founding editor of Pulse Spikes, an online and quarterly print magazine covering travel, lifestyle and entertainment. She was just 13 when she launched a music blog, which she rebranded to Pulse Spikes a year later in 2015.“And the magazine is made by young people for young people, meaning that many of our contributors [writers, photographers, makeup artists] are under the age of 25, which is the age of our target audience,” the young entrepreneur says with the poise of a seasoned publisher.
Anna is out to show her peers that young people are “capable of much more than what a number suggests.” With recent cover stories featuring actress Lauren Elizabeth and former “Dance Moms” star Chloe Lukasiak, she’s off to a hot start.
“She developed all her websites, designed issues, edited, managed social media. Those are only a few of the things she’s pushed herself to learn the skills to do,” Anna’s mom, Qun Zhou, wrote in an email.
But, how does a teenager start a magazine; not to mention attract celebrity interviews for each of her four issues so far? One word – Instagram.
“I became interested in photography a few years ago and the social media platform Instagram was the outlet I used to display my work,” said Anna, whose passion for music makes concert photography her favorite subject matter. “I started by posting images from my everyday life and my travels especially.”
Anna’s travels started with visiting her father in China, where he lives for work. She, her mother, and sister spend their summers there, even traveling within the country and around Asia.
“They really encouraged me to go to new places with them and to open my eyes on certain issues that I don’t see in Chappaqua or in New York,” she said, crediting her parents, who immigrated to America not knowing anyone or even much English, for her passion to exceed boundaries.
While walking through a park with her family in China one summer, Anna used her mother’s smartphone to snap a picture of a butterfly landing on a flower and post it to Instagram – her account name is @colorflame. Since capturing that small moment, Anna has grown a big following, with more than 12,000 Instagram followers.
“And the amount of time my followers took to comment on my work shocked me,” she said. “So, that helped me and pushed me to pursue the passion further.”
Anna, who spent many days during the last few years at the Chappaqua Library teaching herself photography, drew more than just comments from her growing Instagram audience. Companies reached out to her to be a “social media influencer,” meaning someone who posts social media content about a company to help it reach consumers that it otherwise may not reach in order to grow awareness.
Starting with a small bracelet company, Anna has now worked with Dunkin Donuts, Walgreens and other large companies to share photographs promoting their brand to her followers on social media. Her favorite project so far was with the tour company Walk About Venice.
“I was doing a photo campaign on Instagram where I went to Italy and shared my experiences with my audience,” she said, adding that the company flew her, her parents and family friends out for this project. “I brought my [Instagram] followers through Rome and through Florence and through Venice. It was kind of showing my point of view at each of these locations and highlighting certain things that I found interesting that I thought my audience would find interesting.”
For that project, Anna used a hashtag that connected people with Walk About Venice.
“Thanks to Anna, we were able to travel off the beaten path and get a local’s point of view,” Qun said.
Before taking on any job, Anna said she makes sure it’s something that will ring authentic to her young audience, “because I don’t want to be promoting something that is not appropriate for the age group or not coinciding with my own thoughts,” she said.
The Pulse Spikes editor, photographer and writer uses the same litmus test when selecting bands, actors or others to feature in her magazine. Lukasiak’s anti-bullying message is the reason Anna chose her as the cover story for the third issue of Pulse Spikes, released this past summer.
“These are talents that I look up to because of what they’re able to do with their influence and how they do it for social good,” Anna said.
Her contributors – writers, photographers, makeup artists – also appreciate the mission and sense of belonging it creates.
“Sometimes we, those below 25, get looked at differently or put in boxes,” said Kyle Sheehan, a makeup artist in New York. “Pulse spikes has really given young people a place to work, be creative, and have a ‘home’ in the industry.”
Qun said her daughter’s success has both surprised her and shown her how Anna defines success. “She doesn’t focus on gaining a profit,” she said. “She believes success is doing what she loves and helping the community.”
The latest example of that is Ignite, a social good campaign organized by Pulse Spikes and Covenant House, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping homeless youth. A book featuring a compilation of short stories by young talents will be released on Thanksgiving and all profits will benefit Covenant House. In addition to Lukasiak, singer and fashion icon Alli Simpson will contribute stories to the book.
“Ignite delves into the most creative adolescent minds to talk about issue that aren’t normally covered by the general media,” said Anna, who is also curating and editing the book, as well as doing the photography. “So, topics such as self-love and breaking stereotypes to name a few.”
With all her success, Anna is still just a high school sophomore and said she hasn’t made up her mind on what she wants to do for the rest of her life. For now, she’s happy studying assistive technologies for her science research program at Horace Greeley, playing tennis and music – flute, guitar, piano and clarinet – and, of course, making every issue of Pulse Spikes bigger and better.
“Because it’s all volunteer I think people do the work for their passion rather than just getting a paycheck,” she said. “So, I think that’s what sets us apart. Everyone is passionate about their work and we’re working together to meet that one goal to create that revolutionary product.”
Brian Donnelly was born and raised in Westchester. He is a freelance reporter, videographer and social media specialist, whose hobbies include riding bicycles, waves and rooftop hammocks.