Jesse Zhang (E’14) was selected as a 2022 honoree of the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in the social media category. Zhang is the co-founder of Beacons, a startup that provides the tools for content creators to generate a website with their information and other relevant links.
Zhang graduated from Tufts with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, then received his master’s degree and Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford University. He is currently the chief product officer at Beacons.
The Forbes 30 Under 30 is an annual list of 600 of the most influential people under age 30 in 20 categories, including social media, music, art and style and social impact. Honorees can nominate themselves or be nominated by someone else.
Zhang described Beacons as a “storefront” for content creators on social media platforms. Beacons condenses creators’ information and revenue streams into one homepage and allows users to customize their website to their liking.
“As we talked to more influencers and content creators, we started gaining conviction that content creators are like the businesses of the future, and we wanted to build tools to help them succeed,” he said in an interview with the Daily.
In order to grow the company, Zhang and his colleagues reached out to TikTok creators and created personalized Beacons homepages for them. Zhang attributed the viral growth of the company to its users and their audiences.
“Whenever someone uses a Beacons link, it says ‘Beacons.ai’ in the URL, and everyone else can see it, so they’re essentially marketing the product,” he said. “Most of our users are content creators, so they come with very large audiences.”
Zhang also discussed the future of Beacons and how he and his colleagues hope to expand the company in the future.
“Beacons today is like the storefront for the content creator, and we want to eventually evolve into the entire suite of software tools,” he said. “If you imagine the content creator as a business, there’s all these things they do that have nothing to do with creating content … just managing their audience, analytics and all that … we basically want to make all of that as easy as possible for them.”
Neal Jean, another co-founder and the present CEO of Beacons, emphasized Zhang’s impact on the company.
“At different points in time, he’s been a full-stack engineer, designer, data scientist, user researcher, and social media manager – Jesse’s never complained and always steps up to new challenges,” Jean wrote in an email to the Daily. “Today Jesse focuses on leading product, helping to set the product vision and roadmap, and then aligning the team to execute against the roadmap.”
Zhang spoke about how it felt to receive the nomination.
“It’s a little bit bittersweet because none of my co-founders got it since they were just a little bit older than me, and it’s definitely not something I earned by myself,” he said. “But the validation still feels kind of nice. Especially as a startup founder, for so much of the last few years, we were heads down, working our asses off … it’s a nice little token of appreciation.”
On behalf of the rest of the Beacons team, Jean commended Zhang for his nomination and remarked on how this honor could help the progress of the company.
“Building Beacons together with our friends has been a great experience for all of us, and getting some recognition for the progress that we’ve made so far was awesome for the whole team,” he wrote. “Hopefully it’s helpful for attracting future teammates and investors too!”
Zhang remarked on how his time at Tufts prepared him for his career in website building and entrepreneurship.
“I think being an electrical engineering major, especially at Tufts, you just think a lot about how to break down problems,” he said. “You just have to think about things like: how do I set deadlines? How do I set regular goals to actually achieve this long-term thing? How do I prioritize and maximize the value that I’m creating on a week-to-week basis?”
He also commented on how the Tufts community helped him to grow.
“I think my classmates and my friends really inspired me to think outside the box and realize that hey, there’s a lot of cool stuff to build out there, and there’s no reason why you can’t go for it,” he said.
Zhang’s brother Andrew currently attends Tufts and studies computer science and math with a minor in music. Andrew Zhang, a senior, commented on how his brother has inspired him.
“The amount of work he’s put in to grow and keep learning is definitely inspiring for me,” Andrew said. “He took the time to guide me along the path I want based on what he knows. He’s a good big brother.”
As a word of advice to Tufts students, Jesse Zhang emphasized the importance of “investing in personal growth.”
“If you learn something useful today and you end up using it to make a better decision in a week, that scales super linearly,” he said. “Being more intentional about learning and growing and trying new experiences would be great and just figuring out what it is that you really want to do and not getting too bogged down with what other people think.”