When He Shuang left her home in the Daliang Mountains of Sichuan for college, she had to take a five-hour bus ride to the nearest train station before changing to a 10-hour slow train to reach her university in another part of the province.
Her parents were elated when they learned their daughter had landed her childhood dream job as a flight attendant with China Eastern Airlines. That meant she had successfully made it “out of the mountains.”
They were shocked when she decided to return to Huili County three years ago to sell pomegranates online. Their family grew pomegranates, and He Shuang was sent to the orchards when she was young to stand guard against fruit thieves. It wasn’t the life that her parents had hoped for her.
“My parents were so proud of me because I was the first stewardess in my village. It is rare for someone to leave these mountains to become a flight attendant,” said He Shuang, now 24, leaving unsaid that it was rarer still for those who left to choose to return. “They believed the hardship of working in agriculture wouldn’t suit me, but I insisted.”
At the time, livestreaming e-commerce was still in its infancy and very few of the so-called influencers were helping farmers to sell their produce, an opportunity that she seized. It was a decision that changed her life.
Working from 6a.m. to past midnight most days, Shuang livestreamed from her family’s pomegranate farm in the mornings and evenings, and picked, sorted, and packaged the fruits in the afternoons. Her efforts paid off as she rose in popularity as a livestreaming host on Pinduoduo, the leading online marketplace for agricultural produce. Other growers approached her for help to sell their fruits.
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Today, she employs 12 staff and is one of the most prominent fruit vendors in Huili County. Annual revenue surpassed 40 million yuan ($5.7 million) in 2019. She is a supplier to Duo Duo Orchard, the game on the Pinduoduo app that rewards users who nurture a virtual tree with real fruit.
As her business grew, He Shuang expanded her product lineup so that she can sell in-season fruit all year round. When the pomegranate season ends, she and her team will move to Hainan province and Guangxi region to sell mangoes.
It wasn't all smooth sailing, however.
Without any experience in live-streaming, she flopped on her debut — her camera was shaking so much that viewers could barely see her. In the early days of the business, they would pack late into the night, and the couriers would decline to pick up their packages.In one instance, she called more than 100 times and sent text messages,eventually resorting to hunting down the managers of the courier companies to beg them to send their men.
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“I used to be a quiet girl, but after starting my business, people said I changed completely, becoming much more mature and tougher,” she said. “The couriers don’t reject my delivery pick-ups anymore.”
Her next step is to build the largest cold-storage warehouse in Huili. She has also asked her employees to sign up for online training provided by Pinduoduo and other platforms to improve their online marketing skills.
Though her growing business gives her immense pride, He Shuang is most proud that her e-commerce venture has given her the resources to help her hometown.
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Every year, she donates a portion of her revenue to local primary schools and buys clothes and shoes for the children. She and her team would also visit the schools, some of which are located in remote mountains 3,000 meters above sea level.
“When the children look at you with gratitude in their eyes, you feel everything you do is worth it,” she said. “This would have been impossible if I remained a flight attendant.”