Jessica Rudd: a leading online retail specialist

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Jessica Rudd is a global Australian who’s quick on her feet. She has realised the potential of the online retail market in China, launching Jessica’s Suitcase – an online business venture selling Australian goods to Chinese consumers - well before her competitors picked up the trend and followed suit.

Jessica’s upbringing and her Mandarin-speaking father, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, might have indirectly affected her interest in China. But the decision she made to enter the Chinese online retail market was actually triggered by her first-hand experience and observation during her time in Beijing in 2014,  when friends living in Beijing swamped her with requests to bring them Australian goods, spurring on her curiosity and thus, the idea of Jessica’s Suitcase was born.

With a professional background in law, Jessica Rudd is an Australian entrepreneur and novelist, and she recently joined eCargo Holdings Limited as Non-Executive Director. Prior to that, she was appointed as the Non-Executive Director at Australian Agriculture Co (AACo) and Australia and New Zealand Lifestyle Ambassador at Alibaba Group.

Like e-commerce and online trading that dissolve international boundaries, Jessica has fully embraced emerging trends to stay globally engaged, in both her personal and professional capacity.

Returning to Brisbane from five months in Shanghai, she shared with Advance how she has grasped online entrepreneurship opportunities to scale her career from local to global.

You wear many hats. Can you briefly describe what you do at eCargo Enterprise Limited, Australian Agricultural Co and Alibaba Group?

I serve as non-executive director on the board of AACo (AAC:ASX) and eCargo Holdings Limited board (ECG:ASX). ECG is parent company of Jessica’s Suitcase, which I co-founded in 2014. In 2016 I was appointed Australian and New Zealand Lifestyle Ambassador for Alibaba and delight in helping companies big and small from our part of the world find their feet in the world’s largest market.

Having worked in London and Beijing before coming back to Australia, how was the experience? What's the best and worst part?

As many of your readers will attest, once you start living away from home there’s always a bit of an internal tussle—exacerbated by life’s landmarks—between home and somewhere else.

Albert (my husband) and I started in London. On Fridays we would take the Tube to the office with our Samsonites, then wheel them out to the Heathrow Express at knock-off to spend weekends in various corners of Europe, making it back to the office on Monday. Then when the GFC hit, we left the diminishing security of our jobs (me in comms, him in finance) for Beijing. 

Five glorious years, two novels and a bundle of joy later, we decided to come home to Brisbane. We wanted to see our little one(s) run around the backyard under the sprinkler, which was our childhood, but we were determined to keep our China connection.

Next week will be the end of five fun months working in Shanghai with our two kids. I’m pleasantly surprised that this has worked. The decision to spend time overseas needn’t  mean a full and daunting relocation—even with kids.

What's the concept behind Jessica's Suitcase?

Jessica’s Suitcase was something I dreamed up during our final year in Beijing (2014). 

We lived in a high rise. Every day I was competing for lift-space with a squadron of couriers carrying boxes piled so high you could scarcely see their eyebrows. For context, until that point, this was an economy that depended entirely on the ubiquitous 100 kuai note. Now, people were ordering online via a mysterious new platform called Taobao using Alipay. China had leapfrogged over credit cards and gone straight to mobile payment. 

Meanwhile, the Chinese mums in my mothers’ group were yearning for Australian baby products. Every time I would return from a baptism or wedding in Australia, my Chinese mates would come and raid my suitcase for wipes, formula, lotions—the accoutrements of early parenthood. 

I combined the trends and arrived at Jessica’s Suitcase: an Alibaba Tmall Global shop selling Australia’s best kept mum and bub products online direct to Chinese consumers.

What were some of the challenges during the start of Jessica's Suitcase?

All small businesses struggle with cashflow gaps and mine was no exception—it took time to iron out the processes. We battled regulatory changes in Chinese cross-border e-commerce, new and emerging platforms and of course inventory scarcity when the brands we sold flourished. Now, we are a cornerstone of the eCargo group, a company offering a full bricks and clicks service offering to businesses who want to enter the China market properly. 

How does your upbringing and family background shape your interest in Asia, in particular China?

I’m certain it was my brief stint as a diplobrat in Hong Kong and Beijing that left me with an unshakable curiosity for what the rest of our planet has to offer. I grew up with the sounds and smells of China. Our living room was full of blue and white porcelain. Mandarin has cemented its place as our family lore. My upbringing whet my appetite for a globally engaged life.

What did you miss most about Australia when you were abroad?

We are raising our children in Australia because (a) it is home; and (b) we believe it is the most idyllic childhood the world has to offer. Grass and sand, blue skies and fluffy clouds, lady beetles and tree frogs, jacarandas and stars for days—what’s not to love? That’s why my customers in China pursue their interest in Aussie products: they see our relatively utopian lifestyle and want a piece of it.