At a time when China’s COVID-free policy continues to disrupt offline work and in-person interactions, Dominic Penaloza, former head of innovation and technology for WeWork China, is introducing a bold idea — on-demand work boots placed in public locations — and have managed to quickly raise capital for the business.
Penaloza named its new venture Peace with the hope of boosting the mental health of those using quiet spaces, prioritizing the company’s privacy to avoid crowded offices and bars. noisy coffee. Peace announced this week that it has raised a seven-figure funding round from a group of business partners and entrepreneurs.
Peace is the latest version of Penaloza’s ongoing experiment with flexible work. In 2019, the executive led an internal project to provide payment space as you use at WeWork China. A year later, he moved on to found his own proptech-focused startup studio, which incubates a similar on-demand workspace service but third party host exploitation.
Seven-month-old Peace launched its first batch of portables last week at three high-end malls and two office buildings in central Shanghai. Penaloza said in a video call from one of the groups in the mall that it aims to deploy 1,000 of them across the metropolis within the next year.
“We are selling privacy on demand,” the founder said when I asked if the booths would be equipped with security cameras, an infrastructure that has become common throughout China and often raise privacy concerns.
“We’re not going to install cameras… I think it’s more important to make our users feel that it’s really 100% private space. No one can hear what they are saying. And of course, no one can see their screen or theirs.”
Each Peace pod is 35 square meters wide with a meeting table suitable for four people. The portable box comes with an app-activated key, power outlet, WiFi, soundproof wall and exhaust fan. It also has COVID-19 prevention technology provided by a startup called LumenLabs uses a far novel UVC method to inactivate viruses and bacteria.
The long list of devices explains the team’s high cost — in the midst of tens of thousands of yuan (1 USD = 7.16 yuan as of writing) to produce one.
Penaloza believes his team has found a sustainable revenue model. The founder said that each group costs 11.25 yuan per 15 minutes, but this is a reference price and in the future, the cost may change depending on location and real-time supply and demand. . It’s not cheap — an Americano costs about 25 yuan at an average coffee shop in China’s top cities like Shanghai and Shenzhen, but if four people share it, it costs 45 yuan currency, plus the benefits a group offers — privacy and stable internet — and if Peace achieves meaningful density, it could be a viable business.
Peace also finds a sweet spot in its relationship with the landlord, including retail spaces, office building lobbies, urban regeneration spaces, transport hubs, exhibition centers and residential areas. development settlement.
“We don’t rent space,” explains Penaloza. “Our formula for working with real estate agents is one of our most secret because this hardware is, in the language of homeowners, truly a property enhancer. It should be part of the renovation budget they have year after year to make the building better and keep the building competitive, so the Peace pods will appeal to office dwellers who spend a lot of money. more time in the building.”
“Even if we put it in the office lobby, even though people have an office upstairs, people still use it, especially in China, where hybrid work is not yet common, because of the Small meeting rooms in offices are often used to their full capacity and everyone needs quiet. and sometimes silence,” added the founder.
Working with the landlord also helps Peace save on maintenance costs. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic, the Chinese government has begun to require operators of enclosed spaces to clean their premises after use. Peace’s technology platform will automatically alert the property manager at the end of each booking and a cleaner will be sent to the team, a process that can be as quick as spraying disinfectant on a surface and wipe them clean.
The investors in Peace are mostly entrepreneurs, including Joachim Poylo and Francois Amand from Aden Group, Chris Brooke from Brooke Husband, Pablo Fernandez from CleanAir Spaces, Patrick Berbon from CM Venture, Hei Ming Cheng from Kailong, Wei Cao from Lumenlabs, Penaloza himself, and the Panda Eagles Group.