Former WeWork China technical chief launches on-demand work pod


At a time when China’s zero-COVID policy continues to hamper offline work and face-to-face interactions, Dominic Penaloza, former head of innovation and technology at WeWork China, comes up with a bold idea – publicly from an on-demand workplace – and managed to quickly raise capital for the company.

Penaloza named his new venture Peace, using the company’s quiet, privacy-focused location as a way to avoid crowded offices and noisy cafes, hoping to promote mental health. Peace announced this week that it has raised a seven-figure round of funding from a group of business partners and entrepreneurs.

Serenity is the latest in Penaloza’s ongoing experiment with flexible working. In 2019, the executive led an internal project to offer pay-as-you-go space at WeWork China. A year later, he founded his own proptech-focused startup Studio, which established a similar on-demand workspace service, but attracted outside landlords.

Seven-month-old Peace launched its first batch of wearable pods last week in three luxury shopping malls and two office buildings in the heart of Shanghai. The goal is to deploy 1,000 in the metropolis within the next year, Peñaloza said during a video call from a pod in the mall.

“We sell privacy on demand,” the founder said when I asked if the booths would be equipped with security cameras, an infrastructure that has become ubiquitous across China and often raises questions about privacy.

“We’re not planning to put up any cameras… I think it’s more important to give our users the feeling that this is really a 100% private space. Nobody listens to what they say. And of course no one can see their screen or them.

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Each Peace Pod is 35 square meters in size with a conference table that seats four. The portable box comes with an app-activated lock, power outlet, Wi-Fi, soundproof walls and fans. It also has COVID-19 prevention technology provided by a startup called Lumenlabs, which uses a new far UVC method to deactivate viruses and bacteria.

Each Peace work capsule can accommodate four people. Image: Shanti

The long list of equipment explains the hefty cost of the pods – in the mid-thousands of yuan (1 USD = 7.16 yuan at time of writing) to build one.

Peñaloza thinks his team has come up with a sustainable revenue model. Each pod costs 11.25 yuan per quarter, but this is a reference price, the founder said, and in the future costs may vary based on location and real-time supply and demand. It’s not cheap – an Americano costs about 25 yuan in an average café in China’s top cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen, but if four people share the cost of 45 yuan, plus a pod brings privacy and stable internet – and if Serenity reaches a meaningful density, it can be a viable venture.

Shanti has found a sweet spot in its relationship with landlords, including retail space, office building lobbies, urban renewable space, transportation hubs, exhibition centers and residential developments.

“We don’t rent space,” explains Peñaloza. “Our formula for working with real estate companies is one of our best secret sauces because, in landlord parlance, this hardware is actually an enhancement to the real estate. This should be part of the annual renovation budget to improve the building and keep the building competitive, so Peace Pods will attract servants to spend more time in a building.

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“Even if we put it in an office lobby, even if everyone has an office upstairs, people still use it, especially in China where hybrid working is not popular because offices Small meeting rooms are often fully utilized and everyone needs peace and quiet from of time to time,” said the founder.

By working together with landlords, Peace also saves on maintenance costs. Since the outbreak of COVID, the Chinese government has started asking closed site operators to sanitize their facilities after use. Peace’s tech platform automatically notifies the property manager at the end of each booking and a cleaner is dispatched to the pod, a process that can be as quick as spraying surfaces with disinfectant and wiping them down.

Investors in Serenity are primarily entrepreneurs, including Joachim Poilo and Francois Ammand of Eden Group, Chris Brooke of Brooke Husband, Pablo Fernandez of Cleanair Space, Patrick Bourbon of CM Venture, Hei Ming Cheng of Cailong, Wei Cao of Lumenlabs, Penaloza itself. . and Panda Eagle group.




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