WeWork China’s former tech head introduces on-demand work pods for mental health • TechCrunch

At a time when China’s zero-COVID policy continues to inhibit offline work and face-to-face interactions, Dominic Penaloza, former head of innovation and technology at WeWork China, is offering a bold idea – publically from on-demand work booth location – and managed to quickly raise capital for the business.

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

Serenity is the latest iteration of Penaloza’s continuing 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 went on to found his own proptech-focused startup Studio, which incubated a similar on-demand workspace service, but tapped third-party landlords.

Seven-month-old Peace launched its first batch of portable pods last week in three high-end malls and two office buildings in the heart of Shanghai. The goal is to deploy 1,000 of them across the metropolis in the coming year, Peñaloza said on a video call from a pod in the mall.

“We’re selling privacy on demand,” said the founder when I asked whether the booths would be equipped with security cameras, an infrastructure that has become ubiquitous across China and often raises privacy concerns.

“We don’t plan to put up cameras… I think it’s more important to make our users feel like this is a truly 100% private space. No one is listening to what they are saying. And of course, no one can see their screen or them.

Each Peace Pod is 35 square meters large with a meeting table that can fit four people. The portable box comes with an app-enabled lock, electric socket, WiFi, soundproof walls and ventilation fans. It also includes COVID-19 prevention technology provided by a startup lumenlabs Which uses the novel Far UVC method to inactivate viruses and bacteria.

Each work pod of Peace fits four people. Image: Shanti

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

Peñaloza believes his team has figured out a sustainable revenue model. Each pod costs 11.25 yuan per 15 minutes, but this is a reference price, the founder said, and in the future, the cost may vary based on location and real-time supply and demand. It’s not cheap – an Americano costs about 25 yuan at an average cafe in China’s top-tier cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen, but if four people split the cost of 45 yuan, plus a pod brings – privacy and Stable Internet – and if Serenity reaches a meaningful density, it could be a viable business.

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

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

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

Working with landlords also helps Peace save on maintenance costs. Since the outbreak of COVID, the Chinese government has begun asking operators of enclosed venues to sanitize their facilities after use. Peace’s tech platform automatically alerts the property manager at the end of every booking, and a cleaner will be dispatched to the pod, a process that can be as quick as spraying surfaces with disinfectant and wiping them down.

Investors in Serenity include mostly entrepreneurs, including Joachim Poilo and Francois Ammand from Eden Group, Chris Brooke from Brooke Husband, Pablo Fernandez from Cleanair Space, Patrick Bourbon from CM Venture, Hei Ming Cheng from Cailong, Wei Cao from Lumenlabs, Penaloza himself Are included. and Panda Eagle Group.

WeWork China’s former tech head introduces on-demand work pods for mental health

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