A Shanghai-based entrepreneur is betting that the people of Shanghai are committed to peace, and that they’re willing to pay for it.
Peace is the name of a new startup from a former head of technology for WeWork in Greater China, which this past week opened on-demand privacy pods in five locations around the mainland’s bustling commercial capital, which offer quietude and connectivity to workers out of the office who may need to join a video call, or just find some time to catch up on their WeChat messages.
In an interview with Mingtiandi, Peace founder and CEO Dominic Penaloza said that Peace opened the first five locations for its Peace Pods in Shanghai this past week with a goal of deploying about 1,000 booths in commercial establishments across China’s largest city in the next 12 months.
Penaloza said the company will install the first 25 portable pods of 3.5 square metres (37.7 square feet) each in 10 Shanghai locations within three weeks, starting with the HKRI Taikoo Hui mall on West Nanjing Road and at Grand Gateway 66, a retail and office complex jointly owned by Hang Lung Properties and Hysan in Xujiahui.
High Tech Solitude
“Peace is the must-have ‘last metre’ of the best city design for the future of mobility, future of work, and future of cities,” he said in a statement. “We are fascinated by the possibilities of undoing the chronic lack of privacy, with potentially profound implications for mental health, wellness, social harmony, productivity, and innovation.”
Peace aims to place the shared space booths referred to as Peace Pods, in malls, office towers, exhibition centres, and transport hubs as well as residential buildings, by partnering with major regional developers to grow its network of locations, including Swire Properties, HKRI and Henderson Land in Hong Kong, as well as mainland firm Lujiazui Group and US builder Tishman Speyer.
The new private pods bear a kinship with Switch Office Booths, a 2020 workspace-on-demand venture by Penaloza which provided simpler spaces in partnership with co-working providers and mall operators in Singapore. For 2022 the Peace Pods bring back the booth shape, but with connectivity and hygiene features ready for a post-pandemic era.
The Peace app allows users to locate and book pods in advance through their mobile phones at a flexible pricing of at least RMB 45 ($7.30) per hour for up to four people per booth.
The pods are soundproofed and include safety features like smart locks as well as COVID-killing air filtration technology. The work rooms are also equipped with wifi, speakers, lights, electric sockets and a QR code scanner to help with productivity.
To provide space where it’s needed, Penaloza and his team are mostly placing their pods in mixed-use developments with retail and office components in China, including Henderson Land’s Henderson 688 office tower on West Nanjing Road and their Henderson Metropolitan complex along the East Nanjing Road walking street, as well as Tishman Speyer’s Crystal Plaza in Qiantan area in Pudong.
Beyond China, Penaloza said Peace is also considering expanding its locations into the US and Dubai.
The rollout is fueled by what Penaloza termed a seven-digit US dollar seed round, from a set of investors comprising real estate veterans, healthtech specialists, venture capital (VC) firms and service providers.
Among the company’s backers are a number of prominent investors and advisors in the industry, including Kailong Group founder and chairman Hei Ming Cheng and Chris Brooke, a non-executive director of Link REIT.
“Landlords win because Peace literally converts unused space into a destination space, enhancing the utilization rate and user-friendliness of the building,” said Brooke, an investor and advisor of the startup. “At a minimum, Peace solves the common problem of small meeting rooms being fully occupied. Landlords also have the option to integrate Peace into their core tenant offerings, supporting their core office tenants adopting hybrid workspace strategies.”
Joining Link REIT’s Brooke and Kailong’s Cheng, other Peace backers include Patrick Berbon, managing partner of Shanghai-based VC firm, CM Venture, as well as Joachim Poylo and Francois Ammand who co-founded Chinese facility management service provider, Aden Group.
The company has also received backing from mainland tech entrepreneurs including Pablo Fernandez of CleanAir Spaces and Wei Cao of Lumenlabs, a healthtech firm specialising in ultraviolet disinfection technology.