Last updated: Feb 15, 2023
Coworking space startup Pluria found early success in Eastern Europe. Here’s why its founder decided to enter the Latin American market – where he's won over hundreds of HR leaders in just a year.
As Covid-19 (and its remote work bonanza) fades, companies are calling their workers back to the office in what some deem The Great Return.
Andrei Cretu’s new coworking startup, Pluria, offers a solution to this HR dilemma. Offering “offices-as-a-service," Pluria aggregates flexible workspaces that employees at participating companies can reserve through an app. As companies increasingly offer hybrid work options as part of the transition back to offices, Cretu is leveraging existing infrastructure and easy-to-use technology that allows workers to meet in spaces that work both for them and for the company.
The Org spoke with Cretu about his new venture and why the startup, although originally based in Romania like Cretu himself, is setting its eyes on Latin America.
“Back then, there were no early stage investors in Eastern Europe, it wasn’t a thing, and we were forced to grow organically,” Cretu said.
It was a huge challenge, but from 2012 to 2017, he worked tirelessly on the startup and grew it to $8 million in annual recurring revenue. Then, in 2017, he sold a portion to Sodexo, a French food service and facility management company where he remained as CEO and grew 7card’s ARR to $15 million in 2019. Cretu phased out of his role when the pandemic hit.
After leaving 7card, Cretu co-founded v7capital, Romania’s first startup studio. It kept him busy and curious, but as he recalls, “it didn’t take long for me to realize that I suck as an investor and I’m actually more of an operator. My business partner is much better at this than I will ever be and I truthfully just enjoy more going deeper into a venture.”
Thus began the quest for his next venture.
At the end of his time with 7card, Cretu was phasing out from working with 1,500 corporate clients where he experienced the multiple pain points they had first-hand.
“I saw that many people were using different coworking spaces to meet at different times, and the model of ‘one membership with access to everything’ extrapolated to coworking spaces just clicked,” said Cretu. “I knew the Gympass model inside out; it took 7card 10 years of refinement to get things right, so I was very confident that I could replicate the principles and make this model work for flexible work spaces.”
Then came obsession.
“Understanding that what I thrived on the most was getting my hands dirty, building a startup was a huge revelation. I found the energy I had 10 years ago with 7card, and it was an incredible feeling,” said Cretu.
Cretu zoomed in on building Pluria and in 2021 launched the platform in his home country, Romania, where it now offers over 100 workspaces across 11 different cities. The platform is B2B-focused and claims to be extremely easy for companies to use. In just a 30 minute meeting with a Pluria representative, HR leaders can set up access to coworking spaces. When employees want to visit the space, they simply sign up in Pluria’s app, which also has location-tracking services to allow employees to check-in when they arrive.
“Pluria doesn’t charge per employee or per seat, companies just pay for what they use. It’s as simple as that,” shares Cretu.
Additionally, Pluria takes on the risk of whether workers choose a more expensive coworking space. Clients get charged a flat fee per day, and they receive a single streamlined invoice for workspaces at the end of the month.
With the early success in Romania, Pluria expanded to nearby Spain and Portugal, but “something was missing,” per Cretu. In early 2021, Cretu called his old friend, Julian Torres, who co-founded Fitpal, a 7card-like platform in Colombia, before launching HR and payroll software startup Ontop.
Cretu and Torres discussed Pluria, and Torres asked about bringing the model to Colombia and the rest of Latin America given the region’s startup ecosystem growth in recent years. Torres introduced Cretu to Mateo Marulanda, a previous colleague of his who was very involved in the startup scene. Latin America was now a reality for Pluria.
“This is how a boy from Bucharest, Romania ends up focusing his business in Latin America. We are living the dream with no headquarters, a distributed team and a remote-first mentality from day one,” said Cretu. "With very little obstacles around operations, we were easily able to refocus and decide where to go based on where the best opportunity was; in this case Latin America.”
By June, Cretu had hired his first employee, Marulanda, in Colombia. By September, Pluria closed its first Colombian client, and five months later, it had 30 corporate clients in the country.
Marulanda, Pluria’s head of expansion for Latin America, recalls that Pluria “grew quickly…we began by establishing workspace partnerships and then offering the flexible workspaces to clients. Our clients are mainly high growth startups that tend to be very distributed and we began getting requests for office spaces in Mexico.”
Mexico was on Pluria’s radar as its next market, and its existing client base pushed the startup to quickly move into the country. On September 12, Pluria announced the launch of operations in the Mexican region, bringing the platform’s network to over 400 workspace partners and more than 100 corporate clients.
Pluria has been well-received in the region by employers and employees alike, thanks to the platform’s functionality and accessibility.
“We understand the importance of data and prioritize it,” said Cretu. “Companies love knowing how and where their employees are working from and we want to make using Pluria a seamless and beneficial experience for everyone involved.”
Pluria plans to expand to more countries in the region in the near future, and Cretu wants to fuel growth with external funding. The startup plans to hold a seed round in the upcoming months to help it become the go-to interface for multi-country remote teams across Latin America.