Be a leader, not a manager. Micromanagement kills motivation, so don’t be afraid to delegate and empower others. I encourage the PlaceMe team to do whatever they need to accomplish their tasks instead of waiting for my approval. My goal is to let them express themselves, not to stand in their way to success.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Clara Arroyave. Named “Hult Entrepreneur to Watch” by Bostinno in 2014, Clara is the co-founder and CEO of PlaceMe, the largest Boston-based co-living company. Prior to PlaceMe, Clara was Boston GM at RentHop, a Y-Combinator company in the real estate tech space. Before that, she was a co-founder and CMO with GoTrotter, another real estate tech start-up in the relocation space. An active member of the Boston start-up community, Clara serves as an advisor, board leader, and growth consultant and focuses on strengthening start-ups with solid value propositions. She works mainly on strategy and performance improvement in the real estate tech space. Clara is also a first-cohort Fellow of Latinos for Education, a nonprofit who prepares Latino Leaders to serve on Education Boards nationwide. She currently serves as a Board Member at Breakthrough Greater Boston.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Sure. After finishing my MBA here in Boston, I was sure I wanted to be in tech. In the meantime I was deciding where to start and learned everything about the sharing economy and AirBnB.
This is my third experience in real estate tech. It started early in 2014 with Trotter, a relocation startup for internationals moving to the city, where we did get a lot of traction but failed at monetization. After that I was briefly part of Renthop, a NY startup that operates as an advertising tool for brokers and real estate agents.
PlaceMe started as a response to high rent prices in big cities and building density, in an all-inclusive product that enables flexibility, curation and convenience.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Oh, where do I start? I remember very early while building our Proof of Concept, we were having this huge snowstorm coming and we had already sold the product — I had to run to Costco to buy mattresses in the middle of the storm and deliver them to the property while driving at 40 miles per hour with zero visibility on the road. It was quite the adrenaline rush.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
English is not my first language, and we all have this mental bias of what is “common sense” and what isn’t. So, we were sending emails to our customers with guidelines like “Take the trash outside” — and what ended happening is they took the whole trash can from the kitchen to the curb, instead of taking just the trash bags. It was hilarious, but we also learned that we really do need to be specific since we have a portion of our customers that also have English as a second language. The experience opened our learning capabilities and our vision of what we need to do better at communicating on essentials.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The relationships that become long-lasting friendships that occur between our customers are unparalleled. Co-living only works when people are open to the idea of sharing not only their living spaces, but sharing pieces of their lives also. Our obsession is on building a customer-centric company based on shared attributes from our customers.
It seems to be working, too. We have one customer, an engineer, who works at the airport. He leaves the house at 5am every morning and on the day of his birthday, he told his roomies in the co-living apartment not to bother and that they will celebrate later. To his surprise, his roomies woke up at 4.30am to present him with a birthday cake and candles before he left for work! How amazing is that, and how cool that friendships like that still exist in this day and age? We are incredibly proud of the community that we are building.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are developing another two product lines, a premier and basic one, to be able to help more people join our network as we gradually expand from Boston. Growing smart is our battle plan right now. We experiment a lot in trying to create different lines of products and services that can bring the most value to our community, and to bring piece of mind to all the stakeholders and potential customers coming our way. We are aware how much budget impacts the lives of our community members and we want to keep our promises of transparent pricing and one payment covers everything as we scale.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Let go from all the noise and forget about seeking validation. Focus on your company and grow despite the obstacles.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Creating and maintaining corporate culture is one of the hardest jobs while growing your company, and you need to always stick to your core values. Make everyone on your team accountable for keeping those values alive as you keep growing.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It’s quite difficult just to mention one, to be honest. I would start with my first co-founderErnesto Humpierres, who now is a lead strategist a Dell. We built quite the product, quickly, and with plenty of mistakes on the way, but the experience working alongside him helped me to become very confident in my abilities to drive success and sustained growth quickly. Also my life partner Brian Cote, who has supported my entrepreneurship journey along the way, being my ear and my shoulder while I spent countless nights building the product and facing roadblocks. Last but not least my early mentor Gregg Bauer, who has always been willing to provide valuable advice when building the first stages of what is now the company — PlaceMe.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Education saved my life, and I have always been committed to give back. Initially I was a local Board Member of Prospanica (Hispanic MBA Association) for a few years, making sure other young hispanic professionals moved up the ladder. Now I serve as a Board Member of Breakthrough Greater Boston, a six-year after school program for underrepresented kids from Boston, Cambridge and Somerville to make sure they are prepared to apply for college, get accepted and stay there. I really see myself in those kids — having difficulty carving their paths and making sure they can make it forward is a staple to my job as a leader.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Be a leader, not a manager. Micromanagement kills motivation, so don’t be afraid to delegate and empower others. I encourage the PlaceMe team to do whatever they need to accomplish their tasks instead of waiting for my approval. My goal is to let them express themselves, not to stand in their way to success.
- Stay true to your core values. You need to be comfortable with the culture that you are building inside your organization. Even more important, you have to make sure every team member understands and follows those values. At PlaceMe, we have introduced a strict code of conduct based on the basic principles of transparency, accountability, and respect. A simple document like this helps everyone to stay on the same page and follow the same rules when making decisions and communicating with others.
- Lead by example. If you want to inspire people and encourage them to accomplish certain tasks, you have to be the first person who gets their hands dirty. Be the change that you want to see in your organization.
- Provide feedback early and often. If you don’t give feedback, a person will never know that there is an issue. Thus, s/he won’t be able to fix a problem and it can seriously affect your relationships or an organization. Once we had to let go a team member because we did not share enough feedback at the right time. Realizing this, we have introduced mandatory one-on-one performance review meetings with our team members.
- Be socially responsible. You don’t just build a company for the sake of building a company. It is not sustainable. Every organization makes a huge impact on its stakeholders. As we grow we want to be able to give back to the community that we serve, for the corporation that we work with. At PlaceMe we are reinforcing recycling practices in all of the properties that we manage and in our office as well.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to tackle the affordable housing issue from scratch. It saddens me every day seeing how the city of Boston cannot find a solution to host and sustain the people that are the blood of the city (nurses, teachers, police offers, food industry workers) and drastic measures have to be taken. We might make a few investors unhappy with this statement, but I see it as a natural path for sustainability. Perhaps we can invite everyone that is reading this article right now to join me and start an affordable housing revolution?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Validation is for parking” perhaps is one of my favorite quotes. As female leaders we have a lot of self-doubt and early in our careers we seek approval from everyone: our peers, mentors, startup community, local leaders and so on. Only with time and focus, that validation needs to disappear to let the real leader shine.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Barbara Corcoran would be my first pick. She had a lot of challenges in her career and I admire the way she reinvented herself as an Angel Investor.
If I could pick a second person it would be Sir Richard Branson, he has been able to create so many exciting ventures which successfully combine a willingness to have an impact. I admire his expertise building companies with very strong cultures