Clara Arroyave

Clara Arroyave is CEO and co-founder of PlaceMe – a Boston Co-living company, acquired by SplitSpot. With over 7 years of experience in the real estate technology space, she launched her own company in 2016, before being a co-founder and team member in two other RETECH startups. As an active member of the Boston start-up community, Clara is a growth mentor, leader, and consultant focused on empowering startups with strong value propositions.

She received an MBA from Hult International Business School, where she won two innovation awards in consulting and entrepreneurship clubs. She graduated from the University of Antioquia in Social Communication – Media. Clara also graduated from gener8tor, one of the most important accelerators in the United States that invests in high-growth startups.

She works primarily on strategy and performance improvement in the real estate tech space. Clara is also a member of First Group Latinos for Education, a non-profit organization that prepares Latino Leaders to serve on Boards of Education nationwide. She currently serves as a Board Member at Breakthrough Greater Boston.

Follow Clara here:

Website: https://placemeliving.com/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/claraarroyave/

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Clara Arroyave Shares Her Unique Journey From Her Kitchen Table to Entrepreneurship

Pamela Bardhi
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of underdog. Today I have an amazing guest here with me, Clara, how are you?

Clara Arroyave
So happy to be here and chat with you.

Pamela Bardhi
It is such an honor to have you here. You’re a serial entrepreneur, you’ve got quite a story, I can’t wait for you to share it. And now like my opening question. Which is always the most complicated and the most loaded question. What inspired you on your journey to where you are today?

Clara Arroyave
That’s a fantastic question. And you open with bandages, you know, plans I began as a woman. I’m an intrapreneur, like solving problems pretty much like if the problem is not solved, then you have to jump on to solve it. That’s pretty much how we take care of things, but also the need to make things better. Right, so my last company placed me was a cleaning company that helps young professionals. Have an affordable living in the city because I believe that I believe in access to opportunity. And for me, real estate is a great equalizer in terms of access to work. So my first step is that in my previous company, living in a big city should not be this expensive. It’s unfair that someone has to pay $10,000 for a kind of sleep.

So you don’t have that you cannot go to school you have that you can have a job is insane. We try to solve that problem of having access to opportunities by having shared housing and a flexible price. It’s always about trying to solve a problem in this case. Access to opportunity in big cities. The next problem that I’m trying to solve and I’m gonna take a while to think about. Is how we can make housing accessible for minorities and immigrants. When they compete for offers in such a real estate, social competitive real estate market. So I’m thinking about how to bring technology to make offers and access to funding a more equitable way that is now. But that thinking was always, about how to solve problems that are still there.

Pamela Bardhi
So how did you get into the real estate space? What inspired you in that world to go down that route?

Clara Arroyave
You know, I had no idea that I was talking to real estate until I moved to Austin back in 2012, my MBA. And always been an early user or early adopter of technology in every sense. I found out about Airbnb back in the day and I used to live in a very nice place in East Cambridge. Near MIT in Boston, we have a space in the living room. So you know, we put this and we micrometer, let’s put them up and say, let’s try. We made $10,000 in one season and we couldn’t believe it. After that, I became passionate about how it is possible to mix location prices and nice for people to solve problems and that’s how I got started.

And then I got recruited by a friend of mine that was starting a company trying to do relocation for internationals. Because when someone moves to a CD and they don’t have social security, yet. They come to do a master’s degree or to get a job and they don’t have a social life. Or they don’t have a credit score to rent an apartment or to rent a place to live is so complicated. So we created a platform to try to solve that problem. And in the meantime, I got to meet so many big employers, lots of cables that people don’t see and he was quite a fantastic story. We broke our own website. My lesson is done. Degenerate rock and roll than us don’t like the switch. But that’s so interesting.

Pamela Bardhi
You found a niche so basically you moved to Boston. I think you came for your MBA at the hope I didn’t do my MBA. So you came here in 2012. And so Airbnb and your unit made dunkleman louder. That’s amazing and then that sort of led you into that realm, that’s so interesting. So tell me about before you came to Boston, what did you come in here? Like. What Did you study in college? Back home? Tell me a little bit about that story. Your story there too.

Clara Arroyave
Sure. I went for journalism and media back in the day. Imagine if you ever saw a movie while Madden is never like a chore is more like a much better. More cooler, more inspirational place, so I wanted to tell stories or tell people stories. I used to have my radio show back in the day in what I was doing, studying journalism. And then I became very good at two things, helping more people tell the stories. So I became like a PR person for artists and musicians, so I have a PR company and then I have I’m interested at all out into the world publishing.

I became the business development person for a publishing company. Representing Latin America, because of the N book out there for like rock stars too. And they use one to tell the story. They all have an ego that needs to be broached. So I became really good at sharing stories that made me passionate about something. And I was actually doing really well and I have one company that now I want. But at the end of the day, I say, look, if I really want to sit at the table. I need to complete this part of my education.

And that’s why I really want to do an MBA. Because I felt that even though I knew. What to do really well, like telling my story how the impact of what you do brings value, to a company or to a company. Unless you have a complete location and you’d like to take a step back and look at the whole strategy. Then you’ll know what you really do. So I needed to learn how to take the step back. And be able to integrate everything that I know, to see the whole picture and that’s Boston.

Pamela Bardhi
That’s so interesting. So you grew he was crazy. In Colombia?

Clara Arroyave
My MBA was crazy. Because I chose to go just for a year instead of two, so it was very intensive. And he was with people from 17 countries. So when I landed in Boston in my classroom. They just divided naam tanks and people in teams. So my first team had an engineer from India, an accountant from Brazil. A military guy from Korea, from South Korea, an old engineer from a mining company from Sweden. And then you have a critical or maybe that you used to manage rock bands. Then they give you a case study, a case study, you have 48 hours to solve it. Okay, so it was really intensive, but it made me a whole new person and I’m very thankful for that.

Pamela Bardhi
Wow. Okay, so you were in Columbia before you came to Boston? I have a good friend who’s from Columbia and her family is so great. And they’re also committing and they’re just the greatest people. They’re so sweet and they live here. They live in Medford and they’re the most lovely people. So tell me about your experience, like growing up and like a different country. Because like, for me, I was like Albania to Italy to here. So I remember coming here, it was like a total culture shock. Be like, in so many different ways. Share your experience about you know, growing up in Colombia and coming here and just seeing all the differences.

Clara Arroyave
I guess I’m the daughter of an intrapreneur. The way my dad used to have the biggest bakery in the neighborhood. He wakes up every day at 3 am to have all the goods ready for people to come into the store. Like at six 7 am, whatnot and he always has his own business. No one else’s doing what he will. So I learned to help him and thereby help him. I’m doing him, like my childhood, my teenager games and he sold the business and he bought a coffee farm. So I always say that one of my biggest peaks is coffee, because I’m like, very picky about my coffee. He has to be Columbian coffee, but he has to be like Colombian coffee.

And when I was growing up, I would never care about the coffee. I only cared about the coffee later when I went to college. So I moved out from that town with my family tonight in the big city to our college. And then you know, independence and the other part. I must say that it was not my first time coming to you, I came to the US many times. We’re working together double no long term. So I think the biggest shock is culturally wise. The US has a culture of independence and even individualism that is very strong.

Whereas our culture uses family and do things together as a thing. First, that was for me, like the biggest shock like you’re like, wait. We need to do this together, so it does for me, like the biggest part. You can think about how the food is different. And how the access to opportunity here is bigger than someone else. Because you’re an entrepreneur and you fail in Latin America. You will never get investment back here, entrepreneurs that fail are celebrated. And then given money again and entrepreneurs that have failed and you know, investors given money again.

Pamela Bardhi
Really?

Clara Arroyave
Like Travis Calacanis, even larger entrepreneurs and investors like them better. Because they know what mistakes not to make their money will be in better hands. And he happened to mature. We have not gone into this part yet. But when I closed them, the merger and acquisition of my company, pandemic, in the previous September. All my investors told me, I will invest in you again because you’re doing the right thing. Wow. So I don’t know what will happen in another country. But it speaks to me not only of the job I need as CEO of my own companies but also how investors think.

Pamela Bardhi
Well, that’s fascinating because the fact that you said that it’s the individualism that I saw too. And it’s the same thing like in Europe, it’s very family-oriented everything you do together. Like it’s and it’s still that way for me. But I’ve noticed that in sort of societal culture, but like the interesting thing is that people are not they’re trained in that to fail. Which I think is so free when you know, like. Okay, this failure is just a lesson. But if you feel like you’re going to be punished for those failures or you know that you’re less than.

Because of that, you tend to put yourself down. And I think that’s what gets people in big depressions and things like that in the United States. So I think it’s beautiful that Columbia is the total opposite. It’s like no, no, it’s okay. We’re human like I wish that mentality translated here. Because I think it would save so many people so much heartache. And so much depression and so much anxiety, because they feel like everything has to be perfect. That’s so interesting.

Clara Arroyave
Yeah, there’s a huge disparity I will say mental health-wise in how that access to communication. To access even your own emotions and like, the support of your close circle that it will be okay. We’ll get through this, help your mental health. Support your mental health versus what you encounter here in the professional setting, like, you have to do it right. And don’t fail, don’t disappoint me and this social imaginary pressure that you have now. Reputation-wise, that each creates a completely different environment. Especially for people that always know, they come from another country. Now you have proved yourself.

Pamela Bardhi
What was that transition into being here long-term, like, cuz you’re going from like two different worlds?

Clara Arroyave
Oh, well, I was so lucky. I’m lucky in the sense that I’m not only entering a business school, that is very international in that sense. That both landed a place to live with fantastic roommates, 10 minutes walking to the school. So everything else was new to us. I never live with roommates before, so I like how to live with roommates. And it was interesting because everybody has different cultures. So we didn’t know simple things like that, you need to take the lender or the drying machine. My friend from India, she has someone that was allowed for her. And my other friend, my roommate, you can find a maid leaving that does a laundromat service.

So they just pick up my clothes, bring them back, so we never have to do it. But because it was just a cultural thing. It’s just a lot of contract shock really quickly. So I will say it’s like endorphin high because, at the same time, he’s meeting all these people. And you have all these various stresses. You know Harvard or MIT papers that you have to read these calls and get back in class. Yeah, so he’s in play when in the first year it is incredibly intense, very intense, but I enjoyed it a lot. And you’re 11, I still have pretty good friends with a group from my business school.

Pamela Bardhi
That’s awesome. So it’s like, basically, because you have that community. You were able to sort of transition a lot easier than if you were to yourself.

Clara Arroyave
Oh, yeah. 100%. They have this part of wanting everybody to know the way to leave. And only I have multiple states, like 10-20 people. So you have to reassess who you are and reassess you new to go, who is going to. That’s, I guess, another challenge for the immigrant. Because you don’t feel like going back to your house or to your country. But you need to build something here when the new support system is gone. So it’s a new rebuild, once again, so it Yeah. I think it’s a little resilience like we all have a lot of resilience, don’t you think?

Pamela Bardhi
Absolutely. I totally agree. Because to come to a new country and reinvent yourself. Basically, establish yourself and establish your roots here. I mean, it’s a challenging thing, right? And then not only did you do that, but you also built a business here. So like, walk me through how you’ve built many businesses here. See, that’s amazing, though, like cuz you started with one. Walk me through, like. How did you just go ahead and do that?

Clara Arroyave
I guess to be completely honest, I never clicked on how to get a job in the US. You know, not that my resume is bad is just like the preparation for the interview and the cover letter. Like eventually you get sick of it, so that’s one right. But I always have been, I guess, a people person. So I used to love going to Cambridge Innovation Centre. And all these ideas to do a lot of networking. I get to meet new people and use inspiration like what I’m gonna do next and am I gonna have an internship. He was building a platform to bring Bhaskar international credit scores to the US. So people will bring their creditworthiness to the US. For you.

You can let us know I’m coming back From Mexico, from India. In India, my credit score is 800. I want to send the same treatment here and we start having competition about that. And then we find out that it’s incredibly expensive and he was the earliest that he couldn’t raise the funds. So he paid what into these to throw it, which was the setup. I was the chief marketing officer for the relocation platform that I mentioned before. How to help those people and he hired me because I really knew about real estate. Because of my Airbnb experience, I get to meet a lot of real estate agents all over the country and bring them to our platform.

We did really well I think for a year or so we were like postino. Instead of to watch intrapreneurs to watch and all those vanity metrics. But one of the things that we didn’t learn was how to make money out of it. We were given all these people, all our customers access to leads and good brokers that will help them get an apartment. But we didn’t know how to charge the agents. Or the agents pay us for when they close the transaction and the technology was not there to secure the transaction. So eventually it’s called running around, we’ve run out of money. And then my co-founder was about to take a job at Google anyway.

So we closed the company number one, I learned a lot about how to bring people to the city. The second one, right, still exists on a Eureka microbiome company. They want to open a branch in the city of Boston, they are pretty much an advertising platform for brokers, property managers, why not? Look here, the demand is so big for housing. Because the researcher searches for housing. There is not enough housing in the city, accessible for anyone that there was not what I can call a product-market fit. You know what I mean? Why? Because there is no progressive. They just need to pay for advertising, because the amount of people seeking housing is bigger than the state so they don’t need it.

So it was not up to where we can, it wasn’t a feat. But when I was doing that, I made my first co-founder think that gave me the idea. What if instead of people having to pay for the body. A broken fee for an apartment, they just paid the last person’s deposit. Rent the room with all utilities included, for the time that they need to stay. And I like Whoo. I mean, four years ago, that was the news. Now it is everywhere. Four years ago, we started, I think at the end of 2016. We did a trial run for a couple with a couple of properties. And we sold out in two weeks and I say well, we might be onto something. So let’s keep going. That became my latest combined placement.

We were able to do $2 million in less than two years in revenue, we became the largest cleaning company in Boston. And we acquired competitors badly. The Boston operation was when the pandemic came. We were and we would attack you were about to make 3.6 million in revenue. When I became a big percentage of my customers, I had to leave because I was opposed or close and pandemic. And even though we have access to credit, it was very hard for us to stay open. Because we don’t know when people are coming back. You seem to rest on things either. Like there is no certainty for us over no certainty to write.

That gave us a runway long enough to sustain us only we knew, right. So what we did was change the business model. A little bit masterful from renting an apartment, to share the look like a management model with the landlord. And I found a local company that is similar but different and we created a Medina requisition they acquired. Thankfully my employees did not wanna lose their job. And landlords tenants all when within, we’re able to recoup some of their money back from my investors. So they were happy and I’m happy the class actually went this way. You made the plan to study.

Pamela Bardhi
That’s amazing. What I love is like your fearlessness and just like going out and doing it and not being afraid. And you’re like, I’m just gonna figure this out and you did it. There’s people here in the United States who won’t even do that. And then you came here to a different country and you were just like, No, I’m gonna do it, I see an opportunity. I’m just gonna do it.

I don’t know anything about immigrants. Because it’s the same way with me, I was just like, why not? Somebody else has done a business before I can do a business too like, whatever, let’s go do it. And I tell people, I’m like, it just takes hustle. Like, if you’re a hustler, and you’re fearless. Why not? Here you are, taking things like opportunity by the horns and just being like, yep, let’s go.

Clara Arroyave
And we have maybe because we have less to lose, though we think such a risk.

Pamela Bardhi
I think so too. Like when we think about things that we come from places where we’ve seen people truly have nothing. So we know what that’s like, yeah, I understand that. We’re blessed. And so for us to go in. It’s like, Okay, well, we’re in the US like the land of opportunity. Like we have all the tools to do so what do we have to lose? So I think that that’s where it kind of stems from so it’s so interesting. I’m just fascinated by you. I love how you handled it. Thank you so much for sharing that about your story. That even so COVID things, didn’t go the way that you wanted it to.

But you may have to make a pivot and ultimately it worked out for the better. Because now you have an open slate and you’re working on some amazing stuff. Everything happens for a reason. I think it stems back to what you were saying in Colombia that likes failures. And not really, failures are just lessons in life. But these things are really beneficial because then it just helps you get on to the next thing and on to the next thing. So I just, commend you for not being afraid of going out there and doing it.

And then you know, to talk about your pivots and to now say. Hey, I’m here in this space, where I’m still learning and we’re still doing. It’s just exciting and refreshing to see because oftentimes, like in society here in the US. We see women really afraid to take action and really afraid. You have more to lose by not doing it. And I say that all the time, you want to look back 10. You know, 510-1520 years from now and say, Oh, I wish I did this.

Clara Arroyave
One of the things I’m passionate about is about public speaking. I love just sharing my story on helping people, I used to have a talk called failure is fantastic. Like failure is fantastic and then why failure is good, you fail forward. And now, okay, I don’t have my company anymore and inside. Because I have loved my baby for three years.

But now I have the ability to bring my life to another level. And then been working really hard in creating these next levels for me. I’m designing how this next level of life is gonna be for me and for everybody around me. Because he has to be much better than before, financially wise, time-management wise, rewarding wise. You can only be wiser, you only learn and learn. So now I’m ready to finally explore my full potential. And I’m so excited about that.

Clara’s Biggest Tips To Success

Pamela Bardhi
I’m so excited for you, too. So amazing. What are your biggest tips to success? When it comes to anybody who wants to start a business or anything like that? Well, what would be your suggestions and your best tip?

Clara Arroyave
Everybody kind of starts a business. But this is not about the idea, it is never about the idea. It’s about execution, you can be fantastic in your brain. But if you don’t take action and execute, then you’re not being different, then you’re not moving forward. So it’s always about making progress. Even that progress is slow, but it’s progress, that sitting on your couch and 61 of chips, clicking Netflix. Which you have done so far.

But it’s like what you really want. Decide what you want, listen to what you want, go back, sit down and do the numbers. You know which business, how much you’re gonna cause. Whatever it is, seek a mentor, you can, and then just go do it. Because no one else is gonna have the life that you want. Or you cannot live the life that you want. You don’t go and get it. And I don’t know if there are more than one.

Pamela Bardhi
Perfect. What’s next sort of in your world, you mentioned you’re working on a new game.

Clara Arroyave
He’s not one of five, so I decided that now, it’s all about time management. Because I think time is your biggest asset at the end. So I want to have time slips come on if something fails. You know like, they will entail, so there was first I do believe that travel bucket and dry. We’ll come back, so I want to have a partner with more people and have a network of vacation rentals. Because they pay for themselves faster and people want to vacation now more than ever. It was due for some years to come pioneering with a few people to find the right package for rentals. And getting together on a parade and I’m happy to announce that my first deal is closing today. So Happy, happy, happy.

You know how much work I enjoy supporting all female entrepreneurs like hello from becoming a mentor of. Sir well am I writing mentoring to other women entrepreneurs right now and we’re in for free. But eventually, we’ll charge for my time, I’m still figuring that out. I am very excited that I’m taking a job in a private equity company to manage in Latin America. To manage their real estate deals and have been funding affordable housing in Latin America. So that’s where my nine to five and then my work with a friend of mine to get into e-commerce. But that’s further down the road. I want to get things rolling and then I’ll manage my time that way, but that’s it for now.

Pamela Bardhi
That’s amazing. And Clara now. What piece of advice would your older self tell your younger self, based on your experience and what you learned now?

Clara Arroyave
Trust your God. So important when you’re not comfortable with a conversation with a decision. Especially work, you really need to do something when you feel something is wrong. And you need to be true to yourself all the time, no matter what. When you don’t then things start collapsing around. You need to be true to yourself and care for yourself. Not from the individualistic part.

But to be able to give everything that you will have its full potential you need to trust your God. Decision-making watch and drink water. Because when we weren’t, like I was telling before we put ourselves last Oh. So we sometimes don’t need to sleep well, they get very rowdy and we are always last. And sometimes that doesn’t help we then burn out or like, try not to get burnout.

Pamela Bardhi
I love that. And that cloud where everybody can find you and your awesomeness? So they can come up with your amazingness.

Clara Arroyave
Holy moly. I mean, social media, but I’m not like being active on social media. You have access to my LinkedIn, you can reach out to me on LinkedIn if they want mentorship sessions. My Twitter is life is rock’n’roll. Because I did it back in the day when I was married in rock bands and whatnot. So I still keep it but you know now awesome intrapreneur versus a cute Twitter name. Look at my slicers Metallica fan.

Pamela Bardhi
Oh my God, you’re so funny.

Clara Arroyave
Yeah, no, I think those will be like my two favorites. Twitter and on LinkedIn.

Pamela Bardhi
You’re So Amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your story. And just your amazing. I’m just so excited for your future. And I can’t wait to see your five streams of revenue coming together. Hopefully, one day become 10.

Tune in to the episode to hear the rest of my incredible interview with the amazing Clara Arroyave.