Life at Sonder: how Sonder makes decisions on real estate deals

Andrew is a senior manager on the investment analysis team – an organization at the heart of how Sonder makes decisions on our real estate deals. In this Life at Sonder conversation, Andrew discusses his initial surprise at the way that a billion-dollar company can still have the agility of a start-up and how invigorating it is to create a forecasting methodology for this new type of hospitality category.

What made you want to join the team at Sonder?

I was incredibly intrigued by the business model and conducted a few weeks of research ahead of some preliminary conversations with the team. I remember going through some investor decks and being shocked by the size of the market, the scalability of the business model, and the vision for the company. If that wasn’t enough, I spent hours looking through different buildings across markets imagining how amazing a prior vacation would have been if I had chosen Sonder vs. a typical hotel. By the time I accepted my offer at Sonder, I had already referred 10 people to book a stay. 

Can you describe your role and a bit about what you do here?

I am a senior manager on the investment analysis [IA] team overseeing the underwriting function across the Americas. Investment Analysis is a mission-critical function for Sonder and is at the heart of how Sonder makes billions of dollars of deal decisions. Underwriting involves taking every potential real estate opportunity Sonder might consider and transforms that opportunity into a thorough and interpretable financial model — the ultimate output of which are the financial metrics, context, and diligence that leadership needs to make an informed decision. 

What teams do you primarily collaborate with/how?

Although we sit under the finance organization, we spend most of our time interacting directly with our real estate and market ops colleagues across the world. We directly support Sonder’s company goal of signing thousands of high-quality, strongly profitable units in 2021 by assessing every viable real estate opportunity across our markets, which depends on a multitude of factors. 

How has your focus changed/developed over time — are there any notable projects/initiatives you think are relevant to highlight?

Our core focus has always been the same: underwriting as thoroughly and accurately as possible in a scalable way that supports smart growth. However, in 2020, we decided to revamp the underwriting process to improve essential rigor and consistency to how we think about underwriting major real estate decisions at Sonder. Given the volume of deals we are underwriting in a given quarter, even small, incremental improvements can have a monumental impact when scaled. This included many steps, but one I’ll highlight is creating an in-house tool to quickly aggregate relevant forecasting data points to reduce forecasting turn times & room for error.

Sonder is redefining the accommodations market; there are no textbooks that ‘teach’ how to underwrite Sonder’s revenue and costs. Every day we are learning how to better predict how customers value staying in a Sonder vs. a traditional hotel … Putting all of this together into a forecasting methodology is one heck of a challenge and makes coming in each day incredibly stimulating.

What has surprised you most about working at Sonder?

I have been most surprised by how a large, billion-dollar company like Sonder can still show the agility of a company ⅕ of its size. During COVID, I saw teams across Sonder react and adapt in record time to ultimately ensure Sonder’s survival during COVID’s initial shutdowns. Dark chapters like these remind me of how talented our teams are — from the frontlines across our cities to HQ; everyone came together with the common mission of ensuring Sonder would survive and eventually thrive on the other side of this crisis. 

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned so far?

Transitioning from working at a large, traditional finance firm in New York to a disruptive startup in San Francisco showed me that small, incremental improvements can lead to pretty extraordinary results over a long period of time. It’s easy to get stuck in a state of analysis-paralysis waiting until an idea is perfect before implementing, but quick actions or calibrations (even if not perfect) to fix a broken process are vital to Sonder’s success.

What excites you most about the initiatives you work on?

There are countless textbooks that can teach someone how to underwrite traditional hotels. After all, big brand hotels have not changed much over the last few decades and therefore, the discipline of projecting revenue and costs at those traditional hotel brands can easily be templated and repeatable – maybe even automated. However, Sonder is redefining the accommodations market; there are no textbooks that ‘teach’ how to underwrite Sonder’s revenue and costs. Every day we are learning how to better predict how customers value staying in a Sonder vs. a traditional hotel, but this is variable across markets, neighborhoods, Sonder product, and all these value propositions evolve over time given the diversity of Sonders and external factors (e.g. COVID) reshaping the industry. Putting all of this together into a forecasting methodology is one heck of a challenge and makes coming into each day incredibly stimulating.

Rapid-fire questions

Aisle or window?

Aisle – love being able to access the aisle without having to ask some cozy person next to me to close the tray table, carry all their food, and stand up…just because I want to stretch my legs.

Work from home or work from the office?

As a new puppy dad – definitely loving the flexibility of working from home and not having to wonder if my apartment has been torn up, now I can see it get torn up in person!

Modern high rise or historic townhome?

Modern high rise! I will never get sick of a beautiful, city view. I will get sick of running up/down 3-4 flights of stairs every day.

Eat in or dine out?

Eat-in, 100%. For the same price as eating out, I can buy a bunch of amazing ingredients, invite some friends over (when it’s not COVID), enjoy a few bottles of wine, and when it’s all done? I am less than 10 feet away from a comfy couch.

Favorite travel companion?

My boyfriend Ryan. He and I have the exact same approach to traveling: plan the important things (nice dinners, tours, must-see attractions, transportation), but leave the rest of the trip to chance. Also, we both are masters at ‘fake nodding’ at an art museum to fit in.

What’s the best travel advice you ever received?

Courtesy of my mom: when planning a trip overseas, look at all the clothes you are going to pack and remove half. Look at the money you are going to pack and double it.

What do you most look forward to while traveling?

I absolutely love meeting new friends while traveling. Some of them might become life-long friends, others I might never see again, but those moments really anchor the memories from prior vacations.

Interested in learning more about our teams and opportunities? Check out our careers page.

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