Life at Sonder: A look inside the Public Policy team

Melissa Heuer works on the Public Policy team at Sonder as Senior Manager, based in New York City. She enjoys spending time thinking about the evolution of cities in relation to how people will live, work and travel in the future. In this edition of “Life at Sonder,” Melissa shares the importance of embracing change, finding a professional mentor, and being a resource to local community members.

Why did you decide to join Sonder?

I just celebrated my second anniversary at Sonder and was recently reflecting back on my time here. Before Sonder, I spent a few years working with various startups in highly regulated spaces. I learned a lot about how a company’s outlook on regulations and compliance can impact its ability to scale and ultimately succeed. When I met Francis, his commitment to compliance and working proactively with regulators to build a sustainable business model was very inspiring, and I was sold! I knew I wanted to give my blood, sweat, and tears to help build this company. 

Our goal is to build open lines of communication and partnerships so that Sonder can be a resource and a productive member of the community, while also ensuring we’re following all city regulations, paying taxes, and celebrating every cities’ culture.

What’s life like on the Public Policy team?

It’s never dull! I’m the lead for our Public Policy work in North America. The Public Policy team works on issues like interpreting and navigating the local regulations in our markets and supporting our city teams in ensuring their operations comply with those regulations.

We work with our city teams to proactively engage local elected officials, regulators, and stakeholder organizations. Our goal is to build open lines of communication and partnerships so that Sonder can be a resource and a productive member of the community, while also ensuring we’re following all city regulations, paying taxes, and celebrating every cities’ culture.

We also think about macro policy issues for Sonder as an organization—about the challenges facing cities today like housing availability and affordability, urban planning and resiliency, and how the regulations regarding land use, development, and accommodations may evolve in the future. 

The best part of my job is truly the people I work with, and not just on the Public Policy team. Every cross-functional team I’m fortunate enough to collaborate with, and the time I get to spend on the ground with our city teams is 100% my favorite part of working at Sonder.

Can you share more details on how you partner with our city team leadership?

Sonder’s General Managers and their teams play a huge role in our public policy work and are a critical part of our success. Part of what’s unique about our business model is that in every market where we operate, we have a local team on the ground that’s often made up of people who have lived in that city for years. It’s where their lives are—their homes, their kids’ schools, their favorite restaurants, barbershops, and grocery stores. Our city teams care deeply about Sonder’s local operations because they care deeply about their communities. 

Public Policy’s role is to provide on the ground support, helping City Leadership identify and engage with various political and regulatory bodies, as well as community-led organizations. In the event that there is pending regulatory change or legislation, we help develop Sonder’s policy perspective and local strategy. Our goal is to help our City Leadership be the most effective local Ambassadors for Sonder that they can be. 


How do you balance “this is just the way things are” with finding creative solutions to some of our toughest legislative challenges?

It’s a very fluid balance that takes into consideration a lot of factors, like the political landscape, resources, and priorities at any given moment—all of which can and do change over time. Many regulations in place today never contemplated the types of products, services or ways of doing things that companies have developed in the past 10-20 years. This can make compliance inefficient and difficult for businesses, and make enforcement challenging and complicated for governments. 

It’s critical to acknowledge that many regulations are created and implemented out of necessity to establish standards that promote public health and safety. From a business perspective, if there are regulations that impose obstacles to growth and/or efficiency, it’s important to be objective about whether or not those policies can or should change. Sonder is an innovative, agile business. We expend significant resources to understand the regulations of each of our markets and to operate in compliance. It is incredibly validating when regulators recognize our intention, dedication, and transparency. It’s even better when they are open and willing to collaborate on creative solutions that regulate our business in ways that are modern, relevant and still achieve their public policy goals. Of course, this work is rarely straightforward. It is often marred by politics and entrenched interests, which can be grueling. In this line of work, it is so critical to truly believe in your business, which is why I’m so grateful to work at Sonder! 

Over the past two years, I’ve learned to truly embrace change. It is a critical strength to develop in order to thrive at most startups and Sonder is no exception. 

Part of what’s unique about our business model is that in every market where we operate, we have a local team on the ground that’s often made up of people who have lived in that city for years.

What excites you most about your role?

The intersection of hospitality and real estate at Sonder has given me the unique opportunity to think critically about the evolution of cities in terms of planning, land use, development, sustainability, preservation, and mobility in relation to how people will live, work, and travel in the future. It is equally daunting as it is thrilling. 


What’s your advice for anyone looking to begin a career in Public Policy?

Find someone whose career/accomplishments/expertise you admire and figure out how to work for them and learn from them. I learned so much from my first boss who is a brilliant political strategist turned venture capitalist. I don’t think I’d be where I am today if it hadn’t been for the six years I spent working for him absorbing everything I could. 

Rapid-fire questions

Aisle or window?

Aisle.

Book or podcast; got a favorite?

Podcasts are a huge part of my travel routine for work, WNYC’s On the Media is one of my favorites.

What’s the last trip you took?

My husband Alex and I took a quick 5-day trip to Rome. We used some of my annual credits (one of my favorite employee perks) and stayed in a Sonder. It was perfect.

What’s the next trip you want to take?

We want to take a two week trip through North India!

What’s the best travel advice you’ve ever received?

From my parents at an early age: commit to a mindset, not an itinerary.

What’s the next Sonder you want to stay in? (Leave a link)

This loft at the Slate Hotel by Sonder in Toronto, perhaps when the Yankees are in town playing the Blue Jays!

Best meal you’ve ever eaten on a trip?

On my last trip to Jakarta to visit my mom’s family, all of my great-aunts brought over my favorite Indonesian dishes and we had a feast of nothing but foods I love but rarely get to have. It was bliss.

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