Life at Sonder: insights from one of our earliest employees on how Sonder expands into new cities while still prioritizing the guest experience

Erika Secondi works as a City Launcher on the Expansion team at Sonder and is based in Montreal. She’s been with the company for 5 years in a variety of roles. In this edition of “Life at Sonder,” Erika sheds light on what it was like in the early days, why first impressions are important, and how pivoting your career for the right company and mission can be the best move. 

Before getting into things, how has your role changed in light of Covid-19?

My day-to-day has mostly shifted since travel restrictions were put into place. Very early on, Sonder moved quickly to launch an initiative focused on providing temporary housing for those in need of longer term stays. Knowing many people would soon need self-contained, safe and comfortable lodging for an extended period of time, we launched an entire internal division within days dedicated entirely to extended stay sales, with significantly discounted rates for bookings longer than 14 days. This has involved engineering work, performance marketing initiatives, operations efforts, and much more.

I have been leading a team of more than a dozen people across various departments to conduct outreach through B2C channels, including posting ads on sites like Craigslist and Apartments.com. It’s been really rewarding to see such a positive response from so many individuals, including college students, military personnel, displaced foreign diplomats, members of the press,  and those who have been forced to isolate themselves due to ill family members – among others. Not only that, but our average occupancy rate is now at about 65% – a number that’s quite high for the industry – with approximately 75% of that coming from these extended stays.

How’d you make your way to Sonder?

At the very start of my career journey, I was finishing my undergrad in Psychology and was looking for something part-time. When I first heard about Sonder’s mission to build a better hospitality experience, I truly believed in the vision. I was energized by the opportunity to work towards that goal, and was excited by the team who was focused on making it happen. Sonder has enabled me to partner with, be mentored by, and work alongside some incredibly talented, motivated and ambitious people who have helped me grow throughout the years. 

What does the Expansion team do?

This would have been a really simple answer a few months ago. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we launched cities! But we’ve really seen our team’s institutional knowledge and hospitality expertise stretched beyond just the realm of launching markets. As a City Launcher, I have helped open Sonder spaces in new cities, but I have also trained and mentored critical roles along the way, like Operations Managers and housekeeping partners. The most satisfying thing about launching a new market – and at the same time most stressful – is that six months of hard work eventually all boils down to the experience of the first guest that walks through the door.

How do you balance establishing consistency in a decentralized environment, with being flexible about individual characteristics of a team/place?

This is my favorite part of the job. Making sure that as a member of Expansion, I’m able to share best practices and establish processes, all while ensuring that the city’s individual charm and quirks is valued and shared, is incredibly important. This is something the entire team is passionate about.

It also comes down to all of the work that is done behind the scenes. We’re often only on the ground in a city for about two weeks, but there’s a good chance we’ve been doing a lot of leg work to get ready for that launch for months. Those months of prep work really help you get a better understanding of how to best mold our standard practices into ones that will work to benefit the city as well as Sonder. 

We work with city leaders to create a positive guest experience right from the start, with tailored touches for each city. For example, guests in London might need an umbrella, where guests in New Orleans might appreciate festive gifts that complement the music and entertainment in the city. Unlike hotels, each Sonder city looks and feels different! From the design to the local hospitality, we’re pleased to customize each project and surprise and delight our guests worldwide!

What about Sonder’s launch process differentiates us from other global brands in hospitality/accommodations?

Sonder’s launch process is unique in that no two projects are alike. We avoid the “cookie-cutter” approach when launching a city, and work diligently to customize each one. The Expansion division is led by a team of committed experts who have built due diligence processes that help us navigate each launch. Where we stand out from the rest is how creative and invested we are in the “impressions” we make in each city. We take pride in researching what the guest experience strategy needs to be for each market and provide amenities, guest services, and much more to customize the experience. Leveraging our research, we work with city leaders to create a positive guest experience right from the start, with tailored touches for each city. For example, guests in London might need an umbrella, where guests in New Orleans who might appreciate festive gifts that complement the music and entertainment in the city. Unlike hotels, each Sonder city looks and feels different! From the design to the local hospitality, we’re pleased to customize each project and surprise and delight our guests worldwide!

Can you share how we determine where we grow/why?

For every market we look into, we first run a thorough due diligence process that involves multiple stakeholders across a few departments. Throughout this exercise, we look at things like the economics of a market, the tourism industry and its profitability and seasonality, short term rental regulations, and so much more. We’ve also been looking at international expansion, and what adjustments we’d need to make to launch Sonders in different countries. 

For every location we look to expand in, we examine if it fits with our mission of becoming the world’s most loved hospitality brand. With operations in cities like New York, Edinburgh, Rome, and Dubai, there really is no shortage of diversity in cultural experiences available for our guests. Our goal is to keep growing, keep the guest experience at the forefront of our growth, and to keep inspiring unique travel experiences. 

What’s your favorite part about working at Sonder?

The constantly evolving playing field. Over the last 5 years, the hard work I have seen being put into this company has consistently impressed me. It has pushed me to work harder and be better. Every single individual I have worked with has been willing to step out of their comfort zone to learn more and do more. We are trying to break the mold, and Sonder constantly finds the most forward-thinking people, with great ideas and fierce execution. I love the challenge this company brings forward while still keeping an incredibly fun culture! 

What excites you most about your role?

Having been here for this long, I find myself very lucky to have a role that helps me stay connected to others. I get to learn so much from folks who come in from other companies and have outside knowledge that I might not have. And then I get to share all of my Sonder experiences and institutional knowledge with them. And pre-COVID 19, I got to travel a lot in this role.

What are some of the challenges you face in your role?

Being a City Launcher is a big juggling act. You’re essentially a project manager, a consultant, a trainer, and more. Your main job is to create a solid foundation wherever you go. You have to connect with almost every single department for any given project and track process across multiple tasks. 

Rapid-fire questions

Aisle or window?

 Always window

Leisure or adventure travel?

Does food-motivated travel count?

Book or podcast; got a favorite?

Definitely podcast; I love Stuff you Missed in History Class

Favorite travel companion?

Hands down my boyfriend, who is also very food-motivated when traveling!

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

Don’t just take pictures for the sake of it, and always pack light!

What do you most look forward to while traveling?

Anyone at Sonder will know that I am a coffee snob, so naturally, I always love to find and try new tiny cafes. 

Best meal you’ve ever eaten on a trip?

Linguine alle vongole on the Adriatic coast of Italy – the pasta was homemade and the seafood was a fresh catch of the day.    

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