Life at Sonder: the operations behind creating a beautiful Sonder space

Nizar Sultani works on the Central Onboarding team and is based in San Francisco. He’s been at Sonder since November 2016, and over the years has worn many hats — from Marketing Specialist to Global Operations Coordinator to Operations Analyst. In this edition of “Life at Sonder,” Nizar sheds light on how taking the leap into the start-up world was his best choice yet, and that rapid growth requires a total team effort.  

Why did you decide to join Sonder?

I’ve always wanted to work in the hospitality industry, and when I first heard of Sonder, I knew that the company was on to something great. I had stayed in my fair share of hotels, but the idea of having a full apartment to myself without compromising hotel-level standards was a no-brainer. I was also interested in joining an early-stage start-up…I was the 63rd employee to join Sonder!

My favorite part of the job is seeing Sonder spaces come to life. Our team puts a lot of effort into creating welcoming spaces that feel like a second home. Witnessing the transformation — sometimes very radical ones — is one of the things that feels most gratifying.

What’s life like on the Central Onboarding team?

First, let me say that life has been a little different since COVID-19, which I’ll get to in a second. But typically, the Central Onboarding team oversees the entire process of preparing a unit to be guest-ready. What that means is, from the moment Sonder leases a unit, our local team jumps into high gear and starts the process of gathering information on the units we’re taking over. They will gather floor plans, measure windows, capture images and videos of the space, and so much more! They then share that information with our Interior Design team, who turns empty units into beautiful spaces that our guests will enjoy. The design team uses our own inventory held in two distribution centers to design the spaces – everything from the furniture down to the accessories and decor. That’s when our Logistics and Procurement teams take the reins, ordering the items chosen by our designers and sending them to the local team so they can begin move-ins. Finally, our local teams move items into the spaces, following very specific instructions from our Interior Designers regarding how to stage the units, to ensure they’re guest-ready!

As an Operations Analyst, my pre-COVID-19 role was to help our stakeholders execute on their processes outlined above and navigate roadblocks along the way. I also lead metrics reporting, which tracks the success of our unit onboardings and enables us to better determine how we can improve in the future. Additionally, I work on strategic projects to improve the overall process and ways that our team works both together and cross-functionally. 

My favorite part of the job is seeing Sonder spaces come to life. Our team puts a lot of effort into creating welcoming spaces that feel like a second home. Witnessing the transformation — sometimes very radical ones — is one of the things that feel most gratifying.

Sonder spaces from The Heid building in Philadelphia

And how has your job changed since COVID?

I’ve primarily been focused on our Extended Stay efforts, which is a specific offering we launched tailored towards those in need of shelter for a longer-term stay. I helped create our Salesforce program to streamline our sales process and accurately track and manage our pipeline. This enabled us to generate more partnerships and business for Sonder – ultimately increasing our ability to provide shelter for those in need.

How do you balance rapid growth with consistency? 

It’s a delicate balance! Our goal is to create a consistent vision for a building to make the onboarding process more straightforward and simple, while also infusing character where possible. We typically follow the same standard flow for almost all our onboardings with a few exceptions, and when we start noticing new elements starting to become more common, we try to build new standards in order to stay consistent along the way.

Once a unit is nearly complete, central onboarding works directly with city teams on the ground to perform quality audits. Members of the Central Onboarding team are matched directly with specific city teams, which creates a direct line of contact and enables us to form stronger relationships so that ultimately any needs can be easily flagged and addressed. When it comes to rapid growth, it’s a team effort; we always push for the highest standards, even when we’re working on a time crunch.

What has surprised you most over the years?

It’s amazing to see how Sonder has evolved over the years, while still maintaining a high bar when it comes to the product offering and talent within the company. I’ve seen Sonder go through many different life cycles to evolve into what we now offer today – and we’re nowhere near finished! 

We’ve evolved from a very basic hospitality brand to one that is thoughtfully designed and crafted. One example is the evolution of only providing apartment-style units, to expanding our portfolio to include entire hotels – and offering more services to our guests along the way, like our latest partnership with Postmates. We have grown from a small office of 30 people in Montreal to upwards of 300 in San Francisco, and roughly 1,000 nationwide. A stretch-project used to be when we onboarded a “massive” 30 units, but now we launch projects that are 10 times as big and often require taking over entire buildings – but we’ve been able to keep the same level of consistency. I can’t wait to see the next level guest experience we’re setting out to achieve!

What’s your favorite part about working at Sonder?

The people! Everyone is always willing to help and provide guidance when needed, and it’s easy to ask for support. I believe this is true for all levels in the organization, whether they’re on the Senior Leadership team or peers in other departments. People like to have a good time together, too, when we’re not under quarantine. It’s not just about work!

I also feel that I’ve developed professionally very quickly. I strongly believe that if I had gone to a more traditional company, it would’ve taken me much longer to get the growth I’ve been through at Sonder. There are so many opportunities to excel and challenge yourself here.

Rapid-fire questions

Leisure or adventure travel?

I like skiing, but I also love to just hang out at the beach – so I guess it depends on the season!

Aisle or window?

Aisle, I like to know that I can leave my seat to stretch at any point during the flight.

Modern high-rise or historic townhome?

Modern high-rise – I’m all about the amenities.

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

When selecting your seat on a flight, find an aisle seat furthest back on the plane which has an empty middle seat and a reserved window seat. The middle seat will likely be the last one to be selected by another traveler – so chances are higher you will have an empty seat next to you.

What do you most look forward to while traveling?

All the food I’m going to eat! I usually plan my trips around the food I’ll be having.

What’s the next Sonder you want to stay in?

The Heid in Philly! We worked with local artists to paint murals in this building – here’s an example.

Number one indulgence when traveling?

Upgrading my flight class with points. The best was when I was able to upgrade my seat on an Emirates A380!

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

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