Tom Knight works on the Central Operations team at Sonder as an Efficiency Manager based in Montreal. He joined the company three years ago after an international career that involved organizing conferences and exhibitions globally and managing restaurants in Australia. In this edition of “Life at Sonder,” Tom shares his thoughts on the importance of being nimble, measuring impact, and why he believes someday Sonder will operate on Mars.
What is life like on the Operations team?
Part hospitality. Part tech. A whole lot of moving parts. Our team oversees every aspect that goes into creating the Sonder guest experience, from interior design, to sourcing every item inside every Sonder globally, to ensuring each space is consistent so that a guest’s experience is familiar in any city, to maintaining and servicing each space.
Last week, for instance, we had 3,000 guest checkouts. That means 3,000 units inspected to ensure everything is operating and functioning well, 3,000 cleaning services performed, and roughly 100,000 lbs of linens and towels washed, dried, cleaned and folded. These operational functions span more than 20 markets, four countries, and seven time zones, each of which have complex local nuances and challenges.
Why did you join Sonder?
I remember reading the job listing and realizing there wasn’t anything out there like it. I’m an avid traveler. I love jumping around to different places, and I loved the idea of helping others do that. There was a sense of intrigue. You could travel and stay in a hotel, or travel and stay in an Airbnb, but there was no one really merging the two.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned so far?
We use data and research to predict operational needs as best we can, but there will always be unforeseen issues that force us to quickly adapt. Being nimble and quick to regain control is essential to operational success. What worked two to three years ago is no longer relevant. We are constantly evolving, finding efficiencies, and we don’t just push boundaries to their limit anymore, we believe the limit does not exist.
How do you measure success for Operations?
We ask ourselves questions like: How much will it cost? What benefits will our teams see? What benefits will our guests see? Will this work at 2x our current scale? 5x? 10x? If it breaks, why will it break?
Or, our team leader’s favorite: ‘What’s the impact?’ That phrase may as well be our Operations team motto and North Star, as it stresses the importance of critically approaching every single decision.
How do local Operations teams and the central Operations team impact each other?
Our city teams make a huge impact every day in every market Sonder operates in. They produce unmatched quality of work and are some of the most determined people on the planet, making sure every unit is serviced to perfection and every guest request is fulfilled in a timely manner, to a level that exceeds guest expectations. The collaboration between our city teams and central Operations team is vital, and as we grow and scale this integration will become even more critical.
I love jumping around to different places, and I loved the idea of helping others do that.
What is the relationship between the Tech and Operations teams?
Much like Operations, our Tech team is pulled in all directions as Sonder grows. We come in to assist in prioritization and delve deeper into the product development of a new feature and the impact it will have on our platform and the Sonder guest experience. Additionally, what’s decided in-house might not work on the ground, and we make sure our city team’s voices are heard and that tech implementations will truly support every single one of our markets.
Do you see challenges ahead as Sonder continues to scale globally?
Hell yes. What’s more exciting is that we know there are challenges lying ahead, and we’re gearing up to take them on head first.
What is your favorite aspect of life at Sonder?
It’s rare that so many people within an organization have a seat at the table and see ideas come to fruition from a light-bulb idea moment on Monday to a working concept on Friday, but that’s what I love about Sonder.
We’ve had a long-standing internal joke that one day we’ll have Sonders on Mars. With our Operations team at the helm, that day may come sooner than we think.
Rapid fire questions
Aisle or window?
Always the aisle seat.
Leisure or adventure travel?
Parachuting out of planes, bungy jumping off bridges, diving off boats, snowboarding down mountains etc etc. You get the idea.
Eat in or dine out?
80% eat in. 20% dine out.
Podcast or book; got a favorite?
Books for the win—read Shantaram if you haven’t yet.
What’s the last trip you took?
A 16 day whirlwind through London, Prague, Vienna, Palma de Mallorca, Newcastle and Edinburgh.
What’s the next trip you want to take?
Tokyo (for the 2020 Olympics)—one can dream.
What’s the best travel advice you’ve ever received?
Stop skimping and pay the extra bucks for a direct flight or nicer accommodation: it’s always worth it.