Investment Notes: Sonder
We recently led the Series B round in Sonder, a rapidly growing employee wellbeing company. Today, we wanted to share more about our belief in its founders, and why we’ve come in a little later than we usually would.
If you haven’t heard of Sonder before, the company offers a full suite of physical safety, medical and mental health support; a smart phone app supported with 24/7 access to medical nurses, doctors and qualified psychologists for an array of wellbeing-related issues.
Resilience through “unprecedented times”
Sonder started life focused on international students and their on-campus experience at Universities. If a student felt unsafe, they could press a button for immediate support, where a qualified responder would be sent to them or be able to remotely geotrack them.
Sonder’s first flagship commercial deal was via a wholesale agreement with Allianz, who specialises in insurance for international students. Covid struck, borders were shut and the international student market dried up overnight.
Many lesser founders would give up in moments like these, as they stared death in the face. But co-founders Craig, Chris, Peter and the Sonder team stared only briefly and then moved quickly to reposition the product toward businesses, whose staff were themselves suddenly experiencing the adversity of covid and the changes it brought upon society.
A growing sense of responsibility
From that moment, Sonder quickly tailored their offering to corporates and targeted employee wellbeing. In addition to physical safety, they added in-house, medical care, whereby clinical staff like nurses and doctors, are available at the click of a button, as well as a team of psychologists available to help with more acute mental health conditions.
The lightbulb moment came from the realisation that when someone feels physically safe, with a clinical or emergency trained professional only a press of a button away, they are more willing to open up about other medical or mental health concerns.
The responsibility to operate the safety and medical team in-house has created a delightful experience and word-of-mouth recommendations have set in among employees and employers alike.
In the greatest founders, ambition is the reaction to success and Sonder has uplifted their vision at every step of the journey.
Sonder’s three co-founders Craig, Peter and Chris are from the Australian military and it shines through in their operational excellence and resilience. Their ability to withstand their major revenue source being removed (and having to stand down 40 employees) and to then subsequently grow the business 6x in two years is a testament to the calibre of the team.
The magic is their ability to run Sonder with the rigour of a publicly listed company whilst maintaining an ever-increasing product ambition that executes at the pace of an impatient entrepreneur.
I thought you invested at the beginning?
At Blackbird, we measure ourselves against a high bar: investing in generational companies, right from the very beginning, before product or revenue.
Back when Sonder started, I saw Craig at a pitch competition and passed on investing in their seed round, when the product was targeted toward on campus security. I make mistakes every day and that day was a particularly bad one.
Then in 2018, Craig and Peter attended our Sunrise conference on Cockatoo Island, sleeping in a tent for a special event we were hosting for founders the night before (well trying to sleep, for those who remember the sound of harking seagulls still four years later). Their tent was located next to a good friend Paul Waide, who after meeting them, invested in their seed round.
When Paul reconnected me with Craig a few months back, it was clear the mistake I had made and my imagination was immediately lit with the generational potential of Sonder as it embarks on building the world’s best employee care platform for organisations of all sizes around the globe.
Sonder’s rapid transition to employee wellness has been a wild success and the heights of corporate Australia continue to arrive. Over the next two years, Sonder will expand on this success to international shores and higher velocity, smaller customers. And this time, we’re proud to call ourselves part of the journey.
Niki and Max, on behalf of Blackbird.