Our health is one of the most valuable things we have. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted how quickly our physical and mental health can be disrupted, and how significantly households, businesses, and economies can be impacted. It also placed new emphasis on the importance of having access to quality health and safety support services — a central mission of the company Sonder.
Founded in 2017 by former Australian army officers, Craig Cowdrey, Peter Burnheim, and Christopher Marr, Sonder is a company focused on providing active care services through its responder network and technology platform. Utilized by Woolworths, PWC, Allianz, Team Global Express and other organizations, Sonder has made an impact across Australia and New Zealand, and it’s working to take its mission global.
Vivaldi spoke with Chris Marr, Sonder’s Chief Commercial Officer, about building a care network, meeting the demands of Gen Z, and the limitations of bots in addressing human challenges.
How would you describe Sonder and the benefits it offers?
We consider Sonder a single entry point for care — and there’s a lot that those few words speak to. It recognizes that the health landscape across safety, medical, and mental health is really disparate. It has typically existed in silos; individual services or point solutions, that may, when aggregated, deal with a broad spectrum of issues, but actually there’s no ecosystem around that. We understand at Sonder that issues don’t exist in isolation, they’re conflated. For example, if you’ve got anxiety, it often doesn’t exist on its own, it exists because there’s an underlying issue. As a single entry point to care, we make it really simple for people to engage with health solutions, increasing access to care, and ultimately making impact on the health of people around the world.
Understanding how all of those things work together might be a differentiator from what else is out there.
If you think of the landscape, it’s all point solutions and it’s really hard to even understand that they exist, let alone understand what’s the best way to access them. Together they present serious hurdles for people to access help, so that’s the problem we’re solving. We’re decluttering this otherwise really complex landscape to make it really simple and highly accessible in order to help people.
Who participates in the Sonder network?
Up front we have the digital interface, it’s an app focused on building earlier intervention pathways and help-seeking behavior. It does that through clinically based wellbeing and mental health assessment tools that enable you to get personalized support for your unique needs.
The mobile interface is also a mechanism to get you through to our care specialists, and that’s where the heart of the business exists. Our doctors, nurses and psychologists are there 24-7 to listen and, because we know that issues get conflated, to try to understand the holistic picture for a person and put together a bespoke care plan.
Pillar number three is our care pathways — these might be our medical, safety, or mental health teams, financial or legal support programs, internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy, a whole host of different programs. You don’t just get filtered into one of them, the plan recognizes the depth and significance of the issues, challenges or opportunities that people are facing. It also includes our responder network. Throughout Australia and New Zealand we can be by someone’s side within an hour. That provides huge peace of mind.
The fourth aspect is the data and insights. We’re a healthcare company, so all the records are medically credentialled. It’s completely anonymized, aggregated data, but it allows us to look at population trends. It lets us understand what issues are burgeoning.
Was this idea for aggregating data built in from the beginning?
In order to make sound business decisions, we needed to be data-led. By understanding the data and insights, by understanding the levers we can pull, we can ultimately have the best affect on someone’s health, and the health of a population generally.
You started with a safety focus, why is that one of the core pillars of what you offer?
Safety sits as the foundation for all the higher order needs or requirements. By being a company that has a foundation in providing safety, it gives the stepping stone to explore higher order needs. We give that platform for people to ultimately get to a place where they can have confidence and trust in the solution in order to engage on something more sensitive like mental health conditions, anxiety, depression, perhaps in its most extreme suicidal ideation.
I think many of the legacy providers that are focused on high-grade mental health are supposing that someone can jump through all these steps independently. We just don’t think that that’s how people behave. We don’t think that’s how to build trust, and if we want to make an impact on the problem and help people, then we ultimately need to provide that platform for them to move through that process themselves.
How do you see the future of the health, wellness, and safety space evolving?
We see Active Care as the future, where people have got the power to engage on their own device, in their own time, on demand, and relevant to their specific requirements, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. We need to have modern solutions that will recognize complexity, and ultimately simplify care programs for people so they can get the results that they need to crack on with life.
Are you seeing the priorities of Gen Z changing how these pieces are integrated into daily life or work life? How are they impacting where things are going?
I think they’re really demanding, and that’s a wonderful thing. The more recent generations have been exposed to some of the most sophisticated technologies. They understand what good design looks like, they understand that their needs and requirements are fundamental to good output. To the Active Care point, Gen Z are going to continue to demand that services are accessible to them on their own device on their own time for their specific requirements, and they want to have a wonderful experience. You won’t be successful without offering a world class experience because there’s just no patience for anything less.
A lot of businesses think about wellness as critical to employee retention — how are you thinking about that during these more challenging or unpredictable economic times? How do you talk about that with businesses or employers?
It’s a really critical discussion because there are so many providers now that say that they can make impact on productivity, on engagement, on staff churn, but it’s very difficult for them to draw a correlation between input on the left and outcome on the right. I think this is why the data and insights from Sonder are so important. By virtue of the program that we’ve built, the Active Care model that has a foundational focus on safety, it ultimately drives activation and utilization to levels that typically exist between 10 and 20 times the legacy providers. That’s a significant impact.
How do you think about delivering care and what makes your method different than using a chatbot or AI tool?
Sonder uses real people. We don’t use bots. The technologies as we understand it are not sophisticated enough to achieve real impact against real human problems. A chatbot ultimately can’t have empathy. Our business is about supporting people, often in their most vulnerable state. I think when it gets down to the fundamentals of the service, human to human interaction is what we’re all craving. It’s a fundamental aspect to our wellbeing.
What can we look forward to next?
Our expansion into the United Kingdom. Sonder has achieved really significant growth and impact in the Australian and New Zealand markets. We are now expanding into the UK and then other global markets. We want to take the lessons we’ve learned in how to engage and motivate and make more productive people around the world.
Christopher Marr, DSM, is the Co-founder and Chief Commercial Officer of Sonder. He has dedicated his life to serving others, previously serving 20 years as an Australian Army officer, including 10 as a leader and commander in the special forces. His role at Sonder is to lead the commercial strategy and growth of the company, both domestically and internationally. He is committed to addressing the world’s burgeoning health crisis by disrupting the way people get help.