SPACtacular move: Sonder CEO buys Pharrell’s place

Francis Davidson's short-term rental startup went public in a blank-check merger in January

Francis Davidson and Pharrell with 8520 Skyline Drive (Getty, Zillow, iStock)
Francis Davidson and Pharrell with 8520 Skyline Drive (Getty, Zillow, iStock)

The market for proptech SPACs is in the dumps. But some founders who managed to go public via the blank-check route have found themselves with serious cash to spend.

Francis Davidson, the founder and CEO of the hospitality startup Sonder, closed on a Hollywood Hills mansion owned by entertainer Pharrell just weeks after the company went public through a SPAC merger.

Davidson paid $9.2 million for the home, with the deal closing in mid-February, according to listing sites. Dirt earlier reported that Davidson was the buyer.

Sonder, which focuses on short-term rentals, went public Jan. 19 via a merger with a blank check firm sponsored by billionaires Alec Gores and Dean Metropoulos. The company listed on the Nasdaq under the ticker SOND, and its shares were trading below $6 on Wednesday, more than 30 percent below its IPO price. The SPAC deal had valued Sonder at $1.9 billion; ahead of the merger Sonder had raised at least $560 million in venture capital, and was valued at $1.3 billion after a June 2020 Series E round.

Sonder differs from Airbnb in that Sonder, while still renting apartments and homes, leases and manages the rentals itself — some outlets have referred to it as a “cross between an Airbnb and a hotel.” Davidson founded the company in 2014, while he was a college student in Montreal; now based in San Francisco, Sonder has grown to include thousands of rentals around the world.

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“I would have never imagined that today, we’d be sharing that the startup I incorporated in a basement as a college student would become publicly traded,” Davidson wrote in a post in January.

The entrepreneur’s new home is located at 8520 Skyline Drive, on roughly 1.5 acres of ridgetop above Laurel Canyon. The 6,100-square-foot mansion was designed by the architect Hagy Belzberg, who also designed the Holocaust Museum L.A.; along with panoramic views, the contemporary home has a 70-foot infinity pool, outdoor movie theater, spa and skate park, according to a listing.

Pharrell, the singer, rapper and producer known for hits including “Happy,” “Feels” and “Hollaback Girl,” bought the home in 2015 for $7.1 million, and first listed it in 2020 for just under $12 million. The property hit the market again in late November for just under $10 million.

SPACs became an attractive route to the public markets for proptech founders in 2020 and early 2021. But the last few months have been a rough ride; shares of most proptech SPACs are trading well below their IPO levels.