My rented oasis for the afternoon.
Summer temperatures can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit here in Austin, Texas, so I often look for places to swim. Fortunately, this city delivers. To the west of downtown, for example, you’ll find the oldest swimming pool in the state, a city-owned place called Deep Eddy. Venture further out of town and you’ll land on Lake Travis, a large body of water frequented by people fishing and double-decker barges with slides that partygoers can throw into the water.
But a swimming option that I had never thought of, much less tried? My neighbors’ backyard pool, offered for rent through a mobile app.
That is the essence of Swimply, in Airbnb style pool service founded in the summer of 2018. After finding out, I had to schedule a bath. Fast-forward to a Sunday afternoon in July, and I carefully stepping into a stranger’s shallow pool in the shade of tall walnut trees. A large unicorn float with rainbow mane was waiting for me.
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Swimply is the brainchild of co-founders Asher Weinberger, 35, and Bunim Laskin, 24, who met at a Weinberger networking event for entrepreneurs in New York City. Laskin, then a college student, proposed to Weinberger the idea of monetizing home pools.
The couple pursued the idea by searching Google Earth for houses with pools and knocking on doors to see if people would be willing to rent them. After creating a simple website and seeing thousands of people visit strangers’ pools in just a few weeks, they decided to build a business.
Today, Swimply is located in the 50 US states, Canada and Australia, and is home to half a million users and around 13,000 groups. Weinberger says he sees the service as an “experimental extension of the sharing economy,” offering things that people want, rather than things that people need. This is in contrast, for example, with transportation from Uber or Airbnb hospitality.
The COVID-19 pandemic it marked a great moment for Swimply, says Weinberger. The app had just experienced a slow winter season and the pandemic triggered a huge wave of financial uncertainty. “Term sheets were pulled. We had no money. I didn’t know what it was going to be,” says Weinberger.
It turned out that everyone was willing to rent private pools, and Swimply saw nearly 5,000% annual growth between 2019 and 2020, according to Weinberger.
“We became profitable [and] that attracted venture capital, “says Weinberger.” We raised a Series A a few months ago for $ 10 million. The team has gone from two people to about 70 people ”.
Weinberger says Swimply was able to meet a need on both sides of the market. The service not only helped those who rented swimming pools pay their expenses during the pandemic, but also provided an outlet for people trapped at home, he says.
The brown storage chest was full of pool toys.
My rented backyard oasis was in a leafy East Austin neighborhood lined with quirky homes of all sizes. It was listed on Swimply as a “plunge pool”, which is a smaller pool intended for wading and lounging, measuring 8 feet by 15 feet with a maximum depth of 6 feet (1.83 meters). At $ 20 an hour, it was less expensive than full-size pools in the area, which can cost more than $ 100 an hour to rent. The average rental cost for a Swimply pool in the US is about $ 40 to $ 45 per hour. hour, says Weinberger.
When I clicked on the listing, I was able to scroll through a series of photos of the pool, including elegant aerial shots. There was a place for reviews, and the place I booked, at almost 50, averaged five stars. “Clean, private and easily accessible,” wrote one swimmer. Another said, “Seriously, it was JUST what the doctor ordered.” Another nearby pool didn’t fare as well, with some customers citing an inhospitable host and a “not ideal, but … doable” request to limit bathroom use in the house.
There were also amenities. With Airbnb, you could see a hair dryer, a television, or a washing machine, but this list included pool toys.
Sean Ables and Bronwyn Towart, my hosts, started renting their pool with Swimply last summer. Since then, they have seen guests reserve the pool for picnics, birthday parties, and swimming lessons. One person even shot a rap music video, says Ables, laughing when asked if he made a cameo. It has given the couple a chance to meet some of their pool-less neighbors who are eager to escape the Texas heat.
“One of the neighbors came over and used the pool, and I guess they told everyone on their block, because we started welcoming all these people and they said, ‘Oh, we live in [house number] 1908 or we live in 1903, ‘”Ables said.
Ables said the couple pretty much only use the pool to cool off after working out. When they listed their place last summer, amid the pandemic, he said they received a “crazy” amount of bookings. People appreciated having something safe to do outside the home.
“They would bring their kids and let them use up all their energy because they had been home all day,” says Towart.
Weinberger, who houses his own pool on the deck, says hookups are a big part of Swimply.
“The bottom line is that we are building bridges between communities, people are building friendships in their own local areas, and that is extremely important,” he says.
My ad allowed for a full refund up to 24 hours before the booking start time and had a couple of house rules (no pets, no smoking, music limit during business hours). It also included access to a bathroom, a feature most pools offer, Weinberger notes.
I was instructed through the app to enter through a door on the right side of the house, which was open. Ables was in the backyard and greeted me briefly before dropping me and my boyfriend into the small saltwater pool. The first thing I did was walk over to a large brown storage chest and grab pool noodles, squirt guns, and a beach ball. (Yes, I was going to make my money worth it.)
The pool, surrounded by trees, was a bit cold in the late afternoon. So after some squirting, wading, and a few unsuccessful attempts to sit comfortably on the giant float, we sank into some chairs on the deck to dry off.
There were some moments during my stay when my mind wandered to the people in the house that I did not know. I thought about who they were and what it was like for them to have strangers taking over their backyard regularly. Were you concerned that I would knock over one of the potted plants on the deck? Take off with the mythical-looking float? But for the most part, my attention was tuned into swimming and I soaked up what felt like a normal day at the pool.
When I spoke with Ables afterwards, he told me that Swimply added insurance to the app this year, making it safer for them to rent their space. Weinberger said Swimply has a $ 1 million host insurance policy and offers up to $ 10,000 in property damage coverage.
After this summer, Weinberger has big plans. The Swimply team goes beyond swimming pools and has a waiting list called Joyspace, where thousands of people are signed up to offer their home gyms, home theater, private tennis courts, and home music studios.
Meanwhile, as August starts to roll and the heat increases in Austin, it’s good to know that a legion of swimming pools await me on my phone, offering more places than I bargained for to escape the hot summer afternoons.