The concept of creating a marketplace for underutilized assets that can turn into a meaningful business for hosts is not a new one. And there is no higher profile of how successful that model can be than Airbnb. So it’s no surprise that one of Airbnb’s most prominent investors, GGV Capital, is now backing another startup with a similar model. But rather than putting properties on a marketplace, Swimply came up with the idea of pairing homeowners with pools with people who want private access to them. And so far, business is going swimmingly.
To keep things flowing (couldn’t resist), the startup has just raised $40 million in a funding round led by Mayfield — just seven months after announcing a $10 million financing. Besides Mayfield and GGV, other backers include Conrad Shang and Collin West at Ensemble Ventures and a high-profile list of validating angel investors including Airbnb co-founder Nate Blecharczyk; Casey Winters, formely of Pinterest and Grubhub; Lime co-founder Brad Bao; Rob Chestnut, former chief ethics officer at Airbnb and eBay; Instacart CEO Fidji Simo and Shef’s Alvin Salehi. They join existing backers Norwest Venture Partners and Trust Ventures.
The way it works is pretty straightforward. Swimply connects homeowners that have underutilized backyard spaces and pools with people seeking a way to gather, cool off or exercise, for example. People or families can rent pools by the hour at an average price of $45 to $65 per hour, depending on the amenities.
In May, co-founder Bunim Laskin told TechCrunch that Swimply was seeing “seven digits a month in revenue” and 15,000 to 20,000 reservations a month. Over the past six months alone, Swimply has seen 3x growth. In the last year, its site facilitated 250,000 bookings, up from 40,000 all of last year — up more than six times. In 2021, it put 1 million people in 15,000 pools across 103 cities.
So while the company declined to reveal its revenues, if it gets a cut of each of those bookings, well, that’s not insignificant. (It charges a 10% guest service fee that it says helps cover insurance support as well as a 15% commission fee from the owner.)
The surge in demand surprised even co-founders Laskin (who came up with the idea for the company when he was just 20) and Asher Weinberger.
“In 2020, we booked a lot of smaller groups. But this year, with people getting vaccinated [against COVID], we saw more birthday parties being celebrated, swimming lessons coming back and people getting together again for the first time in a while,” Laskin told TechCrunch.
Now the company is looking to expand beyond pools to outdoor spaces in general. In 2022, it plans to match people with other “passion” spaces, such as underutilized hot tubs, tennis courts, large backyard spaces, rooftops and even one day…indoor gyms. This leads to an indirect sustainability component in that actually using underutilized spaces instead of building new ones that comes with discouraging new construction.
Swimply is also proud of the fact that it is spawning entrepreneurs. Like Airbnb, Swimply’s hosts have the potential to make big bucks, according to Laskin.
In 2020, the highest-earning host earned a little over $20,000. This year, there were hosts that earned over six figures. In fact, the top 20% of hosts earned around $5,000 per month, Laskin said.
“This is turning a lot of people into solopreneurs,” Laskin said.
That’s part of the reason Swimply is using some of its new capital to build new tools for its hosts to help them better manage their businesses. As proof of that, some hosts are taking things a step further and doing things like installing vending machines on their properties or offering chef’s services to their guests.
The company also plans to scale up support, insurance and, as mentioned previously, launch new verticals.
Some fun stats about the business we found interesting: Twenty percent of Swimply’s revenue comes from the Los Angeles market. Next up of popular markets are: Austin, Texas; Portland, Oregon; New York City and Maryland. Sixty percent of the bookings are made by families. The average reservation is two hours long. Repeat reservations make up about 72% of bookings.
Mayfield Managing Director Navin Chaddha notes that his team has “big believers in the sharing economy,” as evidenced not only by its leading this round, but by the firm’s investments another sharing economy startups such as Lyft and Poshmark. The pool market, in particular, is appealing because swimming is one of the top activities for families but very few people have access to pools.
“Swimply’s mission is to democratize ownership of recreational spaces and to allow hosts to share underutilized assets for their local communities, starting with swimming pools,” he said. “I’m very, very excited about partnering with Swimply and helping the world get equalized, and not only the rich having access to these amenities.”
The combination of the market opportunity with mission-oriented founders was a big draw for Chaddha.
“Swimply has seen exploding growth, and we believe the market is much bigger than swimming pools, which in and of itself is a $52 billion market,” he told TechCrunch. “They have the potential to do with Airbnb, Lyft and Poshmark for this constituency. It was a no-brainer to lead a $40 million round for this company.”
GGV Managing Partner Hans Tung and Principal Robin Li were drawn to Swimply for many of the same reasons that Mayfield was.
For Li, the prospect of giving people easier and more private access to outdoor spaces is huge.
“This is the country club reinvented and even revolutionizing what the YMCA will be like in the future,” she said. “At most of these places, there are so many restrictions on what you can wear, and what you can do. There are so many hurdles to book a place, even in your local neighborhood.”
The fact that Swimply has so many repeat users is evidence of how easy the experience is, in her view.
Tung sees a number of parallels between Airbnb and Swimply’s models. But one big difference, he points out, is the frequency at which people travel compared to going swimming or merely spending time outdoors.
“Swimming is more everyday use and a higher frequency of usage, which makes the platform extremely interesting,” he told TechCrunch.
For hosts too, this can be more lucrative, since you are able to rent the same space more than once a day, multiple times a week.
“Frequency usage is a lot higher than any travel site,” he said. “So like TikTok and Poshmark, Swimply is allowing more everyday people to monetize, and empowering more merchants.”