Like many, Lisa Schroeder and Rob Sample found themselves unemployed during the pandemic. Sample was laid off from his job of 28 years as a sales manager and trainer, and the couple was forced to temporarily shutter their beloved Portland, Oregon, restaurant Mother’s Bistro, where Schroeder is the executive chef.
Then they heard about Swimply, an app that allows homeowners to rent out their pools by the hour. People like to say it’s “the Airbnb of swimming pools,” but Swimply cofounder Bunim Laskin said while that’s the easiest way to explain it, it’s not really an accurate comparison.
“The biggest difference is obviously we’re hourly, we’re not daily. But the bigger difference is that we are used by the community,” Laskin says. “So the hosts and the guests are from the same schools, the same neighborhood, same town. And so they’re really supporting their own neighborhoods and community, as opposed to being an alternative to a hotel for somebody from another community.”
Then-20-year-old Laskin came up with the basis for Swimply in 2018, stuck at home in Lakewood, New Jersey, with his 11 younger siblings. Their neighbor had a pool, but she was hesitant to let the family use it.
“She figured if we used her pool once, we would live in her backyard, so she was very protective,” he says. “So I offered to pay her. And she said, ‘instead of paying me, why don’t you help me with the expenses?’ So we agreed to pay 25% of her monthly bill. This was mid-June of 2018. By the end of June, she had five other families paying her. I realized that her pool was not just paying for itself, but making her money. ‘I’m like, hey, I’m stuck at home for the summer, I could be a pool pimp.’”
Laskin quickly found 80 more homeowners who wanted to rent out their pools. He would charge people over the phone and deliver checks in person. He did roughly 400 bookings that summer.
“I decided that this had much larger potential than my city,” Laskin says. “So I decided to drop out of school, raised $1 million dollars and launched Swimply in 2019.”
There are now more than 25,000 pools listed on the platform, which operates in the U.S. and Canada. (Laskin hopes to expand to Australia soon).
Although there is some initial reluctance on the part of homeowners in letting strangers use their pool, the apprehension quickly fades away when they realize the financial benefits.
Hosts on Swimply are provided a $1 million host liability insurance policy and are eligible for up to a $10,000 property damage protection. Schroeder and Sample looked into getting a secondary insurance policy for their pool, but had to settle for a waiver that a lawyer helped them craft.
“It’s very difficult [to get insurance], this is such a new venture that none of the underwriters really have a way of gauging it,” Sample says.
After some discussion (Sample calls himself “really risk averse”), the couple decided to list their L-shaped pool in March 2021. They got their first booking in April. They rarely experience a lull in bookings during the summer season. Their pool has five out of five stars, and has consistently been rated one of the top 10 on the app.
“Host was very kind. Instructions were clear. Felt like home. Pool was deep and had very cool ledges on the side of the pool that the kids loved. Lots of pool noodles and the pool was so warm. Clean area; gorgeous neighborhood and very relaxing. We will definitely return,” reads their most recent review.
When they first listed their pool, Schroeder and Sample were charging $55 per hour. Now it goes for $75 per hour for five guests, and $10 per hour for each additional guest. The price includes use of a hot tub, pool toys and speakers. The couple declined to disclose exactly how much they earn using Swimply.
“We made more money in six months than I made in a year in my previous company,” Sample says. “That’s how I tell people.”
One of their repeat customers is Rebecca Enberg, who has been using Swimply since summer 2020.
“I have a five-year-old who loves the pool and we are trying to teach him to swim, so lately I’ve been booking a pool every week. It’s just become part of our life,” she says. “We like to go to the same pools so we know the situation and can become friendly with the hosts, which is part of the fun: feeling connected to the people who are opening their homes to you.
For people thinking of hosting their pools on Swimply, Schroeder and Sample shared one key piece of advice: tell your neighbors.
“We didn’t tell our neighbors. They figured it out eventually. We were knee deep in a remodel project (started pre-Covid) so you couldn’t park in our driveway because all the trucks were up here. So cars had to park at the bottom of our driveway and people would see families getting out of their car. And after that happens for several weeks every day, you know something’s going on. We had people part blocking driveways and mailboxes and stuff,” Sample says. “We eventually apologized to everybody for not telling them and we had a big catered pool party for our neighbors.”
Wish you had a pool to monetize through Swimply? Soon you might be able to list your kitchen, art studio or tennis court.
“We believe that every passion needs a space and we started with pools, but we’re working on expanding that way beyond pools.” Laskin says. “We really have this utopian view of the world where we really want to democratize luxury and let everyone have access to things that only few have access to today. So things like tennis and sports and art and cooking — pretty much every passion we want to be able to give people access to the things that they want most.”