Swimply Dives Into Rentals

Swimply Dives Into Rentals
Derek Callow, Swimply’s chief operating officer, on a rental court. (Photo by Ringo Chiu)

If you want to swim in the Southern California heat but don’t own a pool, Swimply Inc. can help you find one to use. The West Hollywood-based company facilitates Airbnb Inc.-style short-term rentals of private pools and, responding to the popularity of pickleball, is now listing courts for that sport (along with basketball and tennis courts).

“We started with pools, and this sharing economy is just incredible,” said Derek Callow, Swimply’s chief operating officer. “It really enables people that own just one home to be able to make the most of their pool and their backyard and rent those assets out. Our launch expansion into courts … charts a logical path for us that we will be getting into many more things in the future.”

Swimply started as an idea from founder and now-Chief Executive Bunim Laskin. He was inspired to launch the company in college by his neighbor’s solution to having a wealth of children wanting to use her pool: if they wanted to regularly come swim, they would have to pay a portion of that month’s bills for pool maintenance. He started an unofficial rental business in 2018 in his New Jersey hometown, finding homeowners willing to rent out their pools and connecting them with interested customers. He officially launched Swimply in 2019 with Asher Weinberger, who is now a board member, and said that the vision was always to go beyond pools. The company now has about 25,000 listings across the U.S., Canada and Australia, 300 of which are pickleball and tennis courts.

“We stuck with pools the last three years because a pool is really 17 different verticals,” Laskin said. “We have the mom with her three kids using the pool in one way, people celebrating a 30th birthday in a different way, photoshoots, influencers, people with their pets, all these different use cases.”

Pickleball popularity

Laskin said that Swimply is expanding to offer short-term court rentals because it overlaps with the same idea of providing a “money-making, joy-making machine” for customers. He also pointed to the recent explosion of pickleball: the Sports & Fitness Industry Association reported that there are 8.9 million pickleball players over 6 years old in the U.S., up from 4.8 million in 2022. Laskin said that public pickleball courts can’t be built fast enough to accommodate this rapid increase in demand, adding that “unlocking” private courts is another way to address the issue.

Laskin took Swimply to the entrepreneurial-themed reality show “Shark Tank” in 2020. While he left without a deal from the hosts, the company did get greater exposure and has since raised $51.2 million in funding. It reported more than $25 million of revenue last year.

“We’ve grown, so far, pretty much organically,” Laskin said. “Wherever there’s a desire for this, we’re there. We’re in 120 cities in America and we also just launched in Australia … our biggest market is L.A., followed by Austin, followed by New York.”

Swimply customers pay by the hour to access a homeowner’s amenities, and the company takes a 15% commission from hosts and a 10% commission from guests. Rental costs vary depending on location, features and demand. A pool at a Beverly Hills mansion for 60 guests is listed for $275 per hour, while a pool for 12 guests near San Gabriel is listed for $30 per hour. Swimply’s website states that 75% of hosts offer a bathroom to use within their home, and some others provide portable bathrooms. Hosts are not required to provide such amenities, but bookings are limited to one hour if they don’t.

Laskin said that the pandemic impacted profits significantly, because most people weren’t able to host pool parties, family events or photoshoots. Business is now back in full swing, and heat waves lead to spikes in demand.

“It’s directly correlated: great weather, surge, not great weather, dip,” Laskin said. “(But) right now, we have double the amount of supply that we had last year.”

Pool safety policies

While Swimply may be a novel idea commercially, it also exists in a complicated legal territory. Swimply markets itself as an alternative to public pools, but since rental assets are owned by private citizens, hosts aren’t required to provide the same degree of safety protocols that public pools must adhere to, such as having a lifeguard on duty.

Hosts and guests must sign waivers of liability, and Swimply has a protection guarantee that covers U.S. and Canadian hosts for up to $2 million of coverage should a guest be injured or if a claim or lawsuit is filed against a host for bodily injury. Hosts are also eligible for up to $10,000 of property damage protection, though Swimply said that it recommends that homeowners obtain additional insurance and check for terms or conditions. The company said it doesn’t track external insurance claims.

“(The) safety of our hosts and our guests is of paramount importance,” Callow said. “We have the (insurance) protection, and that’s really important. But even before that comes into fruition, we invest really heavily in education around pool safety, and we make sure that our hosts take that seriously.”

According to reporting done by CNN, a 7-year-old drowned last summer at a party hosted at a Swimply-rented pool in New Jersey. However, such incidents are an unfortunately common occurrence at pools even without Swimply in the equation: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death for children aged 5-14.

“Water safety and education has been a top priority since our inception,” Swimply wrote. “The tragic accident last year was a first for Swimply. One tragedy is one too many. We consider it our mission and our responsibility to be a meaningful partner to guests and hosts in educating people on water and pool safety.”

The company’s website lists a selection of safety recommendations for hosts and guests, such as maintaining supervision of children and posting signage about pool safety, and its terms of service include maintenance of water (to ensure hygiene), use of a drain cover and a physical notice that there is no lifeguard on duty. Callow said that some guests even rent a pool for swimming lessons.

Neighborhood relations

Some communities with Swimply rentals in their midst have raised complaints about properties in their neighborhoods being opened to the public. Locations including San Jose, Dallas and Palm Springs have zoning laws or ordinances against pool rentals, citing concerns about noise, land-use violations and pool hosts potentially compromising their homeowner’s insurance policies.

Allison Kirste is a policy analyst at Better Neighbors L.A., a coalition pushing to regulate short-term housing rentals and curb illegal activity related to them. Better Neighbors L.A. is primarily concerned about housing being removed from the market by short-term rentals like Airbnb. Kirste said that, while Swimply doesn’t do this, she thinks it’s representative of the way companies are converting residential spaces into commercial ones and that it legitimizes the idea that anything can be rented out.

“We understand that it’s a unique challenge to regulate these online businesses, because the platforms feel that the hosts should be the ones who are held accountable, and they’re kind of just the middlemen,” Kirste said. “But really, these conglomerations of platforms that have all of these hosts really should have some sort of responsibility to ensure that the hosts are operating in a safe manner, whether that’s a home share, or a pool, or a tennis court or whatever.”

Laskin said that Swimply launched a “neighbor friendly” policy in 2020, which, among other things, instructs owners to coordinate with their neighbors to gauge what they are comfortable with.

In addition, Swimply maintains a portal on which neighbors can report hosts if guests violate agreed-upon behavior policies.

“As it scales, there’s always more policies that we have to create,” Laskin said.

Income for hosts

Owners can set their own rules regarding the size of the party allowed, and whether renters can bring alcohol or pets.

Callow said that Swimply offers a unique income stream for homeowners who don’t have an extra property to rent out and allows them to offset the costs of owning a pool or court.

Laskin said that with the company’s success, it doesn’t want to “gatekeep” its business model from other activity areas and that the launch of pickleball courts overlaps with what Swimply loves about pools.

“There are certain things that make us obsessed with pools,” Laskin said “For us, it was about getting people together, getting people outside and making people happy and active … it’s a very community-driven product.”

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