Navigating life together. Accelerated.

JC Velten

4 years ago

We began 2020 with an idea: can we evolve the way we engage with our friends and with the places we love so, that we can have more genuine connections? And so we went, assembling an amazing team of developers, and creating & testing the UI dozens of times with a group of ten NYU university students to make sure we were on the right track to deliver on our goal. Our plan was to release Swim sometime after the summer.

Then Covid-19 happened...

As every other startup out here in Silicon Valley, we were perplexed by the uncertain future we faced just as we got going, especially because we had decided to bootstrap the whole way to launch. We didn't stay there for long, a wave of fresh youth swept us from that place of haziness, as three students, who had received and accepted our internship offers for the summer, urged us to accelerate the launch, and offered to give us their time way before their official summer as interns here.

"Guys, we need Swim now!"

They persuaded us that students like them, who were kicked out of campus and into 'confinement' with short notice, longed to feel they were still part of the world they loved: their NYU community. Since genuine connections - which are what makes a community - were exactly what we were on a mission to accomplish, we took exactly 23 seconds to say yes, with the caveat that it was our developers, not us, who really had to buy into this. Amazingly, all nine of them, who are giving us their sweat in return for equity so we can bootstrap Swim, agreed with the students' rationale and decided to step up to launch as quickly as possible.

Applying Design Thinking to make it happen

Accelerating development needed us to adapt the way we were working in order to ensure launching nearly 5 months sooner than anticipated was not just wishful thinking. We found inspiration on the Design Thinking principles which JC has been teaching to engineers at Stanford, and Joaquin has applied at Google. Here are the 7 actions we took to accelerate Swim by keeping the ball moving forward, every small step of the way:

  • We enabled every single person at Swim to be completely fluid and go in and out of the different tasks required to launch, as their passion dictated
  • We set up two meetings per day with the development team - one at 6am, and one at 5pm - including weekends
  • We asked the developers about the additional resources they needed, and provided them without hesitation
  • We tested Swim with the students every single week, no matter what
  • We gave our three NYU interns ample space for creativity in tasks that ranged from creating videos to interacting with the engineering team
  • The founders met every single day - weekends included - for several hours to support and respond with agility to the needs of the development team, the interns, and our designers
  • We opened every single meeting at Swim with an intention for that session to ensure we were focused on the same goals without time to waste

Readying the pool for our first users

With the help of our three gifted interns, we decided to launch Swim first for their own 'tribe,' the NYU community. This limited release would enable us to give each one of our users a "magical experience" as Brian Chesky, AirBnB's co-founder, refers to when it comes to ensuring your users guide your development, and not the other way around.

We have been fortunate that our entire team stepped up to the plate and found the inspiration needed to work hard on our common purpose of enabling people to have more genuine connections. Our message to each and every NYU student: Your beloved university is alive and thriving, no matter where you are now. Dive in joyfully...

Photo courtesy of Silicon Valley photographer and entrepreneur Christopher Michel (

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