8 months ago
We are a crew of curious learners. As we share our excitement with friends and investors, smart people challenge us to think different about certain areas of our product/business model, or to explain what is not obvious. After all, we live and breath swim 24/7, and can become biased to our ideas.
This article addresses these challenges head on. We update it as we encounter interesting questions that need clarification. We hope you enjoy this mental relay!
What did you learn from Day Zero to Launch?
We have learned the following lessons about the habits and practices of our users:
A Slack for the rest of us.
One of the smartest question we've gotten so far was so simple that we most likely screwed it up by giving an accurate but complicated long answer on why we created Pools at Swim. There is a simple answer to this simple question:
The first user will access (we got this question before we launched) Swim from lockdown somewhere in the US. She will spend about 3 to 5 minutes creating a Pool to connect with her NYU group of friends better. She will come up with a catchy name for it, and will create sections such as Quarantine stories, Who's got an internship, Our memories, Let's support our fav joints, Finals, and Show your pets. She will also create a poll for them to guess the date when they will be back together. Then she will invite her 12 close friends, who will begin posting, chatting, and engaging though these Pool sections in a meaningful, organized and fun way.
We aim to have 10 first users like her - and the friends she invited - and will focus on ensuring they get a meaningful and rewarding digital connection experience, that no other platform can provide. We'll take it from there as our brilliant team of engineers help us to quickly adapt Swim to their uses, needs and input.
The path for Swim could not be more different than the one taken by the now inexistent Path (pun intended). Let's begin with a good definition of what Path was. According to Lifewire, "Essentially, you could use this app to create your own multimedia timeline called a path, which consisted of various updates and interactions between friends and family. In a lot of ways, the Path app was extremely similar to what the Facebook Timeline profile looks like and how it functions." They realized the privacy and noise problem that Facebook was already creating back in 2010 and tried to find a better approach by creating an Instagram-type app which forced you to limit the size of your network. Swim does not fix the problems of privacy and noise by imposing limits: who are we to do that anyway? Instead, we fix what's wrong with social media by creating a completely different network, a human network. To do this, Swim looks like a Slack-meets-Whatsapp kind of place where users can use 'Pools' to create their own mini feeds around the people they love to hang out with, and the places where they love to hang out. You can have a Pool of 1 or a Pool of 1 million. Ours is a human tool, not a social network. We go way further than just fixing the privacy issues, we eliminate the waste in time, total lack of focus on interaction and psychological disturbance that 'social networks,' as they are designed today, create for most users. We do not compete with so called social networks - they were created in a different era and have become massive advertising platforms. In that sense, they are Cable TV and we are Netflix. Path simply assumed that creating another type of Cable TV with less audiences and limited ads was what he world needed. No wonder.
We don't need it. Swim is more like a Slack than like an Instagram or a Pinterest. We are a tool that provides value on a 'single-player' mode and also works at scale. On a single-player mode, Swim allows you to create Pools to organize your communication and content for things as varied as your close group of friends for a mini-feed to navigate life together, your roommates for organizing tasks at your apartment, your student club, your family, even for managing your own projects, you name it. For the pubic pools, there is not a lack of content at a local level - anywhere. The problem is that this content is highly fragmented. You can find a nearby play by searching Google, post a lost pet flyer on a lamppost, find a local bike on Craigslist, or walk by temporary graffiti. Yet you may miss all of it because 'you don't know what you don't know' and if you just want to discover, you can't go anywhere to do that at a local level. The most amazing street fair may go unnoticed simply because your daily routine takes you a couple of blocks in the other direction. In short, there is no place to access it all. Enter the public pools at Swim. This part of the app is a local social network that organizes all this information and adds the digital social tools and filters people love, to bring it alive and create community around it. What we do is simply to bring all this rich local content into a platform that makes it vibrant, fun, personalized and social. Whether is a pool for a whole campus or one for your favorite coffee joint.
This is probably the most surprising challenge we've heard so far. It makes total sense: once we make you aware that places are where you create all your lasting memories and relationships (sorry dating apps, but the real thing is the real thing), the next question is "why do I ignore my surroundings?" The fact is you don't, and that's why for thousands of years, people gather in places they like, and use these places for all kinds of expressions, graffiti, stickers, markings, etc. Nobody ignores their local surroundings, but nowadays, they look awfully analog and disconnected from our digital lives. Even successful platforms like Nextdoor seem dull and limited for young people who want to connect with their tribe through places but do not want to connect with strangers. At Swim we think you can have your cake and eat it too: you can be present and create community locally with your groups of friends without giving up your mobile, and you can access public pools when you want to discover content around you. In fact, we believe your mobile can enhance how you interact with your friends and the places you all love to hang out in, enabling you to connect closer while being present. We are surfing the wave created by the perfect storm of advanced localization technology, which makes tagging pools and posts exact, social tools, which create community, the backend connection to places which enables us to pull all available content into a personalized platform, and the tools to create your own digital private feeds - pools - around the people, things and places you like, making it personal for you and your friends. We simply help you navigate life together.
They used to, because technology was not yet advanced enough to power a local social network when they created their business models. But not anymore. Apps like Instagram, Google Maps, Waze and even Snap, are racing to add local functionality to their models. And this is where our opportunity lies: all of them are way too big to be nimble and adapt their products to connect people and places in a way that makes sense and respects the user. They all know that the local ad market - at $161 Billion in the US alone - is too large to ignore, but they can't change how their [also profitable] models work to make it work for them. And, honestly, they have been clumsy in making ads that people don't find intrusive or dull. At a local level, an ad could be simply a post on a public pool at Swim, or a pool created by a local business, and tailored to what a user wants, as opposed to the forced and clumsy way ads are presented on platforms like Twitter or Instagram. Note we are ignoring Facebook: this is because young people - who are our early adopters - generally do not use it, so we can't benchmark against them.
Every social network or crowdsourcing model faces this challenge. Instagram for instance tags pictures to places, making it ripe for abuse and crime. AirBnB works despite the fact that you could be staying at the place of an abuser, or you could be hosting party animals that destroy your cozy flat. Uber runs, even though the driver could easily kidnap you, while Waze Carpool could put an abuser and a victim in the intimate space of a car. All these networks work because of a simple mathematical principle keeps abusers on-check: The Law of Large Numbers. One of the first Internet models to put it to work was Wikipedia. Who would have thought that the model who killed all encyclopedias would be one where anybody can go in an alter the content? It only makes sense by applying this mathematical law: when there are enough decent users in a system, they will weed out abuse. This, plus gamification to keep people honest such as ratings on AirBnB and Uber, or the ban of anonymous access to Instagram or Waze, keeps liabilities at the normal level that every company faces and can manage. At Swim, we are incorporating all these good practices, including public and visible 'report' functionality for public pools, plus live monitoring by our staff, to keep our users safe, and our system whole.