Swimply is Airbnb for swimming pools. We tried it. Was it weird?

We have become accustomed to our so-called sharing economy. We forget that Airbnb offers us a stranger’s bed for the night (or more). Uber puts us in a stranger’s car. These are just the ones that are ubiquitous. Peerspace gives you a stranger’s backyard, barn, or basketball court for a bridal shower, birthday party, or bat mitzvah. Outdoorsy will lend a stranger’s RV. Sniffspot is for dog owners who need a fenced-in lawn for off-leash time. JustPark rents your parking space. GetMyBoat is self explanatory.

Then there’s Swimply.

Which looks different. It’s not really different. It’s just a little different. The best way to explain it – having recently used the app for the first time – is legitimized pool hopping. When I was a kid, my friends and I would scale neighborhood fences and spend anxious 15 or 20 minutes quietly lounging in a stranger’s pool, gently intruding until a porch light went off. turn on and we’re off, like 16-year-old cockroaches. Swimply — which arrived in Chicago a year ago and is now offered in 125 cities around the world — could rent you that same stranger’s pool by the hour, usually while they’re at home.

But old habits die hard.

SHHHHHHHHH,“I told my wife and my 6 year old daughter.

They were playing Marco Polo in a heated in-ground pool that we didn’t have in Lake County. We rented it on Swimply for 90 minutes, as a farewell to summer, and because we live in Chicago, where private pools are rare. Still, I didn’t want to be a bad guest. A set of posted guidelines called for music to be played softly (neighbors may become “sensitive”). It also offered the owner’s Wi-Fi password, a softer variant of:

Have fun but leave me alone.

This is why our pool game has become:

“MARK! »



Not that the pool owner cares. She was pleasant for someone who welcomed the city populace into his garden on a Sunday. We stopped in front of her house, she came out and said HELLO! Please park in my driveway! Embarrassed, I blurted out: Is it weird renting your pool? It’s a bit weird, isn’t it?

At first I felt like, she says. But she has so many clients now, it’s a little less weird.

I wondered if, despite the generous welcome and the cost – $75 an hour – I could feel transported to something close to tranquility, especially walking through the yard of a shirtless stranger in a bathing suit. bath, in broad daylight. I would get in their car without hesitation, but their private waters? Your inhibition, which Swimply happily ignores, is not included in the cost of a Swimply backyard pool.

“You know, I feel like the personal and public boundaries we held ourselves to for a long time have steadily dropped since we collectively decided we were ready to be captives in someone’s moving vehicle. another,” said Pradeep Chintagunta, a former professor of marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “But attitudes (on private property) are changing and young customers are ready to push those boundaries now. I just hope it doesn’t get to a point where people are renting underwear.

In fact, clothing rentals — on websites like Nuuly and Rent the Runway — have been proliferating for some time, though the used underwear market, at present, is still something of a last frontier.

Backyard pools, on the other hand?

At a glance, starting around the fall equinox, as summer ends and fall begins, Swimply still offers above ground pools in Chicago and Carol Stream, and large inground pools in Northfield, Lemont, Wheaton, Des Plaines. Too cold now? There are indoor pools in Long Grove and Prospect Heights. Some offer grills at an additional cost; some bundle their barbecue in the cost of their swimming pool. Some offer tennis, table tennis, a fire pit, pool toys. Some charge for towels but many don’t. Several are under $40 an hour. Some are so sophisticated that you wonder why the owners would need $100 once in a while an hour. Victoria Kent of Irving Park will rent you the lovely wading pool (4 feet wide, 4 feet deep) in her backyard for $60 an hour.

“I stepped foot in, had a cocktail and thought, ‘I work from home, I should monetize this backyard,'” she said. “And it was quiet. People are respectful. Some come and just read a book and then leave. It’s like they need an anonymous space to escape for an hour or two.

If you can afford it, it’s endless summer.

Or another reminder that living in Chicago and having regular access to a pool means you’re a member of a good YMCA or an expensive sports club. This after a summer when Chicago’s public pools — some of which were the creation of the egalitarian Works Progress Administration — opened late, faced lifeguard shortages and erratic hours. This in a climate where big cities stay warmer longer.

Swimply claims to have put 1 million people in private pools since its debut four years ago. Although it unsuccessfully billed itself on “Shark Tank” as “the Airbnb of swimming pools,” the timing of the business was good, taking off just as the pandemic forced people out of public spaces. By the end of 2021, it had raised $40 million from investors who (ironically) include the co-founders of Airbnb and Lime, the electric scooter provider.

Still, Swimply’s origins were humble, said Bunim Laskin, the company’s Gen Z co-founder and CEO, who started Swimply in suburban New Jersey and has since moved to Los Angeles. “We started out of necessity,” he told me. “My mother had just had it 12th child. We were all at home, no way to go camping or even to travel. We needed something to do. He offered garden work to a neighbor with a pool in exchange for his family’s use of that pool. “Within weeks, these people were making the same arrangement with other families.” He then went to Google Earth and found backyard pools in the area. He started calling landlords and offering rentals to brokers. He circulated his number. “After that, the phone didn’t stop ringing.”

Laskin had come across a truism: “Virtually all backyard pools are underutilized. Even owners who say they use it a few times a week often don’t use it as much. But they pay it anyway.

After Swimply took 15% of each rental, pool owners earned, at the high end, $10,000 a month; but on average, says Laskin, they make a few thousand here or there. In Chicago, with its shorter swimming season, homeowners say they host more than a hundred here and there. But, they add, they do little.

Indeed, our experience in Lake County was the definition of laid back. Not careless, just thoughtful coldness. We entered through the tennis court – yes, la-di-da — and slipped into lukewarm water. I peeked out the back patio windows but never noticed anyone watching. A bathroom for changing and showering was easily found through a cellar door. Pool toys and life jackets were on deck. There was a cart full of sunscreen and barbecue utensils. In addition to a fire pit, a patio full of lounges, a speaker for Spotify.

Sunlight streamed through the surrounding canopy. The rush of nearby traffic was the only noise.

That and my 6 year old who squeals, splashes and insists on cannonballing.

I could understand why some Swimply owners didn’t rent to parties with kids. And why some don’t rent to large groups of adults. Who wants a bachelorette party or a fraternity barrel in their backyard? Most of the time the owners make their own rules – some don’t want glass bottles, some don’t want alcohol or cigarettes, some ask that any evidence of a party be thrown away. Kent had to add “a non-nudity clause after we had a topless moment”. Greg Brzowski, who rents his above-ground pool in Edison Park, realized too late that 15 people in his backyard was way too crowded, so he set a limit on the size of the parties.

He was also surprised when, shortly after listing his pool, because the app didn’t notify him of rentals, “I would have no idea people were coming.” They would show up, knock on the door and ask where my pool was.

He said the problem was solved.

But on an app that blurs private and public so intimately, bigger problems were inevitable.

Swimply asks pool owners to follow local laws and requires them to notify their neighbors; the app even includes a page for their neighbors to report incidents and troubles involving the landlord. But Laskin said that because Swimply “was community-first,” he didn’t anticipate the bigger issues. Airbnb faced opposition from neighborhood groups and hotels. Uber is a unifying concern for the taxi industry. And Swimply — mostly in western states right now — faces communities who say the app violates zoning laws against using a private residence for business.

As for liability: The company offers owners up to $1 million in insurance coverage (plus defense costs for any legal disputes) if a guest is injured; it also offers up to $10,000 for property damage incidents. However, a 7-year-old girl drowned in June in a New Jersey swimming pool rented by Swimply. Laskin told CNN Business that the company decided it was a “pool incident” at a property whose owner received high ratings from past guests and not a “Swamply incident.” Swimming, he added, “is by nature something that requires supervision, discipline.”

All of this to say nothing of the existential fears and self-loathing that Swimply (and Airbnb for that matter) raises – issues of ownership and loss of privacy, the rising cost of recreation and nature. Namely, if you could afford that beautiful pool you’re enjoying right now, you wouldn’t rent it to a stranger. If you hadn’t gone into journalism, you might not be shutting up MARK! POLO!

“I wish we had a pool,” my daughter said as she toweled off.

“Yeah,” I say. “Tell me about that.”

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