Endorsed by Apple: Fares’ secret
A fascinating story about the risks and opportunities of building for new products and platforms
Fares Ksebati is the CEO and co-founder of MySwimPro, the most popular app for swim workouts. The app was launched in 2015 and has been growing non-stop since then. One of the main secrets behind that growth is that MySwimPro has focused on building for new products and platforms.
For example, they were the first and only swimming app for the Apple Watch, and one of only 10 pre-installed apps on the first Casio smartwatch.
But how can you build a relationship with a tech giant like Apple, become their "app of the year," and be featured in Tim Cook's keynote presentation with your logo displayed right behind Apple's CEO? Let's dive into it.
Initially, it was just a PDF
As a lifelong swimmer and coach, Fares had the idea to start MySwimPro after noticing a gap in the market for personalized coaching plans. "I started swimming when I was a kid and never stopped,” he recalls. “I swam in high school and college, and then I started coaching.”
While coaching, one of his trainees asked for a personalized coaching plan because he was going on a long work trip abroad. “At the time,” Fares reflected, “there were no swimming apps that could provide such a service.”
At this stage, many entrepreneurs would try to raise funds to build a full-fledged app. However, as we've already learned from numerous founders, it's crucial to validate the idea with potential customers first. And that's exactly what Fares did. He launched a simple app that provided users with a swim workout in PDF format and soon realized that there was indeed a significant market for a swimming app.
Being endorsed by Apple
Every mobile app founder knows how powerful it can be to receive an endorsement from Apple. Being featured as an editorial choice, app of the day, or even app of the year can give a significant boost to growth. For many apps, receiving one of these endorsements is a game-changer. But MySwimPro has received them many times. They were even featured in Tim Cook's keynote presentation in 2016, with their logo displayed right behind Apple's CEO. A few months later, they were named the app of the year for the Apple Watch, and have continued to receive similar endorsements ever since. So, how does Fares do it?
"Apple is a giant company with tons of employees and multiple teams," he explains. "To build a relationship with them, you can't just find out Tim Cook's cell phone number and contact him. It doesn't really work that way. They have an internal editorial/review team, to which account executives can recommend apps in their portfolio. Then it's the editorial team's job to choose who they want to feature. They want you to use the latest and greatest Apple technology to really push the boundaries of what their products can do.”
And that's why, at MySwimPro, they try their best to implement Apple's new technology and features immediately. As Fares puts it, "For us, that's part of the dance of building that relationship over time." When the Apple Watch launched, Apple had a very strong reason to endorse MySwimPro. In Fares' words, "If you're the only swimming app, then you're very interesting to them. We were one of the true use cases for a smartwatch.”
It doesn't always work out that well
Apple's endorsement is a great example of what can happen when everything goes smoothly. However, this is not always the case. "Back in 2017," Fares recalls, "we made a deal with Casio, the Japanese watchmaker, when they were trying to go digital. Casio is pretty massive, even outside of Japan. Up until that point, they had sold over 100 million watches." MySwimPro was one of only 10 apps pre-installed on their first smartwatch. "But that didn't work out," Fares explains, "because people did not adopt the new technology beyond the initial enthusiasm."
After investing significant time and resources, that incredible opportunity eventually turned into sunk costs. Fares recalls, "I even went to Japan to speak at the press conference. I was on the plane for 12 hours to speak for one minute." While it's important to stay ahead of the curve and be forward-looking, you also need to be cautious about over-investing, since things might not always work out as planned.
According to Fares, "The challenge for entrepreneurs is that you're almost too optimistic about things. You play out the best-case scenarios, but that's just wishful thinking." The key is to use data to inform your decisions and arrive at a more objective answer. That's precisely what MySwimPro did when they approached Fitbit, the Google-owned smartwatch manufacturer.
"We went after them," notes Fares, "but then we analyzed the data of all the customer complaints that we were getting with the Fitbit platform relative to the number of paying customers. Fitbit accounted for only 1% of our paying customers, but they were responsible for 50% of our customer support. This was because we couldn't develop a product that was anywhere near as good as the Apple Watch.” So when they looked at the numbers, it became clear that maintaining the Fitbit app didn't make sense.
Be careful whom you seek advice from
Another mistake founders might fall for is listening to the advice of people solely based on their credentials. As Fares points out, "Just because someone has built a successful company, it doesn't mean their advice applies directly to your product. Back in the day when we started, there was a lot of pressure from all the mentors we talked to, to focus on getting as many users as possible on the platform and building a social network for swimming, instead of focusing on paid subscriptions.”
According to them, Fares should have onboarded 10 million free users without even thinking about monetization. "And then here comes Nike," they said, "They're going to buy you because you have 10 million people on the platform, not because you monetize through a paid subscription.”
However, they were missing the fundamental problem that MySwimPro was trying to solve. "The people we're trying to help," Fares explained, "just want to be coached and improve. We have since removed the social features and are now focusing more on coaching personalization and monetization through paid subscriptions. The entire market has shifted in that direction."
This was a powerful insight from this interview with Fares. Nobody – no other founder, no VC, no Fortune 500 CEO – has trodden your path before. They might be a very successful person, and might even be working in a similar space. But even then, their advice might be wrong. Their experience does not necessarily map to yours. So be very very careful about which advice you act on.
Not raising from VCs
Those mentors had a different plan for MySwimPro. "Go to VCs," they told Fares, "tell them you're building the social network for swimming, and that you're going to have 50 million people on this thing. Model out something like that into the future, and raise a lot of money.”
Many other companies in the fitness industry have adopted this approach, and most of them no longer exist because they prioritized vanity growth metrics over building a sustainable business model. Indeed, raising capital is simply fuel that can amplify an already functioning fire. In the early stages of a business, with some exceptions, you don’t need that much money. Your focus should be on finding product-market fit, and money can sometimes be a distraction from that goal.
"We didn't need to raise this ridiculous amount of money at the time," Fares remarks. And instead of getting distracted by raising funds from VCs, he raised the capital they needed with a community round on Wefunder. "We barely did anything. I just sent a few emails. We had incredible traction, graphs, and all the good stuff that you need for a good campaign. If you already have a community, then it's almost a no-brainer because they are already paying attention to, or paying for, your product.”
After completing their first community round in 2017, MySwimPro raised funds from their users again in two subsequent rounds, in 2019 and 2022, respectively. Building a strong connection with their investors made it easy for them to raise capital. He notes, "I've been sending a monthly video update to investors since 2016, even before I thought about raising capital." We have seen this multiple times at Founder Secrets. When it comes to fundraising, building a relationship with investors beforehand can pay off because when you are raising capital, they will be ready to invest.