By GREGORY ZELLER //
A new website, a forthcoming app, additional staff and a fresh marketing push – they may be calling for snow on Sunday, but Marina Montes is definitely thinking spring.
With the recreational swimming season fast approaching, the entrepreneurial attorney-turned-aquatics instructor, now guiding her Huntington startup into its fifth summer, is looking to reap some of the benefits of recent investments in her on-demand swimming lessons enterprise.
Expansion is familiar waters for Montes’ young enterprise, which offers by-appointment lessons in private and public pools for inexperienced swimmers of all ages. Now boasting over 450 enrolled swimmers, the business has experienced growth every year since 2012, according to the founder, and has now taught more than 5,000 individual lessons.
Now it’s “preparing for more growth,” Montes said, following personal investments in the new website, which went live this week, and a new app for urSwim customers, both designed by Pakistani developers Radiations3.
Montes, who completed law school at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and passed bar exams in North Carolina and New York before trading lawsuits for swimsuits, said she’s pleased with urSwim’s growth so far, but is ready to hit the gas.
“At this point, I really feel like that organic growth is happening,” she told Innovate LI. “Now I want to delve into different types of marketing opportunities and really start getting the name and the brand out there.”
Along with the new website and the app – which is expected to stroke iOS users in June with scheduling functions and innovative features that help parents track their little swimmers’ progress – Montes has been exploring other “aggressive” promotional avenues.
The entrepreneur, who launched the company in part with $2,500 she won in a North Carolina business-plan competition, originally planned to pitch investors and raise $50,000 for branding and marketing purposes. Instead, she decided to “step back from pitching and trying to raise capital and focus instead on what was already happening.”
Now, with the app almost ready and the website live – “a much better reflection of who we are as a company,” Montes noted – she’s diving in with both feet. To start, she’s engaged a videographer to produce television commercials for local broadcast, particularly in Eastern Suffolk.
She’s also investigating the use of vehicle wraps to promote urSwim, and has been “doing a lot of research on how to use online advertising tools.”
“We really want to do some networking with local mom blogs and those sorts of things,” Montes said. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback and interest, and we’re hoping to bring more awareness of what we’re offering directly to that demographic.”
Expecting the best, she’s also looking to bolster her staff, adding two more roving instructors – for a total of nine, Montes included – and extra office help. In addition to accommodating new demand, the entrepreneur is hoping to free up her instructors for more “one-on-one conversations pre- and post-lessons” with young swimmers and their parents.
“Last year, my instructors worked really hard,” Montes noted. “I want to streamline their individual clientele so they have the time to deliver more, including those conversations outside the pool.”
The founder also expects to grow her rent-a-lifeguard vertical, wherein certified urSwim instructors keep an eye on guests at pool parties, for both young and young at heart.
“That was actually one of the biggest subsets of growth in 2015 and we expect it to grow even more in 2016,” she said. “People are really starting to realize the benefits of having someone trained at children’s parties, and we’ve been hired for quite a few adult parties as well.
“People who throw parties feel more secure and can really enjoy themselves more with that extra safety factor.”
With one long-term goal of franchising the urSwim brand – another benefit of the new website, which will help Montes gather reams of data about potential sweet spots – the entrepreneur is counting on a strong 2016 to create “a more concrete ask” when she resumes VC pitching next year.
There are other markets to conquer – southern locales, for instance, where recreational swimming is a year-round pursuit – and that will eventually require outside investment, according to Montes. But wherever the capital comes from, and wherever urSwim goes, the entrepreneur plans to keep her startup headquartered on Long Island, where her roots run deep and her early hires have proved exceptional.
“That is still very much the plan,” she said. “We hope to grow beyond Long Island – there are greater markets in other geographic areas of the United States. But the corporate end is staying here.”