Meet The Latino Tech Co-Founders Inviting You To Social Media Site Swim

Latinos create more new business ventures per capita than any other US racial or ethnic group, comprise 18% of the population, yet hold a mere 5% of Silicon Valley’s tech jobs and receive less than 2% of all venture funding. Despite these headwinds, Mexican native JC Velten and Venezuelan-born Marie-Anne Torrealba are pursuing their dream. The duo has co-founded a social networking tool for places called Swim. The new app is designed as a community space where Generation Z can connect, hang out, and explore life, initially launched around college campuses.  

Velten, a Harvard Business School graduate and serial entrepreneur, and Torrealba, a digital innovation consultant, are bootstrapping this San Francisco-based startup, with plans to raise growth capital after beta-testing ends and the app officially launches. Current team members include advisor Joaquín Paz, a Google Global Product Lead, as well as development teams in Latin America. 

Velten and Torrealba talk about how they met, what makes their app distinct from others already in the market, and why they believe consumers are searching for “social reality” options, rather than social media.   

This Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity.

There are three co-founders, the two of you and Joaquín Paz. How did you meet? 

JC Velten: Marie-Anne and Joaquín are married. He was my Google client for Innovation Lab, another company I started which does hackathons and runs accelerators in Europe . Over breakfast, we were talking  about how hard it can be to feel and know the mood of a place and came up with the idea. We’re not technical people, but Marie-Anne is. She’s an engineer and brought in the engineering team from Latin America and Europe.  

Is it important that all the founders are Latinos?

JC Velten: There’s so much talent in the Latino community. For us, it’s also important because we believe that when you pay somebody 10 times what they could normally make in their home country, you elevate their well-being and morale. We give them an opening to the world they didn’t expect. And we still get a very good deal. 

Marie-Anne Torrealba: We hired developers in Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Brazil. It’s also important because Latinos are a minority in the tech space. We want to provide accessibility. If Swim gets to the point of changing our lives, we want to do the same for them. Imagine!

The app is located primarily in the United States now, correct?

Marie-Anne Torrealba: In New York specifically during our beta-testing phase.

Hispanics make up nearly 30% of the Big Apple’s population. Is that why?

JC Velten: If you’re in Argentina, you can download Swim from the App Store. We won’t prevent anyone from using it, but we’re testing in one market, New York City, to maximize our marketing dollars. It’s available on iOS only right now, but we’ll launch the Android version soon.

Marie-Anne Torrealba: We started the test for five months with one thousand young people associated with NYU. And not just Latinos. Swim is for everyone, an app anyone can use to bring places alive . 

JC Velten: We didn’t want this to be a new university app, but universities have affinities, which is perfect for creating Pools, our spaces to engage with others. 

Why NYU and not other colleges?

JC Velten: NYU is an open campus, so well-integrated into the city. That enabled us to have our cake and eat it too when it came to testing in a realistic environment..

How did you come up with the name Swim?

Marie-Anne Torrealba: The first prototype was a digital board we called ‘BoardIN,’ like ‘LinkedIN.’ But we’re not native English speakers. We took the name to our pioneers, a group of 10 testers at New York University. They said the name sounded too much like ‘boring.’

JC Velten: Mae Mae Dylan, the granddaughter of [singer] Bob Dylan, suggested the name ‘Swim.’ We asked why. She said because the app enables you to navigate life. 

Marie-Anne Torrealba: She’s very creative and one of the Gen Zers who’s been advising us and guiding our production direction since the beginning.

JC Velten: We loved her suggestion and even changed the name of the company. ‘Swim’ is playful and pronounced the same in any language.

Meta’s Facebook and other social media have been in the hot seat recently. What makes Swim different?

JC Velten: Kids are addicted to social media—and they know it, but still can’t get out. They’re worried about how they’ll connect with friends. The Swim App is working to fix issues that Facebook Likes created. There aren’t Likes in Swim. You either engage, or you don’t engage. To be friends with somebody, you must follow them—and they must follow you back. Then, you’re friends. We tie everything to location because, as COVID-19 made clear, nobody wants to live fully in the digital world. 

I had a friend with ALS [Lou Gehrig’s disease]. When the illness made it impossible to talk and hard to move, his way of communicating was typing a letter at a time on social media. Facebook can be a communication lifeline for people like him.

JC Velten: For some, social media hasn’t been a failure. Facebook would be an amazing thing—if it didn’t have an algorithm designed to make you a victim of their greed. Social networks were not designed with places in mind.

Marie-Anne Torrealba: We want to create an app you can use to discover and engage with what’s around you. Also, we want users to be able to organize their lives better at Swim. We do not have an algorithm that decides what to show you and when.

Swim connects physical places to the digital world, creating networks that allow anyone to engage with, own, and monetize the content in them. We’re building the app around Web3 technology [a new iteration of the World Wide Web that incorporates decentralization based on blockchains], which puts the user, not us, in control of their interactions.

Your website states that consumers long for ‘social reality.’ What does that mean? 

JC Velten: Technology should enhance life. It shouldn’t substitute anything. It should be invisible. ‘Social reality’ refers to apps that don’t ignore that you live in the real world. We actually don’t have an algorithm. We don’t need an algorithm, just like in messaging apps, where there’s no algorithm showing which message to show you first. This is an app users will own and control.

Like a river. You can dip into the stream or not, but the water from an hour ago is gone. 

JC Velten: On Instagram, it’s a bit surreal. You don’t see content in chronological order. You see what the algorithm decides to show you. Someone else controls your experience. We want to create a mix between Slack [a work collaboration hub] and Nextdoor [an app for neighborhoods].

What’s your end goal with your new company? 

Marie-Anne Torrealba: We’re creating an app that gives you control—of your data, your interactions, and your conversations- and connects you to places.

JC Velten: We envision enabling people to use technology in a better way, one that enhances your life, not controls it. We can have a massive amount of users without having to make them addicted to the app. There’s a good business to be made—and a lot of money—without harming people. That’s just the way we were brought up in Latin America.

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