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A love of swimming led Diana Goodwin '11 (right) to start the Toronto-based AquaMobile, which provides at-home swim instruction.

Diana Goodwin

Start Me Up: Diana Goodwin '11

A love of swimming and a desire to start her own business led Diana Goodwin to launch AquaMobile, which provides at-home swimming lessons to customers

By Andrea Mustain

9/3/2015 - Editor's Note: In the Start Me Up series, the Kellogg School spotlights members of the Kellogg community who are bringing bold entrepreneurial visions to life.

While it’s true that the inspiration for many a startup comes from an entrepreneur’s desire to take on and solve problems they’ve encountered early in life, few can say that it all started before they entered kindergarten. And at the local pool.

That is precisely what happened to Diana Goodwin ‘11.

“I’d sit there at the edge of the water, shivering, because I didn't want to go in,” Goodwin says. “So I didn’t learn to swim.” The mother of a fellow student suggested that the water-averse child sign up for private instruction. At the end of the first lesson, when Goodwin’s mother arrived to retrieve her daughter, the tall, affable swim instructor strode over to the young Goodwin, picked her up, and tossed her in the water.

“I popped up and swam to the edge of the pool,” Goodwin says. So began a lifelong love affair with swimming. “If I’d stuck with the group lessons, I don’t know if we’d be having this conversation,” she says.

That’s because, as president and founder of AquaMobile Swim School, swimming is now Goodwin's business. The Toronto-based company provides hands-on, personalized swimming instruction in customers’ own pools, from Ontario to Florida to California.

Would-be teachers are put through a multiple-round hiring process, video interviews, a background check, and follow-ups with references. Once on board, the instructors post a photo, a bio, and their availability on the AquaMobile website so they can begin booking clients.

“We put a lot of time into carefully curating our instructor set, ” Goodwin says. “We are looking for instructors that have the right experience, qualifications, and personality.”

‘Making my own business work’

Goodwin not only experienced the benefit of private lessons herself, but also saw the difference they can make when she became a swim instructor herself. During college, she taught group lessons at the local community pool, but with as many as 10 kids in every 30-minute class, she grew frustrated that she couldn’t give some students the attention they needed. “It takes a hit on their confidence when they can’t progress,” Goodwin says. So she started going to homes to teach kids one-on-one.

Goodwin finished college with an undergraduate business degree in hand and jumped headlong into the corporate world, working as a management consultant for Bain and Company. After three years, however, “the thrill had worn off,” Goodwin says. She’d wearied of putting all her energy into growing companies that belonged to other people and decided to go to business school. But, Goodwin says, “The focus [would] be on making my own business work.”

In 2010, with the goal of starting a private swim lesson business, Goodwin entered Kellogg's One-Year MBA Program. “It was perfect for me,” she says; she was out of the workforce only 12 months, and could put the money she would have spent on a longer program into her company. It wasn’t just the practicalities of Kellogg that Goodwin loved — it was the people and the relationships she formed there.

“There was a sense of community, and a willingness to help me succeed,” Goodwin says. When word spread about the idea for her swim startup, “people that I hadn’t met yet would contact me and say, ‘I love what you're doing; I have a background in this; I’m happy to help you,’” Goodwin says.

To this day, Goodwin still uses the Kellogg network. Several former professors have provided advice and guidance at times when Goodwin was facing an especially vexing business challenge. And fellow alumni have proven valuable when she's considered growing the business. “If I’m thinking about expanding into a new geographical area, I’ll reach out to someone there and pick their brain about it,” she says.

Patrolling her pool

AquaMobile now has an established presence in 20 U.S. states. Now, she wants to focus on expanding within those states before heading into new territories, a choice she can make as sole proprietor.

Thanks to her business model, Goodwin didn’t need a lot of capital up front for launch. “I went with the bootstrapping method,” Goodwin says of her decision to fund the company herself. “I'm the sole owner, and I enjoy that.”

The flip side is that every hour of Goodwin’s time is packed. While she doesn’t have as much time to swim herself, Goodwin still feels the impact of the first time she was thrown into the water. “Sports and fitness have always been a big part of my life — it’s given me a lot of confidence, and opened up doors for me,” Goodwin says.

Swimming can also save your life, she adds, recalling a client from Aquamobile’s early days missing two consecutive swimming lessons for her two sons. Later, Goodwin learned the two boys had been in a boating accident with their father. Her husband drowned, but the two young boys survived. “She told me, ‘I credit your lessons with saving my boys lives,’” Goodwin says.

For Goodwin, this was both a sobering and inspiring moment. “You realize it’s bigger than just fun and keeping the kids busy,” Goodwin added. “It can change lives.”

Read more in the Start Me Up Series: