Grosse Pointe Farms native Fares Ksebati developed an app to help swimmers with their workouts. It went on to become the Apple Watch App of the Year.
By Maxwell White
Photography by Sylvia Jarrus
Fares Ksebati never thought his passion for swimming would help him come up with an app now used by Olympic medalists and swimmers across the world — and one that Apple would list among best apps in 2016.
The 26-year-old Grosse Pointe Farms native was coaching swimming when he developed MySwimPro, an app with personalized workouts and coaching for swimmers of all levels.
Ksebati has been swimming his entire life. While coaching adult masters swimming in Grosse Pointe, many of the swimmers started asking him for workouts. That’s when he developed the idea for MySwimPro. “A lot of people don’t know what they’re doing, and they’re looking for help,” Ksebati says, referring to ways people should train for swimming. “The reason they’re asking me is there aren’t a lot of good resources out there.”
During a startup weekend event in Detroit, Ksebati approached Michael Allon, 28, of Royal Oak with the concept for an app that provides structured swim workouts and video tutorials. They had a design about three days later. Shortly after, the app launched on Android. When they wanted to add an Apple app, they found Adam Oxner, 26, of Ann Arbor through a mutual friend. He was a beginner at making apps on iOS, Apple’s operating system.
“I learned pretty much all I know about iOS development from just doing it with building MySwimPro,” Oxner says.
The app was available only on Android in 2015 when Oxner decided to build an Apple Watch app during a hack-a-thon. The group hadn’t launched the iPhone app yet, and the Apple Watch wasn’t even waterproof.
They polished MySwimPro when Apple announced the watch would be water-resistant. When MySwimPro was named app of the year a few months later, it was a surprise to the three co-founders.
“It’s funny, they don’t tell you that you win. … I didn’t realize the magnitude,” Ksebati says.
The app has been downloaded more than 500,000 times, according to Ksebati, and offers a premium version that costs $14.99 per month.
The app has several training plans, including a six-week “get fit” plan for all experience levels and a four-week “beginner freestyle” plan. There’s also the IMX Pro Challenge, a 10-week plan “designed for swimmers looking to take their training to the next level,” the website states, and an open water plan for swimmers preparing for an Olympic distance triathlon.
The website also features stories from app users, such as one woman who lost 75 pounds with MySwimPro and a man who swam across the English Channel. That’s 21 miles from England to France.
For Allon, MySwimPro led to a personal success story. He has lost 90 pounds using the app.
“It’s been about half swimming, half diet changes,” says Allon, who uses the app four to five times a week.
The group also brought on four-time Olympic medalist Peter Vanderkaay, who grew up in Rochester and attended Rochester Adams High School and the University of Michigan. Vanderkaay, now a Ferndale resident, is an adviser for the company.
“It’s a great product for people of all levels. If I’m going to swim, I don’t have a coach anymore,” Vanderkaay says. “I’m not always taking the time to sit down and write a workout.”
Ksebati says a swimming workout is different than a normal workout. That’s what makes the app unique.
“The thing that makes swimming more challenging is that you can just swim back and forth, but you can plateau very easily and it’s not interesting,” Ksebati says.
Last year, MySwimPro held an equity crowdfunding and raised over $130,000 from 140 investors, including many who use the app.
“We have members of our community who not only use our product, but also own part of the company, so they want us to succeed,” Ksebati says.
The goal is to expand internationally. The app is already the official swim training app of Michigan Masters Swimming, Masters Swimming Canada and the Global Swim Series. Swimming organizations in Russia and Australia have also reached out.
The co-founders plan to have users translate the app into other languages, so it’s more accessible worldwide.
Oxner points out the benefits of leaning on the community: “Swimming is so niche,” he says. “There are a lot of swimming-specific terms that don’t translate one-to-one between languages.”
Yet anyone can use the app to become a better swimmer, the co-founders say. You just have to get in the pool and practice.