I had the pleasure of interviewing Amanda McIntosh, Cofounder of the Swim IT.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
My career as a Professional Ultra Distance Runner spanned from 1998 through 2011.
The early days were tough since there was little in the way of sponsorship money and I was very picky about sponsors.
I refused to take a sponsorship or money unless I was passionate about the product.
Needless to say, balancing my training, racing, coaching/personal training business, and raising 2 children by myself was more than a full time job.
In 2011 as my running career was winding down, I met a group of Triathletes and began dabbling in the sport. My first attempts at racing were complicated by severe panic attacks during the swim.
During my first 1/2 Ironman, I had a panic attack in the first 200 meters. I thought my throat closing was the result of my wetsuit being too tight so I swam the remaining 1200 meters with my wetsuit unzipped and down around my waist. I finished that race but vowed that was the end of my triathlon career.
As a Wilderness First Responder, I could not think of any reason to enter an open water swim without a way to self-rescue. Friends reassured me that there were lifeguards watching over me but that made no sense to me. There were hundreds of swimmers and only a few lifeguards. I would never enter the wilderness without a safety plan, there was no reason to start now.
Not long after that incident, I began dating Rick Senn. He was training for an Ironman and our first date was a run. I told him the story of my fateful 1/2 Ironman and my decision to quit the sport. There was a moment of silence and then said, “I want to show you something but you can’t say a word to anyone as it is still in the testing phases.”
Next he brought out the Swim IT……I was blown away. It was exactly what I needed to stay in the sport of triathlon! I began using the prototype for swimming and it was a game changer!
Within a month I was swimming 2000 meters without panic and in any kind of weather conditions! I began competing in triathlon again and even completed Ironman Canada in 2012. We have an upcoming adventure which includes a pretty long open water swim. None of this would be possible for me without The Swim IT!
Why did you found your company?
Rick Senn founded Lo Drag Inc, DBA The Swim IT in the spring of 2011 ( just before we began dating). I started working for the company in the summer of 2011 for free because of my passion for the product (and for Rick). I knew that this product was a game changer for open water swimmers and the frequent deaths that were occurring in Triathlon at that time. In 2012 there was a death every weekend in a triathlon event.
Just before making me an officer and stockholder in the company in 2012, Rick came to me and told me he was done with Swim IT. He explained that it was just too much work and he wasn’t seeing the return that he expected. I was shocked!
I told him he couldn’t do that, the product that he created was making a difference and saving lives. It was too important to give up on. That’s how I was promoted to VP. Around the office he often jokes, “you are the reason we are in this mess up to our ears!” I’m good with that. What we are doing makes a difference and that’s what’s important.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Most triathletes believe they are safe while swimming. They site wetsuits, lifeguards, divers, etc., but the fact is, with all of those things available people still die at an alarming rate in the swim portion of triathlon.
Bringing a product to market that makes an athlete responsible for their safety is disruptive. We got the same backlash that athletes expressed when the helmet was introduced.
We heard, “I’m a good swimmer”, “My wetsuit makes me float”, “the lifeguards will assist me.”
The reality is, most of the casualties are seasoned triathletes, most of whom were wearing a wetsuit and were never seen by a lifeguard. Or worse, were seen too late.
But there had never been a race legal swim safety device and few triathletes thought they needed one. Trying to make people understand that they need something they don’t think they do is disruptive.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
My primary mentor has been Rick. As a runner and exercise physiologist, my business background was very limited. He has taught me a lot about how to run a company and bring a product to market.
My other mentor is Dick Evans, Former Chairman and CEO, Cullen/Frost Bankers, Inc. He has been a client and friend from the beginning of my time with Swim IT and has been an invaluable adviser on all aspects of the business.
Lastly, my good friend Marco Garsed, Digital Marketing Executive, has advised me on sales and marketing throughout the years.
How are you going to shake things up next?
Rick and I are planning a Wilderness adventure that will involve the Swim IT in a big way. I can’t talk about it yet, but stayed tuned for more!
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
“Everything will be ok in the end. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end.” Dick Evans. Every time I get caught up in the day to day issues of the business this is what Dick says to me.
“Trust but Verify.” I’m the trusting one in the partnership and tend to get burned. I’ve learned from Rick to do a little research to stay out of trouble.
“Run when you can, walk when you have to.” This is something that Ultra runners espouse to when doing very long distance training or racing. For me it has spilled over into the business as well. Things were going great and we were running at top speed when suddenly the lifejacket we were using was no longer available. We had to slow everything down (walk) and find a new lifejacket manufacturer.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
When the Swim IT was in the early stages things were easy. People loved the idea and it seemed like the right thing to do.
“The closer he got the realization of his dream, the more difficult things became. It seemed as if what the old king had called, ‘beginner’s luck’ were no longer functioning. In his pursuit of the dream, he was being constantly subjected to tests of his persistence and courage. So he could not be hasty, nor impatient.”
Then there came the tests: manufacturing, attorneys, patents, packaging, websites, shopping carts, and my personal nemesis, shipping. Suddenly it was no longer just fun and games. These were big issues with big price tags.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
This question threw me for a loop. I was surprised that no one person came to mind immediately. After a few days of mulling it over I realized there were many people I would like to have a meal with. So many people have influenced me over the years and I expect that there will be many more.
I’d like to keep my options open for company at breakfast.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Facebook: TheSwimIT, Amanda Strasburger McIntosh
Originally published at medium.com