Goldfish Swim School

Turning Passion into a Career: Entrepreneur Shares Lessons Learned

Latest posts by Jenny McCuiston (see all)

Unlike most entrepreneurs, my main goal as a young adult was not to eventually start a business – it was to go to the Olympics. I spent years competitively swimming. I had perfected the techniques of swimming and mastered operating under pressure and, after a successful competitive streak remaining undefeated in high school and qualifying for the national teams in college, I qualified Olympic Trials twice.

Ready for a new chapter, I moved back home to Michigan, became a preschool teacher and got married to my high school sweetheart and now business partner. Swimming was my lifelong passion, so when I returned home, I began  teaching swim lessons at a local country club while I taught preschoolers throughout the day. My swim classes ensued a waiting list full of swimmers, which made me realize there was a need for quality swim lessons throughout the community. In that moment, I knew I had the ability to combine my passion and love of the sport into a purpose-driven business of my own — enter Goldfish Swim School.

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Goldfish Swim School became my passion project, with the same mission as it has today – to help as many children as possible learn how to swim and be safer in and around the water. The business was born out of the basement of my first home, and the early lessons I learned from this entrepreneurial experience have contributed to the long-term success of the company – which has now grown into a multimillion-dollar premier swim school franchise operating out of a 16,000-square-foot support office, boasting more than 125 franchise locations in the United States and Canada, teaching hundreds of thousands of children a lifesaving skill.

Through my time as a competitive swimmer turned entrepreneur, I learned a few lessons about what it takes to dive into a new business venture.

Work with challenges, don’t run from them

As a 26-year-old starting a business, there were naturally many challenges in the beginning that taught me important ways to work with challenges, rather than run from them.

Goldfish Swim School
Jenny McCuiston of Goldfish Swim School

Like many first-time entrepreneurs, we were met with one of the biggest challenges faced in business – funding.

As a young, aspiring entrepreneur, finding a bank to help support my husband and me and our idea was hard. We believed strongly in our idea, but not everyone felt the same way. Luckily, we knew we couldn’t and wouldn’t give up, and eventually we found a bank that saw our vision and decided to take a chance on us.

After overcoming this hurdle, we then opened our doors and were quickly met with the next challenge of growing a business – building clientele, creating awareness of our brand and managing day-to-day operations to keep the school afloat.

I was learning on the job how to manage and keep a healthy team, how to navigate difficult customer service situations, how to talk to parents who didn’t trust our opinion because we didn’t have kids of our own yet, etc. This made the first few years of business a long and challenging part of the journey. Despite these initial challenges, I kept learning, growing and pushing to further build my dream.

Facing challenges with determination and willpower proved to be worth any discomfort I felt along the way. Working with the challenges we faced allowed me to realize that regret is way worse than temporary setbacks and moments of doubt.

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Once we decided we wanted to dive into the waters of owning our own business, my husband and I went on a bit of a nationwide tour to explore swim schools. This gave us a competitive analysis of the dos and don’ts we wanted to bring to Goldfish. We quickly discovered that the curriculum would be a key element to our success.

As a lifelong swimmer, I had the skills needed for the teaching aspect of running a swim school for teenagers and young adults, but teaching infants and young children how to swim is a different instruction entirely. I decided to invest a lot of time into learning and relearning technique, safe swimming practices and all of the different facets of swimming education, allowing myself to become fully immersed in the service that my business would be providing.

As a result of heavy research and my background in early childhood development, I was able to learn what our business needed to support the variety of ages and stages that our schools would service. I was able to ideate and create the Science of SwimPlay® Curriculum, which focuses on teaching swim and safety skills while building character through guided play, that now sets our schools apart.

Taking the time to perfect the curriculum was key to the long-term success of the business, and putting in the work early by dedicating time to research and education proved immensely valuable.

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Use what empowers your passion to spark passion in others

When business is booming, it’s important to continue to stay committed to the passion that empowered you to start the business in the first place. Harness the power that ideated your passion project and you’ll leave a lasting impression no matter how large your business grows to be.

When I first decided I wanted to start a business, I knew my goal was to impact as many children as possible with swim lessons, but it went further than that. Basic education surrounding water safety is an aspect that empowers and motivates me to expand our franchise network. It’s not just about prospering a business and expansion, but about teaching families and their children about the importance of water safety to avoid tragedy and even spark a passion for the sport among children. This is what fueled me to initiate a partnership between Goldfish Swim School and the USA Swimming Foundation, the philanthropic arm of USA Swimming. Since the partnership, we’ve launched various campaigns to aid in our commitment to raise $1 million for the foundation, which supports swim lesson providers with resources, materials and grant funding to allow the opportunity for every child across the country to learn to swim.

When you have a hobby or passion you think could evolve into a career, take the risk and act on it. Nothing great is ever accomplished without research, persistence and hard work. You have to trust the process and keep putting in the work – even if it may be uncomfortable – knowing that eventually, the results will come.

My first few years in business taught me that it’s OK to fail and have setbacks. Challenges are a part of the process to achieve your goal and get results. I grew from the challenges and experiences by channeling my energy into hard work and forward progress, growing the brand into what it is today.

Originally published March 8, 2022.

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