Investment Notes: SwingVision

Read why AfterWork Ventures invested in Swing Vision - a company building the Strava for tennis.

Over the weekend, many of us tuned in to watch Ash Barty make history as the first Australian to win an Australian Open singles title since 1978.

All of our faces when Ash won her second set

As all elite athletes know, Grand Slam titles are not forged in the minutes we are tuned into the final, or even the weeks we are glued to the tournament. They’re forged in the thousands of hours spent training behind the scenes - analysing matches and playing recap scenarios.

SwingVision is an app that lets all aspiring tennis players access professional-grade real-time shot tracking, video analysis, and umpiring using just a mounted smartphone:

SwingVision can track stroke type, spin type, and ball speed; shot placement, contact, and rally length; and footwork, posture, and positioning. Its automated video analysis allows users to trim points and create highlight reels, track 1st/2nd serves, and challenge line calls in real time. The app also provides an insight into your shot patterns, allowing you to analyse the effectiveness of your backhand cross-court shot versus your forehand. SwingVision builds a player profile of rich stats from your games, allowing you to track your improvement over time or even scout your opponent’s stats before a match.

SwingVision was founded in 2019 by Swupnil Sahai and Richard Hsu, with a grand vision to become the Peloton of ball sports. In leveraging computer vision to analyse smartphone footage in real time, Swing is democratising pro tennis by bringing professional grade statistics, umpiring, and video highlights to amateur players.

In this video, tennis superstar Andy Roddick talks about the game-changing innovations the product is bringing to club tennis across the world:

What we loved about the opportunity

A team that pushes the boundaries of computer vision and machine learning

SwingVision’s co-founders Swupnil (CEO) and Richard (CTO) are both avid tennis players. In addition, Swupnil as a PhD from Columbia University in Statistics, as was formerly a computer vision engineer at Tesla. Richard has a Masters from Stanford University in Computer Science, and has been a software engineer at LinkedIN and Cisco. In addition, they have coalesced a team of other experienced operators and tennis enthusiasts.

Richard and Swupnil

The team exudes operational excellence. They are continually delivering innovations in computer vision; meeting deadlines and hitting milestones like a well-oiled machine. Adrian first met this team when he was a mentor in the Techstars accelerator; he found SwingVision to be a rare example of a team that consistently did everything they set out to do, smashing all the stretch goals they’d set for the program.

The product’s technical brilliance has not gone unnoticed. The app was featured in Apple’s 2021 keynote, which showcased SwingVision as an example of boundary-pushing innovation enabled by the latest machine learning improvements in the iPhone 13 Pro and Apple Watch Series 7:

Smartphones are finally powerful enough

Activity tracking platforms such as Fitbit and Strava have been popular for decades. As of 2020, Strava had over 86 million users and an estimated $72 million in revenue from its Premium users. However, activity tracking for racket sports have been hamstrung by the technical limitations of mobile devices. Until recently, shot tracking tools such as Playsight had to be fixed onto the court, and cost upwards of $10,000 per installation.

However, innovations such as Apple’s A15 Bionic chip on the iPhone 13 represent a step-change in machine learning capabilities on smartphones, unlocking the opportunity for developers such as SwingVision to build iOS apps with powerful analytics and delightful customer experiences.

Primed for growth

We are enthusiastic investors in companies that customers are obsessed with
— one of our investment principles is ‘your customers’ friends are sick of hearing about you’. SwingVision has impressive product-led growth statistics: subscriptions are growing 18% month-on-month, and 70% of subscribers have been acquired organically, including through customers sharing their highlight reels on social media.

Additionally, SwingVision is driving top-down growth through partnerships with tennis clubs and federations globally. For example, SwingVision have a partnership with Tennis Australia, who is also an investor. Tennis Australia are installing 2,500 SwingVision court mounts on tennis courts across the country; the 3,000 coaches that work under Tennis Australia’s umbrella will be using SwingVision to train players; and in the Australian Open, SwingVision was used to replay some of the tournament’s best matches and highlight its most unforgettable moments.

The challenges we saw  

Scaling the infrastructure for adoption

To use SwingVision, you need to mount your phone on a stand, such as a fence mount or a tripod. Of course, having to carry around a mount and install it before your game adds friction for the user.

To get around this, SwingVision is working with clubs and federations to pre-install mounts at courts. So far, it has secured partnerships all over the world, at multiple levels: it is the official ball-tracking partner of the UK Lawn Tennis Association and the US Intercollegiate Tennis Association, which oversees over 20,000 varsity athletes in California.

Technical limitations

Although SwingVision is riding a wave unlocked by advancements in machine learning capabilities in smartphone processors, building on the bleeding edge is a double edged sword. For example, the SwingVision app still rapidly drains phone battery, and is currently incompatible with less powerful phones - including Android devices.

In addition, first-movers such as SwingVision face the risk that their tech will become less defensible over time, as a flurry of developers enter the space. Here, we are betting on the team’s ability to make the most of their lead, and remain at the forefront of innovation in computer vision and machine learning.

The questions we had for the team  

What are your priorities for the next 12 months?

SwingVision’s plan includes refining their go-to-market by strengthening their partnerships to scale their infrastructure and leverage network effects. Additionally, they will be making some key hires - SwingVision currently have 10 open roles across product, growth, and community. If you want to be part of this team, get in touch!

The SwingVision team

How will you encourage your users to make SwingVision a core part of how they train?

SwingVision is building and activating a community, driven by sticky and social product features, such as the ability to share highlights from matches in their feed and on other social networks. This functional feature doubles as a growth feature; not only does social sharing create a positive feedback loop around using the app, the user-generated content brings others in their community into the app.

Finally, SwingVision’s line-calling feature speaks directly to players’ emotional triggers - in addressing the frustration associated with dubious line-calls, Swing Vision earns itself an irreplaceable spot in tennis players’ lives.

How we built conviction

We’re stoked to be investing in Swing Vision’s $2 million seed round led by Wildcard Ventures, the VC arm of Tennis Australia, tennis legends Andy Roddick and James Blake, and MyFitnessPal co-founders Albert and Mike Lee.

As Australia watched Ash Barty play a near-perfect game of tennis on Saturday evening, we’ll bet that millions of parents looked up how to enrol their kids in tennis lessons, while others looked to dust off their rackets and head down to the courts for a match.

We believe SwingVision can play a big role in growing the enthusiasm of amateur and club level tennis players - by giving them access to analytics, umpiring, and reels, SwingVision makes it that much easier to imagine themselves one day representing their country at the Rod Laver Arena.