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The Jellyfish Entrepreneur (priceonomics.com)
277 points by aandon on Apr 3, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments

Congrats to this business for forging ahead with someone no one else was daring to do. But I do have a bit of an ethical dilemma with the lean startup concept of setting up AdWords to sell something that doesn't yet exist. Especially something like a $25k installation in a restaurant that seems to have turned into a total trainwreck (spilled tank, "other minor problems," then ultimately abandoning jellyfish altogether).

I don't know what the solution should be. Is it on the restaurant to do their own due diligence here? Or should he be (and maybe he was!) upfront about the lack of expertise and do the initial install for minimal profit?

I agree that actually taking the contract is problematic, but I love the idea of using AdWords as market research and validation. Maybe not revolutionary, but I've never seen such a cool example (a market that essentially didn't exist).

This is a technique that goes back decades. Put an ad in the classifieds section of newspapers advertising a product for $X plus $Y shipping and handling. Send a check to P.O. Box 12345, New York, NY and wait 6 - 8 weeks for delivery. If the number of orders weren't sufficient, return all the checks saying "Sorry, we sold out." If there are sufficient orders, the 6 - 8 weeks gives you enough lead time to procure the product from suppliers and fulfill the orders.

Hmmm. I don't know where they are in terms of sentience, but I kinda feel sorry for the jellyfish. It's the main reason I don't keep pets of any sort, but particularly fish. I love aquaria, but even the truly huge ones don't seem large enough - take the Lisbon Oceanário for example - hard not to feel sorry for that one Sunfish (maybe a metre across) just swimming in circles around a huge cylindrical tank.

Keeping cephalapods would be a great engineering challenge, in terms of what's necessary to make a viable habitat, but it seems so cruel given their apparent intelligence. Perhaps these things shouldn't be cheap?

Most jellyfish are barely even animals, many are in fact several colonies of highly interdependent species that happen to work together in the form of a jellyfish. As long as you feed them and keep them warm/cold/lit/dark as appropriate to the species you have, it's no worse than having a pet plant.

Cephalapods on the other hand are significantly more intelligent that previously though, and therefore unless you could provide a sizable (like med-large house sized) enclosure for several of them... Don't keep cephalapods.

I'm a big environmentalist and supporter of animal rights. I originally wanted to be a marine biologist when I graduated college.

But I don't think keeping jellyfish in captivity is unethical. They're somewhere between a goldfish and a houseplant in terms of sentience. They have no central nervous system; just a loosely connected net of nerves that control their muscle contractions and very simple senses, like swimming towards light and migrating up in the water column at night and down during the day.

I would argue that it definitely is unethical to keep cephalapods in captivity unless they have a big tank and some sort of stimulation.

It's not only unethical for most people to keep cephalapods, but it's just a bad idea. They tend to escape from their habitats, some of them are extremely toxic, and almost all of them are very short-lived.

The current knowledge of jellyfish intelligence is "we've figured out they have memories." Jellyfish are extremely simple creatures; the "brighter" ones are known for their ability to avoid obstacles. [1] These are not particularly sentient creatures.

[1] Coates et al. 2006 "The spectral sensitivity of the lens eyes of a box jellyfish" JEB

It's relatively common for people to keep small reef aquaria without any fish at all. Just corals and other invertebrates like shrimp, snails, urchins, etc.

I keep some very small fish in my reef tank, but I find my non-fish livestock generally more compelling.

On the contrary – having them in close proximity might lead you to spend more time watching these puzzling and hauntingly beautiful creatures manifesting the same primordial intelligence out of which we evolved...

I think it's also important not to project our human minds onto jellyfish – it's very possible they are completely enlightened and are supposed to teach us something

I have the Jellyfish tank and it's pretty cool, however, all the Jellyfish died after about a month. They were too hard to find, get caught up in the rocks a lot, and feeding was a pain. However, we still have the tank and use it to hold tropical fish now.

I would suggest that they go into the tank business and focus on unique designs, that's a scalable business with a big market. I wouldn't buy the Jellyfish again, but if they had another interesting tank, I would get that.

I heard once that Airbnb thought the "breakfast" in Airbed and Breakfast was a crucial element of the experience for the first year or so. It took them awhile to realize no one cared about the breakfast.

Perhaps the Jellyfish aren't the crucial piece of the experience for Jellyfish Art? With your anecdote plus the story about the restaurant keeping the tank and using it for fish, perhaps there's something there.

Tanks with cool neon lights and more design?

At first I read the suggestion, "I would suggest that they go into the tank business and focus on unique designs," and I thought to myself "they probably don't to be in the unique-fish-tank business because there are other companies doing that and margins are low."

But then I thought about Fab.com and companies that have a unique angle to aggregate a certain KIND of customer.

If Jellyfish Art can do that, it's their brand that customers are buying, and you CAN preserve margins with a great brand.

I bought one of these, their latest ones, from a German company about a half year ago. It arrived, I followed the instructions and got it up and running within a couple of hours.

It takes at least a couple of weeks to settle, with the added reef salt and everything. Then I was going to purchase jellyfish - and found out that they actually cost more than 50$ a piece, because of overnight shipping (from Germany, I live in Denmark).

So I started doing some research on the tank, and read about 5 horror stories about how they always died within 3 days, even after following instructions very accurately.

I later emptied the tank, and now it's sitting in the attic.

Build quality is decent, but not perfect. After sitting still for about 3 months, the top lid started bending/skewing quite a lot, now it almost doesn't fit anymore. It's also quite noisy, not something that you'd like to sleep in the same room as.

If anyone wants a jellyfish tank where the jellyfish apparently dies within a couple of days, I have a cheap one for pickup here in Copenhagen.

I'm really sorry to hear about your disappointing experience with the tank. We can set you up with some suppliers in Europe that you might not have tried yet. The jellies definitely should not die within a few days! If you want to email us I'll make sure you get taken care of.

Congrats to Jellyfish Art. I saw one sitting in my neighbor's window about a year and a half ago and was immediately in awe.

On a separate note, I'm always excited when I see a new blog post from priceonomics. They always choose super interesting topics, do a ton of research, and express the info in a succinct way. Good stuff.

Great article, Mr. Andon. We at AutoMicroFarm are in a very similar boat, as you know.

It's fascinating that the barrier to further growth is breeding jellyfish to fill the demand of a cheaper aquarium, once it's released to market. Is Jelly Fish Art (the company) focused on researching the science of scaling the process? Have you looked into selling other exotic aquatic animals that fit the aquarium you've developed?

Hey guys, I'm a big fan of AutoMicroFarm. I hope it's going well. Indeed it's a small business, but all our development effort is going towards breeding jellies in a scalable manner. Unfortunately there are inherent lead times because we're dealing with a living animal, but we're patient. Yes, we looked into other exotic animals, but it would be as off-brand and out of our expertise as trying to build a database for dog and cat buyers, so we haven't pursued anything else.

I own one of their modest desktop tanks -- what an awesome piece of craftsmanship. Feels like it was made by Apple.

>The supply chain worked this way for a year. Then one day, the tropical supplier went to his jellyfish catching spot and couldn’t catch a single one. All of them were gone. Every week he checked out the same spot, but every week he went home empty-handed.

This is simply unacceptable. His achievement at the expense of local fauna is not to be applauded, but condemned. Regardless of whether jellyfish feel pain, exploiting nature is such destructive ways is simply ridiculous in this day and age.

Sad that so many comments here completely overlooked this, and focused solely on success at any cost.

Do you have any idea in what amounts jellyfish usually appear? Probably the weather changed and they moved off, or died due to changing seasons etc.

Yes, it's interesting that so many people on HN are climate change environmentalists, but that this example of over-fishing didn't raise much concern.

Still, it does sound like Jellyfish Art is moving towards farming their own.

I'm a long time reef keeper so I instantly jumped on this with the kickstarter campaign. Like many that bought this tank they were littered with issues and flaws in the design that sent the jellyfish to their death.

I consider my reefing keeping ability as advanced with a 220 gallon main display. This tank was also advertised for beginners. As someone who understands the ecosystem, how to mix the salt/water and test for common parameters I would highly discourage this tank and jellies to beginners.

This tank had too many issues.

There are competitors: http://www.moonjellyfish.com/products/eon-jellyfish-system http://www.cubicaquarium.com/product-jellyfish-aquarium.php http://sunsetmarinelabs.com/

They may cost more but the reviews are much better.

Is it at all plausible to set up a tank with jellies that breed and sustain their numbers? I'm remembering a friend's fish tank that was perennially full of snails, because the snails laid eggs on the walls of the tank much faster than they died out.

Could the jellies be captured and shipped in polyp form to cut down on the cost?

There's a great interview with Jellyfish Art on Mixergy from November 2011, with a lot more detail on their pre-YC history: http://mixergy.com/andon-jellyfish-art-interview/

Cool product!

1 quick suggestion: on your sales page food is listed in ounces. I think it would be more helpful and may increase conversions with impulse buyers to list that as "X months of food".

Great blog post (as usual from Priceonomics). I'm sure many people (myself included) would become Jellyfish Art customers once Alex can nail the lower price point.

One great strength here is the smallness of market. Easy to dominate. Unattractive to large competitors.

Did you write a blog post about living in a van in SF? I see people doing this and I've always been curious about it. I would love to hear what that was like.

Really fantastic article. We sell the tank on Outgrow.me and have only received positive feedback from our customers thus far.

> Alex made the sale, but now he had a problem: he had to deliver on the tank he promised. Alex had a general understanding of jellyfish tank construction based on googling around and talking to experts, but he didn’t have enough expertise to deliver the product.

Daring and a bit crazy.

This is such a great story and example to others that there are a million ways to make money.

I've had a tank on my wish list since I first saw it on Kickstarter.

Sadly, we only have one distributor in Australia and they mark the price up 110% for just a basic tank setup. There's an untapped market over here, only problem is in the distribution channel.

What type of e-commerce platform are they using?

We started the company on volusion but have since switched to Get Fwd (http://getfwd.com/) because we had to customize order and fulfillment logic due to the time sensitive nature of our live animal shipments.

Looks like it's just Stripe without any CMS-type platform

Cool, thanks. I know they were using another platform before, but that one was full of security holes. Another win for stripe. (:

Great article! I have been a small entrepreneur myself from time to time. I am currently working on something in the tiny scale, and would like to one day do the same thing on that type of scale.

"Then they can lower their prices grow again."

That would be deflationary and, as we all know, deflation is the worst possible thing that could happen, ever.

(Great story on true entrepreneurship in action and, in particular, the focus on lowering, lowering, lowering costs and bringing more to more people.)

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