There is definitely a congruent theme with the story of Bulk Reef Supply and BRStv, both of which came about because of the reefing community's thirst for reliable knowledge, the desire to help others find success with their reef tanks, and a general passion for the hobby. It all started, believe it or not, with some DIY frozen fish and coral food and a local reef club - The Twin Cities Marine Aquarium Society.

Reef Chili

Reef Chili - The First Success

It was 2004 when Ryan first built a reef aquarium. About 9-12 months into Ryan’s initial foray into the hobby, he found it hard to source a high-quality frozen food that fed his entire tank with a little something for everyone. Rather than purchase 5 different blister packs, freeze-dried food, liquid food, and a food soak, why couldn't we just have a single mixed ingredient food to feed the entire tank, including the corals?

Ryan decided to just make some frozen food at home by chopping up shrimp, fish, clams, scallops, fish eggs, nori, phytoplankton, copepods, golden pearls, and daphnia.  He enriched the seafood mix with vitamins, amino acids, and fatty acids by adding Selcon. After using it for a few months, his fish were healthy and vibrant but it soon became obvious to Ryan he made too much food for his tank alone so he turned to his friends at the local reef club. The TCMAS group quickly bought up all his extra food and actually demanded more!  Ryan delivered and Reef Chili was born.  

Learn How To Make Your Own Frozen Reef Chili: DIY Reef Chili: Make your own saltwater fish food! How to make frozen fish and coral foods. | BRStv

Reef Chili coral research

In time, the dry version of Reef Chili you know and love today was developed in order to create a more sustainable and shelf-stable food that could be easily shipped around the country. In 2010, the University of Hawaii tested the dry version of Reef Chili and found it to be one of the most beneficial coral foods they tested in terms of promoting the growth of corals in captivity. Reef Chili was the first of many feathers in Ryan's cap and the very first business success in the story of BRS.

Maxi Jet pump modified with MJmod - The Second Success

The next endeavor was called which started with a thread on Reef Central where hobbyists modified Maxi-Jet pumps with radio-controlled boat props to make DIY powerheads. At the time, modern external propeller-type powerheads were simply not being widely manufactured. Tunze was the only brand making high-flow propeller-style pumps but they cost about $250 each which was not a price-point most hobbyists could reach. The idea of turning a $30 Maxi-Jet pump into something that would provide similar flow rates and patterns to a $250 Tunze pumps was quite an attractive concept.

Maxi Jet pump modified with MJmod

The modification was easy and it worked great but came with some challenges. Buying the individual components separately was expensive and hard to source and once you had the parts, it was difficult to center the impeller. TCMAS came to the rescue again when a local club member that went by the name of "Spazz" used a CNC machine to create caps that made centering the impeller shaft effortless.

Ryan started putting together inexpensive kits that included all of the components and sold them online. All of the kits were hand-built in Ryan’s basement using the tools available to him and of course, his buddy with a CNC machine produced the caps. At the very height, was moving nearly 2,000 kits per month and was a success. 

While has gone the way of the dinosaur the modification itself is now a standard set of accessories included with ALL Maxi-Jet pumps.  

Burning money

Ryan’s Frags - A Failure To Remember

The third venture for Ryan was the unsuccessful one that, in hindsight, was the greatest lesson for the future business owner. After saving up and ultimately spending somewhere between $20 and $30 thousand dollars, Ryan built a couple of 8’ x 4’ frag runs alongside a couple of clownfish breeding tanks in his basement. He was growing corals so fast in his display, why not create the space to grow some frags and sell them for a profit?

Ryan's basement with clownfish tanks

After it all was said and done, the frag company was a complete failure and not a profitable or sustainable model for Ryan. A variety of reasons contributed to the failure but the valuable lesson was that Ryan pursued a frag operation to make money and extend his personal hobby, not to solve a problem or help others like what we see in all of the success stories behind BRS. Something that became a theme and ultimately the reason BRStv and Bulk Reef Supply was born, the help other hobbyists become successful reef tank owners and have fun doing it. 

Two Part Solution website homepage

In 2007, it was not uncommon for reef tank owners to make their own two-part additives using a popular DIY chemical recipe. The problem for most hobbyists was finding the large 50-pound bulk bags of the appropriate chemicals (DOW Flake and Baking Soda) to make the DIY additives more economical. If you didn’t live in a winter state or have a wholesale account with a chemical supplier, it was near impossible to source the necessary chemicals in bulk.

It just so happens, distributors for DOW Flake and Baking Soda were located locally in Minneapolis, MN and Ryan set out to find them. These suppliers also helped Ryan find a suitable source of Soda Ash (Sodium Carbonate) which saved reefers the hassle of needing to bake the Baking Soda which was required to turn the Baking Soda (sodium bicarbonate) into Soda Ash. Both of which have valuable applications for reef tank owners. 

Andrew Duneman

At this point, Ryan and his new partner Andrew Duneman quit their day jobs at a local steakhouse and created to sell the bulk additives online. By the very first day that was in operation, they already were getting 10 orders per day and it only grew from there.

During the next year, they added bulk carbon, GFO, RO/DI filters, dry rock, and various other products. Within a short time, the vision of Bulk Reef Supply was born. Ryan and Andrew were providing solutions to problems ALL reef tank hobbyists face, finding affordable consumable additives and media.

Looking back at that journey, we see three successes based on helping people find what they were looking for or solving unique challenges and one big failure motivated only by personal desires. There was certainly a lesson to be learned in all of this and Ryan knew it.

BRStv video title screen from the early days

The Evolution of BRStv

Just before the creation of, Ryan was faced with the same challenge all reef tank owners eventually must overcome. The ability to monitor, adjust, and maintain stable calcium, alkalinity, and magnesium levels using chemical additives (two-part solution) in their tank. Maintaining these major elements is really the big step into a reef aquarium and what sets it aside from your typical saltwater fish-only aquarium.

Back to that local reef club again, a TCMAS member generously donated his time and visited Ryan's house to teach him the ins and outs of water testing and adjusting major elements in a reef tank. He also showed Ryan how to automate the dosing of chemical additives using dosing pumps. Ryan's tank really took off with a noticeable difference in the growth and health of his SPS corals specifically.  It was this selfless act to share knowledge and the resulting success that inspired Ryan to create BRStv.

On June 26th, 2008 the very first BRStv episode was uploaded. An 8-minute video showing hobbyists how to monitor and adjust calcium and alkalinity levels along with an effective method of automating the tank's daily two-part supplementation using dosing pumps. He simply wanted people everywhere to have access to good information and experience the kind of success he was experiencing with his own tank, all thanks to local hobbyists and mentors.

As Ryan honed his video skillset and continued to produce YouTube videos, the channel grew and eventually helped catapult Ryan was simply a passionate hobbyist with a camera and a desire to help others recreate that monumental experience of maintaining a successful reef tank. 

Ryan started to tackle such topics as RO/DI, plumbing, filter media, drilling aquarium glass, and silencing overflows. Topics that stemmed from personal challenges faced with his own tanks. It became clear BRStv was something special and was filling a void the hobby desperately needed to be filled.

Bulk Reef Supply Homepage

The purpose of Bulk Reef Supply

Looking back it is clear that building a source of accurate and helpful information that makes reefing fun and easy was the key to success. Although it was not realized at the time, what they were doing then made all the difference in the world for the future success of Bulk Reef Supply.

While selling aquarium products is a big part of Bulk Reef Supply, the willingness to help hobbyists succeed with the information found on BRStv creates a reciprocal relationship where everyone wins. We couldn't do what we do here at BRS without our customers and YouTube subscribers so we strive to acknowledge that fact and embrace our customers by providing the best education and service we can. The most fulfilling part of the journey really is helping reef tank owners identify the right tools for the right job, show them how to use those tools, and document what the results look like when realized.

Just like the reef hobby is always evolving, we are too. We love to explore, document, and experience the hobby ourselves because BRStv and Bulk Reef Supply are made up of a team of passionate hobbyists. We experience the same successes and failures that all hobbyists eventually encounter and are not afraid to document it all, the highs and the lows so we can learn together.

When those who are looking for information can find it, the success rates, results, and enjoyment of the reef-keeping hobby rise which undoubtedly creates a more fulfilling experience.