Ep.3 - The roots of BRSTV? One failure, three successes and some well-timed reefing tips. | BRS360
In BRS360 Episode #2, Ryan shared his personal journey through the reefkeeping hobby giving some insight into what led him to building this brand new 360 gallon dream tank in his home. In this episode, Ryan plays historian again but moves away from his personal journey and focuses, instead, on the history of Bulk Reef Supply and BRStv.
It may seem a little strange to begin an epic tank build series with videos that really don’t say much in the way of “How to build a reef tank”. The goal with these videos is to invite all of you into the Bulk Reef Supply story, set a precedent for the BRS360 video topics to come and why we do what we do here at BRS - Make reefing fun and easy.
3 successes and a failure
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 and our goal of helping others solve real reef tank problems.
It all started way back in 2007 by two guys, Ryan and Andrew, with $3,000 each. They quit their day jobs seeking a unique entrepreneurial opportunity and the Bulk Reef Supply you know today is the end product of four unique business ventures.
About 9-12 months into Ryan’s initial foray into the reefing hobby, he decided to make some frozen food at home by chopping up shrimp, fish, clams, scallops , fish eggs, nori, phytoplankton, copepods, golden pearls, aminos, fatty acids, selco, daphnia and a variety of other ingredients.
After using it for a few months, it soon became obvious he made too much food for his tank alone. Like any good hobbyists, he turned to his local reef club for help. The TCMAS group quickly bought up all his extra food and actually demanded more!
Reef chili was born that day simply because Ryan and his peers wanted a different approach to feeding their fish and corals. Another feather in the cap and one of Ryan’s proudest moments came just a few years later when 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.
The next endeavor was called MJmods.com which started with a thread on Reef Central where hobbyists modified Maxi-Jet pumps with radio controlled boat props to make DIY powerheads which certainly raises the question of why?
This predates all of the modern external propeller type powerheads we use on our reef tanks today. At the time, Tunze powerheads were the only high-flow type pumps and cost about $250 each. The idea of turning a $30 Maxi-Jet pump into something that would provide similar flow rates and patterns to a $250 was quite an attractive concept.
The concept 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 in this case because not long after 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 to sell 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, mjmods.com was moving nearly 2,000 kits per month.
Ryan’s frags - a failure to remember
The third venture was the unsuccessful one that in hindsight, was a great lesson for a 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?
After all was said and done, it was a complete failure and not a profitable or sustainable venture for Ryan. A variety of reasons contributed to the failure but the valuable lesson is 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.
In 2007, everyone was into the DIY chemical or additive trend. 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 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, specifically the Magnesium Chloride (DOW Flake) deemed safe for use in reef tanks.
It just so happens, distributors for DOW Flake and Baking Soda were located locally in Minneapolis, MN. These suppliers also helped Ryan find a suitable source of Soda Ash or Sodium Carbonate which saved reefers the hassle of needing to bake the Baking Soda which was required to turn the Baking Soda into Soda Ash.
This is the point Ryan’s partner, Andrew Duneman, joined the team and together they created twopartsolution.com to sell the bulk additives online. Andrew and Ryan had worked at a grocery store together for a brief time and later found themselves working together again at a steakhouse for many years.
It turns out, sourcing these bulk chemicals was a legit problem and they had solved it. By the very first day that twopartsolution.com was in operation, they already were getting 10 orders per day and it only grew from there. During the next year or so they added bulk carbon, GFO, RO/DI filters, dry rock and various other products.
Within a short time, Bulk Reef Supply was born and shortly thereafter the BRStv Youtube channel.
Lights, camera, action!
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 failure based on personal desires, certainly a lesson to be learned in all of that.
At this point, there were two major things that catapulted BRS. First was the adoption of EOS, a logical business framework which gave a method to the madness. Rather than bore you with a long winded bit about the EOS system, if you are interested check out the book called “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business” by Gino Wickman or feel free to ask us in today’s live stream!
The second and most substantial slingshot forward was the creation of BRStv. The very first episode was born out of an experience that forever changed the reefing hobby for Ryan.
The evolution of BRStv
At the time, Ryan had a handful of SPS corals that never grew. After a fruitless venture with Kent Marine Turbo Calcium, a local club member showed Ryan how to source and mix DIY two part solution. That club member spent 30 minutes at Ryan’s house and shared the importance of alkalinity alongside calcium. Ryan was also turned onto automating the daily addition of calcium and alkalinity using dosing pumps.
When all of this came together, the immediate transformation of his tank was obvious. The SPS corals actually started to grow and it ultimately gave Ryan a fresh view into the hobby and what could be accomplished.
Ryan asked his business partner, Drew, for $1000 to buy a digital camera with the intent of recreating that learning experience on YouTube, which itself was only 3 years old at the time.
On June 26th, 2008 the very first BRStv episode was uploaded. An 8 minute video about how to source, mix, adjust current levels and calculate the appropriate amount of calcium and alkalinity for daily dosage along with a tutorial about automating with dosing pumps.
The only part that was missing was the science behind why we do this which all came later as Ryan honed his video skillset. It is safe to say, Ryan was simply a passionate hobbyist with a camera and a desire to recreate that monumental experience that was gifted to him only a few months prior.
After the very first two-part video, Ryan started to tackle such topics as RODI, plumbing, carbon, GFO, drilling glass, and silencing your overflow all of which stemmed from personal challenges he faced. It became clear they had stumbled upon something special and filling a void the hobby desperately needed to be filled.
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. At the time it was not realized, but what they were doing then made all the difference in the world for the future of Bulk Reef Supply.
While selling products was part of it and they had already created Bulk Reef Supply, the willingness to help hobbyists succeed at their desired goals created that reciprocal relationship where everyone wins.
Fast forward to today, there is still a retail business that supports BRStv and we do want to sell gear. The most fulfilling path, however, is to help identify the right tool for the right job, show you how to use that gear to achieve the desired results and what the results look like when realized.
When those looking for information are able to find it, the success rates, results and enjoyment just go up. In the end, a reefers success with their tank is a win for BRS and creates that reciprocal relationship where everyone wins.
It is that relationship with hobbyists and the resulting success that has allowed BRS to keep working on the quality, accuracy, quantity and helpfulness within BRStv. Finding clear paths to succeed, explore and document them and share both the accomplishments and failures. Learning together.
We are excited to have finally reached that point to now apply all that we have learned and share the experience yet again with a 360 gallon dream tank build that will be running for over a decade to come.
Ryan, Randy and the entire BRS team realize that without all of you caring about your tank, sharing the same passion for learning, sharing and producing reef tanks we can all be proud of, none of this would be possible and we send a big thank you.
Be sure to stick around because in our complimentary live stream Ryan and Randy join their friend and fellow aquarium professional Jeff Jacobson to talk about reef businesses. Jeff is a successful tank installer with some of the best tanks in Minneapolis under his belt and the owner of Vibrant. You can ask anything you want to know and the guys will share the secret sauce so join the conversation via chat in YouTube.