Three words: Desktop Jellyfish Tank. String them together, long and soft, murmur them in a baby’s ear, use them to woo a lover, or score free drinks from a friend. They might even have the power to stop wars, we dare say, especially if you pony up with the actual product. You will likely want your own (we do), if the 350 backers who have donated $106,950 to Alex Andon — the 27-year-old Park Slope native who came up with the idea — via Kickstarter are any indication. Andon, who also has the website JellyFishArt.com, put up the page with a goal of reaching $3,000. Demand has been greater than expected. The people have spoken, and the people want desktop jellyfish tanks! We talked to Andon about the success of his idea, and the possibility that we may someday own our own. Also, did we say he’s from Brooklyn?
Were you surprised to get such a positive reaction from people?
I was definitely surprised. I thought maybe we’d meet our goal of $3,000, sell some extra tanks. We can now be a bit more aggressive with getting the tanks manufactured, and we can order more. It’s basically more purchasing power.
How did you come up with the idea?
10 or 15 years ago, marine biologists figured out how to keep jellyfish in captivity, and they started experimenting with jellyfish exhibits. People love them; every public aquarium has them. But no one had made a commercially viable option, one that anyone could have at home. That was the idea from the beginning.
I started doing big custom tanks, like the ones in public aquariums, and then I found a tank we could retrofit for jellyfish — the problem is that in a normal aquarium, they immediately get sucked up by the filters. About a year ago we started developing this tank.
When will the tanks be ready?
We’re hoping to start manufacturing in a few weeks. The first should be available by December.
Christmas presents! So, the people who have already donated will get one?
A $350 donation gets you a tank, shipping, and a $50 voucher for jellyfish and food. People need to get the tank and set it up first, and once it’s running at the right temperature, they can come back and get the jellyfish.
Do you have jellyfish at your…headquarters?
We keep them in stock. We started getting them from aquarium fish collectors, but we’re also starting a breeding operation. We’re based in San Francisco, where we have a warehouse.
Is it like a top-secret hidden warehouse?
Customers come by all the time! It’s in an industrial area of San Francisco.
Why do you think people are so fascinated by jellyfish?
It’s something about their movement, it’s kind of hypnotizing. When people come to check out the tanks, they’ll be talking and asking questions and suddenly they’ll fall silent and just stare. It’s something about it —
Does it work on you?
Yeah, it still hypnotizes me.
Do you see a desktop jellyfish tank as the new stress ball, or zen office garden?
That would be awesome.
What about the environmental aspect of this? Do people complain?
You always get some of those people, but we’re in a position where that’s not really founded. As far as animals go, jellyfish are about as low on the consciousness scale as possible. They are very anatomically simple, with no sensing organs. If you keep a houseplant, you’d have a difficult time making an argument against keeping jellyfish. We get these customer service calls where people say, “They know when I’m coming, they swim to the top and know” — no, they don’t!
Also, jellyfish are overpopulated — we’ve killed off their predators.
And they sting people!
One of the reason we use the species we do, “moon jelly,” is that their venom has no effect on people. There are hundreds of species of jellyfish out there.
What do they eat?
They eat microplankton. The food we supply is frozen plankton.
How long do they live?
About a year.
What’s next for the jellyfish business?
The price point ($350) for the tanks is really high. That’s one disadvantage. I’ve been constantly trying to get the price down, and working on some new jellyfish products that would be less expensive. We’ve also been available by e-commerce exclusively — we’d like to expand into more venues.
You’re from Brooklyn, right? How did you end up in San Francisco?
I grew up in Park Slope. I ended up in San Francisco completely by chance. I was studying marine biology, and working on a sailboat in Massachusetts. The owner had a biotech company out here, and he offered me a job in the lab. I ended up really liking it.
Is this going to be your million-dollar idea?
I hope so! I think we’re in that top 50 list for Kickstarter now, but I’d love to get in the top 10 or 20, that’s good bragging rights!
Here’s Andon on Kickstarter talking about the tanks…