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How a games publisher COO took the plunge with a new business selling fish tanks

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The obvious initial question is just how did he end up moving across to such a different business?

“Although technology is my background, I wanted to apply everything that I have learned from product development, ecommerce, and leading highly innovative teams, with a passion for product design that I never had the opportunity to apply before,” he explained.

After university, Dalton-Moore set up his own business with a university friend – “which we set up in our third year, because we didn’t want to get a proper job,” he said. The business was called thrudigital and after the pair sold it in 2011, Dalton-Moore stayed at the acquiring company for a year before deciding he wanted to utilise his other skills and follow up on different interests.

The combination of “fish, furniture and home design” proved a winning one for him, as Dalton-Morre thought the aquarium market had been treading water for a while. “It’s a sector that has stagnated and become too accepting of design mediocrity,” he said.

As a result, Norrom has aimed to fundamentally redesign how a home aquarium should be and Dalton-Moore said while developing the debut product, “distinguishing from competitors has completely defined the entire product”.

The initial product was designed in Sweden and made in Britain. The system offers an innovative lighting system – designed to avoid the inconvenience of cables being attached to the lid of the tank, along with customisable parts that can be 3D printed at home.

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Dalton-Moore recently completed his first funding round for the company – with £15,000 raised from investors on the crowdfunding platform Funding Tree. He said the strength of the business model has enabled Norrom to raise finance relatively easily, and has started selling the aquarium to the public.

The decision to opt for Funding Tree was down to a desire to raise loan capital rather than give away equity so early on, according to Dalton-Moore, who felt the platform’s offeringof P2B loan financing were a particularly appealing feature. He added: “Most other peer-to-peer lending platforms offer what they call business loans, but which are actually personal loans for a business purpose.”

He was pleasantly surprised to find investors had offered to lend more than the original target, which has meant the early stages of raising capital for Norrom have been smooth sailing so far. There has been a lot of initial interest in the aquarium, which Dalton-Moore said has given them the confidence that once it is fully stocked and able to deliver to customers faster, sales will begin to scale up “quite nicely”.

The current shipping time is five to six weeks, so it’s understandable to see that as a work in progress for the business to improve on. While consumers are prepared to wait for some products, particularly those that may not be needed as urgently as others, the rise in ecommerce has been rapid and expansive. As a result, online retailers have to up the game in order to compete effectively.

A study conducted by RetailMeNot and the Centre for Retail Research earlier this year predicted online retail sales to reach £52.5bn in the UK for 2015. This would mark a 16.2 per cent increase on 2014’s total of £44.97bn and work out at around 15.2 per cent of all British retail sales. The numbers would make the UK home to the most frequent online shoppers across Europe.

In terms of delivery – the online fashion retailer ASOS became renowned for its free delivery and returns policy, while the company’s head of delivery, Matt Rogers, said 40 per cent of ASOS’s customers opted for next-day delivery, reflecting its importance.

For a new business though, it’s important to establish an effective delivery network first and foremost, which Dalton-Moore is aiming to do. We’ve seen retailers race to attempt to secure a status at the forefront of the delivery field, only to then suffer backlash over poor service. Parcel-delivery service Yodel has felt the negative force of social platforms for its apparent failings in this area, so it’s not something to be rushed.

Dalton-Moore said he hopes to “relentlessly” improve everything he believes the consumer wants and deserves, and improved shipping time will be part of that.

The company’s general progress seems very much a walk before you run set-up, though it’s clear Dalton-Moore has planned out his intentions for the coming years. “Our mission is to fundamentally redesign products in other markets that have stagnated, so we are in it for the long haul!” he said. “Our pipeline of products spreads into other product categories too. We expect to launch a new product in the same way as the Norrom aquarium every couple of years for the foreseeable future.”

For someone with an interest in both fish and design, does Dalton-Moore own an aquarium? He does, and it’s – naturally – a Norrom one, which currently has a zebrano wood lid and base on it. The lid and base styles are swappable, with eight versions on offer for customers to switch between if they choose. The inhabitants of the tank are “one red platy with beautiful black fins, four orange-tailed guppies, six neon tetras – which are really pretty with their reflective blue streak, and three red cherry shrimp, which go around the tank all day cleaning the algae for me”, Dalton-Moore listed.

The “funny mix of creatures” are always a talking point for any guests he has, while the tank itself serves both as an impressive display of design and offers a responsible ecosystem. The latter quality may not be as interesting for the guests as the colourful fish, but for potential customers, these are likely to be two of their first concerns.

It’s still early days for Norrom, but with its focus on widening offerings in stagnant sectors, we’re likely to hear a lot more about the company in the future.

Image: Shutterstock

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