Building a Connected Fish Tank
for the Smart Home

We worked with KollerProducts to build a smart fish tank and IoT-connected mobile application. The connected tank is on track to be the first of its kind to market.

iot beer distribution

"I wanted a company to work with that stands behind the work they do, will be there to help with future development, and ultimately the firm that had the most experience. That’s why I chose Very."

— Dennis Milford, general manager at KollerProducts

The Background

You may not think about the desktop aquarium market as a place of massive innovation, but that’s not how Dennis Milford sees it. As the general manager for KollerProducts, Dennis prides himself on constantly bringing new technology to hobbyists.


Founded in 1941, KollerProducts was the first company to introduce plastic desktop aquariums into the marketplace. They were the first aquarium manufacturer to add LED lighting to their tanks. For Dennis, creating the first Internet-connected consumer aquarium was a natural next step in the company’s innovative journey.



The Concept

Dennis wasn’t the first person to have the idea — another company was working on the concept. But after two years of development, they still didn’t have a product to market, and Dennis saw an opportunity. By keeping the initial scope small and partnering with the right software development firm, Koller could get the elusive first-mover advantage.


After interviewing a number of consulting companies, Dennis chose Very because of our deep experience with both hardware and software.


“I wanted to work with a company that stands behind the work they do, will be there to help with future development, and ultimately the firm that had the most experience,” Dennis says.


The Process

We started our engagement with an in-person release planning session at Koller’s headquarters. Dennis had a long wish list of features for the application, so we worked with him to prioritize features, classifying everything as a "need," "want," or "desire." Using this method, we were able to understand the features required for a minimum marketable product (MMP) — notably temperature sensing and dynamic light controls.


Getting into a Rhythm

When we first told Dennis that we needed to have daily meetings (standups), he wondered how much benefit he would get from being that involved. But after a week of participating in standups, the value was obvious. By staying in constant communication with the team, Dennis was able to make course corrections and make sure the product came to life exactly how he imagined.


Hardware, Software and Design

Next, we started a hardware research spike to fully understand Koller’s hardware requirements and how they would impact our framework choices. Keeping Koller’s target cost per unit in mind, we made recommendations for a temperature sensor, lights, and a microprocessor to control it all and send the data to a web server.


We also spent a lot of time making sure that Koller’s customer data was secure. All data stored on the device is encrypted and all communication between the device and the web server is encrypted both at rest and in transit.


Dennis wanted to create both an iOS and Android application, so we chose React Native for our front-end framework. Koller’s hardware requirements meant we couldn’t use our preferred combination of Nerves and Elixir, so we decided to use Arduino’s C++ framework instead, and added custom C++ libraries as necessary.


Our front-end engineering team created detailed mappings of user flows and designed 74 wireframes. By doing this, our design process goes much faster because we know exactly how we want an application to behave before we start our more detailed screen designs.


Because we set specifications for the hardware design, and developed firmware and software, we had the entire ecosystem at our fingertips. If Koller needed to change something with hardware, we’d be able to immediately address changes with the firmware and software.


The Results

By delivering the iOS application on time and on budget, we ensured that Koller’s connected fish tank stays on track to be the first of its kind to market. As Koller manufactures the fish tank, we’re working to complete the Android version of the application.


“We have a brand partner that’s been working on a connected aquarium app for several years. They’ve spent a lot more money than we have, and they still don’t have a product to market,” Dennis says. “You were able to jump in and get a product launched in a matter of weeks. We’re going to have a very robust, reliable product.”


But for Dennis, this is just the beginning. Future development will focus on adding features in the “wants” and “desires” areas of his wish list.


smart fish tank on the market

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