In February 2019, the founders of Blue Lobster, Nima and Christine, joined the Accelerace program. They had a dream of creating a digital platform that could enable small-scale fishermen to sell directly to end-consumers while also making it economically viable for them to fish sustainably.
When Blue Lobster joined the Accelerace program, Nima and Christine had certain plans for the startup. However, during their participation, new findings led the young entrepreneurs in a different direction than planned, resulting in them concentrating on a different customer group, making a new revenue model and having a new focus for their digital platform. While their dream of bringing local consumers face to face with suppliers lives on, the focus is now elsewhere. Nonetheless, business is booming, and Blue Lobster’s first funding round recently resulted in an impressive investor group counting both Løgismose co-founder Jacob Grønlykke and restaurateur Jesper Marcussen.
Growing up in Massachusetts, Christine Hebert spent many summers in Maine where she and her family would go down to the harbor and buy fresh lobster from fishermen. When she was not buying directly from fishermen, Christine was used to grocery stores offering plenty of different kinds of fish. However, when she moved across the Atlantic to Denmark, she realized that the same variety was not available in the Danish grocery stores and that few of them offered actual fresh fish – something she found quite striking. She soon brought her astonishment to Nima Tisdall, who, after growing up in the Danish fishing village Snekkersten, also found it surprising. So, with their wonder as motivation, Christine and Nima started thoroughly researching by going to harbors and talking to fishermen. They then realized that small-scale fishermen are struggling to survive in the industry and that a lot of the Danish fish are getting exported. What was also striking to the duo was that nobody seemed to have a problem with only having a small variety of fish to choose from.
“Danish consumers seem fine eating fish that is not very fresh (…), and for some reason, people are surprisingly okay with, like, five types of fish being in the grocery stores,” Christine Hebert says.
For Christine and Nima, the Danes being okay with only having a handful of different types of fish available meant that the development of the Blue Lobster platform was more extensive than first expected. It involved educating the Danish consumers about what is seasonal and about how they should demand higher standards to ensure that Danish fishermen can make a living wage. The co-founders also had to make sure that the fishermen would have access to their consumers, so they could earn more by avoiding going through long supply chains.
Efforts to improving the world should fit one of the Sustainable Development Goals
With the research revealing an industry struggling and affected by inefficiency, Christine and Nima decided that if they wanted to do their part of improving the world, they also had to make sure that it was economically viable for small-scale fishermen to fish sustainably. Although they were both dedicated to making a difference, the duo did not start Blue Lobster with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in mind. However, while developing their platform, they realized that it made perfect sense to work with the SDGs, as Blue Lobster’s vision and mission fit perfectly with goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.
“The goals are supposed to represent how we make the world better, and it makes sense that if you are trying to make the world better, it should fit one of the goals,” Christine says.
Nonetheless, Blue Lobster met plenty of resistance in the beginning, despite having the well-being of the planet in mind.
“Our biggest challenge was that we were doing something disruptive,” Christine says, reflecting on the creation of Blue Lobster. “We had to convince the consumer side and the fishermen side that this is the way forward and that this is benefiting everybody,” she continues.
Meeting resistance from all sides
Convincing the fishermen side was not an easy task. As the fishing industry consists of many people doing things the way they have been done for generations, it was challenging to convince the fishermen that Blue Lobster added value to them. Today, however, the tone is different, and Christine believes that the fishermen can now see the benefits of working with Blue Lobster.
“I think they see the value we bring, as we can pay them 2-4 times what they usually get, “ she says.
On the consumer side, the challenge was their unawareness. Many consumers did not know they had the opportunity to buy fish directly from the fishermen, and some were even convinced it was illegal to do so. The unwillingness among both fishermen and consumers raised doubts in Christine and Nima as to whether they could accomplish what they had set out to do. Looking back, however, Christine believes the resistance was inevitable.
”I guess that is how it is with anything disruptive. You have to go against the norms and how people usually do things, and there is always going to be some kind of resistance,” she says.
“Being in the program is one of the things that made us successful”
Before recognizing that doubt and resistance is a natural part of starting a disruptive business, it made Christine and Nima unsure of whether Denmark was the right place to start, and Christine even moved back to the US. It was not until an Accelerace venture scout reached out to Blue Lobster and asked them to join the Accelerace program in February 2019 that Christine decided to return to Denmark.
“When the Accelerace people saw the potential, we thought ‘okay, maybe we can do the Accelerace program and maybe get this off the ground’, and that is exactly what happened,” Christine says.
The founders had Martin Holmboe as their business accelerator, and Christine fondly recalls how he dedicatedly helped Blue Lobster. He introduced the duo to people from his network, helped them organize when they felt lost and made sure they had office space. But he also turned everything upside down. The business accelerator helped Blue Lobster test their key assumptions and hypotheses several times, and the results eventually showed a majority of consumers not being interested in going to the harbor to purchase fresh fish within a given time-span. The results also showed that consumers preferred filleted fish to whole fish. This led the startup to consider a new logistic model and test the B2B market instead. The founders and the business accelerator all assumed restaurants would be the perfect costumer group to start with, given that restaurants were able to buy high volume as well as more frequently. The assumption was right, and Blue Lobster’s visits to several Copenhagen restaurants showed that almost all of them wanted to buy fresher fish. This led to a new revenue model and a new focus for their app development.
Although focusing on the B2B market proved a great success, Blue Lobster still has plans to go B2C at some point, and the startup is currently running a pilot to check out the possibilities. Christine and Nima’s ambition is to educate and teach people how to filet and cook a whole fish, so the founders are working on creating an online webinar and video series with chefs, showing B2C customers how it is done. It is Christine’s believe that Accelerace’s ability to identify the underlying issues has helped Blue Lobster get to where it is today and reveals, “being in the program is one of the things that made [them] successful.”
She adds that the business accelerator is now on Blue Lobster’s board of directors, helping guide the company going forward.
Bigger and better things to come
Today, Blue Lobster not only has a double-digit valuation but has also expanded, as Christine and Nima have recently hired a bunch of employees, making Blue Lobster a company of seven people. Additionally, they have raised their first funding round, resulting in a very well-connected group of investors ready to help Blue Lobster become even bigger. The group includes Løgismose co-founder Jacob Grønlykke and restaurateur Jesper Marcussen, who is behind a handful of well-known Copenhagen restaurants. Furthermore, the group of investors consists of the Footprint Firm, Andreas Pram Kjølbye, Thomas Høgenhaven, Rasmus Helmich and Caspar Høgh.
The Blue Lobster co-founders are excited about the future and are looking forward to collaborating with the group of investors who, amongst other things, are bringing competencies in product and consumer branding and know-how on educating people about sustainable food. Since the investors are engaged and ready to activate their networks to give Blue Lobster more capacity, the hopes are set high for the new year, and according to Christine Herbert, “2020 is going to be even bigger.”
Photo by Nordea Invest