YouTube Millionaires: Aquarium Info’s swimming transformation from niche blog to video empire

By 02/09/2023
YouTube Millionaires: Aquarium Info’s swimming transformation from niche blog to video empire

Welcome to YouTube Millionaires, where we profile channels that have recently crossed the one million subscriber mark. There are channels crossing this threshold every week, and each creator has a story to tell about YouTube success. Read previous installments here.

When we talked to Jamie Dalton almost exactly a year ago, her fledgling, fish-focused YouTube channel Aquarium Info had just over 400,000 subscribers and was consistently bringing in around 50 million views per month.

And now?


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Aquarium Info brings in 125 million views per month and is rapidly closing in 3 million subscribers. (She’s also gone from 1.4 million TikTok followers to 2.5 million.)

We know, we know, we’re a little late to recognize Dalton as a YouTube Millionaire, but we had to check in on her after our previous feature, where she gave us the rundown on how she fell in love with fish, why she decided to start Aquarium Info, what her content strategies are, and how her adjacent fishkeeper’s supply shop, WetPets, was doing while her content experienced skyrocketing growth.

Over the past 12 months, Dalton (and her fiancé Adam, who’s Aquarium Info’s chief videographer) has not only grown Aquarium Info’s audience, she’s also brought on a full-time editor, signed with management company Night, and is in the midst of designing her first big merch product, a plushie version of one of her channel’s most popular stars: the absurdly cute axolotl.

Check out our chat with her below.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tubefilter: For those who haven’t read our Creators on the Rise feature, who are you, where are you from, and how did you get started in aquarium keeping?

Jamie Dalton: Jamie Dalton, I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, and I grew up with four sisters and my mom, so we always kept fish. We had a huge freshwater aquarium, probably like a 70-gallon aquarium, when I was a kid. I feel like many children and parents who go into fishkeeping not really knowing the ins and outs of the responsibility and all the science behind it. We kept a lot of fish probably that shouldn’t have been kept together, which is really funny. Looking back on it now, I talked to my mom about it and her rationale was like going to the fish store and picking out the fish that looked like they were going to dive the quickest so she could give them like the best chance at life.

Just really funny. I’m just like looking back on it, I’m like, wow, okay. She literally had no rhyme or reason for starting this fish tank. I feel like that’s many children’s stories and like keeping betta fish and small vessels, but anyways, so that grew, and as I got older, I learned a lot more about fish keeping and the right way to house these different types of animals, and then I met my now fiancee who also was into fish keeping.

We had a fish tank together, and then we actually just started making videos during the pandemic. August of 2020 was our first video, and it was really very different to what our videos are now. It was very much like a crafty, Five-minute Craft, like Tasty, style video for setting up a fish tank. It was like in our house and it was like taking just an empty aquarium, pouring sand, planting, adding the stones, and really therapeutic, I feel like restorative content, no voiceover, very calm to watch.

Tubefilter: It is.

Jamie Dalton: That’s how we started. We started in our apartment just building fish tanks and we started on Facebook, which is, I feel like, a very random tidbit that is different to a lot of different creators that I’ve talked to.

Tubefilter: Yes. I don’t think I’ve spoken to anybody for this column who started on Facebook, because most people…Wait, how old are you?

Jamie Dalton: I am 28.

Tubefilter: Okay. I just turned 30, so we’re like basically the same, and I don’t think anybody our age I’ve spoken to has like ever purposefully gone to Facebook.

Jamie Dalton: I think we just got a lot of inspiration honestly for like the video format, so Tasty, like I mentioned, I feel like those videos somehow found their fit on Facebook with that audience.

Tubefilter: 5-Minute Crafts, too, like you said.

Jamie Dalton: Oh yes. We just mirrored their style of like, I don’t know, like three minutes of setting something up and doing it very aesthetic. That was our bread and butter for the longest time.

We started with three-minute videos optimized for Facebook and then began cutting them down into reels, TikTok, and shorts. I feel like at that time too, TikTok blew up during quarantine, so we were able to repurpose a lot of our content and get away with that like, easy repost strategy for a long time. We grew. I think across platform right now we’re sitting like above four mill, but we had explosive growth over quarantine. I’m sure you’ve heard that many times from creators. Our content and strategy has definitely shifted along the way. Anyways, I just word-vomited, so I don’t know where I’m at.

Tubefilter: You guys hit really well on DIY, which I think is a big part of your growth. DIY is absolutely massive on YouTube. Did you think of your content as DIY, or how did you guys approach it in the beginning? Has that approach shifted?

Jamie Dalton: Yes, I think we did in the beginning for sure, and more like that binge-worthy therapeutic content and then we added the voiceover, so then we were adding a layer of education, but I still wasn’t forefront in the video. It was like this whole progression of comfortability in front of a camera for me to be honest. It was pretty foreign.

I think we did, as a DIY and a lot of our early content didn’t even make it to our YouTube channel to be quite honest. There’s a ton of video content that’s just lived on our Facebook page exclusively because we didn’t feel it was the right format for YouTube.

Tubefilter: You’re probably right, there’s not a big crossover.

Jamie Dalton: No. Three-minute videos as you know, it’s not the optimal time for YouTube. We weren’t experiencing that initial growth, so we were pretty discouraged from cross-posting and then I would say the strategy shifted when I left my full-time job March of 2022.

Tubefilter: What did you used to do?

Jamie Dalton: I worked at a company called Sprout Social, so it’s a social tech company.

Tubefilter: Okay, so this is your wheelhouse.

Jamie Dalton: Yes, social media, I’ve been involved in for a while and I was doing partnerships, so it was actually really hard for me to leave my job. I was really sad about it. I really loved my job. It’s weird. I was at the job for three, almost three years. I loved it. I loved the people, I loved the work, I loved it. Obviously, if I left, we would free up more time to film. It was like we were at this point.

Tubefilter: What was that tipping point where it was, “Okay, I’m solid enough to quit my job”? Because that’s also a big decision.

Jamie Dalton: I think financially. It’s easier to take a risk when you’re not worried about where your next meal’s coming from. We knew we were able to do it financially and we said, okay, we’re going to do it for a year. We’ll just take this risk. You’re never going to be this young again. You’re never going to be this early on in your career. We’ll take the risk and do it. It hasn’t been a year, it feels like it’s been 10 years. Probably 8, 10 years but March will be the first year of full-time work. I think when we had full-time time, you have so much time to do research, so we were just–

I was consuming way more YouTube and looking at different channels that were building things like Matthew Beem, obviously, Michael knows too is a huge inspiration, that format. We were like, okay, we can take that format and easily extrapolate to an eight-minute video, which was horrifying that thought, going from three minutes to eight minutes is you’re like, “This will never happen. It’s just impossible.”

We worked off a script and tried to keep iterating on that script to make it our own, but I think a lot of YouTubers, that’s a lot of origin stories is copying a format that works, looking at these channels that are working and applying it to your niche. That’s really what we did and then obviously, a lot of people talk about trend hacking.

Everything we were consuming was, okay, if you want to go viral and have the best-optimized video on YouTube, you do have to play with the algorithm that play with the algorithm too. Just looking at again, what these top creators were doing, different trends, they were leveraging and applying it to fish, which has never really been done before.

There are definitely a lot of fish YouTubers, but no one that’s taking that approach, which I think is our competitive advantage in our niche. Obviously, we’re trying to break out of that niche and trying to serve that wider audience of YouTube youth basically. What I like to think about it as.

Tubefilter: That makes sense. Do either you or your fiance have experience in filming or video editing? Your production quality’s insane.

Jamie Dalton: I know, it’s really good. That’s not me. I can’t take any credit. Although I do like to say I help with the shot list and the creativity. Adam is my fiance and he does the filming and editing. He just took it up as a hobby when he was younger.

Then we’ve been very fortunate, we hired our editor full-time. Adam’s taken him on as his little…What do you call that in Star Wars? His little…

Tubefilter: Padawan.

Jamie Dalton: Yes! He is learning and so he’ll help us out, do the first edit and then Adam will come in and make it really tight and really good. That’s been good, so we’re a team of three, so we’re pretty small. I honestly would like to keep it small. I think you can do a lot, we’re a lot more nimble. Especially, because Adam and I have so much, I feel it’s our baby. It’s really helpful to be working with your partner, which a lot of people ask us about. “What’s it like working with your partner?” I’m like, I couldn’t imagine working with anyone else, it’s so hard. It’s such a grind and you have such high highs and such low lows. Doing that alone would be really hard.

People would always be like, our friends and family, “How’s your channel going?” I’m like, “Well, it’s going.” Or they’d be like, “How are you and Adam?” I’m like, “Well, we’re still dating after working together on this stuff, so pretty good.”

Tubefilter: Yes, pretty good! What else has changed in the past year business-wise?

Jamie Dalton: It’s funny, I feel like it’s just starting. We’re just starting to find a new baseline on YouTube. I feel like we’ve been blessed with virality and views over the last, since we started really going for YouTube, like the last year, I would say. I feel like now with YouTube, there’s changes in the landscape of the algorithm pushing shorts and we really dropped all short-form efforts to focus on long-form to really hone in on that skillset and I feel like neglected short-form content over the last six months and so now we’re re-shifting because obviously, YouTube shorts monetization’s coming out and I feel like the last video we put out, I thought it was our best video ever and it didn’t reach at all, any distribution levels we were excited about.

We’re shifting our strategy now to refocus on shorts and craft a story for the shorts and treat it in the same production workflow that we do with long-form. I feel like it’s happening now, like this shift of changing strategy or at least recognizing that it’s time for a new iteration is upon us.

Over the last year yes, not too much has changed. We’ve been very blessed. I think we took on our editor full-time. He’s been really helpful. We’ve been able to film more and we produce two videos a month, which is funny. Everyone tells us we’re lazy and I’m like, you guys don’t understand how hard it is to build. I don’t know how Matthew Beem does one video per week. I will never understand that but really hard to build things. There’s always something that actually goes wrong and breaks and you’re never as far ahead as you think you are.

That’s what I know. You always, like, everything you think will take like 10 minutes. Everything takes three times as long. That’s what I’ve learned over the last year. I think just like accepting that and leaning into that and understanding that our output won’t ever be one video a week probably is fine. I think just understanding that.

Tubefilter: Yes. Which I think is another really important point. I remember specifically Safiya Nygaard talked about it. She and Tyler set this really intense schedule and then they were like, “We don’t actually like what we’re making, things take longer, so we’re going to just do a video a month or whenever we want.” It was such a good move. I think people put way too much emphasis on quantity over quality.

Jamie Dalton: I agree. I want it to be a career. I want to be able to do this for a long time and I feel like two weeks is the most output we can do and we’re grinding. We’ve talked about doing one a month, but I’m like that’s just not, I don’t know. I want to keep it at two or just not be as strict. Whenever the video’s done is whenever we’re going to post it. We don’t really have a strict upload schedule because genuinely, like, as soon as the video’s done, we publish it.

That’s it. Start on the next one, like the next one’s already in motion so it’s operating [crosstalk] it’s like a rolling, published calendar and I don’t know, I think our audience, I don’t think anyone cares to be quite honest. We haven’t seen a huge viewership change.

Tubefilter: Yes. I hear a lot, “Oh, if I don’t post every day, my audience will drop off.” It’s like, no, that’s not always true.

Jamie Dalton: Yes. It’s a weird one but a lot of it is superstition, like posting the same day, same time. Which maybe, I don’t know. I think like the research says though like over time, it really doesn’t matter, so whatever. It finds its audience eventually.

Tubefilter: Yes. Last time we spoke, we talked a bit about WetPets. Have you expanded your catalog of products you’re selling?

Jamie Dalton: We kind of have. WetPets has been put on the back burner because we were like full steam ahead with content and we really wanted, I feel like we launched the product line too early. We didn’t have an established loyal community, so we shifted strategy.

I guess that’s new too over the last year to like double down on content long-form and creating a connection with our community which is obviously a lot easier to do with eight-minute videos than shorts, I think. People build a rapport with you. It’s really cool and I really, really try my hardest over the first two days of publishing a video to get in there and reply to comments and be active.

I feel like a lot of creators neglect that. I will literally not leave the computer. I feel that’s my job is doing that. Adam works so hard to get the video out and then that’s what I have to do.

Tubefilter: This is where your social experience is absolutely rocking for you.

Jamie Dalton: Yes. You need that. It’s cool. You see like repeat, you know who your like true fans are. Anyways, my point is building that community and trying to grow, has been more of the priority. Then when we do go to like really market and sell the products, the people will be there. It’s the approach we’ve taken, so we’ve have soft launched like fish food but we haven’t done any like, we don’t link to our products which maybe is bad but our number one call to action is to just subscribe. I would rather grow the subscriber base as opposed to like pushing products down people’s throats.

Tubefilter: I mean clearly that’s working for you.

Jamie Dalton: It’s working. I mean it’s definitely like a passive income and it’s passive effort and we always do our giveaways and I think that’s a really good way to grow and are really good to create community as well. People are so stoked to win a one-tank. It makes my day, makes me enjoy my job.

Just like sending giveaways stuff to people. I don’t know right now, like the content is, the ROI is greater than the product line. It’s like focusing on that and then again, I want it to be like a 10-year career, 20 years like whatever, so like figuring that out as we go is the gradual next step.

Tubefilter: Do you do any other community-building stuff? Do you have a Discord, that kind of thing?

Jamie Dalton: We have thought about it. I think again, we launched Patreon too early and that’s super, like not really a real thing for me. I don’t really put much time into it but I think that would be like a good next-step option. Discord, I sound like a boomer but honestly, I have no idea how to navigate discord, never been in a discord or don’t know how that works. I think that would be really cool. I mean a lot of the people that are watching, it’s like a lot of parents and a lot of kids, which is really cool. I think creating some community around that, like people that we are really reaching people who haven’t had fish or who are thinking about it and inspiring them to like that it is cool. I think is our mission is like fish can be cool and it can be really fun. I think that would be cool to create some community but we haven’t done anything outside of YouTube, polls, and YouTube commenting back yet.

Tubefilter: Backtracking for a sec, I just spoke to somebody a few weeks ago who also started posting Shorts and didn’t use any voiceover and he was getting next to no growth and then he did one with voiceover and got like 35 million views. Did you notice a difference when you started doing voiceover? A significant difference in views?

Jamie Dalton: Yes, for sure. I think so. I also think it increases the quality of your viewership, if that makes sense. I think when you’re telling a story, you’re automatically appealing to people that need to listen. They need to comprehend what’s going on and follow the storyline too.

I feel like it maybe is reaching an older demographic or people who can follow that a little bit better. I’ll say too though, it’s interesting to realize what type of content works best on what platform. Facebook, we still publish like shorts but they’re always shorter with no voiceover and music, that does really well on Facebook.

Tubefilter: That’s the Facebook format, yes.

Jamie Dalton: That reaches a wider audience, and then YouTube, you like really need to tell a story and have a hook and it needs to be interesting. It needs to be like 40 seconds long. I think it’s just different, it’s a different strategy but I will say once we did voiceovers early on, we just voiced over our three-minute therapeutic video doing educational content and that still did way better than the three minutes aesthetic strategy.

Tubefilter: Interesting. I would say YouTube is definitely more about the people behind the video.

Jamie Dalton: Yes. I think they could connect with you more too. I think if they can put a voice to a face, they can understand that better.

Tubefilter: Yes. I really feel like during the pandemic specifically, people on YouTube have become very supportive of creators.

Jamie Dalton: Yes. That’s cool.

Tubefilter: It’s different. It’s reached a new level. Anyway! What are your forward-looking plans for this year?

Jamie Dalton: Yes, I talked a bit on it, but just seeing what happens. It’s really weird as a creator too. It’s like each video, you never know what’s going to happen. We always, Adam and I talk about, how you built this empire on a pile of sand and at any moment, it could just collapse. It’s pretty terrifying career path to be honest.

I think just take it day by day. That’s probably the lamest thing you’ve ever heard. I think we change our strategy literally based on each video performance and obviously, we look at the trends as well on our own videos and on the platform but currently, just shift gears and I think after this next long-form video, we’re going to have a little hiatus of like a three day, four day, solely focus on shorts and build out really good stories and film them and put the attention there because it needs that on YouTube especially if you want to win.

I think it’s become a lot more competitive in the short-form landscape. We experience exponential growth with shorts. I think we need to reinvent that strategy and put that into place. Then of course, we’ll just continue doing our long-form videos to build that community connection. Then hopefully, continue to launch products at work, find the product market fit with our audience and I don’t know, just continue to grow. That’s the goal.

Tubefilter: I wanted to ask, how did you get involved with Night? Did they reach out to you? What have you been working on together so far?

Jamie Dalton: Yes, Night reached out to me. I think Michael [Gordon] reached out to me, and then we just set up a call and we were talking about the different strategies of the channel and what mine and Adam’s goals are and where we wanted to take it. I think we signed maybe six months ago. And since we signed, we’ve just been working on brand deals as the immediate action to get capital and utilize our long-form videos, and then we’re working now to hopefully design and launch a plushie, which I think would be a really good product for our demographic on YouTube.

Tubefilter: Is it an axolotl?

Jamie Dalton: Yes.

Tubefilter: Yes!

Jamie Dalton: It’ll be in line with the characters we have on the channel. Then hopefully expanding that out would be really cool, but also exploring the different revenue streams and the different routes we can go because there are a lot. It’s just a matter of finding the right fit and the right timing.

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