Salad Technologies Builds 4th Largest Supercomputer on Earth
“Salad turns your idle PC time into the rewards gamers want. One click gets you earning your next Steam game, download, or a month of Discord Nitro on us—without reading up on crypto wallets or other heavy subjects.”
— The Salad.com Blog, “What Is Ethereum, Anyway?” February 26, 2021
The name is deceptively mild. You might be forgiven for thinking “Salad.com” would point to a site from Hidden Valley Ranch, who owned the domain from 1996 until recently. That’s when a Park City-based tech startup bought the URL, bringing a playful brand to the technical and esoteric field of distributed computing.
Salad Technologies was launched by Bob Miles in 2018, right at the tail end of a cryptocurrency bull-run. The price of bitcoin had shot up to the then-all-time-high of roughly $20,000, and Ethereum had reached nearly $1,400. Those prices were historically unprecedented in the still-nascent field of cryptocurrency, the wild-west of newly invented internet money.
At the time Miles was Head of Product at Teal Drones in Park City. As a product lead at a tech firm, the crypto revolution caught his attention. He knew the importance of unit economics, or measuring profitability on a per unit basis. Since cryptocurrency networks are maintained by “miners” (individual machines contributing to network maintenance), and since cryptocurrency value is constantly measured, monitored, and discovered on exchanges, Miles realized the cryptocurrency space offered a unique opportunity. He could track extremely precise unit economics. The value of any participant on a crypto mining network could be measured down to fractions of a penny.
But weirdly, those with the most capable computers weren’t participating at all. Gamers with high-end PCs worth thousands of dollars were barely involved. So he set out to find out why, and found three reasons.
First, cryptocurrency had a shady reputation. The infamous online black market Silk Road and countless stories of ransomware paid in bitcoin gave the new technology a sheen of criminality.
Second, gamers turned out to be less technical than Miles expected. Many were excited to play the newest triple-A games, but had never written a line of code in their lives.
And third, the value proposition wasn’t clear. If gamers could even set up their expensive computers to mine cryptocurrency, they then had to deal with the challenge of staying up to date with rapidly developing technology, and identifying profitable mining opportunities along the way. It quickly becomes a full time and deeply technical job, for people who would rather be playing Fortnite, DOTA, or Apex Legends.
Miles saw the opportunity, and Salad Technologies was born.
In exchange for renting their powerful computers, Salad offers gamers cash and prizes they know and recognize, like Amazon gift cards and in-game prizes for top tier games. The network currently has 8,000-9,000 participants at any given time, and roughly 20,000 daily active users. Collectively, the Salad network represents the fourth largest distributed computer on earth. The other contenders for that title take a dramatically different approach from the Salad network.
“A lot of these are government funded, $100 million (if not a billion dollar) projects to build these supercomputers,” says Miles. “A lot of them are used for defense, like simulating nuclear explosions, or weather simulations. We're not viable for that sort of work yet, but that's the sort of stuff that our network will be able to parallelize and support over time.”
For now, Salad is still focused on crypto mining for one simple reason. Crypto protocols are generally open source and un-permissioned. Instead of convincing a branch of the U.S. military to buy time on the network, Salad simply plugs into the Ethereum network to mine new ETH (currently worth ~$2,000). They might also plug in to Vertcoin, Zcash, Monero, or other cryptocurrency networks, depending on what’s technically and financially feasible at the time.
The company is also focused on high-end gamers for one simple reason. “They’re the most powerful machines you can get in the consumer space,” says Miles. “They are the Ferraris of the computing world, with their GPUs (graphical processing units), and that gives really, really good unit economics — anywhere from 50 cents a day right up to $5 a day, depending on that machine.”
That said, Miles makes it clear Salad ultimately intends to serve as the marketplace for every latent processor (big or small) and every computationally-intensive project. He mentions the exploding AI space, where “demand for those resources doubles every two months, which is just mind boggling compared to Moore's law.”
“I can see a day where your MacBook is paying for your Netflix account, or perhaps even your [Internet] bill,” he concludes.
In time, Miles says Salad could service other latent resources as well, like hard drive space and Internet bandwidth.
Salad announced their “Seed-plus” round last December, raising over $5 million led by Carthona Capital of Sydney, Australia (Miles is also an Aussie), joining Royal Street Ventures (with offices in Salt Lake City), and Kickstart Seed Fund (headquartered in Salt Lake City). Miles says the company intends to raise a Series A later this year.