Massive wants to rent your spare compute power to pay for apps

Startups are often questions: What if we did things in a new way, instead of the way we have been?

Massive is a good example of the genre: What if users could pay for apps or services not with money or attention, but with their spare compute power?

The general concept of distributed compute power sourced from individuals is not new. Anyone familiar with the SETI screensaver has seen similar work before. But what Massive is building could take a somewhat known idea and bring it into the modern world as an alternative to charging users or pounding them with advertisements to generate revenue.

Massive announced an $11 million round this morning, led by Point72 Ventures with participation from crypto-themed entities, including CoinShares Ventures and Coinbase Ventures. Several angels also participated in the funding event.

The model is interesting, and Massive’s funding round is an indication that it has found some market traction. So, we get the company on the horn to learn more.

Massive co-founder and CEO Jason Grad described the startup’s work as something akin to an Airbnb or Turo for users’ computers, comparing its service to some of the more popular consumer-sharing startups that folks already know.

It’s a reasonable comparison. Some 50,000 desktop computer users — nodes, in the company’s parlance — have opted into its service. Which is white hat, it goes without saying. Given that Massive is asking for compute power, it will have constant work to do to ensure that it is a good steward of user trust and partner selection; no one wants their spare CPU cycles to go to something illegal.

The company has a good early stance toward caring for its nascent compute exchange, with a hard requirement of getting users to opt into its service before joining.

To start, Massive is working with crypto-focused companies. They have an obvious need for compute power, and the work they execute — running blockchain calculations — is monetized through block rewards and other fees, making them easy choices for partnerships. You can now see why the company’s investor list includes a number of crypto-focused venture capital firms.

The startup’s goal is broader, however. It wants to build a two-sided marketplace for compute power, Grad explained. That means lots more users offering up a slice of their computing power, future acceptance of mobile devices, and a broader partner list.

Part of the company’s perspective is rooted in the belief that the dominant business models of the internet today are lacking. “Shit,” to quote Grad directly.

He has a point. Today’s internet is a hybrid of free and lacking or paid and closed-access. The proliferation of paywalls wasn’t in the first draft of internet business models. But the ad inventory that most sites could offer wasn’t worth as much as expected, and with a few major platforms hoovering up a huge portion of the total online ad spend, there wasn’t enough money left over to pay for the rest. Hence, paywalls.

Perhaps Massive can get us back toward a more open web? I would trade a little compute time for more access to more things, frankly, provided that I have trust in the company sitting between me, and, say, a crypto-mining firm.

The company doesn’t think that its job is to replace revenues, however. Grad told TechCrunch that the company will be able to create revenue opportunities where they didn’t exist before, rather than supplant existing income streams. So, apps will still be paid for many folks, but in markets where payment can be hard to collect, for example, a compute-for-access trade could prove accretive for users and companies alike.

As we said up top, good startups are questions. For Massive, it is asking the market if there are enough users to build a large enough distributed computing base to offer enough aggregated power to entice companies to buy into service.

Let’s find out!