SaladCast Episode 14: Arlo Vance on Building Brand Trust

Keith R. Cagney
January 6, 2022
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SaladCast

Welcome to SaladCast! In this podcast series, we introduce you to Salad Chefs from all corners of the Infinite Kitchen. We hope you'll join us as we get to know members of our community, indie developers, and teammates from our very own Salad staff.


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In this episode: Bob chews the fat with Brand Director Arlo Vance. Learn about the origins of the Salad brand, Arlo's recipe for creative success, and the fine art of adapting your craft to suit diverse palates.

Watch the full episode at the SaladChefs YouTube channel.


Episode Highlights

Highlights content has been edited and slightly reordered for clarity.

How did we come up with Salad's name?

That's one of the biggest questions we get. We knew early on that gamers would be the central audience we would need to captivate. To open a broader accessibility to everyone online, we needed to focus on the sorts of digital natives who implicitly understand the trust involved with using someone's PC. I suggested the name "Salad" because it was totally different from other startups who had tried to build similar networks of shared compute.

There were some interesting conceptual tie-ins there. Salads are a universal food. They're made up of separate ingredients, but each of those ingredients gets to maintain their separate identity. That's part of what makes a salad awesome—you get to pick your ingredients and customize it to your personal flavor.

There are parallels with distributed computing networks. Gamers love their PCs, right? They get to select their components, and determine who has access to what information, what they connect to online, and how they govern themselves. We wanted to keep that sense of autonomy at the forefront of our network. A salad was the perfect comparison in that user machines are our ingredients, and in the way a distributed network invites individual actors to support and grow something that's beyond themselves.

You've had a long career in branding. What makes a brand?

I'll start with what a brand is not. A brand is not a logo. Logos are pieces of identity to indicate who a company is. A brand is a culmination of the experiences that a company can foster and encourage with their consumers, their users, and whoever engages with the brand. It's the culmination of those experiences with other people that creates a kind of living entity. It's a combination of how a company's corporate culture works, how their user base works, and the community perception of who we are and how we talk about ourselves.

At Salad, we hope people can attach to and relate to us in a very comfortable way according to their terms. There's a couple of components to that. It's important to make sure there's a unified strategy—and that starts with internal culture. If all of our employees buy into a few guiding principles, our culture can then be broadcast. When we engage with our community as employees, it shapes the tenor of our brand connection and encourages certain types of interaction.

How do we promote positive interactions within our community?

In the early days, when it was just three or four of us working on our huge "brand platform," we had to ask ourselves, "What do we want people to think about us? What do we want our behaviors to look like?" We wanted to find principles that would help people connect to us in a way that's meaningful for them, but also help us establish ourselves as a company. You have to adhere to those same kinds of public principles to earn the respect of your audience.

It's analogous to laying the foundation or framing out a house. You've got to make sure the basic amenities are there before you can build the rest of it. It's one of those counterintuitive principles, but the bedrock of a successful company lives outside of what they do to make money. What's the big idea beyond making a profit?

For us, it's human collaboration—working together to make a better world, for cliché's sake. It's kind of our guiding principle. It's what Blockchain is! It's all of us working together, distributed throughout a digital world, where all our disparate parts make a huge difference in how we see it and how we interact with each other.

Why is a brand platform so important?

You need to know why you've got to be in business to succeed! When we started out, we knew we wanted to unlock and provide value for latent resources sitting around the world not getting any attention. To establish our business model, we needed to get those idle PCs on our computesharing network. So we had to figure out our audience. Who do you need to talk to? How do you express yourself in the right ways?

That's how our brand pillars came to be. Each one is a sort of bifurcated principle—a juxtaposition of two seemingly opposing concepts that give us a little punch when talking about who we are, how we behave, and how we'd like to be perceived.

What are Salad's brand pillars?

There are three core pillars that govern who we are and what we do.

The first is "Step Up, Not On." That returns to the idea of human collaboration. We want to always be proactive in making things better—for ourselves and our company, for the world, and for the nature of compute going forward. Who knows where it will end up in 25 years? It's all about building, not tearing down.

Our second principle—and the one that's most important to our users—is "All Truth, No Bullshit". That's related to the notion of trust. We're asking people to lend us their babies, essentially. To build trust, we have to be very clear about what we're doing.

We set clear expectations that our users retain full autonomy. They get to control how they interact with us, what their settings are, and how much they contribute to our network, the Salad Kitchen. That kind of transparency has helped us to establish Salad as a trusted company, and really make the distinction between us and the bad actors of the Internet. We're legit; we're actually doing something to benefit our users.

The last pillar, "Disciplined, Not Policed," is more internal. Self-governance is inherent to startup culture in general, but it's especially important to our company. We have to be self-directed. Without the internal motivation to help our users derive meaningful value from their PCs, we simply wouldn't be the successful company that we are. It's an eloquent way to anchor who we are and how we operate.

And there's another layer on top. Those principles govern our behavior, who we are, and what we do—but they also feed into product decisions to help define our roadmap. How does a new feature relate to those pillars? Does it build trust, or enable us to be more collaborative with our community? Our brand platform helps us make autonomous decisions that allow us to collectively build something better.

A big part of your brand is what other people perceive you to be—even just in terms of your visuals and your copywriting. You express different layers of brand personality when you're talking about company activity, whether we're talking about the language you use in a tweet, or in a blog, or a LinkedIn post.

That's why we established a series of content and tone guidelines with a similar, dichotomous framework. We always strive for a tone that's casual, but not lazy, and authoritative, not authoritarian. Salad has strong opinions, but we're not looking to control anyone. We want to express them truthfully, and convey our optimism about the future we aspire to build, without coming off as naïve.

We're talking to enterprise partners. What are the challenges there?

That's one of the most exciting things about brand creation. You get all these opportunities to readdress and reshape how your brand exists.

There's a casual, approachable, but specialized language that gamers use. It's similar to how we speak in memes on the Internet. You get used to adaptability in a culture that changes so rapidly. To communicate effectively there, our Chefs need to feel comfortable with the value exchange we offer—that they'll get paid for their hardware, their bandwidth, and their GPU compute cycles.

But there's also a different subset of people within that market awareness who need that effort. That's where our conversations with enterprise partners are headed. How can we build and increase the value of our users' home computers?

When you start thinking about the corporate side, it becomes a tricky balance. How do we maintain our identity as a salad within a more staid audience? How do we express all the disparate pieces that make up who we are while trying to sell that to somebody as infrastructure? You want to retain that brand personality of approachability in your communications, while measuring in enough technical expertise.

That's one of the things we've tried to do with our descriptive brand language, especially with products like the SaladBar marketplace. You're still picking the pieces to build your own salad, but now we're talking about meeting engineering requirements set by our partners.

How can Salad facilitate the development of Web3?

Right now, our Internet is all about platforms—these centralized repositories of information that monetize us as individuals, whether that means our eye time or online shopping. We participate in something that someone else has created.

There's a strong sense of personal ownership in the notion of Web3. Rather than having some behind-the-scenes corporation selling our information to advertisers, we're taking back our personal data and deciding who to provide that information. It's on our terms, not theirs. If we can regain control of our individual contributions, we'll not only get to bring a part of ourselves to the future web, but also help to create all those ecosystems.

When you think about the distributed nature of Web3, there are strong ties to our focus on self-governance. Salad is building a platform that isn't housed on centralized data centers. Our Kitchen lives in homes across the world. Individual actors will contribute to that larger picture. Concepts like the Metaverse will allow us to participate in collaborative, cooperative online environments that were never available before. That's what will change the world. That's what we're trying to broadcast.

How will computesharing succeed in an age of instant gratification?

We try to apply that same principle of self-governance in the Salad app. The Salad Storefront drives people to sign up, because we feature the things they want, and they get to choose how they interact with us in an immediate way.

But there's also an opposing viewpoint, where we want our users to forget about Salad. A lot of apps go, "Hammer this notification, send that text message, fire out five different emails a day!" We're sort of using immediate gratification in the opposite way. Our users just click "Start" and continue to focus on the things they really want to pay attention to. And that's actually the best way to get that sixty bucks a month.

We hope people will see the trust our community has placed in us as social proof. We love it when they trust us ferociously and immediately enough to forget all about Salad. Then it's just another part of your system utilities. Our users run the app, they adjust their settings, and they don't have to think about it again. It's easy. Then they're free to put their attention where they want—whether that's in the latest game release, or watching Netflix, or hanging out on Discord with the subscription they redeemed through the app.

Why is the Salad Storefront so important?

The Chefs in our Kitchen are building a community. The Salad Storefront provides us a way to find out what's important to them and give them what they want. It also allows us to encourage certain interactions within the app.

We just wrapped up Growvember 2021, a month-long campaign where our community could join us in supporting environmental organizations. Our Chefs ended up donating almost $10,000 through the Salad Storefront, which is a fantastic result. We totally smashed it!

The Salad app allows us to reward users for their participation in both network and brand activity. During Growvember, we held weekly swag giveaway drawings, and gave one grand prize winner $500 in Salad Balance to use in our store. Whether it's a donation drive, an XP contest, or just an exchange of ideas in our subreddit, we always strive to have conversations with our users that teach us how to facilitate that.

By offering people the opportunity to choose how they want to connect, we can foster the kind of distributed community that we'll need to jumpstart Web3.