Cofounded in 2017 by Micha Benoliel and Garrett Kinsman, Nodle is the decentralized wireless network of Polkadot, providing secure, low-cost connectivity and data liquidity to billions of IoT devices. The Nodle Network leverages Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) via millions of smartphones and routers to allow enterprises and smart cities to connect IoT devices to the Internet at low-cost while maintain privacy and security. Any smartphone user that downloads the Nodle Cash App can earn (or mine) Nodle Cash (NODL) cryptocurrency for free, simply by connecting to nearby IoT devices and sensors.
HOW THE FOUNDERS MET
In 2011, after Micha operated a small telco in France that enabled Skype to launch SkypeIn and SkypeOut, Micha Benoliel co-founded Open Garden. Open Garden’s vision was to build a new generation of mobile networks where smartphones could share content and connectivity directly with one another when they are in proximity. Open Garden’s first app enabled users to share their mobile connectivity (and hotspot) for free with other nearby members’ personal devices like laptops and tablets. This was at a time when mobile carriers were fighting hard against users having freedom over their own internet connections.
Micha and Garrett were introduced in 2014 through a mutual connection at the first Google Project Ara Dev Conference. Micha hired him as an intern on the spot. Garrett would go on to assist with the design of custom Firechat hardware, and the graphic design for FireChat. Over the next several meetings, the two came to truly realize how much they had in common, including their vision to make the internet free and provide connectivity worldwide.
The Google Project Ara Conference was designed to completely rethink computing hardware. Micha and Garrett worked on ideas for a Mesh Networking Smartphone during this time (shown above).
CROWD CONNECTIVITY, PRE-NODLE
Open Garden quickly reached millions of users, and in early 2014, the team used its mesh networking capabilities to launch FireChat. FireChat was the first off-the-grid messaging app, leveraging peer-to-peer mesh networking technologies for people to communicate when there is no internet access available. One week after its launch, FireChat gained a million users and quickly became a top 10 mobile application in 124 countries.
Originally created for the Burning Man Festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert and other festivals, the app was adopted by students to organize and communicate during pro-Democracy protests like the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan in March of 2014, and most notably during the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong in September of the same year. The following year, FireChat was being used during disaster recovery situations like the Kashmir and Chenai floods in India.
The FireChat team then went on to win the Interactive Innovation Awards in Connecting People at the SXSW (South by Southwest) festival in Austin, Texas. The Financial Times wrote that “Open Garden may have found the next version of the internet” and awarded the team the Financial Times “Boldness in Business Award” for the best technology of 2014. Uber received the same award a year earlier.
LEARNINGS FROM FIRECHAT
Early mesh networks typically struggled to maintain a certain density of nodes, therefore the team experimented with ways to fix this. One solution was a custom hardware wearable device called the GreenStone, which was reviewed by the Verge. This was handed out to music festivals to increase the density of the network. Micha and Garrett hand-assembled 3,000 units, and a few still work to this day. It was a like a Mesh-Network-in-your-pocket.
The GreenStone wearable device pictured above.
A fun note was that the Open Garden office was on Treasure Island in San Francisco, an old Navy base and site of nuclear experiments. It was normal for men in hazmat suits to be walking around. The photo below was 100 feet from the front of the office:
A few valuable insights were learned from FireChat. One was that the networks that were created were ephemeral. There was no incentive to keep the app running, and the networks soon disappeared. In order to incentivize massive mesh networks, there needed to be a financial incentive to keep apps running and infrastructure deployed.
Micha and Garrett departed Open Garden around the same time in 2016. Needing a break from Silicon Valley, Garrett moved to India on a spiritual journey. While in India, he co-founded Ola-Play to turn hundreds of thousands of cabs into media centers and WiFi hotspots. This led to a $1.2 billion USD capital raise from Softbank / Tencent. Garrett also explored mesh networks in the Himalayas and built his own mesh networks in neighborhood slums.
MICHA LINKS UP WITH NODLE’S FUTURE CTO
Some of the other team members were introduced to Micha through the wild and unpredictable ride that FireChat had become. In 2014, in the midst of the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong when Firechat was at its peak activity, Lucien Loiseau, a PhD researcher, published a scathing security review of Firechat where he had found security vulnerabilities. When Lucien and Micha met during a Founders Forum conference in Singapore, Micha recalled that he wasn’t sure if he “wanted to punch him for publishing the security review before sharing it — or work with him.” Micha ended up offering Lucien a job at FireChat.
In 2017, the two finally got the chance to work together closely when they co-founded a startup called “World Villages,” aiming at developing a location-aware and completely off-the-grid social networking app called Piperchain. The startup remained in stealth phase and quickly got acquired by RightMesh, a company located near Vancouver, BC. After the sale, the team briefly parted ways but joined forces again in 2019, when Lucien joined Nodle as CTO. Micha’s thoughts on RightMesh:
“After we sold the PiperChain app to them, Lucien began working there while in its infancy to help with the transition. It’s unfortunate how things turned out because RightMesh had strong ingredients in the space of mesh networking: Wireless, mobile, and the tokenization of wireless. It was a good first-hand learning experience of what not to do as well as we grow our ecosystem and make sure the Nodle project is successful for everyone; from our early investors to our customers, miners, developers, and partners leveraging the Nodle Cash token.”
Micha served as an advisor but had no operational role.
NODLE IS BORN
Garrett and Micha kept in touch through 2016 and 2017 where they realized that this same Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) mesh architecture used in FireChat could be used for more than just sending messages from phone to phone. Incentivized mesh networks could be used to connect millions of IoT devices, sensors and devices like vehicles, and app developers could be paid to deploy this network. With demand for IoT connectivity growing exponentially, a business model was beginning to form.
In mid-2017, after Micha sold Piperchain, he focused on an idea called “Noodle.” Meanwhile, Garrett’s visa ran out in India, and he had to fly back to the US with only 24 hours' notice. As the aircraft was landing from a 20-hour flight, Garrett received a pivotal phone call from Micha. “Hey Garrett, come by the coworking space, we’ve got work to do!”
“Noodle” was a stealth name and acronym for “Network Operator of Devices Low Energy.” With some help from old colleagues, they launched the Nodle Network (Noodle would have had to compete with food in SEO), a wireless network for IoT devices using BLE. Realizing that demand for IoT could be used to incentivize supply, the company quickly built a network of 5 million daily active Bluetooth-enabled smartphones that could act as gateways to send data back to the internet. This crowd connectivity of phones helps to connect hundreds of millions of nearby IoT devices every week.
Blockchain had always been on the team’s mind, but in 2017 it was almost impossible to conceive how to put such a network on-chain. The early Nodle team was seated next to a crypto fund in their coworking space and had almost weekly brainstorming sessions on how to create an incentivized mesh, something considered the holy grail in the mesh networking world.
Nodle was quite literally building the technology required to build incentivized networks. Many had said it could not be done.
Whiteboarding sessions at the first Nodle Office, with Nodle’s first Investor Sergio Mello (right) Back then the startup was in stealth mode and the tokens were called Noodle Coins.
THE NODLE TEAM BEGINS TO GROW
Eliott Teissonniere, Nodle’s Head of Blockchain met Micha through a common friend. After spending hours on the phone they decided to work together. Eliott was the former CTO of BitNation (2017). The company was awarded the NetExplo Grand Prix from UNESCO the same year. He then began freelancing, developing the world’s first marriage smart contract on Ethereum and helping various projects enter the market. Eliott brought to market Nodle’s initial MVP built on Stellar, before migrating it to a custom-built Parity Technologies Substrate blockchain.
In 2020, Eliott created a nonprofit initiative to research better governance models for companies and blockchain projects. Much of this research would be ported back to the Nodle Chain to support decentralized decision-making features.
Jay Goldberg, Nodle’s CFO and Employee #3, joined the team in 2018. He used to work out of the Nodle office after becoming fed up with commuting to the Bay Area. He liked what Nodle was doing and found it incredibly exciting since he also spent a lot of his career writing about the wireless space. Jay worked previously as Head of Strategy at Qualcomm, running their ARM-based server division, and prior to that, Jay worked on Wall Street as a wireless analyst, spending over a decade living and working in China.
When the pandemic hit, it was either do or die. In the course of a few months, and with almost zero resources, the Nodle team migrated to their native chain on Polkadot, launched a privacy-first contact tracing protocol, a privacy-first contact tracing app, a wearable device, and built out the core infrastructure to bring the network to where it is today.
As the network continues to grow and gains adoption, we are working towards bringing new features, customers, and use cases to the platform with the sole purpose of drawing scale and adoption.
The team today is a diverse, experienced team of almost 30 people.
Nodle is the decentralized IoT (Internet of Things) network of Polkadot, providing secure, low-cost connectivity and data liquidity to billions of IoT devices. The Nodle Network is powered by millions of Bluetooth-enabled smartphones that earn Nodle Cash for providing connectivity to nearby Bluetooth-enabled IoT devices and sensors. Nodle’s powerful IoT stack allows for various use cases including connecting and securing physical assets, tracking lost or valuable items, capturing sensor data, security certificates, providing insights for consumer electronics manufacturers, enterprises, smart cities, and the finance industry, and much more. In just two years, Nodle has built one of the world’s largest wireless networks, adding 6,000 base stations per day. Join #TheCitizenNetwork by downloading the Nodle Cash app for iOS or Android.