What You Need To Now About ICOs Initial Coin Offering
An initial coin offering (ICO) is a means of crowdfunding centered around cryptocurrency, which can be a source of capital for startup companies. In an ICO, some quantity of the crowdfunded cryptocurrency is preallocated to investors in the form of “tokens,” in exchange for legal tender or other cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Ethereum. These tokens become functional units of currency if or when the ICO’s funding goal is met and the project launches.
ICOs provide a means by which start-up companies can avoid costs of regulatory compliance and intermediary financial organizations, while increasing risk for investors. ICOs may fall outside existing regulations or may need to be regulated depending on the nature of the project, or banned altogether in some jurisdictions, such as China and South Korea.
The term may be analogous with ‘token sale’ or crowdsale, which refers to a method of selling participation in an economy, giving investors access to the features of a particular project starting at a later date. ICOs may sell a right of ownership or royalties to a project, in contrast to an initial public offering which sells a share in the ownership of the company itself. According to Amy Wan, a partner at Trowbridge Sidoti LLP practicing crowdfunding and syndication law, “The coin in an ICO is a symbol of ownership interest in an enterprise—a digital stock certificate, if you will. In contrast to initial public offerings (IPOs), where investors gain shares in the ownership of the company, in ICOs, the investors buy coins of the company, which can appreciate in value if the business is successful. These coins are sometimes “pre-mined”, eliminating the need for proof of work. Often contributions are capped at a certain value and depending on how long the ICO lasts, on a per-day basis. Conversely, those same coins can depreciate if the company does not perform.
At least 400 ICOs have been conducted as of August 2017. Ethereum is (as of August 2017) the leading blockchain platform for ICOs with more than 50% market share. These tokens are called ERC20. The Ethereum network ICOs have resulted in considerable phishing, Ponzi schemes, and other scams, accounting for about 10% of ICOs. Older coins focused on being a currency, while newer coins based on the Ethereum blockchain have developed some controversy through the selling of what is tantamount to “securities” in the form of ICO tokens. These developments have created an evolution in the ICO release marketplace towards the new “utility” token replacing the typical token. Some commentators believe that “utility tokens”, which can be exchanged for a unit of service such as storage, could avoid such questions.
The first token sale (also known as an ICO) was held by Mastercoin in July 2013. Ethereum raised money with a token sale in 2014, raising 3,700 BTC in its first 12 hours, equal to approximately $2.3 million dollars at the time. An ICO was held by Karmacoin in April 2014 for its Karmashares project.
ICOs and token sales became popular in 2017. There were at least 18 websites tracking ICOs before mid-year. In May, the ICO for a new web browser called Brave generated about $35 million in under 30 seconds. Messaging app developer Kik’s September 2017 ICO raised nearly $100 million. At the start of October 2017, ICO coin sales worth $2.3 billion had been conducted during the year, more than ten times as much as in all of 2016. As of November 2017, there were around 50 offerings a month, with the highest-grossing ICO as of January 2018, being Filecoin raising $257 Million (and $200 Million of that being raised within the first hour of their token sale).
Kik had previously issued $50 million in tokens called “Kin” to institutional investors, and sought to raise an additional $125 million from the public. In connection with this ICO, an unidentified third party executed a phishing scam by circulating a fake URL for the offering through social media.
By the end of 2017, ICOs had raised almost 40 times as much capital as ICOs had raised in 2016, although still amounting to less than two percent of the capital raised by IPOs.