DEFINITION of ‘Initial Coin Offering (ICO)’
An unregulated means by which funds are raised for a new cryptocurrency venture. An Initial Coin Offering (ICO) is used by startups to bypass the rigorous and regulated capital-raising process required by venture capitalists or banks. In an ICO campaign, a percentage of the cryptocurrency is sold to early backers of the project in exchange for legal tender or other cryptocurrencies, but usually for Bitcoin.
Also called an Initial Public Coin Offering (IPCO).
BREAKING DOWN ‘Initial Coin Offering (ICO)’
When a cryptocurrency startup firm wants to raise money through an Initial Coin Offering (ICO), it usually creates a plan on a whitepaper which states what the project is about, what need(s) the project will fulfill upon completion, how much money is needed to undertake the venture, how much of the virtual tokens the pioneers of the project will keep for themselves, what type of money is accepted, and how long the ICO campaign will run for. During the ICO campaign, enthusiasts and supporters of the firm’s initiative buy some of the distributed cryptocoins with fiat or virtual currency. These coins are referred to as tokens and are similar to shares of a company sold to investors in an Initial Public Offering (IPO) transaction. If the money raised does not meet the minimum funds required by the firm, the money is returned to the backers and the ICO is deemed to be unsuccessful. If the funds requirements are met within the specified timeframe, the money raised is used to either initiate the new scheme or to complete it.
Early investors in the operation are usually motivated to buy the cryptocoins in the hope that the plan becomes successful after it launches which could translate to a higher cryptocoin value than what they purchased it for before the project was initiated. An example of a successful ICO project that was profitable to early investors is the smart contracts platform called Ethereum which has Ethers as its coin tokens. In 2014, the Ethereum project was announced and its ICO raised $18 million in Bitcoins or $0.40 per Ether. The project went live in 2015 and in 2016 had an ether value that went up as high as $14 with a market capitalization of over $1 billion.
ICOs are similar to IPOs and crowdfunding. Like IPOs, a stake of the startup or company is sold to raise money for the entity’s operations during an ICO operation. However, while IPOs deal with investors, ICOs deal with supporters that are keen to invest in a new project much like a crowdfunding event. But ICOs differ from crowdfunding in that the backers of the former are motivated by a prospective return in their investments, while the funds raised in the latter campaign are basically donations. For these reasons, ICOs are referred to as crowdsales.
Although there are successful ICO transactions on record and ICOs are poised to be disruptive innovative tools in the digital era, investors are cautioned to be wary as some ICO or crowdsale campaigns are actually fraudulent. Because these fund-raising operatives are not regulated by financial authorities such as the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), funds that are lost due to fraudulent initiatives may never be recovered.
In early September, 2017, the People’s Bank of China officially banned ICOs, citing it as disruptive to economic and financial stability. The central bank said tokens cannot be used as currency on the market and banks cannot offer services relating to ICOs. As a result, both bitcoin and ethereum tumbled, and it was viewed as a sign that regulations of cryptocurrencies are coming. The ban also penalizes offerings already completed.
Initial coin offering
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Initial coin offering (ICO) is an unregulated and controversial means of crowdfunding via use of cryptocurrency, which can be a source of capital for startup companies. In an ICO a percentage of the newly issued cryptocurrency is sold to investors in exchange for legal tender or other cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. 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. 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, for ICOs the investors buy coins of the company, which can appreciate in value if the business is successful. 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. The Ethereum network ICOs have resulted in considerable phishing, Ponzi schemes, and other scams, accounting for about 10% of ICOs.
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. An ICO was held by Karmacoin in April 2014 for its Karmashares project.
One of the first “mainstream” ICOs was executed by the messaging app developer Kik in September 2017. 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.
ICOs and token sales are now extremely popular. As of May 2017 there were currently around 20 offerings a month, and a new web browser Brave‘s ICO generated about $35 million in under 30 seconds. There are at least 18 websites that track ICOs. 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 a mechanism for scams
ICOs can be used for a wide range of activities, ranging from corporate finance to charitable fundraising to outright fraud. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has warned investors to beware of scammers using ICOs to execute “pump and dump” schemes, in which the scammer talks up the value of an ICO in order to generate interest and drive up the value of the coins, and then quickly “dumps” the coins for a profit. However, the SEC has also acknowledged that ICOs “may provide fair and lawful investment opportunities.” The UK Financial Conduct Authority has also warned that ICOs are very high risk and speculative investments, are scams in some cases, and often offer no protections for investors. Even in cases of legitimate ICOs, funded projects are typically in an early and therefore high-risk stage of development.