Watch Out, the ICOs Are Coming

Share

Startup Management |By : | Jan 23, 2017

Digital Crowd

First came Bitcoin, then blockchains arrived. Cryptocurrencies and decentralized protocols followed.

Now, the ICOs are coming. And the ICO funds are also arriving. And a crash will be forthcoming.

To paraphrase Clay Shirky’s famous book title, Here Comes Everybody, a moniker describing how crowds form online as quickly as wildfire.

New tokens are being listed every week. Dozens of startups are planning their ICO’s, and funds that specialize in these tokens are feeding the investment and speculation frenzy. Even websites offer out-the-box services to create, promote, run and list your ICO with, describing the process to being as easy as microwave cooking.

The regulators are watching, mostly without taking harmful actions (so far), which is interpreted positively by startups who would rather ask for forgiveness than permission. Let’s do more. The door is open, and no one is shutting it.

Companies behind these ICOs are promising the moon and the stars, putting out polished websites, white papers, advisory boards, Slack channels, GitHubs, peppering with some legalese language, and topping it with the full dressing support enchilada they can think of; in order to appear as legitimate, as hard-working, as smart and as credible as possible.

Don’t get me wrong. ICOs are a good alternative funding model that holds an exciting promise, as I’ve explained in How Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain-based Startups Are Turning The Traditional Venture Capital Model on Its Head, in addition to outlining some steps and criteria on how to evaluate them.

But I see some issues with the current environment.

Startup diligence is pretty light

Diligence is tilted towards appearances, parabolic claims, white papers, a minimum of legal and lots of online dressing-up. There is relatively little involvement from traditional venture capitalists who typically dispense startup investment. VCs aren’t always right, and granted their model is being disrupted by the ICOs, but they generally have a sense about startups anatomies.

Previously, you were funded because your ideas, teams and initial product progress were worthy of it, at least someone thought so. Now, companies publish a paper making the case for their idea, open some docs for reviews, and ask for money in return for a promise to deliver something maybe in one or two years, that may or may not be accepted by the market.

Along the way, they drag a crowd of investors who buy into it, without necessarily being well informed, nor having used the product. During that process, there isn’t much talk about execution abilities, operational experience, or the rest of the team that will end-up being hired. Much of the analysis is on the surface, often tough to prove or disprove, in part due to a rushing and artificial urgency.

Download:  2016 Alternative Finance Crowdfunding in Canada Report

The 3 typical characteristics, team, product and market seem to have taken a secondary position to the 3 new magical words: tokens, blockchain and decentralization.

Token utility linkage is not always there

The assumption that everything with a potential network effect is going to work with a decentralization starting point is not entirely true. The blockchain is not for everything.

The solution or product being developed needs to have a solid business model linkage that has a particular value when decentralization and/or tokenization of actions take place. The promise of a new model needs to be very compelling.

In the name of decentralization, the promises are big. You can’t just slap a token to anything, and expect magic to happen.

The token is not the business model. The value proposition or utility that is enabled by the token is the business model, and that linkage needs to be there early on. If the direction is not right, the chosen path will not lead to a good place.

The marketing hype is frightening

Some ICOs are being marketed like a rocket ship, but in reality, no startup is a rocket ship. A lot of the communication is biased towards the most optimistic assumptions, but nothing goes up in a straight line.

With an ICO, 3 asynchronous periods seem to have blurred and collapsed into one: early stage, go-to market, product-to-market fit. Just because it makes sense in theory doesn’t mean that it will make sense when the market realities enter the picture.

Early Bird 40% Discount Until Jan 31:  Third Annual Canadian Crowdfinance Summit (Feb 28-Mar 1)

True that some level of speculatory fever can help to fund projects and give them a longer runway life, but if the expectations get far ahead of reality, the gaps may be harder to bridge, resulting in a downward spiral snap.

For good or bad reasons, raising lots of money can hide a lot of mistakes along the way, and there is some of that going on.

Financial engineering has its traps

A rule of thumb for many ICOs has been to allocate 85% of the tokens to the market, and keep 15% for developers and company, but this is a risky ratio. It is equivalent to raising all your funding at once. In the best cases, companies assume that the token will go up in price, which would enable the company (or protocol operator) to never need to raise money again. But not every company is like Bitcoin or Ethereum, just as not every startup is like Facebook or Twitter.

Of course, a smart company would not release more funding to itself until milestones are reached, but few will exercise that type of discipline. Fewer ICOs make a provision for subsequent funding events beyond the ICO.

All and all, funding a startup is not a one shot deal. Too much financial engineering is just that. I would urge anyone planning an ICO to re-read the excellent Security Laws Framework for Blockchain Tokens paper, especially the Appendix.

Continue to the full article --> here

The National Crowdfunding Association of Canada (NCFA Canada) is a cross-Canada non-profit actively engaged with both social and investment crowdfunding stakeholders across the country. NCFA Canada provides education, research, leadership, support and networking opportunities to over 1500+ members and works closely with industry, government, academia, community and eco-system partners and affiliates to create a strong and vibrant crowdfunding industry in Canada. Learn more at www.ncfacanada.org.

Share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *