There’s another way to look at Crypto Tokens


Crypto tokens, and their ICOs, have taken a fair amount of bashing in the media over the past few months, but a paper published by two researchers from MIT and University of Toronto, argues that utility tokens might have a “valuable price discovery role,” according to Coindesk. It also suggests that tokens that act as ‘true commodities’, which the report authors attribute to Bitcoin and Ether, could offer the same service.

When you look at crypto tokens form this perspective, it looks like consumers could turn out to be the biggest winners, provided the tokens are correctly designed.

The paper, called, Initial Coin Offerings and the Value of Crypto Tokens by Christian Catalini (MIT) and Joshua S. Gans (University of Toronto) explores how entrepreneurs can use initial coin offerings — whereby they issue crypto tokens and commit to accept only those tokens as payment for future use of a digital platform — to fund venture start-up costs. It makes interesting reading for ICO entrepreneurs, because as the paper’s synopsis states, “the ICO mechanism allows entrepreneurs to generate buyer competition for the token, which, in turn, reveals consumer value without the entrepreneurs having to know, ex ante, consumer willingness to pay,” amongst other things.

In fact, it goes so far as to claim that in the future, tokens will “empower consumers to choose an optimal price for a service collectively.” It also looks at the benefits of tokens, including the aforementioned benefits of entrepreneurs being able to test the token fundraising model with consumers to see how it goes. This could greatly minimise risk for ICO startups and their founders.

As we have seen, regulatory bodies like the SEC have started to show more interest in ICOs and the remarkable sums of money they are capable of raising. However, Gans, told Coindesk: “”The problem the regulators have is they don’t know what the goals are. Instead the regulators are coming in saying ‘I don’t really know how the market should be working, but it smells terrible.'”

This new paper and its authors want to start a new conversation about “the right way to think about tokens so that societies could rationally consider the correct approach to managing them.”

It’s a more helpful and sane approach than the ‘just ban them’ rhetoric that is coming from some corporate entities and other organisations. It is not against regulation; that is necessary for transparency and consumer comfort. As the guys admit, they have no idea how the ‘token economy’ will play out, but they have laid the groundwork for more research and more balanced thinking. That’s a good start.




The ICO Chill Factor


Parts of Western Europe have been at the mercy of the “Beast from the East”, an icy wind that swept down from Siberia bringing havoc in its wake. Now a different kind of chilling wind is blowing in from the USA as regulatory bodies talk about putting ICO token trading on ice for 12 months.

As Mike Lempres, chief legal and risk officer at Coinbase put it, “the market is being chilled.” As crypto entrepreneurs in the U.S. shiver, it seems that months of uncertainty about how the country’s regulatory bodies would approach “wanton market growth” is coming to a head, if perhaps not an end.

Events leading up to this include the SEC’s announcement last week that

it is investigating companies and startups associated with ICOs. As a result, which Brady Dale writes about at Coindesk, “entrepreneurs are largely surrendering on the idea that new cryptocurrencies created and sold to investors could be considered so-called ‘utility tokens,’ a term denoting a digital commodity meant to represent the share of a blockchain protocol.”

However, these companies still have a problem: as yet there are no registered broker-dealers capable of trading security tokens in the U.S. Furthermore, and this view comes from a number f ICO founders, when they do issue tokens under a Schedule D exemption, a 12-month lock-up is still required.

A statement from Nick Ayton, CEO of Chainstarter, who was in a panel discussion at the MIT Bitcoin Expo on 17th-18th March, addressed this issue. He predicted that the SEC will view all tokens as a security and stated: “Most exchanges are listing coins that are securities, and our view is a large number of these exchanges are going to be closed.”

Another voice at the conference, that of Gary Genseler, an MIT professor and former CFTC chair, said: “I think it is without a doubt that numerous exchanges will have to seek exemptions under alternative trading system [rules] because many of the exchanges, not all, have tokens that are securities trading on them.”

Currently, the problem is that even when companies want to comply with the rules, they still don’t know what the rules are. There is some knowledge about what is forbidden, but when it comes to avoiding the wrath of the SEC they are operating in the dark.

Munche is cited as the case that alerted some to what was coming from the SEC. This little known ICO received a bunch of subpoenas from the SEC, requesting information typically includes lists of investors, emails, marketing materials, organisational structure, amounts raised, the location of the funds and the people involved and their locations. In the case of Munchee, “what the federal regulators think of as a utility token and not a security token is so small, and the eye of the needle got even smaller,” said Joshua Klayman, legal counsel at Morrison Foerster.

What will be the end effect of this chill factor in the U.S? Well, Mike Lempres of Coinbase told Congress about one potential scenario if the United States doesn’t “provide a clear, thoughtful regulatory environment, the investment can very quickly move to other countries.”  Perhaps that will encourage the government and its regulatory bodies to bring a little sunshine to its crypto companies.






Will ICOs outperform Venture Capital in 2018?


Although there has been some negative press around ICOs since they skyrocketed in 2017, it hasn’t stopped them from raising more funds for blockchain-based startups than traditional venture capital (VC). Indeed, according to Jason Rowley, a contributor at Techcrunch, ICOs are on track to do even better in 2018.

The investment from VC in 2017 was $900 million and in the first two months of 2018 it amounted to $375 million, but this looks like chump change compared with the ICO fundraisers.

Crunchbase recorded a total of 527 funding rounds by both VC and ICOs for 2017 and 2018 to date. In terms of numbers of startups, VC still has 68% of the market, but, whilst ICOs may only have 32%, the dollar volume is considerably higher.

Basically, as Jason Rowley says: “despite the smaller number of ICOs, these funding events — on average — attract much more capital than the average venture funding round.” In fact, if you look at the dollar volume, ICOs take 78% of the market for blockchain-related startups. In figures, this equates to $1.3 billion raised through VC and $4.5 billion raised by ICOs, according to Crunchbase.

Of course, not all ICOs have been a runaway success. Bitcoin news reported that out of 902 businesses raising an ICO, some 142 failed before they could even close the funding round, and another 276 failed after the fundraising was completed. A further 113 projects have been classified as ‘semi-failed’, either because they have stopped posting on social media, or because experts have assessed that the community is too small to give the project a chance of success. Ultimately, “59% of last year’s crowdsales are either confirmed failures or failures-in-the-making.”

This doesn’t mean that the ICO sector is doomed, there are still going to be many successful coin offerings – Telegram’s ICO is just one example of healthy show of support. Undoubtedly some will continue to view this form of fundraising with scepticism, but if investors do their due diligence and more regulation comes into play, there are no good reasons to think that the ICO does not have a secure and sustainable future.

Are celebrity brand ambassadors worth it?


Generally, having a celebrity endorse your product is a ‘good thing’! Advertisers will give their right arms for a famous face to front their product. In 2017, Paris Hilton, Floyd Mayweather, Ghostface Killah (Wu Tang Clan) and Jamie Foxx were among the celebrities who were most vocal about their support for crypto and ICOs and they all used their social media platforms to let their followers know what they’re doing in the crypto world.

One thing that ICOs who use celebrity endorsements need to note is that if celebrities don’t disclose if they are benefiting from making an endorsement, the Securities and Exchange Commission in the USA may view it as illegal.

And that is what has happened to Bitcoiin2Gen (B2G) ICO, which has been using Steven Seagal to endorse its offering. As reported in Cointelegraph and many other outlets, New Jersey Bureau of Securities (BoS) regulators issued a ‘cease and desist’ order on 7th March and have accused the team behind the ICO of “fraudulently offering unregistered securities in violation of the Securities Law.”

Clearly the B2G team didn’t get the memo from the SEC about the dangers of celebrity endorsements!

The BoS order focused on what it said was “the secretive nature” of Steven Seagal’s involvement with the business and its ICO. A statement from the regulators said:

The Bitcoin Websites do not disclose what expertise, if any, Steven Seagal has to ensure that the Bitcoiin investments are appropriate and in compliance with federal and state securities laws.”  And added, “Additionally, there are no disclosures as to the nature, scope, and amount of compensation paid by Bitcoiin in exchange for Steven Seagal’s promotion of the Bitcoiin investments.”

Perhaps Seagal was not the best choice of celebrity for a blockchain business, as he is better known as an actor specialising in martial arts, but then none of the other celebrities backing crypto in 2017 are immediately linked to Bitcoin or the blockchain either.

But, it is easy to see where the problem lies from a regulatory perspective. These celebrities have an enormous power over their fans, so when Steven Seagal tweeted on March 6th that B2G would shortly be listed on major exchanges, his fans will take his word as gospel. If he says, “invest in this ICO because I have” in so many words, then that is what his followers will do, and many of them will not be savvy investors who understand the risks and rewards of crypto assets. This is something that the SEC is well aware of, and now it is acting on its previous warnings.

So, whilst a celebrity may do wonders for your alcohol brand or similar consumer item, they are not quite so desirable when it comes to promoting your ICO – unless every aspect of their involvement is completely transparent and regulators can see that they are active in and knowledgeable about the blockchain and cryptocurrency.