Are ICOs the Future of Startup Fundraising? Cryptocurrencies are Giving Founders a New Platform for Fundraising

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Cryptocurrencies are giving Founders a whole new platform for fundraising.

As a strategic business consultancy that offers Fractional CFO services to entrepreneurs and startups we get a lot of questions about raising capital.  While the general consensus among experts is to first raise traditional angel and seed rounds some founders are exploring the use of cryptocurrencies and/or ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings) vs. Series A or B rounds.  The rising popularity of cryptocurrency is allowing Founders and startups to get creative in their fundraising efforts.

What is Blockchain?

In a nutshell: “The basic concept of cryptocurrency is pretty simple… Rather than asking the public for investments of old-fashioned money, the inventor issues a new virtual currency tied to a specific product, each unit of which represents a defined share of future profits. Just like shares in an actual stock market, these coins or tokens can then be freely traded or collected, letting those who truly believe in a project build an actual financial stake in its success.”  (“How to Fund Your Startup with Cryptocurrency” — Catrinel Bartolomeu)

How does it work?

Some founders will attempt to raise capital through an initial coin offering which, in simple terms, is when a company wants to fund itself through cryptocurrency. People can “back” the ICO by contributing other cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or, more commonly, Ether (the name for Ethereum’s coins/tokens). It is basically a crowdfunding campaign that, instead of using platforms like Kickstarter, uses blockchain platforms.

Pros and Cons

While Blockchain technology and Social Enterprise are creating new options for Startup Fundraising, it’s important to look at the pros and cons of using ICOs vs. traditional fundraising methods.  Serhiy Kozlov (CEO and Founder of Romexsoft) does a great job highlighting some of the pros/cons of using ICOs to raise capital.  Below is a summary (full article can be found here):

BENEFITS

Traditional Funding Comes with Strings/IOC’s with Far Less.

A clear advantage for the founder. Initiating an ICO with a unique currency that can later convert to Bitcoin or Ether, takes a lot of regulation out of the mix.  Banks and traditional VC funding can may have tight contracts and legal responsibilities.

ICO Funding is Cheaper.

When the middleman fees and interest are cut out of the mix, getting funding is cheaper. There is also more freedom for the founder to set terms.

Flexibility for the Investor.

Investment returns on ICOs can be more accelerated than returns with traditional funding. Investors like this.

Flexibility for Startup Founders.

One great thing about ICO is that funding can come from a variety of currencies, both fiat and crypto. This may attract more investors than traditional funding which usually occurs in a single currency.

POTENTIAL DOWNSIDES

Lack of understanding regarding governmental rules and regulations, regarding investing and receiving investment capital.

There are legal risks involved in an entrepreneur seeking funding via an unregistered token, even when it goes through registered blockchain platforms, like Bitcoin and Ether. In the case of the U.S. SEC, for example, just incorporating outside of the U.S. will not grant ‘immunity.” As well, the SEC has recently established rules regarding equity investments in crowdfunding activities.

Over-Valuation. 

Some of the amounts being raised through ICOs are staggering. Early investors in Bitcoin and Ether are eager to invest more and more in new ventures, and founders are “tempted” by the easy money to raise far more than they actually need or would get via traditional financing.

Lack of Control and Protection. 

This, of course, is an investor’s not a startup’s problem. But it is a weakness that, if not “fixed”, may sour investors over time. Unethical or fraudulent “startups” really have little-to-no fiduciary responsibility to their investors. Smart Contracts, such as those through Ethereum are a start, but the promoter has ways to alter those arrangements.

It’s Too New. 

As mentioned earlier in this article, the concepts of Blockchain, cryptocurrency, and ICOs are still foreign to many investors, and certainly to individuals who have money to invest but see this cryptocurrency “stuff” as somehow fake money. It will take time for the entire concept to become mainstream and for weaknesses to be eliminated.

For more information on fundraising, our Founder/CEO, Tyler Jensen has created several eBooks on the topic.  We invite you to browse our website to request free downloads.