What makes an ICO successful? It’s a question without a single clear answer, because success lies in the combination of factors. Why, for example, is Paragon, which raised over $183 million from its ICO, so much more successful than say, Branche, which only raised $5,000?
One key element for any ICO is the whitepaper. A whitepaper helps potential investors judge your expertise, seriousness, product, and the likelihood that it will ever come to fruition or offer any return on their investment. In a landscape populated by a variety of ICOs which run the the full spectrum of legitimate to fraudulent, successful to failures, it’s important to make yourself stand apart. Beyond just a pretty website or a grandiose idea, the whitepaper is the thing to do just that. Here are some of the key elements you need to consider when writing yours.
First things first
First off, simply put, you must have a whitepaper! This may seem obvious and is the industry standard, but surprisingly some ICOs (such as Branche) don’t have one. This is an immediate red flag. If you don’t have a whitepaper, don’t expect investors to come knocking, buying, or, well, anything else.
Another thing to consider is that length matters. Some of the most successful ICOs have white papers that range from 20-40 pages. While considering length, it’s always important to think about how much your investors will expect to read, and, given the complexity of your product, it may be that longer is better than shorter.
Successful ICOs such as Filecoin, Tezos, Paragon, and The DAO suggest that the previously mentioned 20-40 page range is appropriate: You never want people to walk away from a whitepaper with more questions than answers. Try to think of all the angles a potential investor may come from when evaluating your ICO, and answer these pre-emptively. They’ll only be more impressed if you’re able to answer questions they didn’t even know they had.
Be clear on the technicals
Always make sure to include the technical background to your project, and demonstrate that you have the technical capacity and skills to carry out what you’re proposing.
ICOs often think they’ll hire someone with the needed expertise after they raise money, but it’s important to have that expertise on board when crafting your white paper. And don’t just describe this in general terms: be specific in terms of your explanations so that industry experts can be confident in the product you’re proposing.
At the same time, you also have to balance this with the larger question of what you hope to address or remedy with your service or product. What is the key top-line problem you’re trying to solve? Think of this as a pyramid: The foundation and majority of the explanation should focus on the structure of the product and how it will work, but make sure you do reach the top of the pyramid and spend a bit of time explaining why you’re doing what you’re doing. Big ideas are what will capture the imagination of potential investors.
It may seem counterintuitive, but you should also include an admission of the risks involved in the product. Nothing is perfect, and it’s important to recognize the benefits of the product but also its limits, whether they be technical, market, or regulation based.
Doing this will give off the impression that you’re level headed and upfront with your investors. While the ICO world is awash with bombastic rhetoric and startups claiming to be the next big thing, that’s far from enough to build a real business. You can promise to change the world but if you don’t see that there are big obstacles to overcome, it reflects poorly on your business acumen, and ultimately, the viability of your ICO.
Your white paper is also your business plan, so treat it as such. You should be able to lay out what the next 12-18 months are going to look like, and what you will be spending the money you raise from your ICO on. What areas are you going to build out? How will you go about making the product successful? Will you be investing in physical infrastructure? What about digital infrastructure? More employees? An office? These are all things you need to be considering as you write your whitepaper.
Some ICOs, such as Paragon, say they will bring in companies such as Deloitte to audit them. This lends them an added element of legitimacy. While ICOs may be adverse to involving big players in the traditional investment market, this can serve an important purpose in demonstrating your commitment to transparency, a crucial value in a market that currently has few regulations.
Lay out the economics
Finally, all startups looking to raise funds with an ICO need to consider their economic theory behind token distribution.
Tokens are units of value that can be used for a variety of purposes, the terms and rules of which are set by an ICO, which in essence creates a self-sustaining miniature economy. As a founder, you need to have a grasp on the economic rationale for issuing tokens in a certain quantity over a certain time period.
As Reuben Bramanathan, a Blockchain Lawyer and Product Counsel at Coinbase wrote in May of 2017, “A properly designed token sale doesn’t promise ‘investment returns’, ‘dividends’ or ‘profits’. Instead, it focuses on selling a digital asset that will have a clear use case in a decentralized application, as a means of both incentivizing development and solving the chicken-and-egg problem for the network. A properly designed token actually serves a purpose: it is required in order to participate in the network, rather than just being a funding mechanism.”
The thought process behind the setup of this internal economy is key, and it needs to have a coherence that makes sense at small and large scale. (For a comprehensive list of guiding questions on this topic, William Mougayar, author of The Business Blockchain, has written about the economics of token distribution, including a list of questions every company needs to be able to answer.)
Take the care and time to address these key questions, and your whitepaper will set you apart from the ever growing competition when it comes to the ICO market. Good luck!