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The 3 key ingredients for attracting investors to your crowdfunding (ICO/STO) campaign

Below is a redacted and slightly edited and updated version of a memo provided to a client regarding how to attract investors to their business, in mid 2017. For background, they’re a 5 year old private investment firm, whose stock is traded OTC and who invest in startups focused on blockchain tech. To further this model they were exploring additional ways to raise capital, specifically to acquire more startups. Below is a high level framework of what investor “whales” are looking for. This is not investment advice. These are redacted insights into what you should be considering if you’re looking to also engage potential investors in your business enterprise.

If you don’t have time to read it all, I’ll summarize: It still takes money to make money.

Note — all crowdfunding campaigns (regardless of if you call them ICOs / STOs) require a legitimate business model, tangible solutions to real problems, market size worth investing in and the potential for 100x returns. Otherwise, whales aren’t interested in 10x returns.

Samson Williams, Principal, Axes and Eggs

Magic Whale Formula: Online presence + In person Conferences + 100x return potential + Influencers = Investors (Whales)

Online presence — A strong online presence is needed in effort to build awareness of your business and business model. A strong presence is also required as upwards of 90% of your online followers will be either bots or individuals who you have in fact paid to follow you. Bounty programs don’t generate actual clients/customers. Of the 10% remaining, less than 10% of those will take action to directly invest in your business. However, early and passionate adopters are needed to help attract and grow fast followers.

Conferences and Fast Followers — In person appearances at conferences are needed to build

  1. Awareness and
  2. Trust

People simply do not invest in people they are not aware of (duh) and don’t like. If someone does not like you, they cannot trust you. People only engage and do business with people they know, like, then trust. For instance,

when is the last time you bought something from someone you didn’t know and trust?

Influencers — ICOs and STOs are simply crowdfunding. However, in this paradigm of crowdfunding it is not based on the delivery of goods, products and services. Rather, participation in ICOs/STOs is predicated on the expectation of the future delivery of goods, products and/or services. There are no blockchain products/services currently on the market. In this ecosystem of hype, Influencers play a key role as the trusted voices within the community. Whether or not they should be trusted is moot. Influencers (e.g. Ian Balina, Suppoman, DecentralizedTV etc…) role in the ICO/STO ecosystem is to provide what seems to be rational / quantitative analysis of blockchain based projects. However, because no actual DLT projects exist, they are in fact mere purveyors of opinion, on the future of research and design in the application of DLT technologies. But — people like them. They embody and project the essence of “success”, despite the clear lack of any empirical evidence of success beyond the ability to pump and dump a given crypto/project. Despite the lack of products and evidence of success, people like Influencers and they trust their opinions. So much so, they give them their money.

In conclusion, Humans don’t trust data. Humans trust how they feel about other humans.

Approval, mention or investment by Influencers in the crypto/blockchain space, as trusted members of the community, are a prerequisite of having accredited & institutional investors participate in your crowdfunding offering. As without their involvement it is highly unlikely that anyone will a) know your offering exists b) like it c) get excited enough to engage you and d) trust you enough to give you their money.

Lastly, don’t forget that in all cases you need to show:

  1. What problem the business is resolving
  2. How the solution is unique
  3. How business will make its first dollar and when
  4. What the return/profitability of the investment will be
  5. Admit you’re issuing a security (whether its called an ICO/STO) and follow all applicable securities laws

Minimum 100x ROI Potential

You’ve got to show that these businesses have a 100x return potential. Anything less really isn’t worth the paperwork for whales. The shorter the return window the better. Keeping in mind securities laws.

So What ?

Options for achieving the magic for attracting whales in ICO/STO crowdfunding projects:

Option A - Pay an influencer. Up front cost of $$$ — $$$$$ minimum + $100k to $1M for listing on an exchange (Reminder — this was written in mid 2017 and figures are not reflective of 2019 market conditions)

Option B - Become an influencer. $$$ — $$$$$, plus a two year process. Hit or miss. As you will need to establish credibility thru investing in crowdfunding deals that 10x or greater, as well as.

Option C - Support an influencer. $$ — $$$. Two to three month process. Identify a lesser known influencer and form a strategic partnership to support growth of their brand. With the clear deliverable that they support your crowdfunding initiative when you do it.

Option D - Make an influencer. $$ — $$$$$. Two + year process. Identify someone who has the bonafides and feel of an influencer and introduce and promote them to the community, with the expectation that they’ll promote your crowdfunding campaign when the time comes.

Option E — Do not engage, support or create an influencer and see how it plays out.

(Client Name Redacted) Recommendations

  1. Refine the NAME REDACTED brand ($$)
    1. Hire a branding person
    2. Update the website and create marketing collateral
    3. Great examples:
      1. www.www ( client of ours in Germany)
      2. www.www
      3. www.www
  2. Engage an Influencer
    1. See options above
  3. Plan a proper world tour (similar to Ian Balina’s World Tour)
  4. Capitalize Name Redacted
    1. Create a fund specific to cryptocurrencies / blockchain
      1. Allows others to invest in fund and/or NAME stock
      2. Spread message via magic whale formula
      3. Redacted line.
  5. Allocate $1M for strategic investments:
    1. $200k — $300k of strategic crowdfunding investments, tbd
      2. The investment is for the publicity
      3. Would recommend focusing on distressed assets, that align to NAME REDACTED acquisition of IP
    2. Make ten, $100K dollar investments in startups considering using blockchain
    3. As a requirement of the investment, they must use NAME REDACTED blockchain and promote its use
    4. These 10 firms become marketing pieces for NAME and NAME
      1. For instance: NAME REDACTED is looking to leverage blockchain for their real estate endeavors. They have a community of 30K+
      2. A $100k would buy some equity investment in them and push/promote NAME and NAME into their 30K community
      3. NAME REDACTED DC/China based firm ran by NAME REDACTED. Chinese ICO influencer, who moves more $ than Ian Balina but isn’t as well known as he is Chinese. $100k in one of his startups would bring his and his network’s attention
      4. Other examples include: www.www (gets NAME into BIG ASS EVENT next year) , NAME REDACTED (video gaming community) NAME REDACTED
  6. These actions would allow NAME REDACTED to build its brand, and accomplishes:
    1. People become aware of NAME REDACTED
    2. They can get to like it and its mission, vision and values
    4. Without this strategic investment NAME REDACTED will have great difficulty raising its stock price, as others in the Asia Pacific area jockey for position, spotlight and investor dollars. Such as Tin Men Capital, out of Singapore, makes first close of US$100M B2B startup fund; invests in Overdrive IOT, Globaltix.

Yes, this requires capital to be invested directly into building NAME REDACTEDs brand and market presence. In order to move the needle on NAME REDACTED stock price back towards $30+, it is advisable to allocate funds strategically, make strategic high growth potential blockchain startups and coordinated activities from a single source, to ensure that they have the maximum impact possible.


Axes and Eggs

End of Memo


In short, it still takes money to make money.

Hope you found that interesting and hopefully helpful. Remember that as you go to build your business you can investing the marketing dollars to engage influencers, become influencers or devine a different marketing and engagement strategy that works for your good, product or services. No two offerings are alike. So don’t be afraid to tweak the Magic Whale Formula to fit your specific needs. If you find you need help with your magic marketing formula I recommend contacting [email protected].

Cheers and happy hunting!


Today, I was asked to answer this question at Quora:

What sets each cryptocurrency apart from the others?

“Cryptocurrency” is a broad term. It refers to payment coins, of course—such as Bitcoin and Litecoin. But, because most tradeable tokens attain an asset value, the word is often used to refer to smart contract devices, such as Ethereum, a host of other blockchain based tokens, functional Internet-of-Things tokens, and even ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings). Since people treat ICOs and IOT tokens as investment instruments even if they are useless as a payment mechanism, they all fall within the realm of a cryptocurrency.

So, before addressing the question, let’s distinguish between Altcoins and ICOs. I assume the question refers to Altcoins, and not ICOs…

ICOs are almost all scams. A very few of these are designed to function in a well-defined IOT role (Internet-of-Things). But, any ICO that you are likely to hear about share one or more traits described here.

But Altcoins are different. These are typically forked from Bitcoin or another established blockchain-backed coin. They are created because developers feel that they have solved one or more of the problems that limit the growth or appeal of Bitcoin. For example, Bitcoin has (or recently had) all these problems or perceived limitations:

  • Transaction Malleability (Recently solved with activation of SegWit)
  • Speed of transaction (Now being addressed by Lightning Network)
  • Cost of transaction (Also addressed by Lightning Network early 2018)
  • Very high electrical demand by miners (Still a major problem)
  • Fairness of and speed of distributed governance process (a big problem)
  • Finding a validation incentive after mining runs out (a long term issue)
  • Deep privacy features. These are inherent to Monero and Zcash. (Bitcoin will soon support onion routing transactions to enhance privacy)
  • Disparate goals of miners, developers, vendors and users (still a problem)
  • Limited Smart Contract mechanism (Ethereum is the current king in this realm, with slick methods of administering and executing contracts. Bitcoin will eventually acquire these features & benefits.
  • Like ICOs (these are almost all scams), some Altcoins (not scams) address specific IOT applications. This is a legitimate and non-payment use of blockchain technology. It represents a promising evolution. It is not yet clear if Bitcoin can eventually adopt these features and function in a non-payment, IOT capacity. The intrinsic, stored value aspect of Bitcoin would make it difficult to use in such applications.

One big problem facing Bitcoin is that the distributed consensus mechanism that makes it a trusted, peer-to-peer mechanism is based on Proof-of-Work (POW). Coupled with a mining incentive that increases dramatically with exchange rate, Bitcoin is—quite simply—untenable. With consumption topping 33 terawatt hours in December 2017, it already consumes more power than some countries. If even 2% of the world’s payment transactions were settled in Bitcoin, the mining would consume more power than is generated throughout the world. This just cannot continue!

Fortunately, developers and armchair inventors have proposed or demonstrated clever POW alternatives to achieve a fair distributed consensus. Some of these use a Proof-of-Stake mechanism, while others add a limited central-authority nexus to facilitate governance and scaling. Some are built on a modified blockchain that weaken several pillars of a true decentralized, p2p network. Of course, researchers are concerned that these systems deteriorate the decentralized nature of Satoshi’s original blockchain.

But, other systems may allow for a fully distributed and democratic trust platform, such as BFT Replication (IBM) or Distributed Objective Consensus, which was proposed by an amateur mathematician.

In reply to the title question, Altcoins are set apart by their claim to address the above problems & limitations, or to add features.

Will an Altcoin Triumph over Bitcoin?

Perhaps, a few altcoins will thrive, due to specific niche advantages; features that Bitcoin chooses not to address, such as deep anonymity or with a novel utilitarian feature that facilitates a specific Internet-of-Things process.

Unfortunately for altcoins, all coins require public trust and transparency. For this reason, they are open source, permissionless, without licensing, without patent protection and with a fully disclosed pre-mining history. And for that reason, Bitcoin is free to steal any clever advantage that works. It’s all up for grabs and no one can be sued.

In effect, each altcoin as a beta test platform for Bitcoin. Now that Bitcoin is finally addressing the problems of scalability and fair/speedy governance, there is little doubt that it will continue to dwarf other coins.

Philip Raymond sits on Lifeboat’s New Money Systems board. He co-chairs CRYPSA, hosts the New York Bitcoin Event and is keynote speaker at Cryptocurrency Conferences around the world. Book a presentation or consulting engagement.

At the end of 2017 and the first months of 2018, we witnessed a surge of interest in Initial Coin Offerings or ICOs. Perhaps the word “interest” gives too much credit to ICOs. Most are scams. ICOs are pushed through by vendor hype, rather than pulled through by investor research. They are almost all pump-and-dump schemes.

But what about Bitcoin? It is not a scam, but questions remain about regulation, intrinsic value* and its likelihood to be superseded by something better. Bitcoin skeptics point to two facts: (1) Bitcoin is open source, and so anyone can create an equally good altcoin. (2) Newer coins incorporate improvements that overcome governance and scaling issues: cost, transaction speed, the burgeoning electric needs of miners, or whatever…

While both statements are true, they miss the point. This is not a VHS-vs-Beta scenario. Bitcoin has achieved a 2-sided network and it is free to fold in every vetted improvement that comes along. For Bitcoin, all those other coins are simply beta tests.

Even the functional tokens will unwittingly feed their “improvements” into Bitcoin. For this reason, it is a safe bet that Bitcoin will reign supreme for years to come—perhaps even long enough for the dominos to fall.

Why I rarely consult to ICOs or prospective ICO investors

I recently presented at cryptocurrency expos in Dubai and Gujarat. As a result of these presentations, my organization now receives ICO pitch decks, white papers and business summaries—15 or 20 each week. About ⅔ are sent by investors asking for advice as an investment opportunity, while ⅓ are from issuers seeking accreditation from CRYPSA or at least a quote than can be used as a comfort statement.

The market potential for consulting to issuers and high-rolling investors is very alluring. Figuring that we could certify gems and advise the dogs (help them to create a more legitimate token), we put together a business plan to address a massive new consulting opportunity. But guess what?

… They are ALL dogs! That’s right! ICOs are scams. They are not the same as ‘altcoins’, which is a term more commonly used for open source forks of legitimate cryptocurrency platforms.

Now, the SEC has begun to investigate ICOs and for good reason. Most are thinly veiled scams to fleece widows and orphans by ducking under securities regulations. Others are MLM scams, proprietary mechanisms (in which founders or early partners hold all the cards), or they are simply poor/fake implementations of Blockchain services.

How to spot an ICO scam (Hint: They are almost all scams!)

What fraction of ICOs are scams? More than 97% according CRYPSA. To preserve our reputation, we have suspended a high profit project to endorse the hidden gems. Despite scores of applicants, we simply cannot find any worthy of accreditation, with the exception of a few Bitcoin forks. But, these forks are altcoins, and not really ICOs.

Nearly all ICOs that we analyzed fall into one of these categories…

  • Veiled securities offerings, designed to duck under securities regulations
  • Created for the express purpose of pump & dump (without clearly disclosing caps, reserves or pre-mined stakeholders)
  • A non-functioning coin that can only gain value through MLM. (This is not necessarily criminal, but outside our research and advisory mandate. Such coins are unlikely to provide value without quick, speculative trades and market timing that amounts to “dumb luck”).

So, what are the signs that an ICO is a scam? Is there anything you can do—short of hiring an expert—to evaluate each new proposal that comes along?

We don’t advise or recommend holding such risky tokens—but for those attracted to the siren call of ICOs, here are six common tale tell signs that you are dealing with a scam:

  • If you received an announcement of an ‘Air drop’ or a coupon to get 25 or 50% bonus coins, it is a scam
  • If the value of coins is influenced by your ability to find new investors, it is a scam
  • If the coin is not based on Satoshi’s blockchain reference code, or is not open source, peer-to-peer and permissionless, then it is very likely a scam. (There are certain, limited exceptions)
  • If the coin is based on Tangle, then it is a scam—or at least, it is functionally useless—and therefore it is a bad investment risk
  • If the coin was pre-mined, then it is a scam. All mining by principals, insiders and early buyers must be disclosed and must be at least a full month after the first widely available public announcements
  • If any advertisement, announcement, affiliate contact or press release ends up in the hands of someone who did not independently contact the issuer for information and a prospectus, it is most definitely a scam

Are you like me?

Because most initial coin offerings exhibit these traits, I pass on opportunities to consult or present at organizations and conferences that cozy up to ICOs. This decision limits my participation at many crypto venues, but my conscience is clean and my Bitcoin future is secure.

Resist the siren call and keep your wits about you. You, too, can also avoid the illusory trap of ICOs. Run, hide or just ignore them. “These are not the coins that you are looking for.” (with apologies to Obi-Wan Kenobi and Alec Guinness).

* Related:

Philip Raymond chairs CRYPSA, publishes A Wild Duck and hosts the New York Bitcoin Event. He was featuerd at cryptocurrency conferences in Dubai, South Africa and India. Click Here to inquire about a presentation.