Conferences are often the best way of understanding in which direction an industry is headed. At this years LendIt conference in San Francisco, there was a buzz around Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and Blockchain.
It’s easy to see why, the 210 completed ICO’s raised more than $3.5 billion USD in 2017. Furthermore, 2018 is shaping up to be a blockbuster year, with over $6 billion USD raised through ICOs already.
With these figures in mind, you might start believing that anyone can raise money nowadays. Nothing could be further from the truth. According to data from Marketwatch, nearly half of all ICOs never reach their funding goal and are shut down as a result.
Indeed, the huge rounds of fundraising which often make the news, are just a tiny percentage of the overall number of ICOs taking place. The vast majority of which find it very difficult, to raise the funds they set out to do.
The core problem here, is that there is very little advice on how to run a successful ICO. Whether you check Youtube, Google or Amazon, your search for actionable advice on how to raise a significant amount of funds will most likely produce zero results.
That is why we have reached out to some of the best run ICOs and talked to the people who helped make them a success. The below expert roundup, serves as a window into the strategies which were used to raise millions in funds.
Thank you to the experts who shared their experience with us, and don’t forget to leave your questions in the comments below. Let’s get started.
“I am the marketing manager for Lamden. Lamden is a suite of developer tools that speed up the process of creating new and custom blockchains and apps. Our Mission is to move blockchain development from an expensive niche category to an easy to learn skill set using our user-friendly development tools and our high-speed blockchain that uses a straightforward and secure out of the box Python-based development language.”
“I was a marketing and communications assistant for ICONOMI’s initial coin offering. At the time of our ICO, ICONOMI was the biggest crowdfunded project in Europe and the 11th biggest worldwide, raising $10 million in just over 30 days. ICONOMI is a digital asset management platform building a bridge between the old economy and the new crypto-economy.
It’s been two years since we launched our ICO and one year since we delivered the product we promised: the first global digital asset management platform. Today, ICONOMI is a successful global company that is already generating revenue and is self-financed.
The ICONOMI ICO was part of one of the first waves of ICOs of 2016, the year blockchain began to disrupt the traditional venture capital system. Our initial idea was to create a simple and trustworthy entry point for anyone who wants to manage their digital assets. Together with our co-founders Tim M. Zagar and Jani Valjavec, we raised almost a quarter of our minimum target capital of 2,000 BTC during the first 24 hours of the ICO. Less than 6 months after our ICO, we created a functioning platform for digital asset management. Today, we have 24 Digital Asset Array managers and more than 55,000 users.
Since our ICO, the scene has totally changed. While a new form for ICOs is taking shape, there are still major challenges, and it is clear that it will take time for the space to mature.”
“I'm Darryl Lo, Head of Community Management at Zebi. Just an introduction into Zebi, it is a project to ensure that high value data such as land registry, education records, medical records remain secure and are not misused. Zebi has already been around for a long time in the big data industry; Zebi has headquarters in India and a subsidiary office in Singapore. Zebi has attained a partnership with an Indian state government.”
“Banca — Wall Street on Blockchain. We are a team of veterans from Wall Street and Silicon Valley trying out a new type of investment banking community using blockchain technology, facilitated by big data and artificial intelligence, to rebuild the traditional investment banking system.
Investment banking services nowadays have reached the very top of the financial industry food chain after over a hundred year’s development on Wall Street. Names like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley are synonyms for world financial elites.
However the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, a well-known investment bank at that time, pushed the 2008 financial crisis into an abyss. The hidden fact behind this was how hard those ‘too big to fail banks’ had pushed world's financial resources into assets, relating to the housing bubble, totally out of their own interests. Their greed eventually cost trillions of dollars of taxpayer’s and investor’s money. Wall Street, always at the center of the financial world, has been faced with the most challenging situation in its history, as this American financial dream model was built after WWII, is now broken. It’s hard to say that this marks the end of the American dream to maintain its power, but this definitely sounds the alarm for the American financial system which is in desperate need for a change.
In this context, we came up with the idea of an ‘investment banking community’, aiming to solve the internal dilemma of traditional investment banks and to become the trailblazer of a future investment banking service model.
Banca is a decentralized, intelligent investment banking community.
In order to prevent the moral hazards existing in the centralized management of traditional investment banks, we have set up the business protocol, trust mechanisms and a reward system based on blockchain technology. Banca community will utilize artificial intelligence and smart contracts to achieve automatic management. As blockchain technology ensures incorruptibility of data and smart contracts provides automation of transactions, the system can be considered highly credible while execution cost and compliance cost are greatly reduced.”
“Throughout our ICO we tested and re-tested a number of different channels and strategies, ranging from PR and influencer marketing to more of a guerrilla and social media marketing strategy. We attribute much of our success to skillful Google Adwords use and strong community engagement in social media platforms, particularly 4chan.”
“We marketed our ICO through a number of different social networking and media sites. Some of them were, at the time, very specific to ICOs, such as Bitcointalk. We created groups on different cloud-based instant messaging services, such as Telegram and Slack, that later evolved into some of the most active communities in the crypto space.
We also witnessed an “evolution” of our communication platforms, starting from Bitcointalk and Telegram during our ICO to Slack and Reddit later on. Medium was and still is a very typical communication platform for blockchain companies, but this might change, too. When I look back, I can see that besides a good project that was one of the first of its kind in the world, our main advantage was that we started communicating about it from a very early stage.
Word of mouth was also a major factor. We had amazing support from our early adopters, received a lot of interest from traditional media and were reported on in major media outlets like Forbes and the International Business Times, and attended conferences and events where we were able to share our vision in person.”
“Basically what we did was to ensure that the word and project of Zebi was shared publicly to create a wider reach. What we did was an airdrop lottery, which was a big success. I did not use email marketing, it is something I and my firm highly despise. Who would like to receive spams on their personal email regarding an ICO? -- We would like to take this opportunity to outright point out with disgust to those ICO’s who does it.”
“Mostly Telegram, BitcoinTalk, Twitter, industry focused websites, ICO listing websites, etc.”
“We didn't have as much success with PR as we initially expected. We initially thought that PR placements would be the bread and butter of our strategy, but with time we realized that those PR placements were valuable, but they didn't actually drive CONVERSIONS. What did drive interest was later when we leveraged those PR placements as social proof in our real marketing efforts on social media, email, pay per click, etc. It is critical that you keep a tight watch on your KPIs. I recommend particularly monitoring whitelist signups, whitepaper downloads, and Telegram or Discord membership.”
“Everything, whether it worked or not, made us stronger and taught us something. We planned all we could before the ICO and then went day by day, incorporating all the feedback we got, trying new things and using common marketing approaches to social media and landing appearances in traditional media.
Regardless of the communication channels we were using, our communication was always clear, thoughtful and sincere, and we were constantly observing the market. We never over-promised—we just did it. We only communicated a feature or initiative when it was finalized, which is something that really made us stand out from other ICO projects. On the other hand, it was also very demanding because we really wanted to include our supporters and early adopters every step of the way.
Our co-founders also helped our ICO tremendously. Tim M. Zagar and Jani Valjavec were already established professionals in this industry with proven track records, and both had a lot of know-how that not only supported our vision but also helped us navigate all the challenges involved. We also had a small but very strong development team.
In the end, what truly worked well was our relentless, dedicated team.”
“I would say it is hard to calculate your ROI, in crypto you must try everything available”
“I won't talk specifics on budget for us, but it is essential that projects are willing to spend money to raise awareness. You need a marketing budget. It might even be hard to stomach it at first if you are a technical founder or similar who doesn't necessarily see the value of marketing. Chances are you should spend more money than you think, but as I said previously, monitor your KPIs and determine a dollar amount you are willing to pay per whitelist signup, whitepaper download, etc. so that you can ensure that you aren't going over that number.”
“We did everything in-house using internal resources, so we didn’t have any costs beyond the standard expenses of running a company.”
“We didn't spend much on marketing, in fact we didn't engage with paid marketing. Everything was organic and word of mouth; at most it was the airdrop lottery that attracted people to our project. The reason why we could cut on paid marketing is because we have a working prototype and we had been in the industry long enough; we are not a startup or any ICO who just idealised the project.”
“It wasn't so much demographics as channels. We were surprised when we found 4chan to be a very favorable channel for us. The community seemed to really gravitate towards our project. As far as demographics, we like to market to who we call the OG crypto enthusiasts - people who care about the tech above everything. People who've been around the block and aren't easily swayed by the ebbs and flows of public sentiment.”
“I wouldn’t say any specific demographics were the most important. We had early adopters from all over the world with a wide age range, but most had some knowledge or enthusiasm for ICOs, new technologies and the emerging decentralized economy. What was valuable and important for us was understanding and recognizing their level of knowledge and getting their feedback. This helped us more effectively create and promote our platform later on.”
“The most important is the support from crypto community and influencers.”
“We did not target any specific countries, but we made sure to have whitepaper translations in as many languages as we could to ensure that our vision was very accessible”
“Our main goal was, among others, to become a globally successful company, as we are now, so we aimed for a global audience from the very beginning.”
“Words about zebi spread like wildfire, there wasn't a specific focus. In this media age we don't specifically target a country or a group of people. We target the entire community.”
“We were targeting all over the world.”
“We implemented a bounty program, which helped promote our ICO by facilitating the creation of new content and spreading the word about ICONOMI in different languages around the world.”
“Coming from a background in more traditional marketing channels, it was very interesting to build and have such an engaged and valuable community. I knew it before, but I didn't fully understand it. Community is essential in crypto. Your community is more important than anything else aside from your Mission. Mission first. Then community. Then everything else. If you can do one thing and nothing else, be sure to foster a strong and healthy community.”
“The fast pace. We had to be very quick and adaptive in every respect. Creating new content, even new terminology, to explain what we were creating to people who had never even heard of blockchain was a big challenge. Our small team at the time was faced with an extreme need for multitasking and the next level of communication for the new economy.”
"I was surprised when the group in telegram grew from a 2 digits to 5 digits within 2 weeks. We did not have any bounty on bitcointalk and this just proves that we attracted interested investors without having to spend a fortune."
"The most surprising was to see an amount of scams going on around ICO’s, especially on Telegram. Investors should be really careful nowadays and do their due diligence before sending any funds.
Our BANCA goal is to create first decentralized community platform for ICOs rankings and service providers."
"Product is fundamental, but once you have a strong product, strong team, strong fundamentals, marketing is the key factor in determining the success of your ICO. Everyone has a good idea. Everyone believes they are developing the best tech. With the market the way it is, only the projects with strong marketing plans will stand out. Keep iterating, testing, and retesting your marketing strategy. If you don't seem to be getting the traction you should expect, change channels, change targets, change strategies. Always experiment. And don't expect it to be cheap. Don't be afraid to hire an agency, but be wary of scams and be sure to carefully monitor your ROI."
“Deliver on your promises.
Make sure you are really able to build what you promise. There are new ICOs every day; what makes yours different from the others? Focus on that and on the most effective way to deliver your message to your potential clients. Research how familiar your target group is with crypto, what information they lack and how can you help them understand your project. Last but not least, make sure you have a team you can rely on that is eager to learn and adapt quickly.
Even though we are entering a new phase of ICOs, it was and still is important to remain flexible and to be able to adapt quickly to market needs while remaining focused on what you initially promised to deliver.”
"A tip i would give is; to make sure each ICO is strong-willed, with a core team that is capable of leading. I have heard of ICO team’s saying; 'oh after 6pm I don't work, contact me again the next day.'
This is an example of an ICO that will bound to fail. In crypto, everyone moves at a speed that is as fast as a lambo. Even outside ICO’s, a normal startup with an interested founder moves at a speed of a BMW at least. If you are telling me that you can’t or will not work after a certain time, I will ask you to think twice before starting an ICO.
Lastly, a shout-out to my firm, Alphablockchain Solutions for providing Zebi with 24/7 Community Management, Marketing and PR strategies and designed a Bounty programme that is streamlined for Zebi ICO.”
“To try out BANCA platform and services once it's launched.
Part of it would be specifically centered around helping ICOs to succeed in this market”
So now we have heard from our ICO campaign experts and what it takes to make an ICO successful. The main takeaway seems to be that all ICO’s are different and require different campaign methods. But the main recurring factor involved the necessity to build a strong community. A community is often not defined by geographical landmarks, but either way you should find out who they are and how they want to be spoken too, to create a successful ICO campaign.
Overall the most important factor that came up was hard work and ensuring an ICO is built round a strong but understandable business model!