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Demystifying Initial Coin Offerings (ICO): Everything You Need to Know

Last updated 04/30/2024 by

SuperMoney Team

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An Initial Coin Offering (ICO) is a method used by blockchain startups to raise capital for their projects. Similar to an Initial Public Offering (IPO), ICOs allow investors to purchase coins or tokens in exchange for a cryptocurrency or fiat currency. ICOs have gained popularity due to their ability to offer investors an opportunity to invest in early-stage blockchain projects that could potentially offer high returns.

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What is an ICO?

The concept of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) originated from the cryptocurrency market. An ICO is a fundraising event in which a company issues a new digital currency or token in exchange for funds. It is a way for blockchain startups to raise capital by offering investors an opportunity to buy into the project at an early stage. ICOs are similar to Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) in that they offer investors a way to invest in early-stage companies. However, ICOs are unregulated, which means they have less scrutiny from regulatory authorities.

How do ICOs work?

ICOs work similarly to crowdfunding campaigns. A company creates a whitepaper that describes the project and the benefits it offers. The company then announces the ICO, and investors can purchase tokens using cryptocurrency or fiat currency. The tokens can then be traded on cryptocurrency exchanges, and their value is determined by market demand. It is broken down into the following sequential steps:
  1. White Paper: The first step is to create a white paper, which is a document that outlines the goals, purpose, and technical details of the project.
  2. Pre-ICO: Prior to the official ICO launch, some projects may offer a pre-ICO period for early investors to purchase tokens at a lower price.
  3. ICO: The official ICO launch is when tokens are sold to the general public. Investors can purchase tokens using legal tender or other cryptocurrencies.
  4. Listing: Once the ICO is complete, the new cryptocurrency is listed on cryptocurrency exchanges where it can be bought and sold.

ICO types

ICOs can be categorized into three types based on the type of token offered: utility tokens, security tokens, and equity tokens.
  1. Utility Tokens: These tokens are designed to provide access to a product or service. They have no intrinsic value and are used solely for the purpose of accessing a specific platform or network. Utility tokens are not considered securities and are not subject to regulation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
  2. Security Tokens: Security tokens are similar to traditional securities and are subject to SEC regulation. These tokens represent ownership in a company or an asset and are backed by legal agreements that provide investors with certain rights.
  3. Equity Tokens: Equity tokens are similar to security tokens but represent actual ownership in a company, rather than just rights. They are backed by legal agreements and are subject to SEC regulation.

ICO Hyping

ICO hyping refers to the practice of overpromising and exaggerating the potential of a particular ICO to attract investors. This is a common issue in the cryptocurrency world, as many ICOs are launched without a clear plan or solid foundation. Some ICO issuers may try to inflate the value of their tokens by making false or exaggerated claims about the project’s potential or by using hype to generate interest.
Investors should be wary of ICOs that make unrealistic claims or promises of huge returns. ICOs that are hyped up often fail to deliver on their promises, leaving investors with worthless tokens and lost investments. It is important to conduct thorough research and due diligence before investing in any ICO, and to be skeptical of claims that seem too good to be true.
In recent years, regulatory bodies around the world have begun cracking down on ICOs that engage in hyping or other deceptive practices. It is important for investors to stay informed and educated on the latest regulations and developments in the ICO industry to avoid falling victim to fraudulent schemes.


ICOs are often compared to Initial Public Offerings (IPOs), which are the traditional method of raising funds for companies through public markets. Here are some key differences between ICOs and IPOs:
  1. Regulation: IPOs are heavily regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other regulatory bodies, whereas ICOs are still largely unregulated in many countries.
  2. Ownership: In an IPO, investors receive ownership in the company in the form of shares, which entitles them to vote on major company decisions. In an ICO, investors typically receive tokens, which do not represent ownership in the company.
  3. Transparency: Companies going public through an IPO are required to disclose extensive financial and other information to the public, whereas ICOs often lack transparency and may not provide adequate information about the company’s finances or business plan.
  4. Liquidity: Shares in a publicly traded company can be bought and sold on a stock exchange, providing investors with easy liquidity. In contrast, tokens from an ICO may not be listed on any exchanges, making it more difficult to sell them.
  5. Access: IPOs are generally only available to institutional investors or high net worth individuals, while ICOs are open to anyone with an internet connection.
While there are similarities between ICOs and IPOs, the differences are significant and investors should be aware of the risks associated with investing in ICOs.

ICO example

One of the most successful ICOs to date is the Ethereum ICO, which was launched in 2014. Ethereum is a decentralized blockchain platform that allows developers to build decentralized applications (dApps). The Ethereum ICO raised over $18 million in Bitcoin, which was used to fund the development of the platform. Today, Ethereum has a market cap of over $100 billion and is the second-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization.

Advantages and disadvantages

ICO advantages

  1. Easy and fast fundraising: ICOs can help companies raise funds quickly and easily.
  2. Global access: ICOs offer investors from around the world an opportunity to invest in early-stage blockchain projects.
  3. No need for intermediaries: ICOs allow companies to bypass traditional intermediaries, such as venture capitalists and investment banks.

ICO disadvantages

  1. Lack of regulation: ICOs are currently unregulated, which means investors have less protection.
  2. High risk: ICOs are highly speculative and come with high risks.
  3. Potential for scams: Due to the lack of regulation, ICOs are vulnerable to fraud and scams.


Are ICOs legal?

The legality of ICOs varies by jurisdiction. In some countries, ICOs are legal but subject to certain regulatory requirements, while in others they are outright banned.

How do I participate in an ICO?

To participate in an ICO, you typically need to send cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, to the ICO’s wallet address. In exchange, you will receive the ICO’s tokens or coins.

How do I store my ICO coins or tokens?

ICO coins or tokens are usually stored in a cryptocurrency wallet, which can be either a hardware wallet or a software wallet.

How do I know if an ICO is legitimate?

It is important to do your own research before investing in an ICO. Look at the team behind the ICO, the product or service being offered, and any reviews or feedback from other investors.

Key takeaways

  • An Initial Coin Offering (ICO) is a fundraising method that allows companies or individuals to raise capital by issuing new cryptocurrencies or tokens.
  • ICOs typically involve a white paper that outlines the project, the token’s utility, and the team behind it.
  • ICOs are unregulated and risky investments, and investors should carefully research the project and team before investing.
  • Some ICOs have been successful, such as Ethereum and EOS, while others have been scams or failed to deliver on their promises.
  • ICOs have faced increasing regulatory scrutiny, and some countries have banned them altogether.
  • The emergence of alternative fundraising methods, such as Security Token Offerings (STOs), may provide a more regulated and secure option for raising capital through blockchain technology.

SuperMoney may receive compensation from some or all of the companies featured, and the order of results are influenced by advertising bids, with exception for mortgage and home lending related products. Learn more

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