So you think you’ve come to terms with blockchain? Finally! You’ve had your eureka moment and now you’re out in the streets in your bath towel telling the whole neighborhood about it. But five minutes later, just as the cold hits you, you start doubting again. You almost got to the end of a book to do with Distributed Ledger Technology, which you think you understood then but can’t now. You read about Initial Coin Offerings until your eyes turned red and you even invested in a few (the less said about that the better).
The universe of blockchain is scattered with three-letter abbreviations and such rapid change that it is an almost full-time occupation just staying informed. And now along comes another three-letter abbreviation, another initial “offering” of some kind. But this one is something to do with exchanges, not coins. Intrigued? Try to keep up.
A very short backstory of all things blockchain so we can all start on the same ledger.
Blockchain technology burst onto the scene with Bitcoin in 2009. The key aspect of a blockchain is DLT (Distributed Ledger Technology) which maintains a decentralized public list of all network transactions as opposed to the previous model of a centralised - and hence secret - database. Whereas transactions through a bank must rely on that institution as the “trusted third party”, blockchains ensure that this third party is spread across a network of nodes. “Miners” enable and maintain the blockchain in exchange for rewards in a certain cryptocurrency. Through transparency, the aim is to guarantee trust through incorruptibility.
The potential of blockchain technology soon spread from a pure digital form of cash like Bitcoin to more specific use-cases such as smart contracts. These allow for the execution and even negotiation of contracts between two or more parties without the need for a physical intermediary to guarantee the contract. This trusted third-party is programmed into the blockchain itself. As the original, Ethereum is perhaps the best example of this, acting as a platform for others to build their own specific smart contract projects.
As the early blockchain pioneers increased, so did the accompanying ecosystem. A staggering number of ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings) appeared from around 2015, peeking in 2017 to 2018. As with anything popular, especially in an unknown and unregulated space, many of these projects were poorly conceived of or just scams. Projects were launched on their own websites, where they sold tokens of their own cryptocurrency, regardless of whether the aim was to be a pure digital currency or something with more real world application.
The term ICO closely mimics the long-established IPO (Initial Public Offering) for companies going “public” or “floating” on the stock exchange through the sale of shares of equity. The difference was that there were no rules in this new Wild West of blockchain startups. A huge number of these ICOs turned out to be fraudulent, while many more just failed through hasty and poorly-run teams. As such, ICOs quickly earned a reputation for being highly risky. Peaking in February 2018 with over 1,500, a year later by February 2019 they had almost completely died out as a method for blockchain crowdfunding.
Enter our new friend IEO
Initial Exchange Offerings grew into the vacuum left by the suspicion of ICOs, but also played an active role in hastening the end of the ICO age. Their appeal is in the increased level of trust they offer buyers of crypto tokens. So what has changed with this switch from Coin to Exchange?
Well, it’s pretty straightforward. The place where tokens are bought or exchanged has moved from the website of the blockchain project to an exchange site.
But let’s rewind to crypto exchanges
To back up a bit, exchange sites grew up alongside the rise of Bitcoin and the increase of new cryptocurrencies. Here, people could buy cryptocurrencies with fiat (“normal money” - USD, EUR, GBP and so on) or exchange directly between various cryptocurrencies. More recently, as official regulation of cryptocurrencies is catching up with the industry, these exchange sites have tended to fall into two categories: regulated fiat to crypto exchanges and the wilder and more unregulated crypto to crypto alt-coin exchanges (alt-coins include all the thousands of smaller cryptocurrencies, which generally exclude the big three of Bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin).
These exchanges are important in our story because they stepped in to offer a solution to the general suspicion of ICOs. What they were betting on was that launching a blockchain project’s token offering on their exchange instead of on a standalone website would increase trust. And as IEOs increased in frequency and popularity, while ICOs dwindled, it became clear that they had been right.
The IEO model is based on a mutually profitable crypto triangle. First there is the project or company that wants to sell their token to raise funds to develop further. By partnering with an exchange, they ensure a level of credibility that they could not get if they sold tokens directly to buyers.
This also saves a huge amount of resources on the software development and marketing required to independently host an ICO. The fee that startups have to pay to exchanges for the IEO is almost always significantly less.
Then they are also immediately listed on an exchange, which - depending on the exchange - hugely increases the likelihood that people will buy their tokens (the ease of purchase and exchange of cytocurrenices is called “liquidity”).
That should give the team more time and resources to get on with what they are trying to develop, instead of desperately trying to get listed on an exchange, as was the case back in the days of ICOs.
IEOs are also great opportunities to invest in some up and coming projects. ATAIX IEO offers users with a project in mind with the opportunity to list their project and get funding while offering other users an opportunity to explore some new projects they might be interested in investing in.