Blog: Crypto fundraising
Initial Coin Offerings

6 Key Ways Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) Have Evolved Over Time

6 Key Ways Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) Have Evolved Over Time
Written by
Milad Mirshahi
Published on
October 31, 2023

The journey of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) has been a rollercoaster ride, starting from its modest beginnings, experiencing a significant surge, and then confronting growing regulations. This article delves into the progression of ICOs as a novel fundraising strategy that revolutionized the way blockchain enterprises raised capital. It also provides insights derived from their history to shed light on potential future trends of token sales in the ever-evolving digital asset domain.

Key Takeaways

  • The ICO market has evolved significantly since its inception in 2013, with various successes and challenges faced along the way.
  • Regulatory responses have varied across countries to protect investors from fraud and scams while providing a clear framework for token sales.
  • Security Token Offerings (STOs) offer an increasingly secure and compliant alternative to traditional Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), emphasizing the need for transparency, compliance, investor protection & adherence to regulations.

The Birth of ICOs

Crypto assets being used in Initial Public Offering (IPO) on the blockchain technology

Initial coin offerings (ICOs) emerged in the early days of the cryptocurrency market as a groundbreaking alternative to traditional initial public offering processes. Mastercoin, now known as Omni, initiated these ICOs in 2013 and created an innovative way for blockchain-based, new ventures, to access financial resources by issuing tokens or coins. This concept was made possible through distributed ledger technology and smart contracts, which served as the driving forces behind this innovative fundraising method. With the advent of financial technology, ICOs provided a fresh alternative to traditional approaches.

Early ICO Successes

 early ICO successes and how icos have evolved over time

The successes of Ethereum and Filecoin, which led to substantial funding being raised and potential investors earning a considerable return on their investment, had an immense effect on the ICO landscape. Through capital gathered from this successful venture, they recruited developers who went on to create the widely used smart contracts now known today. This innovation triggered what would eventually be dubbed “the ICO boom.”

While this emerging industry showed promising growth, it was not without problems. These included a lack of clarity due to information asymmetry regarding investing in these projects and the scarcity of regulations governing them. These challenges continue to be relevant for many investors considering involvement with initial coin offerings.

Challenges Faced

The ICO market experienced difficulties, such as an absence of regulations and fraudulent projects. An investigation unveiled that 80% of the ICOs during their surge period were said to be a scam, thus giving investors cause for concern regarding investing in cryptocurrency assets. From January to June 2018, ICOs managed to raise roughly $7 billion, indicating the power of these offerings in entrepreneurial finance markets. This figure underscores the need for tighter protective measures for ICO investors, given the limited knowledge about token investability at the time.

These issues have heavily influenced the future of ICOs, primarily sparking new fundraising initiatives like Security Token Offerings (STOs) and presales, along with the implementation of regulatory structures to ensure investor security when participating in initial coin offering opportunities.

The ICO Boom

The ICO boom 2017 saw an influx in the number and value of these initial coin offerings, driven by a high rate of return expectancy and interest around blockchain technology. Investors were excited to capitalize on this trend by buying these digital assets, but the fear of scams and regulatory uncertainties started to raise doubts about the viability of such investment opportunities. This led to regulatory bodies like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) increasing their oversight and introducing stricter regulations to protect investors from fraudulent activities and to regulate exchanges dealing with ICOs.

High-Profile ICOs

Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) with potential investors

Investors saw big profits from ICOs like Aave, Cosmos, and Brave Browser. These ICOs used utility tokens to allow access to their platforms and services. The success of these ICOs led to more oversight from regulators. They created rules to protect investors and ensure compliance with securities laws. Well-known projects like Ethereum, EOS, Filecoin, Tezos, and Bancor showed how fintech can be used to raise capital, despite financial regulations. They also proved they could deliver value to their investors.

Fraud and Scams

Fraud and scams related to Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs)

Due to the rise in ICOs, fraudulent and deceptive practices were commonly used to entice investors into investing their capital in illegitimate projects. This involved schemes such as Ponzi, pump and dump strategies, or exit scams. To combat this problem, regulatory bodies took steps towards regulating these entities. Focusing on investor protection by providing clarity regarding legal standing when raising financial resources through Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). The goal was to safeguard vulnerable individuals from being taken advantage of while simultaneously granting them access to secure investments platforms.

Regulatory Responses

Regulatory policies related to financial regulation

As the ICO market developed, various international regulatory measures were put in place to protect investors from fraudulent activities and create a clear framework for token sales. These regulations focused on distinguishing security tokens and utility tokens, which reflected the globally recognized importance of blockchain technology.

The variation of these policies has provided an extensive look into best practices when it comes to managing ICOs across different countries. Some are open-minded about this tech while others have enacted harsh restrictions or complete bans altogether. Regardless, all government authorities’ decisions indicate their commitment towards fostering safety within crypto investments..

Security vs. Utility Tokens

Investors need to be assured of their protection, which is why regulators sought out a suitable framework for ICOs. As part of this initiative they distinguished between security tokens and utility tokens. The former being connected with investment in tangible assets and subject to appropriate securities regulation, whereas the latter allows access within blockchain platforms but don’t require such stringent laws. Through providing these guidelines it enabled investors peace-of-mind whilst still allowing utilisation of a utility token giving users an efficient experience.

Global Approaches

In order to get a comprehensive overview of the best practices and guidelines for token sales, diverse approaches have been taken when it comes to regulating ICOs. In America, The Security Exchange Commission mandated that any ICO must follow current securities laws in place. Switzerland created the “Crypto Valley” which is a very supportive environment for these kinds of projects while Singapore released directions covering information disclosure and needs as well as Anti-Money Laundering (AML) & Know Your Customer(KYC). All this shows just how globalized blockchain technology has become nowadays.

The Rise of Security Token Offerings (STOs)

Security Token Offerings (STOs) with advantages

Security Token Offerings (STOs) have been created as a more regulated and reliable means of raising capital. These token offerings present investors ownership or investment opportunities through security tokens, making them subject to securities regulations. Through STO’s, real-world assets can be used as collateral for the issued tokens providing additional confidence and assurance that investments are secure from potential scams and frauds. They offer enhanced transparency & liquidity since these types of offering usually take place on certified exchanges.

The introduction of this model clearly shows that the industry is making strides in addressing the issues that arose during the ICO era, while simultaneously offering an alternative fundraising method that provides stronger protections for all parties involved: companies can raise funds securely, and investors can rest assured that their money won’t disappear overnight with no legal recourse available.

Advantages of STOs

Token sales through STOs have become increasingly popular in the fundraising process due to their regulatory compliance and investor protection. Issuers of these types of tokens are required to provide extensive information about the project, including financial statements, business plans and legal documents. This allows investors to make informed decisions when investing capital. The transparency offered by STO token sales promotes safer investments as it helps safeguard investors from fraud or any other risks associated with traditional ICOs.

Examples of Successful STOs

The viability of token sales as a method for raising capital, abiding by regulations, and providing investors with value has been shown through the success stories of STOs such as tZERO and Nexo. tZERO is an exchange on which companies can issue security tokens that are compliant with all pertinent regulatory requirements while Nexo is designed to give customers access to immediate crypto-backed loans. This highlights the untapped potential in the realm of blockchain development, especially concerning digital assets and investor protection solutions. It underscores the significant role STOs can play in expanding capital sources and strengthening trust within the broader investment community.

Lessons Learned from the ICO Era

Entrepreneurial finance markets with token sales and Security Token Offerings (STOs)

The ICO phase provided a wealth of insight for the industry’s growth, providing valuable guidance on how to properly execute token sales. The events that occurred during this period revealed just how vital transparency and investor protection are when it comes to such initiatives. These realizations have formed the basis for newer financial models like STOs, which make strides towards establishing more secure and compliant methods in regards to these transactions within our blockchain ecosystem. Moving forward, the knowledge gained from past experiences will serve as a guide to navigate future challenges more effectively.

Best Practices for Future Token Sales

For the successful execution of future token sales, it's crucial to incorporate certain best practices. These include creating comprehensive whitepapers that clearly articulate the project's goals, helping potential investors make well-informed decisions. Having a team of seasoned professionals with relevant expertise who are transparent about their skills and experiences can help foster trust among potential token buyers. Additionally, having credible advisors can further enhance trustworthiness. Adherence to regulations like KYC/AML checks and compliance with securities laws will also be beneficial for any upcoming token sales.

The Future of ICOs

While the ICO market has encountered a myriad of hurdles, it retains potential as a fundraising tool, provided there is adequate regulatory supervision to safeguard investors. The future of token sales and the blockchain sector appears bright, with an emphasis on transparency and compliance to ensure investor safety. The lessons learned from past experiences will be instrumental in shaping this future, and with the proper precautions in place, the ICO market could thrive. The rise of new models like presales and ongoing innovation in the crypto space further bolsters this optimistic outlook.


The landscape of token sales, ICOs, and the blockchain ecosystem has witnessed a remarkable evolution. Early ICO successes sparked rapid growth. However, the introduction of regulatory structures has since transformed the landscape. With a focus on investor protection, transparency, and compliance, these new regulations are reshaping the industry. The ongoing transformation of the token sale landscape is poised to unlock immense potential for future models. This shift could redefine the mechanisms by which blockchain-based enterprises secure capital, introducing new investment opportunities in the cryptocurrency sector.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the history of crypto ICO?

The concept of an ICO was first introduced by J.R Willett in his white paper, 'The Second Bitcoin White Paper', back in 2012. The first actual token sale was conducted by Mastercoin in July 2013, with Ethereum following suit a few years later, raising an equivalent of approximately $18.3 million with 31,000 BTC during their token sale.

This marked the beginning of a new era in fundraising, with blockchain-based businesses frequently launching successful Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) or Token Sales from 2014 onwards, attracting a significant number of participants.

Why are ICOs so popular?

The ability to generate and distribute tokens, such as ERC-20s, with lightning speed in a 24/7 global market has made ICOs attractive. This unique feature of ICOs has revolutionized the fundraising process in the blockchain industry. Unlike traditional methods of raising capital, which are often time-consuming and involve a lot of bureaucratic procedures, ICOs offer a quick and efficient way to raise funds for a project. ICOs operate round-the-clock, breaking the barriers of time zones and geographical locations, making it possible for anyone, anywhere in the world, to invest in a project they believe in. This global reach has not only democratized the fundraising process but has also opened up new opportunities for projects to tap into a larger pool of potential investors. Furthermore, the use of tokens, like ERC-20s, provides investors with a tangible asset that can be traded or used within the project's ecosystem, adding another layer of appeal to this innovative fundraising model.

How much was raised from ICOs?

During the initial half of 2018, ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings) generated around $7 billion. By November 2019, this amount had more than doubled, reaching over 14.8 billion in total funds, showcasing the significant financial power of these offerings within the cryptocurrency industry.

What was the first ICO?

The Mastercoin project, now referred to as Omni and the first ever ICO (Initial Coin Offering), shook up the concept of fundraising in 2013. The innovative undertaking revolutionized how we look at investing for profit. This marked the beginning of a new era of fundraising strategies, bypassing traditional methods such as venture capital and instead, offering a way for projects to directly raise capital from a global pool of investors. The idea was simple yet profound - create a digital token that could be bought, sold, and traded on blockchain-based platforms. This token, in exchange for an investor's capital, would give the investor some form of stake or benefit in the project, depending on the terms of the ICO. This new approach to fundraising was not only innovative but also democratized access to investment opportunities, allowing anyone with internet access to participate in backing a project they believed in. This was a significant departure from traditional investing, which was often limited to accredited or institutional investors. The Mastercoin project, in launching the first ICO, thus paved the way for a new wave of blockchain-based fundraising that would go on to disrupt the venture capital industry and change the landscape of startup financing.

What are the main differences between security tokens and utility tokens?

Utility tokens are not regarded as an investment, but rather they give users access to particular products and services. Consequently, such tokens do not fall under the same regulations that apply to security tokens, making them more accessible for a broader range of people. Security tokens on the other hand represent ownership or financial stake in some physical asset meaning their circulation is restricted by necessary regulatory measures.

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