Initial Coin Offerings (ICO)
The introduction of Bitcoin in 2009 gave us resources and infrastructure to transact primitive digital tokens of value (bitcoin in the event of the Bitcoin blockchain) over the open public internet without trusted intermediaries. However, so as to create new tokens one either needed to scale and deploy a new blockchain network (likely forked from Bitcoin), or problem tokens on top of an existing blockchain network like Bitcoin (through metadata encoded into raw transactions). The former was an uphill struggle due to challenges of scaling and achieving network effects to get a new blockchain, and the latter was challenging due to the complexities of trying to encode sufficient information related to new tokens into raw Bitcoin transactions. Neither model was perfect.
But with the introduction of Ethereum in 2015 arrived the the Ethereum blockchain not only provided the infrastructure for transacting primitive digital tokens (ether in this case) but also provided the capability for easily creating and autonomously managing other secondary electronic tokens of value within the open public internet without reliable intermediaries.
Applying this concept of smart contracts, which can be effectively applications running a top a decentralized network, tokens can be generated and allocated to users, and made to be readily tradable. This process of creating tokens and distributing them to customers in exchange for a network’s primitive electronic token (cryptocurrency) is called an ICO process, and can be viewed as a novel distribution channel for assets.
Not all tokens are created equal
This post Isn’t supposed to be an introduction to the technically rich world of cryptography, blockchains and consensus mechanisms, for which there are numerous excellent entry level resources. However, the key point to bear in mind is that secondary tokens are not like primitive tokens (cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ether) that are inherent to the “structural integrity” of a blockchain network.
Open peer-to-peer worth transfer networks, for example Bitcoin or Ethereum, need to endure complex attack vectors within an open hostile environment – where all parties (hosting or accessing the community) are assumed to be self interested and focused on optimizing their own value. In this scenario the key question is how do all parties be incentivized to work for the greater good of securing the community while fulfilling their self-interest. This leads us into the real innovation of this blockchain network, the primitive token (or cryptocurrency).
In addition to being the subject of transaction between parties On the network (the users), the crude token is also used to incentive key parties competing to reach consensus (the miners) as quickly as possible on the state of this blockchain ledger (i.e. who owns what primitive token). The reward for securing the network and reaching consensus is either new supply of crude tokens or transaction fees. In this model, trust is made from mistrust through expending energy in the mining process, which makes the violation of the “sanctity of the blockchain ledger” costly and economically unfavorable to the option of procuring the system and being rewarded in the native store of value for the effort of doing this . It is a self-contained system that is simple and beautiful in its implementation, and requires no more controls and rules than are necessary.
Here you can see the core purpose and the unique nature of a cryptocurrency, and why it is fundamental to a blockchain network: cryptocurrency is the atomic element where the open public blockchain network is forged. On the other hand a secondary token, that is made in addition to a blockchain network, is merely a representation of some “property rights” that may (or may not) be external to the blockchain e.g. “real world assets” or access to products/services.
Inherent blockchain and its cryptocurrency to create and issue (through an ICO procedure) secondary tokens for any purpose, but this only uses the open public blockchain as an independent “custody or notarization” data layer.
ICO and token issuance
Among the most obvious and natural use cases for ICO based Secondary token issuances is to represent some form of conventional security e.g. equity, debt, participation in profit sharing, etc.. In addition to issuance, allocation and transferability being programmed into an immutable smart arrangement, one can also predefine a set of events like cash flow rules which could be triggered either at set times or by particular external events. There are a number of reasons why a public blockchain infrastructure is logical for the issuance and management of financial securities, which are mostly associated with custody regulations around how client money and asset are managed through their life cycle.
However, since the “offer and sale” of securities is in and Of itself highly controlled, many models have been devised by startups to allow the issuance of tokens through an ICO distribution version whilst not falling afoul of securities regulations. As well as the question around whether a token is a security or not there are also lots of other unanswered questions related to tax of capital gains and KYC/AML rules. These are a few of the regulatory and statutory financial considerations which are currently an ongoing area of development and appraisal.
Recent SEC investigative report, these aspects will be the most crucial on how ICO And the issued tokens are classified by regulators globally.