150 ICOs agree on the 11 things you need to do to run a great ICO
From November 2017 through March 2018 I’ve been collecting insights from my LinkedIn connections, asking them about their ICO experiences.
I’d love to know more about your ICO experience. What did you do best in your ICO that no-one else has? What was the biggest surprise? What went wrong that you least expected? I’ll share the aggregated results of these questions with you when done, and thank you so much in advance.
I asked people in different roles covering founders, legal, technical, marketing. Represented here are people from more than 120 projects, from more than 15 countries.
I learned a lot about ICOs, which I shared in my post, are you for hire? I also learned a lot about how to run a great ICO. What surprised me most about the responses I’ve received so far is that there is hardly any contradictory advice. Almost all responses fit neatly into eleven categories, with the only tensions being: the use of advisors (some advocate some do not) and the use of telegram channels (some say essential, some useless).
If you want to share your ICO experience please find me David Atkinson on LinkedIn. If you want access to the complete data set please let me know and we can discuss your project and your needs. The following is kept mostly in quote format, with brief reflections. This is so that you can get to know the space better without any verbal flourishes or salesman type language impeding understanding.
The 11 things to do to run a great ICO
Of all the things I learned from this survey, a few big points came up over and over again:
- Know yourself & your product
- Get your community right
- Make your big investors happy / Build partnerships and relationships with funds
- Make your team work
- Product not vision
- Timing is everything
- Cross your I’s and dot your T’s
- Crypto is a business not just a movement
- Misinformation is so much easier online
- Find the right forum to build awareness
- Sort out security
1. Know yourself & your product
This point seems so obvious, but it is only 18 months ago that you could publish a slideshow and smart contract, scramble a 2m raise and watch your ETH grow 100x. The bar is higher now. There is huge competition, there are the frequent rises and falls of bitcoin and ether and there is a lot of money and constant chatter. Everyone has an idea of what you should be doing and how you should be communicating. Your community does, your team does, the regulator does, your advisers do, you crypto investors do. But you need to know what you want to achieve and how you want to do it. Remember, you are trying to build a currency or an ecosystem that actually works so make the fundraise work for the ecosystem you want to build and not the other way around.
- What we did best was staying firm on our beliefs and not give up to peer pressure.
- It really helped to have all relevant know-how in house as we never fully relied on advisors.
- We were probably the first to give our token holders the opportunity to own a participating token that will bring them passive income. This has helped to increase the market’s confidence in our company that we are for real and not merely scammers.
- Hi David, one of the thing that we did good was management of community. With ICO I consider there are 3 thing that are important: of course idea needs to be good, quality of the whitepaper and management of your community. Of course it also helps if you do the road show and you get recognition that way. Selecting good advisors also helps. We had a hick-up at the beginning with quality of the whitepaper but we recognized the problem and corrected it very fast.
- There is no hidden things or tricks, just keep high quality of the offered services. The market will do the rest — the most obvious in the most non-obvious way. :-)
- Do it yourself — We hired a platform for the ICO that was much less involved than we originally thought they would be and left us to learn many things on our own (community management, bookbuilding, refunds, marketing).
- ICO Professional people are not really what they say are, verify before taking on board.
- Many people will reach you saying they will deliver things who will not do anything you need to pick up and complete all on your own.
- You will be hit by many marketing people stay away.
- There are lots and lots of individuals and agencies that will send you offers some very expensive and don’t guarantee anything.
- Humbly I would say that you need a strong hype around your project and explain very directly your business model.
2. Get your community right
At the core you need to have a product or service that a lot of people want to build on top of and ultimately use. Nurture this community, be honest with them, keep in regular contact and give them means to communicate. If you can do this then you can survive challenges like bad timing and you don’t have to rely on whales to gobble up supply.
Some notes on building a community: bounties don’t work in most cases, communities love telegram, you need to build up users of the product or service before launching and you need to give people a reason to love what you do.
- What went wrong? The ICO bubble popped the industry went from 90% of icos capping to 90% failing. Thankfully our community was strong enough to pull us through to a successful sale.
- We had a bounty campin with around 10 000 participants and we didn’t get much result from that. As we talked to other companies they had marketing budget around half a million usd. At marketing we learned that it’s better to pay people with 10k followers than 1M followers because their audience will listen to them more.
- What was the biggest surprise? The genuine interest of some subscribers, beyond the mere speculative intention of getting rich in two days.
- The biggest surprise was the cryptocurrency community’s interest in multi level marketing. Not only we did not anticipate the rate of influx of users from referrals, many people joined our official support chat specifically asking for how our referral system worked.
- We did nothing best, but we did manage to sell a lot without whales, russian oligarchs, etcs. We did not expect our bounty/rewards program to be such a pain in the ass.
- Something I would definitely do for next time: Build up your community early.
- Another good take away that we found was making sure to own up to mistakes. Putting them out to investors and the public makes sure the investors remember that the people running the ICO are human and mistakes will be made. We were overwhelmed by messages of support and gratitude for always keeping everyone in the loop. The team has always stayed very grounded and has tried to totally involve themselves with their community making sure people can get in touch any time they want and it will go straight to someone who will read and respond personally. I hope these small points help with your ICO and any more questions please don’t hesitate to get in contact with me.
- I suppose the main difference has been our focus on 100% real-time communication with the community, which helps to create trust and respect. We found that to be our biggest benefit. There is a bit of worry and mystery about crypto by the general public and we feel engagement and transparency is the best way to overcome that.
- In the run up to the ICO I was involved in, we were meticulous about the website and spent hours worrying about what it should say. The bonus for us was that everybody who might participate knew what it was within 5 seconds of loading, and the ladies could learn within 2 minutes by watching our video. Make your message super clear. Your initial line is OK (“where the crowd is the cloud”) but it could be clearer (“Using our platform, anyone can become and be paid to be a cloud host!”)
- Don’t fuss about writing perfect advertisement copy, the data from the company I was involved in demonstrates this is not a benefit to you. Just tell people what the product is and why its cool.
- Compare against things people know about. Why would I choose to develop for this instead of for Ethereum or AWS or IOTA or Fabric or IPFS or…? Tell people what is already done (“the HOLO hosting service is prepared for launch! Download for Windows, Linux, Mac, iOS, Android, etc…”). Avoid making claims you cannot justify. Your video on the main page is literally just talking about virtue, about how you need a true “crowd” for the product to succeed. You are clearly pandering to Reddit bros who rage about whales. I actually agree with the video that incentives in most ICOs are a problem and break everything… I just don’t think that’s why the product is cool, even if its true. Also, no participant is required to believe you. I think you should instead demonstrate practical applications of what your building and the opportunities you are affording both developers and posters that incentivizes them to be excited.
- Do things nobody else has done to gain attention and reputation in the market quickly.
- Hiring community management teams that preformed robotic like answer and weren’t what I would call “true community managers.” They answered the questions from customer only using our FAQ and there wasn’t engagement on a higher level. Thus we fired them and switched to a new firm.
- Have support model in place to address your social media and TG 24/7.
- Remember organic and word of mouth growth is much better than having hype and not having engagement in the channel.
- Promoting on big telegram groups like @decenter (100k subscribers) from Russia or @Tradingcryptocoach (134k subscribers) it’s not that helpful as it sounds. Our goal was not only to show a short message about our project but more to gain some telegram users on our channel and the results were bad to very bad.
3. Make your big investors happy / Build partnerships and relationships with funds
An ecosystem may like having whales, institutional investors, lots of small participants, participation from an existing community as the primary fundraisers.
The comments below reflect different perspectives from ICOs depending on the amount of money, type of product or service and type of community they are looking to build.
- Something that came in handy at the end of our token sale: having a clear database of interested investors and knowing where they were in the investment process. By signing up to our mailchimp to get the link to our token sale page we knew we had a captive audience. By registering at our token sale page again we could see who had begun the process. Then of course we could see who had actually pulled the trigger and bought tokens. At the end of the sale I could target each group more effectively.
- One of the first things we learned was to make sure you listen to potential investors. They are the people who will become your own marketers and will drive your business forward so making sure they feel they are heard is vital.
- Biggest Surprise: Token Sales are a lot more similar to a traditional funding round than you might think. Small fish make up a very small share of token holders.
- The most important is the project and the use of the token, add to that a good communication with good commercial support and you have the keys to success. ;-)
- Hi, when we look back at the result we achieved and comparing it to others whom had closed their ico, we felt it was an error for not engaging the Chinese market more than we could.
- Hi David, we created a big community, but we lacked advisors and big investors. That’s all you need to success.
- Don’t believe in the crowd. You need to contact whale investors before the beginning of the crowdsale.
- Transparency and demography are the best factor we have to lead to a successful ICO
- Roadshow is crucial, be present and speak to the people. They have to see you. No one wants to invest in project where you can not see the people behind. This will also help you because you could get some ideas and if you will be in delay you will much easier calm them down because they will know there is a real time behind.
- Have all details in place from day 1, even a person who is coming in with 0.1 ETH also talks like he is BOSS and we have to address them.
4. Make your team work
Crypto-startups can be more distributed, more anarchic, more complex and experience greater uncertainty than most startups given the vagaries of the crypto ecosystem. Many ICOs struggled with communication, building a strong team and creating a team that can last beyond the ICO.
This is common to all organisations but not really discussed in the normal ICO wash-ups. Take it seriously and get it right.
- The biggest surprise was how different the crypto industry is in regards to the most common corporate culture. Everything can go wrong at any time during an ICO and there are never sufficient measures you can take to prevent something going wrong.
- I’ve been part of an ICO team for some weeks but it didn’t work really. Basically after the ICO started I’ve been completely ignored. The founders didn’t send any message or communication. Maybe because the ICO didn’t collected the expected amount, so they were obliged to downsize the project. I would say that the whole experience was quite negative even if interesting for many reasons.
- Its better to use own/inhouse bounty managers — because a lot of token frauds happens during distribution. But I think you know it even without my advice.
- Hey David — the only thing of note that’s worth sharing was the time the client wanted me to 10x the token supply AFTER the crowdsale was done. Ended up having to issue ~2000 extra transactions (costing many hundreds of dollars) to adjust everyone’s balances. Not really what I’d call a “trustless” setup. :-\
- The second challenge is that we didn’t have a project manager. This is the person who helps the developers and marketing team communicate ideas better and to manage tasks effectively.
- The second challenge for me was being far away from the core team. Thankfully Tallinn and Moscow are almost in the same time zone but still being far away — it was difficult to solve problems fast and to communicate ideas.
5. Product not vision
Gone are the days you can run an ICO off a shitty powerpoint. The most successful ICOs have a product that exists, that people can play with and ideally with users, not just a vision.
- There are hundreds ICOs that are all active all at the same time. You have to stand out somehow. I wish we had got listed on an exchange and developed an MVP at the very beginning.
- I always recommend people build a product first. I understand the motivation of doing an ICO is to help fund the vision, but that’s the kind of behaviour securities commissions are literally designed to prevent. Find some initial capital and build a solid and feature rich first iteration for people to use the token with. If you can sell hardware when certain amounts of tokens are purchased, that would be a HUGE bonus for you: it would be as if you are doing a TRUE product launch! Honestly, it really comes down to setup and advertisement. Most ICOs spend upwards of $100k lower bound on advertising, and you will need this kind of traffic. I looked over your site. I spent 5 minutes on it and still didn’t really understand exactly what your product is. It’s… a blockchain? A cloud app platform? It has a hardware component to it? When you advertise, you are driving people to this site, and leaving them with lots of questions.
- What’s your companies product? Our company has real viable product with software, hardware, and IP Content. We have partnerships with multi billion dollar brands such as Apple, etc. We have annual revenue with a scalable product and a proven track record. Our linked talent are global entertainment brands which will directly benefit by the ICO. I cannot find anything similar for Halo? If there is no annual revenue in the millions, no viable product, etc, then any launched ICO is worthless. I hope this is not your case. The only info I found makes no sense for Halo. Maybe you have a better website to share? Ok found your site. I misunderstood your name! You are selling a crowd funded theory and a ‘port’. Probably your largest challenge will be marketing! If you don’t raise millions for marketing like the sharing economies have in platforms such as Airbnb, then your growth is limited. Are you restricted to those who buy your ‘Holoport’? Do you have any major businesses supporting and using your coin?
6. Timing is everything
For every quarter when bitcoin and altcoins rise and rise there are many more months when regulation changes, banking feedback, holiday season, tax notifications, scandals, pump and dumps, general economy, internal infighting, forks, jurisdiction support all drive down the price of ETH and other coins which reduces crypto activity and makes crypto holders feel stressed and poor.
Launching your ICO through a sustained period of excitement and growth is ideal. How can you find it? Impossible, it’s just luck.
If you can take care of the vision, the product and the community perhaps you can overcome any timing issues.
- Biggest surprise was all the crypto drama, I think we endured 2 hard forks between btc and eth, plus segwit 2x being canceled.
- Hi David, thanks for your mail. I’ve been on vacation hence the delay in reply but. Basically the only problem we had was the timing of the ICO which took place shortly after China banned all ICO’s and Bitcoin tanked.
- Timing is everything. Use Kickstarter statistics for your base-case when predicting success. There are no rules for ICOs so overconfidence is your only enemy.
- What I was not expecting was the overall market context. Although we were oversubscribed during private investment, and we turned down investors, when the public sale started the contributions were very small due to the overall market context that was not at all favorable. What I learned from that is that timing is very important. If you launch a public sale on a bull market you will have no problems, instead on a bearish market surprises might appear.
- I think we were more honest than most. We narrowed the scope of the project and returned all of the ETH we gathered. The smart contract had the ETH locked up for a time, so we bought ETH with out own money and manually sent it to each address. The biggest surprise was that we failed. We launched in somewhat of a winter for ICOs. Most ICOs before that had succeeded. We were on the cusp of quite a bad period. I am very proud to say that we returned all the money though, and we’re still going to be able to deliver a product and make our early adopters happy.
- Just, fortunately we have a good chance through preparing to ICO such as rumor and big hype.
7. Cross your i’s and dot your t’s
Whether it is KYC, AML, banking applications, terms and conditions, legal, regulatory, website text, SEC implications, smart contract you need to be clear in what you are doing and triple check everything.
You can get carried away by focusing on chasing money or telling a story but you need to have your infrastructure and business thinking in order to avoid unnecessary complications and to move from ICO into operations quickly.
- Be careful with KYC, the best way is to make manually check every result.
- The legal counsel forgot to submit our project to FINMA (the Swiss regulator), and we had to scramble to setup another entity for the ICO.
- Something that can go wrong with a organisation having an ICO is the trust and understanding between team members because when things go sideways, it’s the team that can get everything done.
- We also are comfortably operating within the scope of US law, thanks to a credible team of ex-SEC lawyers.
- Plan plan plan. Get your lawyers over everything. Max out your exposure on socials, be prepared for FUD (it stings)… and stock up on coffee! Good luck.
- Be careful with purchasing traffic. Do not sell tokens to US and Singapore citizens.
- And mind changing regulatory practises (e.g. KYC/AML, taxes) early, reacting in post is quite time-consuming.
- Contact some professionals and ask them to review your whitepaper and your general idea. You can also ask them to be your advisor. They can help to find out your strengths and your weaknesses.
- I will also say the same thing I say to everybody else: do your legal homework. I see you’ve used some language that scares me, such as “invest with us”. While I love that honesty, it shows me that either I shouldn’t participate (because you are selling a security, which is illegal for me to purchase from you in Canada) or you aren’t aware of the legal details. I know several individuals running companies who decided to act only on good faith believing that the regulatory environment would leave them alone are now being investigated by securities commissions or have lawsuits against them.
- What I find a bit disturbing in most ICOs is the echo chamber that oftentimes occurs when it comes to regulatory compliance. One guy (usually someone with a bit of regulatory compliance law under their belt) says that the ICO doesn’t need to be registered with the SEC. Everyone else then starts nodding their heads and goes forward full steam ahead!! Last month, SEC Commissioner Clayton said that not one ICO had registered its securities with the SEC! Further, the SEC is on the war path and has made it very clear that it is going to take down ICOs with unregistered securities offerings … which the SEC views as pretty much 100% of ICOs. Yikes!! The real problem here is that the SEC will force the ICO companies that issued unregistered tokens (that they view as securities) to “reissue” the securities. This involves buying back the securities — not at the issue price but the current fair market value — which in the process bankrupts nearly all issuers unless they are huge companies that can absorb the loss.
- Hello David, the biggest surprise was the number of registrations that hit us the first hours/days. Be ready, and make sure you get some Customer Support ready as well. Transferring ETH takes time and your investors don’t know that.
- We also had tons of trouble with the IcoBox software, that was not sufficient for a good KYC data gathering.
- We had a great care for security and kyc system. We developed in house a fully scalable kyc system that was both secure and very efficient.
8. Crypto is a business not just a movement
It can feel like everybody in the crypto world wants to take your money. 1 ETH for a feature article, 2 ETH to list on an ICO website, tokens for advisors, marketing scams. Be clear about what you want, why you want it and what you are willing to pay. Everything in the crypto world has a price.
- What surprised us the most is how greedy some websites/companies are when you are trying to get your ICO listed, or generate some traction around your ICO. We understand that it is a business opportunity for some people, and we have no problem with that, but a lot of them are trying to sell you something at a high price, when they are actually offering nothing at all in exchange.
- What went wrong that you least expected? The fraudulent intentions of some people who participated in the initial Bounty program. That was before my time, I come to the team after that and now I just try to deal with some of these guys. If you go to launch a Bounty Program, beware of this scammers. Hope this could be useful for you. Good luck.
- The least expected issue was reaching out to the bitcointalk community. We overlooked the detail that you need to have certain amount of credits at bitcointalk.org in order to post images or banners in your post.
- What went wrong that you least expected? An issue with an influencer that created negative press.
- You should have a big legal advisor, we have KPMG, one of the best.
- Something I would do differently: rethink the bonus/discount structure to prevent a slow down of sales at the end of sale. By, for example, have more tokens at a tier one discount.
- There are lots of scammers on the marketing side of ICOs too. For example, once I got an offer from a Swiss media firm to help us with publicity. The company rep offered to publish one of our article for us, and even went so far as to create an invoice with the company information. It turned out he scammed us and never planned to publish it. I hunted down the CEO and he tried to scam me as well. When I found his real name and info about him, he finally published the articles.
9. Misinformation is so much easier online
Imagine you are waiting to participate in an ICO. You sign up to the whitelist, you join the telegram and slack channel. On the day you have messages on slack, telegram and email telling you what to do. You have official messages telling you to ignore other messages. Who do you trust? Who do you believe?
When you are alone on your laptop misinformation is the greatest security threat you face.
- What went wrong is that, we feel some “competitors” sent some trolls on our social media channels to try and discredit us by crying scam or whatnot, when we are one of the few ICO with an existing product (understand here, not a development project, but something that works and has been beta-tested, etc…). This was a low blow for us, and we did not foresee that kind of actions.
- Then the people trying to scam other people by impersonating / spoofing our site, therefore getting investors to send them Ethers and Coins. Lots of scammers ready to hijack your ICO.
- Prepare for scammers on Telegram(TG) channel and ensure you have much needed supporting crew, we had hit largely by Scammers on our day of Presale launch (this took me by surprise)
- Be aware for scams as not only you will encounter impersonators on your telegram channel that uses CEO picture and name and sends messages to everyone but you will also get phishing emails from some impersonators of big websites making you good deals but in fact they have no connection to the real ones.
10. Find the right forum to build awareness
Every ICO has a different way of building awareness. It could be conferences, articles, PR, websites, ads. It is critical to know your value, your audience and your message and then pick the right channel for the audience.
- You should do as many conferences as you can, and marketing only on specific high profile publications. PR is also important but for it to work you need a big budget and constant pressure.
- Also, you should use a massive marketing campaign, on social networks and magazines, and creating a strong and serious telegram chat where people can interact with team members
- Big ICO Tracker/calendar websites like ICODrops.com are a good and the premium listing offer some of the best ROI in the market.
- I obtained very good results with Google Adwords as the big crypto websites have plenty of ads spaces from AdSense and comparing the 20–50$ CPM they offer.. with my team of Adwords Specialists, that managed to obtain CPM at 1$ via Display network with the banners being shown.
- Using a PR agency to submit your press releases is also a very good choice. With 5.000$ we managed to reach some of the biggest crypto news websites, 20 medium small crypto news websites and another 200 ones.”
- I was surprised by the prices on different marketing services. For example, an ICO media firm with almost with no traffic asked up to 1 bitcoin to publish an article.
11. Sort out security
Please don’t get security wrong. There is plenty of information about this elsewhere.
- Make sure, that in ico smart-contract tokens are blocked for transfers between holders till the end of ico, otherwise it ll influence bad on sales.
- Use Cloudflare for website — the DDOS attacks are real.
- Take safety of your token holders seriously; we put tons of time on that one. Hope these tiny tips help somehow. :)
- Tedious checking of the smart contracts is key.
A huge thank you to everybody who participated in the survey. I hope this helps you with your ICO. Best of luck building your product, your community, your fundraising platform, and in getting your ICO mechanics in place.
If you want to share your ICO experience please find me, David Atkinson, on LinkedIn. If you want access to the complete data set, let me know and we can discuss your project and your needs.
Please let me know of any great ICO resources, I’ll add them here: