The Startup
Published in

The Startup

What This Ancient Roman Has to Say About Your ICO Whitepaper

Not-so-fun fact: You may think that your blockchain startup is the most exciting thing the world has seen since the invention of pizza delivery services — and you may even be right — but most investors won’t agree.

In fact, when they start reading the ICO whitepaper in which you’ve detailed all the ways your startup is going to change the world (or at least your industry), only a part of their mind is really present. Other parts are busy worrying about the recent decline in their favorite altcoin’s price, are trying to blend out the noise from the building site across the street, and deciding what to have for lunch.

Closing the window with your whitepaper’s PDF to check their portfolio (or the refrigerator) instead is just a click away — even easier than closing the real window to block out the noise outside.

Thus, you need to get and keep your potential investor’s attention right away, from the very first page of your whitepaper.

But how?

That’s where he comes in:

By Jebulon (CC0), from Wikimedia Commons

This is Cicero, a pretty famous (and pretty dead) ancient Roman politician and speaker.

Those ancient Romans, they weren’t so different from us: They lived in a bustling capital in which small and big businesses on every street corner competed for your attention; they had theater, gladiator fights, chariot races, baths and brothels (often two or more of those in the same place). Basically, Rome was like today’s web, just more smelly.

And then they had politicians, who were just as dependent on getting and keeping their supporters’ attention as politicians (and businesses!) today. So, in those warm Mediterranean nights, they thought long and hard and figured out ways to do this that will help 21st century You to get and keep your investors’ attention in your whitepaper.

Here’s what Cicero tells you to do:

Teach — delight — move!

In more modern terms: Your whitepaper needs to

  • inform and educate the reader,
  • entertain them,
  • and spur them to action!

This is not a “choose one of three” list. In fact, many whitepapers fall short of their goals because founding teams believe that the whitepapers function is only the first: Information and education of the potential investor.

Yes, it’s important to convey the facts about your business plan, technology and token offering. But no, that’s not sufficient for your ICO success — it is just as vital that you entertain and move the reader.


If you don’t entertain your reader, you will lose his or her attention as quickly as a piece of soap that’s slipping through your fingers — even the slightest internal or external disturbance will make them close your document and go check their e-mail, call their girlfriend or feed their cat.

Does that mean you need to start off your whitepaper with a good joke? No. (In fact, please don’t — except if it’s both hilarious and relevant to your project, in which case we’d really like to read it.) It merely means that you make it a pleasant experience to read your whitepaper. This is usually done by appealing to your reader’s emotions, for example: Describe current industry problems in a way that moves the reader emotionally (save the whales/apes/80s music, anyone?), or awaken their curiosity about your project. Curiosity is a strong and versatile emotion, and many tech people, who make up a big part of your potential investors, are particularly driven by it.

And why should you explicitly motivate them to take action?

It may be obvious to you that after reading a technical description of your whitepaper, the reader will be eager to visit your ICO website and register — but to them, it’s not. In fact, once they are five pages into your whitepaper, if they even come that far, they may have already been interrupted six times and completely forgotten why they were reading this paper in the first place.

Remind them! Say it clearly, and more than once: If you want to be a part of the cool project we’re describing here, go visit our website and register for the pre-sale now! (Not after lunch, not tomorrow, not when they “have the time”, which is just another word for “never”.)

If Cicero were alive today, he’d write pretty good ICO whitepapers. Since he’s not, we’re here to help.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by 329,974+ people.

Subscribe to receive our top stories here.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store