ICOs: Everything to Know

By  Beluga Research August 15, 2023

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  • Cryptocurrency ICOs are a method for projects to raise funds by issuing tokens, often before a project is fully developed or operational
  • ICOs emerged in 2013 and gained momentum in 2017, becoming a popular method for startups to secure funding
  • ICOs offer unique aspects such as early-stage investment opportunities, liquidity shortly after the sale, and transparency through blockchain technology
  • Investors should evaluate project details, token utility, tokenomics, security and compliance and market analysis before participating in an ICO


Cryptocurrency ICOs are a method for projects to raise funds by issuing tokens, often before a project is fully developed or operational. ICOs, also known as token sales, involve the issuance and distribution of digital tokens by a project or company.

These tokens are typically built on blockchain platforms, such as Ethereum, and represent a variety of assets, utilities, or rights within the project's ecosystem. Investors who participate in ICOs contribute funds, usually in the form of established cryptocurrencies like bitcoin or ether, in exchange for the newly issued tokens.

A Brief History

The concept of ICOs emerged in 2013 with Mastercoin (now Omni), which raised around 5,000 Bitcoin (BTC) to develop a layer on top of the Bitcoin blockchain. However, the ICO trend truly gained momentum in 2017, when numerous projects successfully raised millions of dollars through token sales. This period, often referred to as the "ICO boom," marked the rapid growth and widespread adoption of this fundraising model.

ICOs: Everything to Know

ICOs have become a popular method for startups to secure funding due to their simplicity and accessibility. However, it's important for investors to conduct thorough research before participating in an ICO to mitigate risks. Here are key aspects to consider:

  • Project Evaluation: Assess the project's whitepaper, team members and expertise. Examine the problem the project aims to solve and evaluate the viability of their proposed solution. Scrutinize the roadmap and milestones to gauge the project's long-term vision and potential for success.
  • Token Utility: Understand the purpose and utility of the token being offered. Does it serve as a medium of exchange, grant access to a product or service or provide governance rights? Analyze whether the token's utility aligns with the project's goals and if it has the potential to appreciate in value over time.
  • Tokenomics: Evaluate the token's distribution and supply dynamics. Consider factors such as the total supply, token allocation to the team and advisors, and the token release schedule. A well-designed tokenomics model should strike a balance between incentivizing early contributors and ensuring long-term sustainability.
  • Security and Compliance: Investigate the project's security measures, including smart contract audits and vulnerability assessments. Additionally, check if the ICO is compliant with relevant regulations in the jurisdictions it operates in. Compliance with Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) requirements can provide added assurance.
  • Market Analysis: Analyze the market conditions and competitive landscape in which the project operates. Assess the potential demand for the project's product or service and the existing competition. Understanding the market dynamics can help gauge the project's potential for growth and adoption.

Getting Started

To participate in an ICO, individuals typically need to follow a few essential steps. First, they must identify a project that aligns with their interests and investment goals. This involves conducting thorough research on the project's whitepaper, team, roadmap, and underlying technology. It's crucial to evaluate the project's viability, potential market impact, and the competence of its development team.

Once a suitable project is found, potential investors need to acquire the required cryptocurrency to participate in the ICO. Most ICOs accept popular cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin (BTC) or ether (ETH). Investors can obtain these cryptocurrencies through exchanges or by participating in mining activities.

After acquiring the necessary cryptocurrency, investors need to create a digital wallet that supports the specific cryptocurrency used in the ICO. The wallet provides a secure storage solution for the acquired tokens. It's essential to choose a reputable wallet provider with a strong track record in security and user experience.

Finally, investors can participate in the ICO by following the instructions provided by the project. This typically involves sending the required amount of cryptocurrency to a designated wallet address. It's crucial to double-check the wallet address to ensure the funds are sent to the correct destination.

Unique Aspects

ICOs offer several unique aspects that differentiate them from traditional fundraising methods. Firstly, ICOs provide access to early-stage investment opportunities that were traditionally limited to venture capitalists and accredited investors. This democratization of investment allows individuals from around the world to support innovative projects and potentially benefit from their success.

Secondly, ICOs often provide liquidity to investors shortly after the token sale concludes. Unlike traditional funding methods, where investors may need to wait for an extended period before realizing a return on investment, ICO tokens can often be traded on cryptocurrency exchanges shortly after the sale. This liquidity allows investors to manage their investments more actively and potentially exit their positions when desired.

Furthermore, ICOs leverage blockchain technology to enable transparent and auditable transactions. The use of smart contracts ensures that the token distribution process is automated and eliminates the need for intermediaries. This transparency can help build trust between project teams and investors, as the token distribution and allocation can be easily verified on the blockchain.

However, it's important to note that ICOs also come with risks. The cryptocurrency market is highly volatile, and the value of ICO tokens can fluctuate significantly. Additionally, the lack of regulatory oversight in the ICO space exposes investors to potential scams and fraudulent projects. Thorough due diligence and careful evaluation of projects are necessary to mitigate these risks.


  • Access to Capital - ICOs provide a means for blockchain projects to secure funding directly from the public. This enables startups to bypass the traditional venture capital route and reach a global investor base.
  • Token Liquidity - ICO tokens are usually listed on cryptocurrency exchanges shortly after the offering. This allows investors to trade and liquidate their tokens, providing liquidity and potentially attracting more investors to the project.
  • Democratization of Investment - ICOs offer an opportunity for individuals of all backgrounds to participate in early-stage investment. This inclusivity breaks down traditional barriers and allows retail investors to access investment opportunities that were previously reserved for wealthy individuals or institutional investors.
  • Community Building - ICOs often require community engagement and participation. This fosters a sense of ownership and loyalty among token holders, creating an active and supportive community around the project.
  • Innovation Incentives - ICOs can spur innovation by providing funding for ambitious projects that may not have been possible through traditional means. This enables entrepreneurs to pursue groundbreaking ideas and contribute to the development of the blockchain ecosystem.


  • Lack of Regulation - The lack of regulatory oversight in the ICO space exposes investors to potential scams and fraudulent projects. The absence of standardized guidelines and investor protections makes it crucial for individuals to conduct thorough due diligence before participating in an ICO.
  • Volatility and Risk - ICO tokens are often subject to significant price volatility, which can result in substantial gains or losses for investors. The nascent nature of the cryptocurrency market and the absence of established valuation methods make it challenging to assess the true value of ICO tokens.
  • Investor Sophistication - Participating in ICOs requires a certain level of technical knowledge and familiarity with cryptocurrencies. The complexity of blockchain technology and the associated risks may deter less tech-savvy investors from participating or understanding the investment proposition fully.
  • Lack of Accountability - Unlike traditional fundraising methods, ICOs do not typically provide investors with equity or ownership rights in the project. This lack of accountability may reduce the incentive for project teams to deliver on their promises and can lead to misaligned interests between investors and project founders.
  • Regulatory Uncertainty - ICOs operate in a rapidly evolving regulatory landscape. Different jurisdictions have varied stances on ICOs, ranging from outright bans to supportive frameworks. This regulatory uncertainty can create challenges for projects seeking to comply with local laws and regulations.