Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin and TrueBit founder Jason Teusch recently proposed a new way to run an ICO. Does it work? Possibly. Is it made for human beings? Therein lies the rub.
Here’s the problem they’re attacking: If a token sale is capped, say at $10 million, then a wealthy scalper can pre-emptively buy the whole $10 million supply and resell it later for a profit. But if a token sale is uncapped, then you have no idea if you’re purchasing 1 percent or 0.0001 percent of the supply, because that depends on how much money is raised. (Most token sales are uncapped: a little uncertainty is better than being at the mercy of crypto-Madoff.)
Buterin and Tuesch’s proposal fixes this dilemma by creating a game. Instead of “here’s $1,000, give me some unknown percentage of ownership,” it becomes “here’s $1,000, maybe, now let’s play 20 rounds of 3-dimensional poker and see where we end up.”
It may work in the abstract, but it adds dizzying complexity to an already involved process.
Front-and-center on one high-profile ICO’s website is the warning: “DO NOT USE COINBASE OR ANY OTHER EXCHANGE AS IT’S NOT ERC-20 TOKEN FRIENDLY.” They have to say this, because people lose money every day for no other reason than they contributed to a token sale using the wrong wallet. It’s inane, confusing, and not the investor’s fault. We need to make the basics easier, and adding a casino game takes us in the opposite direction.
The problem the casino game solves sounds worse than it is. Not knowing how much money an uncapped token sale will raise doesn’t matter:
- Blockchain projects are about 100x returns not 5 percent per year returns. Obsessing over a precise valuation is wasted energy because if the project does well in the distant future, you’ll profit regardless of whether you moderately overpaid or underpaid at the start.
- It’s impossible to rationally value a cryptocurrency. Look at how the smartest financial minds in the world value one bitcoin: expert A says $1,000 and expert B says $1,000,000. Now do the same with a derivative of bitcoin with no track record and a vague whitepaper. Investors should focus on the big picture, not whether they’ll own 0.0001 percent or 0.0003 percent of the supply.
- If a project raises more money than you anticipate, you get less ownership, but the project has more resources and media attention to execute on its vision. It balances out, and as the saying goes, it’s better to own a slice of a watermelon than all of a grape.
Improving the token sale process is important, but there are simpler ways to do it. For example, Dragonchain’s upcoming token sale has two commendable provisions:
- Everyone pays the same price. Most token sales tout sliding-scale discounts and flash sales (“Day 1: 20 percent off. Day 2: 18 percent off. Hey, it’s power hour! Everyone gets 30 percent off!”). This creates a frenzy and incentivizes bad behavior like pump-and-dump schemes.
- Team members and advisers receive their token disbursements over a two-year period. That signals a long-term commitment to the project and prevents insiders from dumping their supply and disappearing soon after the token sale.
More projects should adopt practices like these. Heck, buried in Buterin and Tuesch’s proposal is a great one: a period of time where investors can withdraw their contribution. If they don’t like how the ICO is shaping up, they can ship out.
These practices take guts to implement because they lead to a smaller raise and less financial payout for the individuals involved. But they’re needed if we’re to build a safe and healthy ecosystem.
One day, when cryptocurrency matures, Buterin and Tuesch’s proposal might make sense. They’re futurist pioneers for a reason. Until then, let’s nail the basics before asking people to learn yet another confusing thing.