Initial Coin Offerings are so 2018. Last year, ICOs raised $16 billion, according to Coindesk, with even well-known companies such as Telegram, KodakOne and Kik getting in on the action.
Then the SEC stepped in late last year, popping the bubble and putting an end to the party—and illegal activity. And gradually, a new way to raise money took hold in cryptoland, which ensured that any token offering was registered as a security. Thus emerged the security token offering, or STO.
Yet there were doubts about whether that mechanism will succeed. Were the minimum investments required to participate too high to attract retail investors? Some questioned whether security tokens have any real benefits, since to comply with regulations, they essentially must be centralized databases.
It's starting to looks like those fears might be unfounded.
Indeed, it turns out that during the past year alone, STOs have already taken in more funds than ICOs had done from 2014-2016. According to venture crypto fund Evercity and Security Token Club, since April, 2018, 18 companies—including Gab and Blockchain Capital—have raised $380 million through STOs. The largest STO, which started distributing tokens to investors last week, was Overstock’s tZero, which raised $134 million. That's not too shabby.
And the amount of funds raised by STOs looks set to increase. Many startups have begun raising funds in recent months, with STO List showing some 31 offerings in progress. In addition, many conferences have rebranded to focus on the STO market, and new ones are scheduled to tap into demand. Later this month, executives from many mainstream banks will be speaking in London at Securities Tokens Realised, which is billing itself as “the biggest Security Tokenization event of the year.”
“The money raised by STOs so far is not huge, but with the demise of ICOs, there are many firms looking at security tokens as the way forward for raising capital,” says Simon Barnby, CMO at security-token exchange Archax. “This year could well be the year we see the required infrastructure get put in place and for wider adoption to really start to take off.”
Other notable STOs include Nexo—a platform for crypto-backed loans—which raised $52.4 million in its offering last April. In addition, LDCC by Lottery.com came close with an STO of $47 million. It intends to host global raffle events.
It’s likely not a return to the bubble, experts say—at least, not yet. Just five of the 18 projects that launched thus far raised ICO-levels of funding; indeed, those five accounted for 80% of the total amount brought in via STOs. The other 13 generated far smaller amounts. Citizen Health, aimed at affordable healthcare, for instance, raised a modest $122,000. Skincare brand EpigenCare took in a mere $36,000. And so on.
The type of STOs varies widely. Some are common stock, representing ownership in a corporation, while others provide revenue-sharing models and distribution of profits. These allow for investors to receive a return on their investment, something that ICOs tended to avoid. Likewise, there seems to be more variety in the regulatory frameworks the STOs adopt, which seems to still be a work in progress. (And with the SEC's public rule making on hold due to the government shutdown, exactly what will be permitted in crypto fundraising is still a bit unclear.)
Still, STOs appear to be enjoying a strong tail wind—though nothing like the period from 2014-2018, when ICOs raised $22.5 billion. In the end, that's likely a good thing.
[This article has been amended to show that LDCC is not on the Belgium watchlists of suspicious sites but LDC-Crypto-com—which appears to be a phishing site.]