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The Rise of the ICO, and What It Could Mean for Venture Capital

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For any ambitious startup founder, the traditional route to funding goes through angel/seed investors and then eventually to the big venture capitalists.

The sophisticated players in this funding landscape make significant amounts of dough by spotting game-changing opportunities in their early stages, and then applying their insights, connections, and experience to these startups to make them financially viable. Finally, they guide the successful company to an exit, take their returns, and then distribute to the partners.

But what if startups, especially those related to the blockchain, were able to raise money from everyone simultaneously? What if the traditional gatekeepers didn’t matter as much?

ICOs vs. Venture

Last year, it became clear that Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) would start to challenge traditional venture capital, as funding raised through them exploded by over 20x.

Today’s infographic from Vanbex Ventures shows key statistics around this phenomenon, as well as the evolving reception from venture capital and institutional investors.

The Rise of the ICO, and What It Could Mean for Venture Capital

Needless to say, the relationship between ICOs and venture capital is a conflicted one.

On one hand, it represents the inevitable disruption of many different elements of the traditional business model. On the other hand, the ICO space is too tantalizing to ignore: cryptocurrencies are worth nearly $0.5 trillion, and those that put money in early saw returns in the quadruple digits.

Getting Onboard?

The $5.3 billion boom in ICOs in 2017 had no problems surpassing traditional early-stage venture capital for blockchain-adjacent startups, which only saw $0.95 billion in funding.

While most VCs were slow to adapt, there have been increasing signs of interest – even despite the existing regulatory concerns. In particular, the idea of additional liquidity appeals to these investors since tokens can be sold at any point. This gives an advantage over traditional models, where a liquidity event such as an IPO or acquisition is necessary.

As a result, some VCs are shifting how they work with blockchain startups. They will pre-acquire tokens prior to a public ICO, and even consult with startups to help them maximize the value of tokens and the underlying technology.

Going Institutional

The crypto asset class is also becoming more ubiquitous among institutional investors as well.

There’s such an institutional appetite to get exposure to this. It’s a half-a-trillion-dollar asset class that nobody owns. That’s a pretty wild circumstance.

– Dan Morehead, CEO and CIO of Pantera Capital

In fact, 17% of global hedge fund managers say they currently (or plan to) invest in cryptocurrency. At the same time, over 100 crypto hedge funds have popped up over the years – another sign of a widening and market landscape.

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Bitcoin

The Beginning of a Bitcoin Bull Run?

After 15 months of losses and stagnation, Bitcoin has made a miraculous recovery — going on a 150% bull run since its lows in December 2018.

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The Beginning of a Bitcoin Bull Run?

After 15 months of losses and stagnation, Bitcoin has made a miraculous recovery — rising more than 150% from its lowest point in December 2018.

In its heyday, Bitcoin had surpassed $10,000 in early December 2017, before briefly crossing the $20,000 mark for a single day on December 17th. A year later, the digital currency had fallen back to Earth, dropping below $3,200.

Now that the dust of that wild speculative frenzy has settled, Bitcoin is back on the upswing. What could be causing this most recent surge in growth?

We look at four possible explanations for the Bitcoin bull run, as originally outlined by Aaron Hankin at MarketWatch:

Technical Milestones

Bitcoin has seen several technical milestones this year, such as surpassing the psychological barrier of $5,000 in early 2019, breaking the 200-day moving average, and scoring the golden cross (when the 50-day moving average crosses above the 200-day moving average).

Widespread Adoption

Bitcoin is experiencing a steady increase in adoption across several markets. The term Bitcoin has become a household name — even if people don’t understand what it does, they know what it is.

Companies such as Starbucks, Microsoft, and Amazon, and Nordstrom are looking for ways to integrate cryptocurrencies into daily transactions for faster payment clearance, innovative rewards programs, and efficient customer service interactions.

bitcoin merchants

Shifting Sentiments

Bitcoin has possibly seen a shift in public perception. There have been fewer negative articles about Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, and the news stories that are negative no longer have as big of an impact as they once did.

When Binance announced hackers stole $40 million in bitcoin and when accusations of an $850-million cover-up were leveled against Bitfinex and Tether, the Bitcoin bull run barely flinched and continued to climb.

Wavering Gold Investment

Investor confidence in gold has been more stagnant in recent times. To capitalize on this, Grayscale Investments (of Digital Currency Group) posted a campaign in May 2019 promoting Bitcoin as an ideal alternative to gold because it is borderless, secure, and more efficient for storing value.

Despite the World Gold Council’s response denying those claims, the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust saw OTC Markets Group’s highest trading volumes five days later.

Where to from here?

After a long skid, it appears Bitcoin is showing signs of life again. Bitcoin’s price can be highly volatile, so it remains to be seen whether this is the beginning of a bull run, or whether this is just another bump in the roller coaster ride.

Editor’s note: The price of Bitcoin has fallen to $7,100 at time of publishing and will likely continue to experience extreme volatility. However, even at a price of $7,100, this is still a 120% increase from lows in Dec 2018. As well, an earlier version of this graphic had incorrect dates on the timeline. That has now been corrected.

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How Decentralized Finance Could Make Investing More Accessible

Under the current global financial system, billions of people do not have access to quality assets. Here’s how decentralized finance is changing that.

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Infographic: How Decentralized Finance Could Make Investing More Accessible

Did you know that a majority of the global population doesn’t have access to quality financial assets?

In advanced economies, we are lucky to have simple options to grow and protect our wealth. Banks are all over the place, markets are robust, and we can invest our money into assets like stocks or bonds at the drop of a hat.

In the United States, roughly 52% of people are invested in the stock market – but in a place like India, for example, this portion drops to a paltry 2%. How can we make it possible for people on the “outside” of the financial system to gain access?

Breaking Down Barriers

Today’s infographic comes to us from Abra, and it shows how decentralized finance could make investing a more universal phenomenon, especially for those that don’t have access to the modern financial system.

It lays out four key obstacles that prevent people in developing markets from investing in quality financial assets in the first place:

  1. The Geographic Lottery
    Where you live plays a massive role in determining your ability to build wealth. In advanced Western economies, the average person is much more likely to be invested in financial markets that can help compound wealth.
  2. Financial Literacy and Complexity
    Roughly 3.5 billion adults globally lack an understanding of basic financial concepts, which creates an impenetrable barrier to investing.
  3. Local Market Turmoil
    Even if a person is mentally prepared to invest, local market turmoil (hyperinflation, political crises, closed borders, etc.) can make it difficult to get access to stable assets.
  4. The Cost of Investing in Foreign Markets
    Foreign assets can be pricey. One share of Amazon is $1,800, which is realistically more money than many people around the world can afford.

In other words, there are billions of people globally that can’t take advantage of some of the most effective wealth-building tactics.

This is just one flaw in the current financial system, a paradigm that has created massive amounts of wealth but only for a specific and well-connected group of people.

Enter Decentralized Finance

Could decentralized finance be the alternative to open up access to financial markets?

By combining apps with blockchain technology – specifically through public blockchains such as Bitcoin or Ethereum – decentralized finance makes it possible to get around some of the barriers that are created by more traditional systems.

Here are some of the innovations that are making this possible:

Smart contracts could automate transactions and remove intermediaries, making investing cheaper, faster, and more accessible.

Fractional investing could allow partial or shared ownership of financial assets by using tokenization. This would make expensive stocks like Amazon ($1,800 per share) available to a much wider segment of the population.

Location independent investing is possible through smartphones. This would make it possible for people in remote parts of the developing world to invest, even without access to nearby financial institutions or local markets.

Like the internet with knowledge, decentralized finance could reshape the world by making financial access universal. Who’s ready?

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