Cryptocurrency ICOs Are Making Bitcoin Startups Richer than VCs Ever Did

July 28, 2017, 2:20 PM UTC

When initial coin offerings emerged as a new way for startups to raise money a few months ago, there was much speculation—and some doubt—about whether the cryptocurrency crowdfunding method could disrupt or even replace the traditional venture capital industry.

Now, the early numbers are in, and there is no question that ICOs, an unregulated form of fundraising by which companies can sell their own form of digital currency or tokens to investors, are winning this race, at least in the blockchain industry.

ICOs have now raised nearly four times as much money as bitcoin companies raised in venture capital dollars so far this year. That’s according to PitchBook in tandem with Smith & Crown, which tallied up the latest numbers: ICOs have raised almost $1.3 billion in 2017 so far, while only about $358 million in traditional VC money went to blockchain startups over the same period.

And that’s at a time when venture capital is booming among blockchain companies. Last quarter was the best quarter for blockchain and bitcoin VC funding on record, more than doubling the amount raised in the first quarter and up 89% year over year, according to CBInsights.

But ICOs are growing much faster, having already raised almost six times as much this year as they raised in all of 2016.

Now, a fundraising method that you likely had never heard of until a few months ago is on track this year to exceed all prior VC investment in blockchain, which has totaled a cumulative $1.7 billion over the past eight years, PitchBook says.

To underscore just what a whirlwind trend this has become, even entrepreneurs doing their own ICOs are astonished by the craze.

At a panel discussion hosted by BlockchainDriven Thursday night, Morgan Hill, an investor at Attis Capital, announced that he was launching a new cryptocurrency hedge fund called AxionV in August. But unlike the crypto hedge fund startup MetaStable, which recently received funding from Sequoia, Andreessen Horowitz, Founders Fund, Union Square Ventures and Bessemer Venture Partners, AxionV has a different plan. It will do an ICO itself, targeting a $30 million fund, which it will then use to invest in other ICOs, Hill said.

He also told a story of another hedge fund manager in London who was planning to launch an ICO of a company that aims to put the entire Quran online, and use the new cryptocurrency to compensate people who contribute to the digitization of the religious text. Hill’s take: “The first thing I thought was, this is categorically insane.”

He later came around, he said, acknowledging “religion is a very important piece of information” and that the project “actually does provide a huge value.”