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Communications strategies behind four of 2017’s most successful ICOs

Last week, I outlined the key communications elements for ICOs. This week I look at four ICOs that had successful launches in 2017:

  • iEx.ec
  • Humaniq
  • Matchpool
  • Aragon

Below I examine each ICO’s overall concept and the main communication elements used. My plan is to revisit these ICOs next year to see how their communications, concept & technical development progressed.

iEx.ec: Blockchain-based distributed cloud computing

When they held their ICO in April of 2017, iEx.ec was the world’s fifth largest, raising over $12 million and reaching their contribution cap of 10,000 BTC (bitcoin) in less than three hours.

The concept: Using Ethereum’s smart contracts, iEx.ec will provide on-demand high-performance computing (HPC) services via a distributed cloud infrastructure. Users can rent computing resources (CPU, storage, GPU, etc.) and data-sets and it will cost a fraction of what it normally would to run on a traditional supercomputer. The iEx.ec team is also developing a new Proof-of-Contribution protocol for off-chain consensus (external resources will be certified directly on blockchain).

Who it’s for: iEx.ec aims to help DApp providers, big data, and server providers—those that need a lot of computing power.

IEx.ec’s unique selling proposition (USP): You may have heard of Golem and you may be wondering how iEx.ec’s services differ. Don’t they both offer cloud computing services? As described in iEx.ec’s whitepaper, “Golem aims at first assembling a virtual ‘supercomputer’ to attract regular HPC users to their platform, while iEx.ec first focuses on supporting DApps to build a distributed Cloud that will eventually be competitive enough to attract Cloud and HPC users.” Similar services and visions, but different approaches and initial markets. They could be competing in the future. And while, iEx.ec is a new concept, it was founded by a team with a background in Desktop Grid Computing.

Who’s behind it? Founders Gilles Fedak and Haiwu He are active contributors to the blockchain community. Team members behind iEx.ec have been working in Desktop Grid Computing for the INRIA and CNRS since 2000, and their research has contributed to some of the core technologies used in scientific computing around the world, including the Large Hadron Collider. They bring considerable background experience to this project and do a good job of establishing that credibility in their communications.

What they did pre-ICO: iEx.ec has been blogging on their site since early 2016, and have also been active on Github, Slack, and Reddit since late 2016, around when they published their whitepaper (current one on their website is version 2.0) and corresponding press release. Their whitepaper clearly outlines their purpose, differentiating factors, the team, and their product. While the visuals included are basic, they do the job. They also show a clear implementation roadmap.

Prior to the ICO, team members were communicating in forums and on social media, publishing responses to frequently asked questions, signing up newsletter subscribers, and they published a launch video.

iEx.ec started up a blog on Medium the day of their ICO launch, providing some technical information for early investors.

What they did post-ICO: The day after their ICO launched, iEx.ec posted a blog on next steps. They described how funds and tokens would be used, as well as their transparency policy.

They’ve remained active online, and publish regular development updates. They updated their whitepaper, garnered some media attention, presented at big events like the Blockchain Expo Europe, and updated their website.

Humaniq: Crypto-finance for the undocumented and unbanked

humaniq icoHumaniq raised over $5 million from nearly 12,000 participants in April, 2017.

“We will see over 300 ICOs this year alone. Humaniq’s token sale ICO is unique as it happened to be one of the most decentralized ICOs in recent history with a multinational participation of people diversified all over the world and with an average check of only $435,” Dinis Guara, CEO of Humaniq.

The concept: Humaniq aims to provide banking solutions to over 2.5 billion people around the world who don’t have access to financial services. Their mobile app will use biometric identification to access the global community via the Ethereum blockchain. Their open source protocol will be available to developers to create banking solutions like cards and chat banking.

Who it’s for: More than half the adults in the poorest nations around the world don’t have access to financial services and there are more than 1.5 billion people globally who don’t have a government issued ID, according to a World Bank study. Humaniq’s services could help reduce global poverty and open previously untapped markets.

Humaniq’s unique selling proposition: They’re focusing on biometrics, mobile technology and blockchain to give users access to digital banking, a combination other financial services providers aren’t offering. They’re also planning to bring affordable smartphones to African, Asian, and South American markets.

Who’s behind it? Humaniq was founded by Alex Fork (who also founded Future Fintech and authored a book about blockchain, written in Russian), Richard Kastelein (Founder and Editor in Chief at Blockchain News and a contributor to several other blockchain projects), and Alakanani Itireleng (Botswana’s first Bitcoin Evangelist who has an education background). Their management and advisory team includes a number of thought leaders in the blockchain and cryptocurrency space, and they have ambassadors in key target areas, primarily Africa. Beyond these top contributors, they don’t list anything about the rest of their team, such as their developers.

What they did pre-ICO: Humaniq did a good job of simplifying their message and branding their project. It feels like a kickstarter-meets-international social project, which it is, in a way. They’ve communicated clearly why their project is important, expressed well through this video.

Humaniq raised $110,000 worth of bitcoin (133 BTC) in a December, 2016 presale. This helped them update their website (which is a little lengthy and redundant, but features some good visuals) and seek expert advice.

They faced some backlash online due to perceived gaps in their whitepaper and an image of Ivan Tihonov viewers mistook as Ethereum’s Vitalik Buterin. Humaniq’s team also isn’t as involved with the online communities as some other blockchain teams are—like their website, it’s not easy to find anything about their developers. This seems to have made some people suspicious of the project. However, the founders do respond online and seem to willingly accept constructive criticism.

Humaniq’s whitepaper is available in several languages, including English, Chinese, and German.

Humaniq is fairly active on social media and does a good job of mixing thought leadership with updates and other content related to their key messages.

What they did post-ICO: According to their timeline, Humaniq is now working on their mobile app prototypes. They also did an “Ask Me Anything” session with CEO Denis Guarda on Reddit and launched a blog in June, 2017, updated their weekly review video series, which gives updates on the project, and launched a Humaniq Faces video series. They’ve also been in major media like Forbes.

Humaniq added a forum to their website, which doesn’t get a lot of activity yet, but team members do respond to questions. It will be interesting to see if they retain this, considering they’re already doing considerable community management on other platforms.

While Humaniq has had some issues with transparency and proactive communication, they’ve done a good job of storytelling and branding their project.

Matchpool: a Meetup-like matchmaking service on blockchain

Matchpool ico logoMatchpool raised over $3.5 million in only one hour of their ICO launching, and reached their $6 million funding target in less than two days.

The concept: While it’s not totally clear when you first land on Matchpool’s website (you have to scroll down to find their intro line), the project is meant to be a matchmaking service or social network—currently focused on dating—where anyone can create a “pool” (group) with its own rules and match people within the group. Think of it like a Slack-meets-Meetup, powered by tokens called Guppies, and run on the Ethereum blockchain.

Who it’s for: While they’re focused on dating, there are other uses for Matchpool’s protocol. It could also be used for recruiting, paid membership communities, and really anything else that requires group dynamics/matchmaking. Pool owners will be incentivized, though the pay structure doesn’t look lucrative, but could be attractive to those looking to build community connections. Matchpool describes a number of different potential use cases on their blog.

Matchpool’s unique selling proposition: Unlike most dating or matchmaking apps, your data will not be stored centrally on Matchpool, providing added security from hacking. Matchpool will manage the front-end of the app, though matchmakers (those that create and set the rules for their groups, or pools) will gain rewards when they create matches inside their group. Matchmakers can also set demographic specifications. For example, if you aim to have a 50/50 female/male split in your group, someone couldn’t join the pool if they’re of the gender currently out of balance. This aims to solve a problem that many dating apps have in that they have predominantly male users.

Who’s behind it? The team behind Matchpool include members from the blockchain community and they have a credible advisory board, including Ethereum co-founder Dr. Gavin Wood and Hermione Way, former head of European communications for Tinder.

What they did pre-ICO: Conceptualized in September, 2016, they quickly published their whitepaper (which has since been revised) in November, 2016. They joined Twitter in December, 2016 and share a mix of general cryptocurrency and Matchpool-specific content and retweets. It appears they didn’t launch their full website until April, 2017, after their ICO.

They did hold a physical Valentine’s Day meetup in Paris.

What they did post-ICO: Unfortunately, after their ICO, Matchpool was accused of being a scam after one of the co-founders publicly criticized the project and team. The Matchpool team quickly issued a statement and later received an apology.

You read this Coin Desk piece that provides an overview.

Unlike many projects that get very active in social networking communities prior to their ICO, Matchpool launched their blog and Reddit page after their ICO. They were on Github prior to the launch and provided smart contract source code there. As aforementioned, their website also launched afterwards (a great looking website, though I’d love to see that opening statement above the fold…). They update their blog regularly with FAQ responses, tutorials and progress updates. They’re now also on Facebook and Youtube.

According to their roadmap, they’ll be launching the public beta version in Q3 of 2017.

Aragon: Everything you need to run your company on Ethereum

Aragon raised $25 million in under 15 minutes and at the time was the second largest ICO.

The concept: Aragon is calling itself the “first decentralized jurisdiction”. They’re developing software—Aragon Core—to help manage organizations on the Ethereum blockchain. Think fundraising, payroll, accounting, governance, etc. They aim to make operations and governance easier.

Who it’s for: Simply put, anyone who wants to run an organization on the Ethereum blockchain. According to their whitepaper, this will be developed initially for capitalist companies. This has the potential to be a valuable project for up-and-coming and existing organizations, though.


Aragon’s unique selling proposition:
Aragon is taking governance beyond smart contracts, aiming to implement what they’re calling a decentralized court solution, which “will serve to arbitrate human conflict beyond what can be reasonably written in a smart contract”. They also aim to create an upgrade mechanism for those using the software.

Who’s behind it? Co-founder Luis Cuende was awarded the best underage European programmer in 2011 and is on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. He was also an advisor to the VP of the European Commission and cofounded blockchain startup Stampery. Jorge Izquierdo, the other co-founder, has a background in app creation. Their advisors include Jake Brukhman of CoinFund, Kenny Rowe of Dai Foundation, and Brayton Williams, founding partner at Boost VC.

What they did pre-ICO: Prior to their ICO in May, 2017, Aragon was already getting mentioned on cryptocurrency blogs.

They published a great one-pager that provides initial information, including web traffic statistics, their token distribution plan, and a pie-graph showing how they intended to use the revenue.

They were also fairly active on Twitter as of February, 2017, sharing mostly content directly related to Aragon such as updates, photos from their live Meetup, blogs about their ICOs, etc. They were active in forums as well.

Aragon’s whitepaper is refreshingly easy to read. It’s succinct and doesn’t use overly complicated language, parallel to how easy to use they claim their software will be.

They also launched their blog ahead of their ICO, and proactively communicated their intended use of revenue, important technical information about their tokens, and their development plan. It appears they clearly thought their communication through.

What they did post-ICO: The day of their ICO, they posted an article recapping the event and then two days later broke the numbers down more for readers. Since then, they’ve been sharing team member interviews and partnership announcements on their blog.

Aragon updated their website post-ICO and already have the DApp alpha version available for download (as of the end of June, 2017). The website’s clean and straightforward, much like their other communication pieces.

Lastly, they launched their own subreddit on Reddit, which is fairly quiet at the time of writing this, though the team is responsive to questions posed by visitors.

 

What can you take from this? Core concepts and execution will always be the long-term key, but clear and transparent communication does help set ICOs apart. It will be interesting to see where these project are at in 2018.

About the Author

Josh Davis is a Strategist with ITFO Communications and Managing Editor on the blockchain and cryptocurrency research team. He has over a decade of experience in financial services and technology communications, helping clients implement tangible, multi-year global programs by leveraging future trends. His research on emerging technologies has been quoted in top publications, including The New York Times, Tech Crunch and Forbes.
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