What I’ve learned about Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies, and Initial Coin Offering (ICO) investing

I’ve had some queries about what I’ve been doing and learning about blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and investing — how this all works, and how I pick which companies to invest in.

So here is a little min-primer based on what I’ve learned so far.


Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain

First, cryptocurrencies are digitally-represented value that is recorded in a distributed, decentralized system of bookkeeping ledgers on the Internet, called Blockchain.

Blockchain ledgers are not stored “on a server” somewhere, like legacy websites or web apps.  Instead the data is stored in an encrypted form flowing around the network, in a highly redundant way, using a vast number of computers, including perhaps your own.

This redundancy, decentralization and encryption make these records of value and of transactions extremely robust against attacks or control by corporate or governmental entities.

Although this is a big motivator for some, my interest is in the strength of the record keeping and the security it has.

Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs)

Many new companies, especially those that are making use of blockchaing technologies as part of their play, are using a new way of raising substantial early capital quickly, called Initial Coin Offerings or ICOs.

Some are really interesting and worthy young businesses.   Some are vaporware.  Some are pure scams.

Picking a company to invest in

I’ve been researching cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and ICOs recently, doing a little investing, and learning a lot.

Before I get into the mechanics of buying, storing, and investing with cryptocurrencies, I want to lead with how to pick companies to consider for investment.  I do this because without care, you can be throwing your money, and your good cheer, down the drain.

Here are the things I look for in a company that will do an ICO.

I look for companies that have nearly all of these qualities.

Avoid emotions. This is not gambling.

Think like a VC:  find reasons to disqualify the company.

I start with one of the sites that list and analyze ICOs, like:

Qualities to  look for in the company doing the ICO

  • Your ability to participate
    • Do you qualify to participate?
    • Many ICOs exclude citizens of the US and of Singapore, where laws prohibit unregistered companies from selling stock to the public, and if the token is primarily about holding value in the company and secondarily about utility in the business model, they cannot allow these investors.
    • Can you get into presale or whitelist instead?  Maybe you can make contributions to the pre-ICO needs of the company and gain bonuses or invitations to the presale.
    • If you can’t get in, but love the company, buy into tokens after the initial pop instead of in the ICO.
    • Consider that unless you are in the presale or on the whitelist, or the ICO is long, you likely won’t get into a fast ICO at all.
  • Team
    • Great team with solid demonstrated experience.  
    • Research their experience claims from independent sources
    • Check LinkedIn experience, duration, endorsements links,
    • Validate site pictures with other pictures
    • See evidence of their track record and involvement outside the website and social media claims that could be fiction.
    • Read their chats.
  • Form of business, now and into the future
    • Is it a non profit org?  
    • Is it incorporated?
    • Does it create a foundation
    • Governance model
  • Business Plan
    • Business model is published, it makes sense and produces an “aha”
      • Whitepaper is published
      • It isn’t vague, nor is it a dissertation that obscures the business model.
    • How the business will make revenue?
    • What are its challenges, objectives it must meet, to succeed?
      • Are they articulated by the company?
    • How much of its success depends on 3rd parties who might not participate
    • Are partners properly incentivized?
    • Credible roadmap
    • Terms of use of the eventual service are published
    • A clear and credible business plan, with allocation of tokens and use of funds.
    • Not overly ambitious statements or vague solution statements.
  • Track record and evidence of this venture so far
    • Prototype exists
    • Beta testing already done – there has been testing with the public or a community
    • Essential partnerships are signed
    • Is it open source? Take a look at code, documentation, issue tracking
    • Roadmap has product launches in 3 to 6 months at max.
  • Community
    • Size and quality community growing around the idea, not just the ICO frenzy
      • Check their slack and news/ social media, buzz,
      • Po.et had 1600 watching announcements 4d after close
      • Decentraland Slack had 3500 4 days before ICO
      • Kin had 3600, before before announcement of ICO date.
    • Participation, contribution to the business concept
    • Contributing ideas about how they will use the solution
    • Already are using the existing early version
  • ICO raise
    • Amount being raised is reasonable
      • What they need for a  few years of development, probably $10-25M tops.
    • All the Token Sale Terms, Rules, Agreements are published on company website.
      • Token allocation is published, binding
      • Capped tokens.  Uncapped gives skewed advantages to token creators (founders and perhaps early investors) and dilutes ICO participant share later.
      • If there are going to be more tokens minted in the future, a published plan for that which doesn’t overly dilute investors.
    • If it is an early stage company, a large capital raise should be offering half or more of the company in the ICO.
      • 50% goes to public investors
      • 20% or less of the tokens go to the founders/developers
      • http://i.imgur.com/WAVLXWE.png
      • 20% goes to endowment of the future (e.g. a Foundation), if it intends to be non profit or decentralized governance, or to profit sharing for future employees, if there is going to be a significant staffing.
    • If the company has been around some years, and is in solid shape, but is raising funds for a big push into a new area, they may only be selling a smaller fraction of the company.
    • Is an escrow service available?

Watch out for Scams and Phishing attacks

  • There are many bad players who will try to steal people’s money
    • They may do this by creating look-alike websites with slight spelling changes in the URL.
    • They to the Slack or other chat venues in which the company interacts with the public and post announcements or links that are bad.  Those announcements may look really convincing and motivating.  Watch out
    • Avoid any accouncement that asks you to send currency to some other place, or to “open your wallet” to fix something.

The Mechanics of Investing.

Here are the basic steps to investing in ICOs, or soon after an ICO:

  • Learn about how cryptocurrency works
    • What kinds exist
      • Bitcoin (“BTC”) is the first and most expensive.  Some ICOs accept it.
      • Ethereum is both a blockchain infrastructure used by many companies, as well as having the second strongest cryptocurrency, Ethers (“ETH”).  Most ICOs accept ETH, some only accept ETH.
      • Other coins (there are hundreds of them).  These are ‘minted’ for sale in an ICO.  They are both the means for attracting investors, and/or will play a role in the company’s business model (votes, pariticpation, exchange of value, etc.)
      • Two sites in which you can learn about existing coins (also known as Tokens) and their price history re:
    • How to buy some cryptocurrency
      • I’ve used both Coinbase.com and Coinmama.com
      • Coinbase.com is an exchange between US Dollars and a few key cryptocurrencies, including BTC and ETH.  You can buy and sell these  currencies here.  They store your cryptocurrencies in wallets that they control, and from which you can (and should) transfer it to your own wallet that you control.
      • Coinmama allows you to buy BTC only, with Dollars only, and send it immediately to your own wallet (they do not store it in a wallet for you)
    • Understand Accounts
      • You will need one or more cryptocurrency “accounts” (also called “public addresses” on the blockchains used by the currencies you want to use.
      • You will typically create an account when you create a wallet, such as by establishing a Coinbase account, or by getting some wallet.
      • An account is your public address in the blockchain. Your cryptocurrency balances are stored in the blockchain associated with your accounts.  You send currency from an account to another account (yours or someone else’s)
    • How to store it securely and safely in Wallets
      • A Wallet is a tool for creating accounts on the blockchain for its supported currencies, for accessing existing accounts, and for sending and receiving payments.
      • One kind of Wallet (such as Jaxx that I use and like) is a piece of sofware that you install, such as a Chrome plugin or a mobile app.d
      • Another kind of Wallet is a web-based wallet, like MyEtherWallet.com, which I have also used and like.
      • There are also hardware wallets, like Trezor, that can connect to your computer via USB.  They can allow you to keep the wallet in a safe deposit box, for example.
      • Although you have public addresses for your currency accounts at Coinbase, they are not wallets fully under your control, and DO NOT USE THEM to particpate in ICOs, or you will lose your ICO tokens.  Transfer your purchased currency balances to a wallet you have full control over like Jaxx, MyEtherWallet, or Trezor, and invest from there.
  • Purchase some cryptocurrency for investing, get it into your own wallet, and have its address ready to put into the registration form and/or the ICO event.
  • Find good companies to participate in (see above)
    • Research!
    • Read their white paper, study their business plans and token sale terms, consider their team carefully.
    • Use your head at least as much as your heart
  • Connect with the company
    • Register on their website (and be sure it is really their site)
      • Get onto their official announcements email list
      • That may or may not be the same as registration for their “whitelist”
    • If they have a “whitelist” or “presale” or “registration” method, do it when it becomes available.  Whitelists and presales are ways that investors can secure some participation early.  The ICO event itself may be over in seconds, before you can get through the payment queue.
    • If they have a social chat system, join it (Slack, Discord, Rocket.chat, or similar), and get a sense of their team, and of the ‘buzz” around what they are doing.
    • AVOID BEING SCAMMED, which is especially possible by following phishing links from their social chat, or by going to look-alike websites.
  • Participate in the ICO if you can.
  • If not, then wait until the sale is over and their new coin is trading on the open market through exchanges.  You cannot probably get into purchasing it and selling it within the very high peak / pop it may have shortly after it goes live, but you can watch for it to fall from that to some level where it levels off.
  • You can also look for good companies that are well past their ICOs and invest post-ICO.
  • Learn how to use one of the cryptocurrency exchanges where you can sell your investment coins back into BTC or ETH, from which you can either make further investments and/or sell them for Dollars through Coinbase
    • Exchanges that are easy to use for crypto-to-crypto exchanges are ShapeShift and Changelly.  The exchanges are not super quick, and cost a noticable fee.
    • Exchanges that have a steeper learning curve, for buying and selling (bidding and asking) include Bittrex.

Study, learn.

Be careful, don’t go crazy, avoid frenzy, play safe.

*** Don’t invest more money that you couldn’t afford to lose entirely. ***

And… Enjoy!


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2 Responses to What I’ve learned about Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies, and Initial Coin Offering (ICO) investing

  1. Larry says:

    Thank you Carl. This will be a great journey. Can you please tell me the steps for moving my Bitcoin from Coinbase to Jaxx? I cannot figure out how that is done. Thanks in advance.

    • cfravel says:

      1. Go to the destination wallet (Jaxx for example), go to the BTC account, click on Receive, and copy the current BTC address to your clipboard.
      2. Go into Coinbase, to Accounts, to BTC, Send. Paste the BTC address from Jaxx into there. Send.

      This is the basic approach for transferring between wallets, exchanges, etc: you get the public address of the destination, and put into the Send function of the source.

      However, it is not a safe practice to transfer coins between exchanges directly, e.g. from Coinbase to Bittrex. Instead go through one of your wallets as an intermediary.
      Coins may be lost otherwise.

      It is VERY IMPORTANT to make sure you are transferring from and to the same coin type, such as BTC-to-BTC, or ETH-to-ETH. If you transfer to a different type, you will very likely simply lose your coins.

      If you want to exchange one type of coin for another, then you want to use an “Exchange” such as Bittrex, Poloniex, Liqui.io, etc. You would send coins into a “trading wallet” there from your Jaxx or other personal wallet, then trade coin types within the Exchange, and then transfer results back out to your personal wallet. You can keep coins in an Exchange trading wallet, but don’t keep your fortune there. There have been attacks on exchanges that have lost coins.

      Also, some “Altcoin” or “Tokens” are actually riding on another network. This is especailly common in the form of coins that are actually tokens in the “ERC20” standard on the Ethereum network. Some wallets are ERC20 compatible, meaning they can see such coins/tokens. Jaxx is currently not one of those. For such tokens, I use either MyEtherWallet (also called MEW) or MetaMask. They both have Chrome extension wallets. Either of them can serve the ETH wallet address of your Jaxx wallet, but also see any ERC20 token balances that ride on that same account.

      Finally be REALLY CAREFUL not to fall prey to a phishing attack. Never post money to an account that some con artist or impersonator in some chat or email says is the place to send ICO deposits for example. Always use the official announcements from the company. Check your URLs carefully (for example Decentraland, not Decentra1and, MyEtherWallet, not MyEtherWa11et). And finally be REALLY careful not to follow a link in some message that takes you to a login page for a wallet or exchange or an ICO deposit. Always go to such destinations directly from your own knowledge and bookmarks.

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