It’s no secret that we’re well beyond the heady days of the 2017 bull run, when it seemed anyone with a white paper could raise millions for their token in an ICO. But for a time even after the bull run, the ICO market seemed to be maturing. It wasn’t as massive as it had been, but things were looking bright. As an Elementus report put in in August 2018: “all signs point to a maturing ICO market.”
Unfortunately, a year later, signs seem to be pointing in the opposite direction.
We analyzed every ICO on tracking site ICO Watch that was listed as ending in 2018 or 2019 (circa the end of August). The results were pretty grim. In fact ICO Watch itself, the site that was the source of this data, seems to have gone out of business in the time since we collected the data in late August.
(We’ve preserved the data set here, in case you’re interested in checking our work. It’s worth pointing out that this data set, and thus this analysis, does not include IEOs, which have been having a better 2019 than regular ICOs. Nor does it include STOs.)
Simply looking at the raw project count reveals a pretty precipitous drop off. Even after the onset of the bear market in January 2018, ICOs were still happening at a rate of well over a hundred each month, but by 2019 the flow of projects had dwindled to almost nothing.
The amount of money up for grabs in ICOs dropped, too. In the chart below, each individual ICO in the data set is plotted as a dot based on its listed end date and the amount of money it raised. In 2018, fourteen different ICO projects cracked the US$50 million mark, and many of them raised quite a bit more than that. In 2019, only one project (Contentos) has managed to sneak past that marker, and it was really more of a 2018 project — its ICO ended on January 3, 2019.
In total, ICOs raised more than US$7.6 billion in 2018, according to ICO Watch’s data. They're on track to raise much, much less this year.
Interestingly though, the data does suggest that the few projects that have managed ICOs in 2019 may be of higher quality, on average, than 2018’s ICOs. Despite raising far less in total, the median ICO in 2019 raised $6.8 million, far more than the median of just $131,814 for ICOs in 2018. And although not all of the ICOs in ICO Watch’s data set had data on Telegram fans, among those that did have data, ICOs from 2019 averaged more than twice as many fans as ICOs from 2018.
One possible cause for the incredible shrinking ICO is greater regulatory scrutiny around the world, as governments have reacted to the scams and hysteria that came along with the initial ICO boom. ICOs appear to be fleeing the United States in particular, as a response to both regulatory strictness as well as a lack of clarity.
Still, it’s hard to see the upside for ICOs going forward. Even if what’s on offer now is higher quality than many of the tokens sold in 2018, there probably aren’t enough tokens ICOing to sustain the ICO as a viable fundraising model for much longer, especially since exchanges are increasingly desperate to snap up anything that’s decent for an IEO instead.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the ICO model vanish completely in 2020.