Entrepreneurs looking for funding for their next project are now spoiled for choice. The old days of ransacking their savings, begging the bank, mortgaging the house or going cap in hand to the Bank of Mom and Dad are over. Or rather, they're still there but to those old traditional methods have been added a bunch of new ones that make starting a business much easier.
For tech start-ups, the dream is still to take a giant sum of money from a venture capital firm. A group of founders create their pitch deck, work their connections to land seats in a meeting room, then show off what they plan to do, how far they've come on their own bootstraps, and why they believe there's a billion-dollar future in 5G-connected bottle caps. In return for a large chunk of the company, they receive enough money to take them to the next milestone and become multi-millionaires at least on paper.
But to impress VCs, you need to have made some progress. You have to be able to show that you can build the product, and you need the figures that prove there's a large market for that product. Usually, you also need to be in technology.
Crowdfunding has provided a route for other kinds of businesses and for firms that are in an earlier stage of development. Kickstarter might have begun life as a way for artisans to turn creative ideas into business ventures but it's now better known for raising money to build strange new games, unspillable coffee cups, animated backpacks and an inflatable sculpture of Lionel Richie's head.
You'll need an interesting idea. You'll need to have enough funds to create a prototype. And you'll need to be able to do the promotional work to bring in the pledges. But more than 150,000 projects have now been successfully funded, with 319 of them receiving more than a million dollars. Altogether, users have stumped up over $3.8 billion to fund ideas on Kickstarter.
Pledgers on Kickstarter, though, expect quick returns. They're usually paying in advance for a product that they'd like to own one day... and the sooner the better. Other businesses require more patience. They want the funds that allow them to develop at the pace of a start-up but without giving up a large share of the company.
Initial Coin Offers, or ICOs, have managed to fill that gap. Instead of persuading venture capitalists that the company has a market, the company can appeal directly to potential customers--just like Kickstarter. But unlike Kickstarter, an ICO doesn't take money now in return for cranking out a product that hasn't yet been created. It gives potential customers special money that they can use to buy the product when it comes out. If all goes well, they should find that they're buying it at a bargain.
ICOs raised around $18.7 billion in the first nine months of this year. That's lower than the $57.5 billion venture capitalists poured into companies in the first six months--but it's not much lower for a system that's still relatively new and demands much less from investors.
For entrepreneurs, the benefits of using an ICO over other forms of funding are clear. The company remains yours. The pressure to produce a product quickly is much lower. The amounts raised can be high, and you're entirely in charge. You don't even have to go to the Bank of Mom and Dad.