ICO Insanity? $300 Million Gnosis Valuation Sparks Market Reaction

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The latest in a long line of initial coin offerings, a sale held today for tokens that will power the ethereum prediction market Gnosis is emerging as a novel entry – if not for the reason intended.

Ostensively designed to discourage the kind of speculation that has come to define ICOs, the resulting sale was arguably anything but usual – concluding in less than 15 minutes and with the creators owning the vast majority of the funds (95% worth more than $280m at press time).

In short, given the choice between waiting to purchase (thereby lowering the purchasing price of the tokens and decreasing the share of founder funds), investors jumped at the chance to buy the tokens that will power the network (now in beta) – just 5% of the project’s tokens sold for a combined $12m.

The result has been that Gnosis is attracting significant commentary, with proponents arguing that it shows the strong demand for blockchain project funding and detractors asserting its merely the latest case of speculation run amok.

To give you an idea of how much was raised, the total valuation was about double the current value of another blockchain prediction market, Augur. Further, ethereum, the blockchain platform on which the decentralized application is based, raised $18m in its original 2014 crowdsale, the largest-ever at the time. (Augur raised $5m in 2015).

The result is that even those who support the project seemed taken aback.

Demian Brenner, project lead at Zeppelin, a firm that does technical due diligence on ICO projects, called the results evidence prediction markets are simply a “hot area” of the market.

Others viewed it more as the latest litmus test for assessing the uncharted ICO market. Such a view was put forward by Dan Cawrey, co-founder of blockchain derivatives project Pactum, who compared the project to Augur.

Cawrey told CoinDesk:

“Both are prediction markets. Both projects are approaching that problem differently. At this point, it’s all about the team and how they devise the structure.”

But, it has prompted some worries, with some pointing to the high market cap for the project as an example of the recent “irrationality” of token sales. Some have gone so far as to state that investors didn’t know the details of what they were investing in, and that a “redo” might be order to more equitably distribute the funds.

As indicated in an investor release, Gnosis intends to lock up at least 99% of the funds for at least one year, with more details on how the funds will be used coming in the release.

Dutch auction system

While there have been many crowdsales in the ethereum space (from Augur to Golem), the formula generally goes something like this. First, the team sets a date for the token sale. Then, in most cases, a portion, say 10% of the total tokens, are set aside for the development team to sell as a means to continue engineering the project.

Some token sales, such as SingularTV or Cosmos, have ended in just a matter of minutes or hours, often presumably with big players eating up most of the tokens. (There are signs this may have been the case with Gnosis, according to estimates.) Others have taken months or have been shelved due to inactivity.

So far, these projects have also deployed a number of token distribution models. Usually tokens grow more expensive over time, as they did in e-sports platform First Blood’s ICO.

Gnosis put together a different structure, though, one on which they worked on with ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin and developer Alex Van de Sande.

The idea behind the “dutch-style auctioning system” was for the tokens to grow less expensive over time, thereby encouraging investors to buy in later, prolonging the time it would take for users to buy up all the tokens.

But, that’s not what happened. Further, Gnosis did not add any cap on the amount of tokens that the team would receive, as is typical for other projects. Rather, the sale was scheduled to end once $12.5m was raised or 9m GNO tokens were sold.

ICO gone wrong?

Because the incentives of the new system didn’t work quite as intended, some have gone on to suggest that investors are notrational for buying at such a high price. (Even Slock.it founder and CEO Christoph Jentzsch weighed in with this view.)

Monero developer Riccardo Spagni, a long-time critic of the ICO practice, argued that the Gnosis token sale architects should have expected the crowdsale to play out the way it did, with investors rushing to buy the tokens before others.

“The choice wasn’t really a choice at all,” he told CoinDesk. “It’s a little bit of a completely expected selfish choice.”

Still, the quick access to funding has at least one startup founder re-thinking the model. Ryan X Charles, CEO of Yours, a project that aims to use blockchain for content funding, has long sought to sidestep issuing its own token by leveraging the bitcoin blockchain.

Yet, Charles said the funding could help to change his mind, calling the result “impressive”.

He concluded:

“I’m becoming much more bullish on cryptocurrency and tokens in general.”

Burning money image via Shutterstock

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