The old truism that a ‘sucker is born every minute’ has never been more apt than during the crypto era, when weeks-old ‘companies’ with little more than an incomprehensible white paper and an abundance of bluster managed to raise billions of dollars from crowds of wannabes hoping they might be about to cash in on the next bitcoin.
As many soon learned, that was far from the case. Most ended up holding the bag, and many of the companies that gladly took their money in exchange for now-worthless digital tokens are embroiled in an array of legal troubles, or have devolved into internal squabbling over how the spoils should be distributed.
But with the SEC breathing down their necks, many in the crypto world have turned to an innovative solution: Rejigger the acronym, and suddenly, what you’re doing is legal.
Introducing ‘the IEO’. As WSJ’s Steven Russolillo explains, they’re similar to ICOs, but with one key difference: Digital tokens are sold to investors via a crypto exchange, not directly by the startups themselves. And though the sums raised in these types of offerings are nowhere near the heights of the ICO frenzy, more than $518 million has been raised during 63 IEOs during the first five months of this year. And with the price of bitcoin once again on the rise (the ultimate barometer of interest in crypto), that figure is sure to climb.
Critics of the deals argue the new structure resolves none of the inherent flaws of the old structure (vulnerability to hacks and – oh yeah – outright fraud, to name a few).
As one VC put it: “It’s like ICO 2.0…frauds are waiting to happen. A lot of people got burned in ICO land and I think a lot of people are going to get burned in IEO land.”
Instead of comapny’s issuing these securities directly, presumably trustworthy crypto exchanges act as intermediaries, performing roles akin to that of an investment bank in traditional financial transactions. It’s not in a crypto exchange’s interest to back a faulty IEO, because of the reputational damage. Binance, one of the most popular crypto exchanges, has emerged as a primary backer of IEOs.
Of course, it wasn’t exactly in Lehman Brothers’ interest to engineer its own downfall by hawking ‘AAA’-rated mortgage bonds backed packed to the brim with subprime mortgages.
But we all remember how that turned out.