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, governmental or rogue entities.

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

When to Invest – During or after 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.

ICOs are not the only way, nor necessarily best way, to invest in a cryptocurrency.  It is very common for a new coin to drop in value for weeks or months after an ICO, what one might call the trough of disillusionment, and then begin climbing.  It might be the best way to invest to simply wait until the rise begins, or at least until the trough has flattened out.  Look at the history of a number of successful coins using the graphs in a site like https://coinmarketcap.com to become familiar with typical patterns after ICOs

Picking a company to invest in

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, or that has done one recetnly, and I’m considering whether to buy into their coins.

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

Avoid emotions. You should not approach investing like gambling.

Think like a venture capitalist:  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:

  • Team
    • Look for a great team with solid demonstrated experience.  
    • Research their experience claims from independent sources
    • Check LinkedIn experience, duration, endorsements links,
    • Validate site pictures of the team with other pictures of those folks
    • 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?
    • What will be its governance model?
  • Business Model
    • Is there a clear and credible business plan?
    • Is the Business model published, does it makes sense and produce an “aha” for you?
      • Whitepaper is published
      • It isn’t vague, nor is it a dissertation that obscures the business model.
    • How will the business 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 or partner?
    • Are partners properly incentivized?
    • Is there a credible roadmap / timeline?
    • Are the terms of use of the eventual service are published?
    • Does the plan have a clear description of the allocation of tokens and the use of funds raised?
    • Not overly ambitious statements or vague solution statements.
  • Track record and evidence of this venture so far
    • Is there already a working prototype?
    • Has Beta testing already done? Has there been testing with the public or a community?
    • Are essential partnerships already signed?
    • Is the technology open source? If so, take a look at code, documentation, issue tracking
    • Does the roadmap have a product launch in 3 to 6 months at max.
  • Community
    • Is there a sizeable 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.
    • Is the community participating and contributing to the business concept, and talking about how they will use the solution? Or are they only talking about getting rich quick?
    • Are they already using the existing early version?
  • If you are considering investing in their ICO
    • 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 may not get into a fast ICO at all.  Some are over in seconds or minutes.  Don’t be discouraged or upset by that.   Buy awhile AFTER the ICO.  You can often get a significantly lower price then.
    • Is the amount raised in the ICO reasonable?
      • What they need for a  few years of development, probably $10-25M tops.
    • Are 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, or to bonuses for the community assisting in marketing and creating buzz.
    • 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.
    • How does their site handle ICO investments?  Is the investment escrowed?  What happens if they don’t raise their minimum target?

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 often send message into 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 announcement 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 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 like MetaMask or Jaxx or Trezor.
      • 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 payments or other kinds of transactions.
      • One kind of Wallet (such as MetaMask, Jaxx, or MyEtherWallet, of of which I use and like) is a piece of software that you install, such as a Chrome plugin or a mobile app.
      • Another kind of Wallet is a web-based wallet, like MyEtherWallet.com, which I have also used and like.  There is a new version of web MyEtherWallet that uses the MetaMask Chrome Plugin to sign transactions.
      • There are also hardware wallets, like Trezor or Ledger Nano, 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 or other exchanges, they are not wallets fully under your control, as the exchange has to keep the private key to excecute transactions on your behalf.  DO NOT USE EXHANGE WALLETS to particpate in ICOs, or you will lose your ICO tokens.  Transfer your purchased currency balances for storage to a wallet you have full control over like MetaMask, Jaxx, MyEtherWallet, or Trezor, and invest in the ICO 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 believe that is a good approach, or perhaps better yet, buy their coins in an open market exchange in the lull after the ICO if the company is starting to make evidence of real progress.
  • Coin market graphs often show a brief period of volatility, price run up, and then a crash right after an ICO. 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, and then buy.
  • You can also look for good companies that are well past their ICOs and invest post-ICO.  You can find past ICOs in the sites listed above for ICOs.
  • 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) but lower fees and more control, include https://Bittrex.com, https://Binance.com and https://Liqui.io

Study, learn.

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

Buy when there is a panic selloff price drop.
Sell at least some of your investment when it is high, when other people are buying in crazily.

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

And… Enjoy!

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4 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.

  2. Chong Chee Kuan says:

    Dear Carl,
    I have just heard of cryptocurrency and am reading up some articles. I am really then a first timer and am interested to entered into Bitcoin. I am interested to know how the bitcoin system or the other systems around brings benefits to people in general in exchange for the benefit of investing in it. Also any advise on investing at this time for Bitcoin.

    Sorry for asking these basic questions.


    • cfravel says:

      Indeed there is a lot to learn. Bitcoin is the most famous of the cryptocurrencies, and its rise in the last year has been stunning. However, like most cryptocurrencies, it is volatile, and can have big ups and downs, driven by news, emotions, and, unfortunately, some market manipulation. The safest way to invest in cryptocurrency is to only invest what you can afford to lose, not the majority of your savings. Invest in more than one type of coin (like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, or some of the many types of “altcoins”. But don’t invest because someone else told you that something is fantastic. Research, develop understanding and insight into what is going on. Make small investments, learn, be wise. The safest time to invest in a particular coin is when others have panic-sold and driven the price down below where it has been for some time. This is called buying the dips. If it drops a bunch more, be happy and buy some more. Then, when it has risen a bunch again, be sure to sell at least some of it when you have profit. Do this for awhile and you will have reclaimed your initial investment and you are investing the profits you have made.

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