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Initial Coin Offerings and the Value of Crypto Tokens


  • Christian Catalini
  • Joshua S. Gans


This paper explores how entrepreneurs can use initial coin offerings — whereby they issue crypto tokens and commit to only accept those tokens as payment for their products — to fund venture start-up costs. We show that the ICO mechanism allows entrepreneurs to generate buyer competition for the token, giving it value. We also find that venture returns are independent of any committed growth in the supply of tokens over time, but that initial funds raised are maximized by setting that growth to zero to encourage saving by early participants. Nonetheless, since the value of the tokens depends on a single period of demand, the ability to raise funds is more limited than in traditional equity finance. Furthermore, a lack of commitment in monetary policy undermines saving behavior, hence the cost of using tokens to fund start-up costs is inflexibility in future capital raises. Crypto tokens can also facilitate coordination among stakeholders within digital ecosystems when network effects are present.

Suggested Citation

  • Christian Catalini & Joshua S. Gans, 2018. "Initial Coin Offerings and the Value of Crypto Tokens," NBER Working Papers 24418, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:24418
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    1. repec:rje:randje:v:37:y:2006:3:p:720-737 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. E. Glen Weyl, 2010. "A Price Theory of Multi-sided Platforms," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(4), pages 1642-1672, September.
    3. Athey, Susan & Parashkevov, Ivo & Sarukkai, Vishnu & Xia, Jing, 2016. "Bitcoin Pricing, Adoption, and Usage: Theory and Evidence," Research Papers 3469, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
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    Cited by:

    1. Rod Garratt & Maarten van Oordt, 2019. "Entrepreneurial Incentives and the Role of Initial Coin Offerings," Staff Working Papers 19-18, Bank of Canada.
    2. Yannis Bakos & Hanna Halaburda, 2019. "The Role of Cryptographic Tokens and ICOs in Fostering Platform Adoption," CESifo Working Paper Series 7752, CESifo Group Munich.
    3. Volodymyr Babich & Gilles Hilary, 2019. "Distributed Ledgers and Operations: What Operations Management Researchers Should Know about Blockchain Technology," Post-Print hal-02005158, HAL.
    4. Anil Savio Kavuri & Alistair Milne, 2019. "FinTech and the future of financial services: What are the research gaps?," CAMA Working Papers 2019-18, Centre for Applied Macroeconomic Analysis, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E42 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Money and Interest Rates - - - Monetary Sytsems; Standards; Regimes; Government and the Monetary System
    • L12 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Monopoly; Monopolization Strategies
    • L26 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Entrepreneurship

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