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Initial Coin Offerings: Financing Growth with Cryptocurrency Token Sales


  • Sabrina T. Howell
  • Marina Niessner
  • David Yermack


Initial coin offerings (ICOs) have emerged as a new mechanism for entrepreneurial finance, with parallels to initial public offerings, venture capital, and pre-sale crowdfunding. In a sample of more than 1,500 ICOs that collectively raise $12.9 billion, we examine which issuer and ICO characteristics predict successful real outcomes (increasing issuer employment and avoiding enterprise failure). Success is associated with disclosure, credible commitment to the project, and quality signals. An instrumental variables analysis finds that ICO token exchange listing causes higher future employment, indicating that access to token liquidity has important real consequences for the enterprise.

Suggested Citation

  • Sabrina T. Howell & Marina Niessner & David Yermack, 2018. "Initial Coin Offerings: Financing Growth with Cryptocurrency Token Sales," NBER Working Papers 24774, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:24774
    Note: CF LE PR

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    Cited by:

    1. Donato Masciandaro, 2018. "Central Bank Digital Cash and Cryptocurrencies: Insights from a New Baumol–Friedman Demand for Money," Australian Economic Review, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, vol. 51(4), pages 540-550, December.
    2. Rod Garratt & Maarten van Oordt, 2019. "Entrepreneurial Incentives and the Role of Initial Coin Offerings," Staff Working Papers 19-18, Bank of Canada.
    3. Alperovych, Yan & Groh, Alexander & Quas, Anita, 2020. "Bridging the equity gap for young innovative companies: The design of effective government venture capital fund programs," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 49(10).
    4. Franklin Allen & Xian Gu & Julapa Jagtiani, 2020. "A Survey of Fintech Research and Policy Discussion," Working Papers 20-21, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, revised 28 May 2020.
    5. W. Scott Frame & Larry D. Wall & Lawrence J. White, 2018. "Technological Change and Financial Innovation in Banking: Some Implications for Fintech," FRB Atlanta Working Paper 2018-11, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
    6. Emanuele Borgonovo & Stefano Caselli & Alessandra Cillo & Donato Masciandaro & Giovanno Rabitti, 2018. "Cryptocurrencies, central bank digital cash, traditional money: does privacy matter?," BAFFI CAREFIN Working Papers 1895, BAFFI CAREFIN, Centre for Applied Research on International Markets Banking Finance and Regulation, Universita' Bocconi, Milano, Italy.
    7. Lin William Cong & Ye Li & Neng Wang, 2020. "Token-Based Platform Finance," NBER Working Papers 27810, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Richard Holden & Anup Malani, 2019. "The ICO Paradox: Transactions Costs, Token Velocity, and Token Value," NBER Working Papers 26265, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Saman Adhami & Dominique Guegan, 2020. "Crypto assets: the role of ICO tokens within a well-diversified portfolio," Economia e Politica Industriale: Journal of Industrial and Business Economics, Springer;Associazione Amici di Economia e Politica Industriale, vol. 47(2), pages 219-241, June.
    10. Raffaella Barone & Donato Masciandaro, 2019. "Cryptocurrency or usury? Crime and alternative money laundering techniques," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 47(2), pages 233-254, April.
    11. Winifred Huang & Michele Meoli & Silvio Vismara, 2020. "The geography of initial coin offerings," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 55(1), pages 77-102, June.
    12. Mikhail Stolbov, 2019. "Was there a bubble in the ICO market?," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 39(4), pages 2448-2456.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • G24 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Investment Banking; Venture Capital; Brokerage
    • G32 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Financing Policy; Financial Risk and Risk Management; Capital and Ownership Structure; Value of Firms; Goodwill
    • K22 - Law and Economics - - Regulation and Business Law - - - Business and Securities Law
    • L26 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Entrepreneurship

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