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Blockchain and the Economics of Crypto-tokens and Initial Coin Offerings


  • John P. Conley

    (Vanderbilt University)


Blockchain startups have embraced initial coin offerings (ICOs) as a vehicle to raise early capital. The crypto-tokens offered in these sales are intended to fill a widely varied set of roles on different platforms. Some tokens are similar to currencies, others are more like securities, and others have properties that are entirely new. Each company's technological vision calls for a token with unique properties and uses. The main point of this paper is that designing a successful token must take into account certain aspects of monetary theory, financial economics, and game theory. Failing to do so can put an otherwise excellent project at risk. We also explore what economics tells us about how to assess the value of tokens offered for sale, how startups should structure their ICOs, and what the implications of assigning various roles to tokens on a platform might be.

Suggested Citation

  • John P. Conley, 2017. "Blockchain and the Economics of Crypto-tokens and Initial Coin Offerings," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 17-00008, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:van:wpaper:vuecon-sub-17-00007

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    Cited by:

    1. Benedict J. Drasch & Gilbert Fridgen & Tobias Manner-Romberg & Fenja M. Nolting & Sven Radszuwill, 2020. "The token’s secret: the two-faced financial incentive of the token economy," Electronic Markets, Springer;IIM University of St. Gallen, vol. 30(3), pages 557-567, September.
    2. Magnus Schückes & Tobias Gutmann, 2021. "Why do startups pursue initial coin offerings (ICOs)? The role of economic drivers and social identity on funding choice," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 57(2), pages 1027-1052, August.
    3. Moon Soo Kim & Jee Yong Chung, 2018. "Sustainable Growth and Token Economy Design: The Case of Steemit," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 11(1), pages 1-12, December.
    4. Jamsheed Shorish, 2019. "Hedonic pricing of cryptocurrency tokens," Digital Finance, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 163-189, November.
    5. Stefan Tönnissen & Jan Heinrich Beinke & Frank Teuteberg, 2020. "Understanding token-based ecosystems – a taxonomy of blockchain-based business models of start-ups," Electronic Markets, Springer;IIM University of St. Gallen, vol. 30(2), pages 307-323, June.
    6. Romi Kher & Siri Terjesen & Chen Liu, 2021. "Blockchain, Bitcoin, and ICOs: a review and research agenda," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 56(4), pages 1699-1720, April.
    7. Adhami, Saman & Giudici, Giancarlo & Martinazzi, Stefano, 2018. "Why do businesses go crypto? An empirical analysis of initial coin offerings," Journal of Economics and Business, Elsevier, vol. 100(C), pages 64-75.
    8. Shrestha, Prabal & Arslan-Ayaydin, Özgür & Thewissen, James & Torsin, Wouter, 2021. "Institutions, regulations and initial coin offerings: An international perspective," International Review of Economics & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 72(C), pages 102-120.
    9. Andreas Barth & Valerie Laturnus & Sasan Mansouri & Alexander F. Wagner, 2021. "ICO Analysts," Swiss Finance Institute Research Paper Series 21-26, Swiss Finance Institute.
    10. Lennart Ante & Philipp Sandner & Ingo Fiedler, 2018. "Blockchain-Based ICOs: Pure Hype or the Dawn of a New Era of Startup Financing?," JRFM, MDPI, vol. 11(4), pages 1-19, November.
    11. Johann Kranz & Esther Nagel & Youngjin Yoo, 2019. "Blockchain Token Sale," Business & Information Systems Engineering: The International Journal of WIRTSCHAFTSINFORMATIK, Springer;Gesellschaft für Informatik e.V. (GI), vol. 61(6), pages 745-753, December.
    12. Christian Masiak & Joern H. Block & Tobias Masiak & Matthias Neuenkirch & Katja N. Pielen, 2020. "Initial coin offerings (ICOs): market cycles and relationship with bitcoin and ether," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 55(4), pages 1113-1130, December.
    13. Andreas Hanl, 2018. "Some Insights into the Development of Cryptocurrencies," MAGKS Papers on Economics 201804, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Faculty of Business Administration and Economics, Department of Economics (Volkswirtschaftliche Abteilung).
    14. Simon Albrecht & Bernhard Lutz & Dirk Neumann, 2020. "The behavior of blockchain ventures on Twitter as a determinant for funding success," Electronic Markets, Springer;IIM University of St. Gallen, vol. 30(2), pages 241-257, June.
    15. Sharma, Zenu & Zhu, Yun, 2020. "Platform building in initial coin offering market: Empirical evidence," Pacific-Basin Finance Journal, Elsevier, vol. 61(C).
    16. Emilio Boulianne & Mélissa Fortin, 2020. "Risks and Benefits of Initial Coin Offerings: Evidence from impak Finance, a Regulated Initial Coin Offering†," Accounting Perspectives, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 19(4), pages 413-437, December.
    17. Anabele-Linda Pardi & Mario Paolucci, 2021. "A Chemical Analysis of Hybrid Economic Systems—Tokens and Money," Mathematics, MDPI, vol. 9(20), pages 1-22, October.

    More about this item


    Blockchain; Crypto-tokens; Cryptocurrency; Initial Coin Offering; Bitcoin; KYC; AML; ICO;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • E5 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit
    • G1 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets

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