We’re living in the midst of a global ICO frenzy. In Southeast Asia, for instance, a Philippine-based startup known as PawnHero created its own cryptocurrency to disrupt the pawnshop industry and take it global. Singapore is also home to numerous new blockchain companies, one of them being Toast, which helps migrant workers send money home to their families. Despite incredible and revolutionary ideas, though, building a startup is never easy, especially in a technological landscape that not many people understand.
Nevertheless, people still try—which means investors are weary from skimming through hundreds, if not thousands, of ICOs. They know very well that not all of these projects would have the best intentions, and of those that actually do, not many will survive. The technical complexities of this new terrain alone are enough to snuff out even the most seemingly-qualified projects—the blockchain ecosystem seems to have its own Darwinian mechanism.
The territory presents immense challenges to startup founders, who are now faced with the colossal task of distinguishing themselves from the noise. That’s where marketing companies come in—but even marketers are knee-deep in pending projects and have to scour through an already polluted blockchain landscape.
I sat down with Ivan Goldensohn, Chief Marketing Officer at Dispatch Labs, to give startup founders an inside look into what goes on in the screening process. I asked him how much he screens ICO projects before agreeing to take them on, to which he replied: “Heavily.”
“The ICO landscape is cluttered with far too many scams, or ideas which could be great but don’t make any sense for tokenization or transition. Within that landscape are some diamonds in the rough which could benefit from shared-ledger technology. Finding which projects are worth supporting is a bit of a mix of art and science,” he said.
So what exactly does it take for an ICO to be taken seriously? As it turns out, the promise of profit isn’t the first thing marketers look at. In fact, it’s down a few notches behind other key points.
“My first qualification for any project involves values,” Goldensohn notes. “It doesn’t have to be a purely social good or save-the-environment project, but it does have to involve good people who have values, and are driven by more than pure profit.”
As he delves deeper into the assessment, money still doesn’t come next in Goldensohn’s checklist. Rather, reputation precedes profit, and it can make the difference between a project he’ll consider taking up versus one that will end up in the bin.
“If they pass the not-scam-artists test, I look from an investor perspective, and ask the core questions an investor should ask of any project. Primarily, I look at the top couple of people on the team—who they are, how much presence they have, and ultimately, whether they have the experience to scale the company and make it succeed. I also put the CEO’s presence to the test: a CEO has to be sharp, eloquent, and must possess a powerful presence. Bad C-suites ruin companies.”
With more than 1,600 cryptocurrencies in existence and more popping up by the day, I asked Goldensohn which ones he think will are likely to survive.
“Once companies have gotten through some of the basics, like white paper, one sheet, website, etc., you can get a pretty good idea of what they’re trying to do, why they are trying to do it, and if it makes sense for shared ledger tech or tokenization. If it’s a great idea with opportunities for market penetration, and the team has a good mix of tactical experience and open-minded-silicon-valley dreaminess, it has a good chance at success. Numbers are also key here—if companies try to raise $100+ million, they better be paying attention to what’s happening in the world of ICOs.”
Change, for instance, is another Singaporean startup with ambition: it wants to be the “PayPal of cryptocurrency,” and has already managed to raise over US $15 million to fund its ICO. While this is undoubtedly a good start, it does not necessarily guarantee success long-term.
Goldensohn says that a company’s ability to evolve is also crucial. “Another determining factor here is whether they can take feedback and use it to adapt. At the end of the day, many things can be fixed, adjusted, or updated if the idea is great enough to work with. But that depends on the team’s ability to set aside egos and use criticism as a weapon for growth and learning.”
While marketers face an entirely different set of challenges for ICOs that they did not have to face with traditional startup marketing, Goldensohn says that there are still similarities and ways around these challenges.
“There’s a big Venn diagram here: Facebook and Google—both very powerful advertising vehicles, are no longer an option for ICOs. But the core fundamentals of doing good marketing are similar: Establish brand with action, support it with reliable design and quality materials, and maintain high quality standards”
The Facebook and Google ban is not the end of the world for cryptocurrency marketing either, as Goldensohn cites several open channels that marketers can take advantage of.
“Community is unbelievably important to an ICO. Channels like Telegram, Discord, Slack and Twitter should have priority, personality, and regular engagement. Bitcointalk.org is also incredibly helpful. Taking the time to analyze and maximize these channels is crucial. Any ICO marketer worth their salt should dive into the alt-coin announcement section on Bitcointalk on a regular basis, as well as staying updated with vital publications like Cointelegraph, Coindesk, among others.”
Dispatch Labs is also aiming to become a friendlier blockchain for the masses. So how does Goldensohn plan to make this happen?
“For Dispatch, our primary demographic is developers or people with great ideas building on blockchain. The Dispatch protocol is perhaps most valuable as a platform for DApps, where great ideas can grow and thrive and without being hampered by scaling issues or inability to handle data. As a result, much of our marketing is focused on making sure that developers know how incredible of a platform Dispatch is, and sharing all the wonderful things that it can do. On top of that, I spend money and time on making sure people building on our network succeed. If those great ideas can succeed, and are building on Dispatch, Dispatch can make its way towards becoming the first shared ledger with real mass adoption,” he said.
Also read: The top 4 reasons why ICOs fail
The ICO world is growing up, and today, in order to launch successfully, organizations have to lead with a strong marketing mix that not only appeals to an investor’s financial roadmap, but also the public’s expectations for usefulness and value.
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