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Hackernoon logo3 Essential Things I Learned Being Part of an ICO by@michielmulders

3 Essential Things I Learned Being Part of an ICO

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@michielmuldersMichiel Mulders

This article reflects my personal opinion, and my personal opinion only. The views shared here are not necesarily the views of any projects I have worked with.

Key topics:

  • ICO Bench is shit (and most other ICO index sites as well)
  • Creative scammers and how you can benefit from them
  • Don’t do bounties

Hi, let me introduce myself. I’m Michiel, just a guy around the corner, who discovered the golden world of ICOs, or should I say Utopia? I’m a blockchain developer/advisor and have worked for several ICOs. Do I want to call myself an expert? Hell no!

In this article, I want to address the shady stuff happening in our ICO space and share the knowledge I’ve gained through witnessing firsthand.

Source: French web-series — Le Visiteur du Futur

Avoid ICO Index Websites

Yes, you did read this correctly.

In the beginning, many projects I was on were keen to get listed on as many ICO index websites as possible. Soon we discovered a couple of them asked skyrocketing prices, although they barely had traffic, or relevant traffic (high bounce rates or clearly bot/farmed traffic). We’ve learned to carefully select a smaller number of valuable and trustworthy ICO listing sites (if the web traffic justifies it). Avoid giving a desperate impression. ICO index websites will give you proper visibility, so choose them wisely. There’s nothing wrong with paying them, but make sure it’s worth the investment: it often isn’t.


To give some numbers, asks $2300 in tokens for listing on their website. According to similarweb, the website had over the last couple of months an average of 100,000 visitors. Only the last month, the amount increased to 227,000 visitors. Considering the low ‘pages per visit’ and the high bounce rate, it’s very unlikely you will get any traffic from this index website. dares to ask you 0.29 BTC for becoming indexed on their website. They can only offer you 82,500 views. Just have a brief look at their low-effort website here:

ICO Bench is pure shit

Recently, I came across this project on ICO Bench.

Seems pretty legit right? The list goes on, having 14 similar reviews with an average score of 4.9. In addition, I have serious doubts about the need for blockchain for this type of project.

I don’t like to say this, but it sounds like one big scam (most likely bribed reviewers). 1) The explanatory video is just shilling the project; 2) The project is aggressively marketed which is a historical indication of a red flag; 3) There is no need for these robotic drones to run on a decentralized network and use cryptocurrencies. It seems they just need funding to build their prototype, or worse, produce vaporware (pocketing cash) and abandon an inevitably failed project.

“If you are an investor in a blockchain project, you deserve to have due diligence reports which are objective and will not be arbitrarily reviewed with a higher rating due to payment from the falsely rated project.” — Richard Sanders.

There are very few ICO listing websites that provide exclusively objective reviews of ICOs. We have to face the reality that this is the current state of the blockchain industry and ICOs. To be honest, it makes me outraged.

Remember Benebit or World of Battles scam? That’s right. Many accuse (and rightfully so) ICO Bench and many other ICO index websites of just accepting money for giving them inflated ratings and reviews. And it seems they still haven’t learned their lesson.

Google search result on Benebit ICO.

Don’t do bounties

Please, steer away from bounties! Nowadays, people call themselves professional bounty hunters.

LinkedIn search on ‘bounty crypto hunter’

The original goal of an ICO bounty program is receiving ‘free’ marketing, or other tasks to benefit the project. Perhaps early on, this was a very effective marketing tool. People wrote blogs, created great content and received a nice amount of tokens in return. In this way, the project could create a healthy long-term community.

There’s no point in receiving millions of tokens as bounty rewards if they are not worth anything or if the team is unlikely to distribute rewards to bounty hunters. — Pascal Thellmann

With one ICO, we have spent more than 11,000 Euro worth of tokens on 2300 views in total. 96% of the ICO submissions was just completely rubbish.

The problem with bounties isn’t just on the ICO team’s end, but is often a risk for ‘bounty hunters’ as well. Most bounty campaigns award a number of tokens that ends up being worth such a small amount that they cannot be transferred off the projects exchange or even exchanged on ERC20 exchanges.

Nowadays, people falsely see bounty programs as a way of getting easy and free money to be sold as soon the token gets listed. This has a negative effect on the long-term tokens holders as the price of the token immediately drops because of these short-term gold seekers.

In addition, the influx of these short-term cash-grabbers, whom often do not even visit the project’s website for a prolonged period of time, let alone read their whitepaper, and lack much, if any, understanding of the project. These types of people are toxic to blockchain startup communities and contribute no value to them, unless “when moon” is the type of question you like to read twenty times per day in your Telegram.

Not surprisingly, most of the content we had received from our bounty content submission was complete rubbish or the publisher had few to zero views.


It’s not only the fault of these so-called ‘bounty hunters’. The increasing amount of ICOs results in an abundance of available bounty programs. Many ICOs fail and people receive worthless tokens which will never get listed, are worth too little to exchange off the platform, or equate to far less than minimum wage in many countries.


In response to this, we first reached out to carefully selected websites, YouTubers, and curated blogs we wanted to be featured on. Only those carefully selected websites can participate in our ‘private bounty program’, which we rewarded a higher ratio of tokens than the shotgun-blast, large-scale bounty programs that resulted in less tangible effects. So, it’s more a selective bounty program.

Look at the Gems ICO. At a certain point, they had over 42,000 telegram members. Before you could whitelist, you had to prove your contribution to the community (like sharing a blog/writing one.) They managed to create an enormous hype around the project because of this whitelisting model. In the end, people found out only a small amount of the tokens were sold in the public sales. Because of that, the combination of the huge hype they created and the small amount of sold tokens made many people think about it being a scam.

So, please, pick quality ICOs with a long-term vision and strong use-case! Avoid over-hyped ICOs with aggressive marketing, heavy referral programs, or unsustainable models.

Creative scammers and how to benefit from them

I’ve seen numerous scams happening in Telegram chats for the blockchain projects I’ve worked on. A frequently occurring one is where the scammer adopts an identity of a popular crypto YouTuber or influencer. They’ll try to close a deal to promote the project on their channel in return for some tokens.

To fight this, we always ask the ‘scammer’ to confirm their identity by sending a message or mail from his official channel/blog. Numerous times a scammer provided us with an email from ProtonMail, which is a fully anonymous mail service provider, widely adopted by scam artists on the forum.


But, let’s look at the bright side of things. When such scams happen, we always tried to use it to our advantage. We would make an effort to get in touch with the channel the scammer pretends to represent, and inform them of the scam happening with their identity being used. In this way, we often create strong connections and can get a featured blog or video for a discounted price, or even free, out of gratitude.

The image below shows a scammer pretending to be Victoria Wong of Crush Crypto. After having contact on LinkedIn with the real Victoria Wong, we could notify her about this scam.

The bottom line — Proper projects

Good projects have a soft and a hard cap that reflects what they are trying to accomplish.

Bad projects spend way too much money on shilling their project or perform aggressive marketing, where a proper project with a strong use-case doesn’t require this kind of shilling. I’ve seen many ICOs paying astonishing amounts for getting (more accurately, bribing) highly-ranked reviews on top websites. It’s sad that these kind of websites don’t care if the project is good or not, but only about the money they can make riding this hype train. In my opinion, they are complicit if a project turns out to be a scam, especially if they posted arbitrarily positive reviews and misled people.

On each ICO I’ve worked on, I’ve explicitly advised them to first build a publicly facing prototype of the project they want to accomplish. It’s all a matter of long-term vision combined with transparency. To be honest, without these approaches, a project is doomed to fail.

Luckily, the ICO space does have some proper projects, for example:

  • Polymath simplifies the legal process of creating and selling security tokens. It makes a new token standard, the ST20, and enforces government compliance. Only a “list of authorized investors and their Ethereum wallet addresses” can hold ST20 tokens. Therefore, token issuers don’t need to worry about the legal implications of your security falling into the wrong hands. Polymath wants attorneys or government officials to be involved in the process from the very beginning, when a new security token is being issued. Done right, this could help side-step the need for an SEC-like agency to get involved. And it could ultimately lead to a more legitimate blockchain market that can reach the mass market, faster.
  • The Rouge Project tries to jump on the movement of digitalized coupons instead of paper ones. The platform enables you to trade coupons you don’t need or buy coupons. The Rouge Platform is bringing full visibility as many problems exist in the coupon industry: fraud, tracking problems or arrangements. The Rouge Platform solves this by using smart contracts. The Rouge Platform will make use of decentralized applications opening new possibilities for coupons.
  • iOlite is speeding up the mass adoption of blockchain technology by enabling people to create smart contracts with natural language or any desired programming language. iOlite makes use of an adapted NLP engine, called a Fast Adaptation Engine (FAE) that is capable of learning more complex language. Contributors can define structures linked to smart contract code. If someone needs a smart contract for selling bikes, it will look up ‘sell’ structures defined by contributors. The engine is smart enough to adapt a found structure to bikes. In short, iOlite relies on its community and its FAE that applies machine training.
Good vs. Bad ICO Projects

I hope you could learn some valuable lessons from my experiences in the ICO space and blockchain industry. Be vigilant and do your research before you trust a project with your time or money.

Guys, be transparent, don’t bribe, keep the crypto space clean as it’s already polluted with dumb ass gold seekers.


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