BENGALURU: Indian blockchain startups are struggling through a harsh new reality: that they need to have a product before they can raise money for it through an initial coin offering.
ICOs offer startups an ingenious way to crowdsource funds by issuing digital tokens that can be exchanged for their products and services. But globally, the ICO market has slowed in recent months after peaking in February, hurting the fundraising plans of Indian startups as well.
The ICO market is beset by realisations that much of the capital raised last year was spent on creating buzz around blockchain and related technologies, with no substantial product development happening. Also, some ICOs turned out to be scams, making investors cautious.
“Unlike last year, when an ICO was the first step (in fundraising), a working prototype is now the primary requisite for raising money,” said Alay Mehta, founder of blockchain startup ChainEx. “A whitepaper alone does not suffice… Startups with products now rely on retail investors or raise an ICO at a later stage. The first step is to raise a seed amount for the product.”
That said, the ICO slowdown is helping separate the wheat from the chaff, ushering in a maturity the sector lacked as it reveled in the hype.
“The ICOs that happened last year were easy to raise,” said Akanshu Jain, an investor in blockchain startups, “but the market has gotten much tougher now as we are looking at startups that are actually building a product and not just presenting a whitepaper.”
Vikas Singh, cofounder of Bloque-Labs, said the startup built its products and garnered customers after dropping its plans for an ICO, and is a viable business today. “We aren’t planning an ICO anytime soon as we are already generating revenue to sustain,” he said.
ChainEx, which is bootstrapped, spent about a year building an endto-end mobility product, and has now won a few customers.
Indian startups depend on global markets such as Singapore and the US for their ICOs given the lack of a regulatory framework here. While the global data seems encouraging–startups raised nearly $20 billion in ICOs from January through August this year, as compared with $9 billion in all of 2017, as per analytics firm Elementus—investors say much of this was in the first calendar quarter and institutional participation in ICOs has waned.
“The money raised in the last few months is mostly from private sales to crypto funds or VC funds. They are privately negotiated with accredited investors as opposed to public ICOs offering tokens to the retail market,” said Nitin Sharma, founder of Incrypt, which invests in blockchain projects globally. “I have not seen much activity from Indian teams recently whereas Indian projects had raised around $100 million via public ICOs last year based on my estimate.”