How to Write an ICO (or TGE) White Paper
Last updated on Nov 3, 2018.
Let’s talk about how to write a proper TGE or ICO white paper that will not only get investors excited, but buying your tokens.
What is an ICO?
Simply put, when you invest in an ICO you are investing in a company’s idea, and for doing so will get a certain amount of tokens in return for the amount you put in. The value of the tokens will then be determined by interest in the company and its technology, and the performance of the currency once it is available on public exchanges.
An ICO is much like its traditional counterpart, the Initial Public Offering (IPO), however, where an IPO will confer some degree of ownership or voting rights, buying ICO tokens doesn’t necessarily.
Read more on the difference between ICOs and IPOs here.
Since Ripple and Ethereum ran successful ICO campaigns back in 2013 and 2014 respectively, ICOs have become the de facto fundraising mechanism for Blockchain companies. Unfortunately, there isn’t a clearly stated or protected procedure for what Blockchain businesses should do with their ICO profits, leading to an industry of fraudulent ICOs. The most recent case of this was the arrest of Centra’s two founders.
However, it still remains that ICOs are the most important way for most emerging blockchain tech companies to generate interest and raise funds. This has lead to a series of ICO guidelines to which each blockchain team must adhere when releasing a product to the market. One of the strictures is that you should write an ‘ICO white paper’.
ICO to TGE
More recently there has been a movement away from ICOs to TGEs – Token Generation Events. This has coincided with a move away from pure utility token usage to the inclusion of security tokens which can confer rights to the holder, such as voting rights or operate similar to company shares. As opposed to a coin ‘offering’, these coins are generated with a specific purpose and their value is derived from a tradable asset. Subsequently, this does mean that security tokens are liable to the SEC in the US, and other financial governmental agencies around the world.
What is an ICO White Paper?
An ICO white paper is a document which outlines the technology, uses and risks of a blockchain project. Generally speaking it’s constituted of:
- 1 part technical analysis
- 1 part legalese
- 1 part marketing material
A truly successful ICO white paper will deliver these parts in equal measure, and be able to stand up to extreme scrutiny both by the law and the investor themselves. This is especially important when it comes to Token Generation Events which are offering security tokens, as will be under even closer investigation by governmental entities.
As a rule of thumb, an ICO white paper should include:
- An overview of the market the company is looking to penetrate.
- What problem the company is proposing to solve and why they need to be solved.
- A full description of the system’s architecture.
- How users will interact with the system itself.
- An introduction to the team behind the project and their specialisms.
- Information on the market cap and growth.
- Plans for, or existing partnerships.
- The terms and conditions of using the token.
- The philosophies and ethoses that underpin the company.
If the white paper itself is badly written, this can seriously damage the reputation of the project and in many cases destroy the TGE. So you want a document that covers all the important bases, and does so in a way that interests and entices investors.
If the documentation is too heavily technical you run the risk of alienating your audience, and if it’s not technical enough, it will feel flimsy and as if there’s not enough meat to support the skeleton. Striking this balance is important, and in some cases blockchain startups prefer to create two documents to accommodate the technicalities and legal requirements.
Right. Let’s stop beating around the bush and look at how to write an ICO white paper that will ensure investment and excite the crypto-sphere.
The key to pretty much any successful startup is pinpointing a problem that people face, and finding a solution to that problem. The world of blockchain is no different. Before anything else in your ICO white paper, you want to outline a problem in a way that’s relatable and understandable, and in plain english for buyers to engage with.
“My product is technical and high-level and most people won’t be able to relate to it,” you say.
Well, that’s no good. If the problem you’re addressing is too complicated for people to understand you’re doing one of two things wrong:
- You’ve found a problem that doesn’t really need to be solved.
- You haven’t found a good way of describing the problem.
Back to the drawing board.
Why is this so important? Well, if your readers can’t see the need for your solution in the first place, everything else in your document is an absolute waste of time.
Then, how do you communicate this to the reader? There are a couple of well-worn techniques of persuasion that have been employed since the days of Aristotle: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos
The Ancient Greek word for character, This requires you show the audience that you’re a credible source and worth listening to. As such, you need to choose the right language appropriate for your audience, the required level of vocabulary for the document, present information in an unbiased way and deliver your content with an expert deftness.
For example: when you introduce the market, slandering other companies in the space will damage your character and make you seem petty. However, introducing competition respectfully and in proper regard for their capabilities will speak highly of your understanding of the industry and the attitudes your business has.
Pathos requires appealing to an audiences emotions. Traditionally this would be used to draw pity or sympathy from an audience, though we can play on far more complex human emotions. In order to employ pathos a writer needs to use meaningful language with an emotional tone that evokes feelings through stories the reader can relate to.
In an ICO white paper you do not want to overdo it with pathos as this is not the place to really pull on the heart strings. Instead, rely on more subtle routes and implied meanings.
For example: invoke pathos through provoking outrage in a reader by explaining to them how their current supplier/system is compromising their data and opening them up to identity fraud and costing them money.
Logos is the logical aspect of persuasion. The way that you can appeal to an audience’s reason.
To invoke logos you want to cite facts and figures, use historical analogies and quote respected publications and people. You will also want to construct logical arguments to which the reader can only really answer, “yes!”
For example: create a real world example that most people will relate to, use direct figures to show the extent to which people are vulnerable, and create an argument for a direct solution to this vulnerability.
We all like to find bargains on the internet, often following links to websites offering discounts. However, the latest studies have sound that 5% of all online transactions are subject to identity theft. With a blockchain-based marketplace identity theft would be ostensibly eradicated. In this day and age, and with the technology we have available, users should be able to shop freely without the threat of identity theft.
Popularity of the problem and understandability of the technology are of paramount importance.
The second most crucial part of your ICO white paper is your proposed solution – the product your selling. Now, seeing as this is blockchain technology we’re talking about, your solution is going to be technical and difficult for most to comprehend.
Here’s where you need to be smart.
Accepting that your readers are going to be split into two camps: those that want technical details and those that don’t, you have to consider how you’re going to lay this out.
Can you provide a digestible solution by combining both? Likely not, so split these sections in two. Create a separate technical specification document to get this across without bogging down your white paper.
The Technical Solution
The technical portion of the ICO white paper should be subject to third party fact checking to ensure its underlying principles are accurate and achievable. The terms and conditions of the audit, including the system used and its results should also be disclosed.
Code could also be made publicly available on a code repository. This allows investors to carry out their own evaluations of the system and to explore whether the code itself contains weaknesses, though understandably this isn’t an option for many companies.
The White Paper Solution
When it comes down to actually writing about your product and your solution, it goes without saying that you need to be highly specific, transparent and accurate in what you say. An infographic is a great way to get this across. See an example from the Prixatix white paper:
It’s easy enough to get bogged down in the technical once more here, but remember that your ICO white paper is also one part sales pitch! Be sure to use this section to engage your investor with the product.
Use some tried and tested techniques of copywriting to get them amped up:
- Ask “yes” questions.
- Appeal to their emotional side.
- Sell benefits, not features.
- Use headlines and highlights effectively!
- Make people feel empowered.
- Don’t be afraid to show some personality.
Most importantly, and to reiterate above, be honest and clear. Investors can tell when you’re hiding behind false statements and overselling through hyperbole. Transparency and a little bit of earnest are incredibly important in getting people on your side.
Ok, so I mentioned this above, but things this important are worth repeating. Show the reader the benefits of using your product.
Read that again.
Show the reader the benefits.
This is not the same as listing features!
What’s the difference between a feature and a benefit?
Features are details of your products. They’re things like,
“Our system processes 10,000 transactions per second.”
“Our technology creates smart contracts on the blockchain more efficiently than anyone else.”
Sure, this is useful information and it needs to be detailed somewhere, but it doesn’t give the reader the incentive to invest in the service.
You need to turn these boring features into demonstrable benefits to the end-user by using the power of good copywriting.
So the above example changes to:
“Capable of processing 10,000 transactions per second, IncrediCoin enhances traditional processing speeds of online gaming websites by a factor of 100 dramatically reducing latency between rounds.”
You got the key fact in there, but you also showed the reader (a gaming website owner in this example), how their operations will be improved. And more importantly, how they will make more money.
Here’s the long and the short of it: benefits are all about your customers. Not you, not your product. They’re about showing your customer what you can do for them.
This couldn’t be more perfectly outlined than by the following image:
Show your investors that your solution will be taking care of the problem, not what the solution is comprised of.
Your investors need to see the people behind the project. They need to put a faces to names, otherwise simple human psychology dictates that they won’t feel as personally connected with the product.
Introducing a high value team with considerable and varied experience will certainly peak an investor’s interest, so get this across. Do your key players have previous blockchain successes? Are they doctors, lecturers?…
At the end of the day, your team is what the buyer is really investing in, so you really need to sell their skills and abilities. (Just posting a picture of Ryan Gosling and saying he’s your graphic designer won’t stand.)
Think of this section as micro resumes for each member of the project and write it as such. Get all the important elements across that you would be putting in your own CV if you were looking to get hired for a high-value position.
Again, don’t be afraid to show some personality here. This is people buying into people, so make them read like people.
Here’s what Ambrosus put on their website. It may seem a little like overkill, but for those interested, all the key details about who they are investing in are there to be seen.
If your developers have worked on past projects, link to these on code repositories. Are members of your team published? Link to the papers. Back up everything you say as much as you can.
Those reading your ICO white paper should also be told where the promoter is located. A serious investor will want to be able to identify what rules and legal protections are afforded to them by the jurisdiction of the country the promoter is operating from, and have a sense of accountability in the face of fraud or loss.
So make sure your verifiable address is detailed, a PO box won’t do.
Market Cap & Growth
Whilst there are strong arguments for why market capitalisation is a poor metric to measure cryptocurrency, investors will nonetheless want to see this information. More importantly, they will want to see how their initial investment can grow down the line.
Here is where you should outline your marketing plans, what will be invested in this area and what you hope to achieve with it.
A successful ICO white paper should outline a financial roadmap to show predicted growth based on real world situations and mining if applicable.
No ICO white paper can come without a roadmap for development of the company and its technology. Investors need to see that it’s scalable, durable and future-proof. But most importantly that it’s able to be commercialised and adopted. Projecting how their investment will grow in the near future.
Additionally, you will want to explain, with a degree of specificity, what the ICO’s capital will be spent on. They need to know that you’re capable of handling the money that they’re putting in, and that by putting it in they are contributing to the project’s development, not your own personal wallets.
So to the roadmap itself. Simply, you need to signpost estimated dates when the investor can expect things to happen. Here’s an example of an ICO roadmap from Request Network:
Investors want to see a plan that’s been well thought out and is based on set events which they can hold your company to.
Description Of The Token
Here you want to explain exactly how the tokens will be distributed. This means outlining everything from the amount of coins to be released, to pre-sale bonuses to bounty program rewards and everything else in between.
You should explain whether you have protocols in place to burn coins, and show how a token will travel through the blockchain ecosystem.
Your ICO token can have a variety of different functions, though in most cases they are likely to be a utility, security or currency. The functions of these need to be explained simply and directly. In the case that your token generated is a security you need to explicitly state the rights conferred to the buyer.
These are normally:
- anticipation of future profits in form of dividends,
- revenue share, or;
- price appreciation.
For more information on security tokens, read this article on 8 Important Things To Know About Security Tokens
Many companies working on current Token Generation Events will produce tokens using the ERC20 standard for creating smart contracts, which will also need to be explained to the investor, along with the standards and rules that come along with creating a token on such technology.
If you are planning on holding reserve coins, explain how many and how long for, as well as how you may choose to liquidate them.
Nothing nowadays is complete without a risk assessment, but in the fraught world of blockchain technology, you’d be a fool to invest without one. As such your blockchain white paper should outline the most significant risk factors that can affect an investor.
Of course, any investment inherits risk by its very nature, but diligent projects will explain any risk associated with:
- the function of the technology
- the raising of funds through the ICO/TGE
- market factors
- vulnerabilities in the system (including vulnerabilities to hacking and data-loss)
- legal issues including privacy and data sharing
- sectoral and regulatory challenges
You should also conduct a risk assessment on your competition, details of which can be included in the white paper. But remember the point from earlier! Do not take this opportunity to slander your competition. Instead, ensure that you’re unbiased and honest in your review. This will speak volumes.
So to recap, here’s a checklist of all the things you need to include in your ICO whitepaper:
- Introduce your company
- Introduce the problem
- Spell out the solution
- Detail how the solution works
- Highlight the benefits of your solution
- Introduce your incredible team
- Detail the market cap and growth
- Create a financial and developmental roadmap
- Describe how the token will work
- Give an appropriate risk assessment
But remember this is also a sales pitch to garner investment. Ensure that the language you use is captivating, exciting and exacting. Don’t be afraid to individuate your company.
You will also want to beautify the paper, creating graphics that will highlight the copy and do the content justice. A top tip is to pick out key quote and figures, and pull them out from the text to be highlighted. The reader’s eyes will be drawn here and these points will make the most enduring impact on them.