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The most important part of an ICO whitepaper

September 27, 2017

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At this week’s World Blockchain Forum in London I was frequently asked “What’s the most important part of an ICO whitepaper?” At first I had to think, because I realized that what my brain immediately thought about was what’s important to purchasers of your token. But that’s a shallow answer. It’s useful only if you are looking to raise money and then do nothing else. Today, your white paper serves not just as a marketing document, but as your business plan going forward. So the question is a little more complex.

Said another way, the most important part of your ICO whitepaper is the most important part of your business, which I can most easily refer to as “Product-Market Fit” or “Go to market strategy”. If you have a brilliant idea and a brilliant team, but you don’t know how you are going to enter the market, it will be transparent to everyone listening to your pitch and reading your whitepaper. It will cause the company to fail, as well.

Just to give an example, one of the companies presenting, Robomed, wants to help patients who pay for medical services out-of-pocket to get better and guaranteed services. They said “This is an 800 billion dollar market.” So there are 800 billion dollars worth of private money purchasing medical services worldwide. That makes sense. I know people who have purchased medical services, even though they have insurance. I know people who went to back specialists not funded by their insurance, who wanted to try alternative cancer treatments, etc. I asked the founder, “What is that 800 billion being spent on?” He said “everything. General medical services like flu, like back problems. Everything.” Everyone knows that can’t be the case. The only people who spend their pocket money on “every” type of medical service are people who have no insurance or people who live in countries where the pubic clinics are bad so they prefer private.

So you could say “In these countries, the public hospitals are so bad that anyone with money gets all their needs met at private clinics.” Then you are serving rich people in very specific countries. It also might turn out that middle-class people spend some money on very important procedures, but since they aren’t rich, some of the time the go to public hospitals. If you have acne, you don’t care if the doctor is the absolute best but if you are having a heart surgery, it matters quite a bit more.  You can then break that down into how much each person spends per year, how they choose a doctor, etc. Once you know this information, the company can create a go-to-market strategy that is clear. You know what types of customers there are. You know which procedures they are most concerned about. If you think you will serve “everybody”, you do not have a go-to-market strategy. You do not have a product-market fit. You have a guess. If you are super smart and move fast, maybe that guess will work. More likely, it will turn into chaos. If you are super smart, or even just a bit smart, you won’t get yourself into that situation.

In other words, the most important part of your ICO Whitepaper, if you want your company to succeed, is your go-to-market strategy. But is that the most important part for someone who is considering buying your token or coin? First of all, let me say, I don’t know. I don’t buy a lot of token as a straight investor. But I did sit next to different people in these sessions, and I chatted with many people in the breaks. No matter who I asked about a pitch, they all understood this basic principle.

Nobody said “They don’t have product-market fit.” What they did say was “I don’t get how they will make money.” or “They can’t change people’s behavior in that way, so that’s never going to work.” or “I just don’t understand how the ecosystem works.” All of these are a way of saying the product does not fit the market.

Today, a new team can raise an obscene amount of money through an ICO whitepaper. But no matter how much money you raise, you cannot target many markets simultaneously and develop multiple projects simultaneously. It’s not just the risk involved, it’s the management overhead, the potential for fighting among different departments in your company, the problem of code forking and code complexity, and the difficulty of hiring enough people fast enough while maintaining company culture and accountability.

Everyone I met had dozens of ideas of how distributed ledger technology and blockchain will revolutionize their industry. The most promising ICOs were the ones where the founder was able to say “I know the industry will change in these ways, and I am attacking just this one area first.”

How about you? How does your company stack up when it comes to product-market fit?