Who cares about political tweets from some random country's president when payment channels are a much more interesting and are actually capable of carrying value?
So let's have a short history of various payment channel techs!
Generation 0: Satoshi's Broken nSequence Channels
Because Satoshi's Vision included payment channels, except his implementation sucked so hard we had to go fix it and added RBF as a by-product.
Originally, the plan for nSequence was that mempools would replace any transaction spending certain inputs with another transaction spending the same inputs, but only if the nSequence field of the replacement was larger.
Since 0xFFFFFFFF was the highest value that nSequence could get, this would mark a transaction as "final" and not replaceable on the mempool anymore.
In fact, this "nSequence channel" I will describe is the reason why we have this weird rule about nLockTime and nSequence. nLockTime actually only works if nSequence is not 0xFFFFFFFF i.e. final. If nSequence is 0xFFFFFFFF then nLockTime is ignored, because this if the "final" version of the transaction.
So what you'd do would be something like this:
- You go to a bar and promise the bartender to pay by the time the bar closes. Because this is the Bitcoin universe, time is measured in blockheight, so the closing time of the bar is indicated as some future blockheight.
- For your first drink, you'd make a transaction paying to the bartender for that drink, paying from some coins you have. The transaction has an nLockTime equal to the closing time of the bar, and a starting nSequence of 0. You hand over the transaction and the bartender hands you your drink.
- For your succeeding drink, you'd remake the same transaction, adding the payment for that drink to the transaction output that goes to the bartender (so that output keeps getting larger, by the amount of payment), and having an nSequence that is one higher than the previous one.
- Eventually you have to stop drinking. It comes down to one of two possibilities:
- You drink until the bar closes. Since it is now the nLockTime indicated in the transaction, the bartender is able to broadcast the latest transaction and tells the bouncers to kick you out of the bar.
- You wisely consider the state of your liver. So you re-sign the last transaction with a "final" nSequence of 0xFFFFFFFF i.e. the maximum possible value it can have. This allows the bartender to get his or her funds immediately (nLockTime is ignored if nSequence is 0xFFFFFFFF), so he or she tells the bouncers to let you out of the bar.
Now that of course is a payment channel. Individual payments (purchases of alcohol, so I guess buying coffee is not in scope for payment channels). Closing is done by creating a "final" transaction that is the sum of the individual payments. Sure there's no routing and channels are unidirectional and channels have a maximum lifetime but give Satoshi a break, he was also busy inventing Bitcoin at the time.
Now if you noticed I called this kind of payment channel "broken". This is because the mempool rules are not consensus rules, and cannot be validated (nothing
about the mempool can be validated onchain: I sigh every time somebody proposes "let's make block size dependent on mempool size", mempool state cannot be validated by onchain data). Fullnodes can't see all of the transactions you signed, and then validate that the final one with the maximum nSequence is the one that actually is used onchain. So you can do the below:
- Become friends with Jihan Wu, because he owns >51% of the mining hashrate (he totally reorged Bitcoin to reverse the Binance hack right?).
- Slip Jihan Wu some of the more interesting drinks you're ordering as an incentive to cooperate with you. So say you end up ordering 100 drinks, you split it with Jihan Wu and give him 50 of the drinks.
- When the bar closes, Jihan Wu quickly calls his mining rig and tells them to mine the version of your transaction with nSequence 0. You know, that first one where you pay for only one drink.
- Because fullnodes cannot validate nSequence, they'll accept even the nSequence=0 version and confirm it, immutably adding you paying for a single alcoholic drink to the blockchain.
- The bartender, pissed at being cheated, takes out a shotgun from under the bar and shoots at you and Jihan Wu.
- Jihan Wu uses his mystical chi powers (actually the combined exhaust from all of his mining rigs) to slow down the shotgun pellets, making them hit you as softly as petals drifting in the wind.
- The bartender mutters some words, clothes ripping apart as he or she (hard to believe it could be a she but hey) turns into a bear, ready to maul you for cheating him or her of the payment for all the 100 drinks you ordered from him or her.
- Steely-eyed, you stand in front of the bartender-turned-bear, daring him to touch you. You've watched Revenant, you know Leonardo di Caprio could survive a bear mauling, and if some posh actor can survive that, you know you can too. You make a pose. "Drunken troll logic attack!"
- I think I got sidetracked here.
- Bears are bad news.
- You can't reasonably invoke "Satoshi's Vision" and simultaneously reject the Lightning Network because it's not onchain. Satoshi's Vision included a half-assed implementation of payment channels with nSequence, where the onchain transaction represented multiple logical payments, exactly what modern offchain techniques do (except modern offchain techniques actually work). nSequence (the field, but not its modern meaning) has been in Bitcoin since BitCoin For Windows Alpha 0.1.0. And its original intent was payment channels. You can't get nearer to Satoshi's Vision than being a field that Satoshi personally added to transactions on the very first public release of the BitCoin software, like srsly.
- Miners can totally bypass mempool rules. In fact, the reason why nSequence has been repurposed to indicate "optional" replace-by-fee is because miners are already incentivized by the nSequence system to always follow replace-by-fee anyway. I mean, what do you think those drinks you passed to Jihan Wu are, other than the fee you pay him to mine a specific version of your transaction?
- Satoshi made mistakes. The original design for nSequence is one of them. Today, we no longer use nSequence in this way. So diverging from Satoshi's original design is part and parcel of Bitcoin development, because over time, we learn new lessons that Satoshi never knew about. Satoshi was an important landmark in this technology. He will not be the last, or most important, that we will remember in the future: he will only be the first.
Incentive-compatible time-limited unidirectional channel; or, Satoshi's Vision, Fixed (if transaction malleability hadn't been a problem, that is).
Now, we know the bartender will turn into a bear and maul you if you try to cheat the payment channel, and now that we've revealed you're good friends with Jihan Wu, the bartender will no longer accept a payment channel scheme that lets one you cooperate with a miner to cheat the bartender.
Fortunately, Jeremy Spilman proposed a better way that would not let you cheat the bartender.
First, you and the bartender perform this ritual:
- You get some funds and create a transaction that pays to a 2-of-2 multisig between you and the bartender. You don't broadcast this yet: you just sign it and get its txid.
- You create another transaction that spends the above transaction. This transaction (the "backoff") has an nLockTime equal to the closing time of the bar, plus one block. You sign it and give this backoff transaction (but not the above transaction) to the bartender.
- The bartender signs the backoff and gives it back to you. It is now valid since it's spending a 2-of-2 of you and the bartender, and both of you have signed the backoff transaction.
- Now you broadcast the first transaction onchain. You and the bartender wait for it to be deeply confirmed, then you can start ordering.
The above is probably vaguely familiar to LN users. It's the funding process of payment channels! The first transaction, the one that pays to a 2-of-2 multisig, is the funding transaction that backs the payment channel funds.
So now you start ordering in this way:
- For your first drink, you create a transaction spending the funding transaction output and sending the price of the drink to the bartender, with the rest returning to you.
- You sign the transaction and pass it to the bartender, who serves your first drink.
- For your succeeding drinks, you recreate the same transaction, adding the price of the new drink to the sum that goes to the bartender and reducing the money returned to you. You sign the transaction and give it to the bartender, who serves you your next drink.
- At the end:
- If the bar closing time is reached, the bartender signs the latest transaction, completing the needed 2-of-2 signatures and broadcasting this to the Bitcoin network. Since the backoff transaction is the closing time + 1, it can't get used at closing time.
- If you decide you want to leave early because your liver is crying, you just tell the bartender to go ahead and close the channel (which the bartender can do at any time by just signing and broadcasting the latest transaction: the bartender won't do that because he or she is hoping you'll stay and drink more).
- If you ended up just hanging around the bar and never ordering, then at closing time + 1 you broadcast the backoff transaction and get your funds back in full.
Now, even if you pass 50 drinks to Jihan Wu, you can't give him the first transaction (the one which pays for only one drink) and ask him to mine it: it's spending a 2-of-2 and the copy you have only contains your own signature. You need the bartender's signature to make it valid, but he or she sure as hell isn't going to cooperate in something that would lose him or her money, so a signature from the bartender validating old state where he or she gets paid less isn't going to happen.
So, problem solved, right? Right? Okay, let's try it. So you get your funds, put them in a funding tx, get the backoff tx, confirm the funding tx...
Once the funding transaction confirms deeply, the bartender laughs uproariously. He or she summons the bouncers, who surround you menacingly.
"I'm refusing service to you," the bartender says.
"Fine," you say. "I was leaving anyway;" You smirk. "I'll get back my money with the backoff transaction, and posting about your poor service on reddit so you get negative karma, so there!"
"Not so fast," the bartender says. His or her voice chills your bones. It looks like your exploitation of the Satoshi nSequence payment channel is still fresh in his or her mind. "Look at the txid of the funding transaction that got confirmed."
"What about it?" you ask nonchalantly, as you flip open your desktop computer and open a reputable blockchain explorer.
What you see shocks you.
"What the --- the txid is different! You--- you changed my signature
?? But how? I put the only copy of my private key in a sealed envelope in a cast-iron box inside a safe buried in the Gobi desert protected by a clan of nomads who have dedicated their lives and their childrens' lives to keeping my private key safe in perpetuity!"
"Didn't you know?" the bartender asks. "The components of the signature are just very large numbers. The sign of one of the signature components can be changed, from positive to negative, or negative to positive, and the signature will remain valid. Anyone can do that, even if they don't know the private key. But because Bitcoin includes the signatures in the transaction when it's generating the txid, this little change also changes the txid." He or she chuckles. "They say they'll fix it by sep
arating the sig
natures from the transaction body. They're saying that these kinds of signature malleability won't affect transaction ids anymore after they do this, but I bet I can get my good friend Jihan Wu to delay this 'SepSig' plan for a good while yet. Friendly guy, this Jihan Wu, it turns out all I had to do was slip him 51 drinks and he was willing to mine a tx with the signature signs flipped." His or her grin widens. "I'm afraid your backoff transaction won't work anymore, since it spends a txid that is not existent and will never be confirmed. So here's the deal. You pay me 99% of the funds in the funding transaction, in exchange for me signing the transaction that spends with the txid that you see onchain. Refuse, and you lose 100% of the funds and every other HODLer, including me, benefits from the reduction in coin supply. Accept, and you get to keep 1%. I lose nothing if you refuse, so I won't care if you do, but consider the difference of getting zilch vs. getting 1% of your funds." His or her eyes glow. "GENUFLECT RIGHT NOW."
- Payback's a bitch.
- Transaction malleability is a bitchier bitch. It's why we needed to fix the bug in SegWit. Sure, MtGox claimed they were attacked this way because someone kept messing with their transaction signatures and thus they lost track of where their funds went, but really, the bigger impetus for fixing transaction malleability was to support payment channels.
- Yes, including the signatures in the hash that ultimately defines the txid was a mistake. Satoshi made a lot of those. So we're just reiterating the lesson "Satoshi was not an infinite being of infinite wisdom" here. Satoshi just gets a pass because of how awesome Bitcoin is.
CLTV-protected Spilman Channels
Using CLTV for the backoff branch.
This variation is simply Spilman channels, but with the backoff transaction replaced with a backoff branch in the SCRIPT you pay to. It only became possible after OP_CHECKLOCKTIMEVERIFY (CLTV) was enabled in 2015.
Now as we saw in the Spilman Channels discussion, transaction malleability means that any pre-signed offchain transaction can easily be invalidated by flipping the sign of the signature of the funding transaction while the funding transaction is not yet confirmed.
This can be avoided by simply putting any special requirements into an explicit branch of the Bitcoin SCRIPT. Now, the backoff branch is supposed to create a maximum lifetime for the payment channel, and prior to the introduction of OP_CHECKLOCKTIMEVERIFY this could only be done by having a pre-signed nLockTime transaction.
With CLTV, however, we can now make the branches explicit in the SCRIPT that the funding transaction pays to.
Instead of paying to a 2-of-2 in order to set up the funding transaction, you pay to a SCRIPT which is basically "2-of-2, OR this singlesig after a specified lock time".
With this, there is no backoff transaction that is pre-signed and which refers to a specific txid. Instead, you can create the backoff transaction later, using whatever txid the funding transaction ends up being confirmed under. Since the funding transaction is immutable once confirmed, it is no longer possible to change the txid afterwards.
Todd Micropayment Networks
The old hub-spoke model (that isn't how LN today actually works).
One of the more direct predecessors of the Lightning Network was the hub-spoke model discussed by Peter Todd. In this model, instead of payers directly having channels to payees, payers and payees connect to a central hub server. This allows any payer to pay any payee, using the same channel for every payee on the hub. Similarly, this allows any payee to receive from any payer, using the same channel.
Remember from the above Spilman example? When you open a channel to the bartender, you have to wait around for the funding tx to confirm. This will take an hour at best
. Now consider that you have to make channels for everyone you want to pay to. That's not very scalable.
So the Todd hub-spoke model has a central "clearing house" that transport money from payers to payees. The "Moonbeam" project takes this model. Of course, this reveals to the hub who the payer and payee are, and thus the hub can potentially censor transactions. Generally, though, it was considered that a hub would more efficiently censor by just not maintaining a channel with the payer or payee that it wants to censor (since the money it owned in the channel would just be locked uselessly if the hub won't process payments to/from the censored user).
In any case, the ability of the central hub to monitor payments means that it can surveill the payer and payee, and then sell this private transactional data to third parties. This loss of privacy would be intolerable today.
Peter Todd also proposed that there might be multiple hubs that could transport funds to each other on behalf of their users, providing somewhat better privacy.
Another point of note is that at the time such networks were proposed, only unidirectional (Spilman) channels were available. Thus, while one could be a payer, or payee, you would have to use separate channels for your income versus for your spending. Worse, if you wanted to transfer money from your income channel to your spending channel, you had to close both and reshuffle the money between them, both onchain activities.
Poon-Dryja Lightning Network
Bidirectional two-participant channels.
The Poon-Dryja channel mechanism has two important properties:
- No time limit.
Both the original Satoshi and the two Spilman variants are unidirectional: there is a payer and a payee, and if the payee wants to do a refund, or wants to pay for a different service or product the payer is providing, then they can't use the same unidirectional channel.
The Poon-Dryjam mechanism allows channels, however, to be bidirectional instead: you are not a payer or a payee on the channel, you can receive or send at any time as long as both you and the channel counterparty are online.
Further, unlike either of the Spilman variants, there is no time limit for the lifetime of a channel. Instead, you can keep the channel open for as long as you want.
Both properties, together, form a very powerful scaling property
that I believe most people have not appreciated. With unidirectional channels, as mentioned before, if you both earn and spend over the same network of payment channels, you would have separate channels for earning and spending. You would then need to perform onchain operations to "reverse" the directions of your channels periodically. Secondly, since Spilman channels have a fixed lifetime, even if you never used either channel, you would have to periodically "refresh" it by closing it and reopening.
With bidirectional, indefinite-lifetime channels, you may instead open some channels when you first begin managing your own money, then close them only after your lawyers have executed your last will and testament on how the money in your channels get divided up to your heirs: that's just two onchain transactions in your entire lifetime. That is the potentially very powerful scaling property that bidirectional, indefinite-lifetime channels allow.
I won't discuss the transaction structure needed for Poon-Dryja bidirectional channels --- it's complicated and you can easily get explanations with cute graphics elsewhere.
a weakness of Poon-Dryja that people tend to gloss over (because it was fixed very well by RustyReddit
- You have to store all the revocation keys of a channel. This implies you are storing 1 revocation key for every channel update, so if you perform millions of updates over your entire lifetime, you'd be storing several megabytes of keys, for only a single channel. RustyReddit fixed this by requiring that the revocation keys be generated from a "Seed" revocation key, and every key is just the application of SHA256 on that key, repeatedly. For example, suppose I tell you that my first revocation key is SHA256(SHA256(seed)). You can store that in O(1) space. Then for the next revocation, I tell you SHA256(seed). From SHA256(key), you yourself can compute SHA256(SHA256(seed)) (i.e. the previous revocation key). So you can remember just the most recent revocation key, and from there you'd be able to compute every previous revocation key. When you start a channel, you perform SHA256 on your seed for several million times, then use the result as the first revocation key, removing one layer of SHA256 for every revocation key you need to generate. RustyReddit not only came up with this, but also suggested an efficient O(log n) storage structure, the shachain, so that you can quickly look up any revocation key in the past in case of a breach. People no longer really talk about this O(n) revocation storage problem anymore because it was solved very very well by this mechanism.
Another thing I want to emphasize is that while the Lightning Network paper and many of the earlier presentations developed from the old Peter Todd hub-and-spoke model, the modern Lightning Network takes the logical conclusion of removing a strict separation between "hubs" and "spokes". Any node on the Lightning Network can very well work as a hub for any other node. Thus, while you might operate as "mostly a payer", "mostly a forwarding node", "mostly a payee", you still end up being at least partially a forwarding node ("hub") on the network, at least part of the time. This greatly reduces the problems of privacy inherent in having only a few hub nodes: forwarding nodes cannot get significantly useful data from the payments passing through them, because the distance between the payer and the payee can be so large that it would be likely that the ultimate payer and the ultimate payee could be anyone on the Lightning Network.
- We can decentralize if we try hard enough!
- "Hubs bad" can be made "hubs good" if everybody is a hub.
- Smart people can solve problems. It's kinda why they're smart.
After LN, there's also the Decker-Wattenhofer Duplex Micropayment Channels (DMC). This post is long enough as-is, LOL. But for now, it uses a novel "decrementing nSequence channel", using the new
relative-timelock semantics of nSequence (not the broken one originally by Satoshi). It actually uses multiple such "decrementing nSequence" constructs, terminating in a pair of Spilman channels, one in both directions (thus "duplex"). Maybe I'll discuss it some other time.
The realization that channel constructions could actually hold more channel constructions inside them (the way the Decker-Wattenhofer puts a pair of Spilman channels inside a series of "decrementing nSequence channels") lead to the further thought behind Burchert-Decker-Wattenhofer channel factories. Basically, you could host multiple two-participant channel constructs inside a larger multiparticipant "channel" construct (i.e. host multiple channels inside a factory).
Further, we have the Decker-Russell-Osuntokun or "eltoo" construction. I'd argue that this is "nSequence done right". I'll write more about this later, because this post is long enough.
- Bitcoin offchain scaling is more powerful than you ever thought.
My name is Kristina Semenova, I am the Head of Investors Relation Department at Platinum, the world’s number one business facilitator.
Our team knows how to start ICO/STO in 2019!
Why are we so sure? Well, our experience speaks for itself: Platinum.fund
But what is the difference between ico and sto? What is the cornerstone of ICO marketing strategy? You will know this after finishing the UBAI courses!
Here’s just a quick preview of our Short Course lesson.
Real World Examples
Multinational accounting firm Ernst and Young found that $400 million of the $3.7 billion USD raised from ICOs (as of January 22, 2018) had been stolen. That is, up to 10% of all ICO funding is virtually being stolen from investors. Though ICO scams are the most common method of theft in the crypto world, some projects will actually operate for a period of time before disappearing with the money. Like in a Ponzi scheme, an exit scam may be planned for later, sometime after a manipulated pump; or some other time the team believes is most opportune to take the money and run. Giza: Giza marketed itself as a platform within which different cryptocurrencies could be stored securely. But after raising $2.4 million in one month, the team deleted the website and stopped replying to emails. Investors were duped by a very convincing whitepaper, and actors had been hired to appear in photographs promoting the project. No investor funds have ever been recovered. Centra: The SEC put an end to fundraising for the Centra ICO and charged the founders Robert Farkas and Sohrab Sharma with orchestrating a fraudulent ICO after they raised $32 million USD. They were promoting the ability to develop financial products backed by VISA and Mastercard, though it was later found that neither partnership was real. One of the major red flags in the Centra project was the use of celebrity endorsements for publicity, reportedly paying champion boxer Floyd Mayweather a significant sum to promote their project. Who wants to leave their Blockchain investment decisions up to Floyd Mayweather, regardless of his unbelievable skill as a boxer and regardless of his own financial success? He should still not influence where you invest your money!
Ponzi Schemes: Bitconnect: This is the most infamous Ponzi scheme in the history of cryptocurrency, and certainly the most damaging. Bitconnect was a Bitcoin-based project that rose to an all-time high of $463 per token on the back of a fictitious trading bot. The Bitconnect scam operated by paying dividends to users, proportional to the number of tokens they held and the number of referrals they made. The BCC tokens were exchanged for the users’ Bitcoin, and the highly sophisticated and wildly successful trading bot would trade BTC for them and distribute profits as dividends. The value of the dividends offered was approximately 1% of the initial investment per day. In other words, that is approximately 3,780% per year in cumulative gain! The referral system was capitalized upon most heavily by many of the biggest crypto YouTube channels, including CryptoNick and Trevon James, both of whom are now under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Shortly after the Bitconnect Token reached its all-time high, they received cease and desist orders from the security regulators of Texas and North Carolina, which caused the owners of the Bitconnect exchange to shut down operations, and the price to plummet.
Davorcoin: Davorcoin was a lending platform very similar to Bitconnect. And Davorcoin was farcically promoted by the same Trevon James crypto Youtuber who promoted Bitconnect, and is currently under investigation by the FBI for promoting Ponzi schemes. The Texas State Securities Board, in likening Davor to Bitconnect, stated that “DavorCoin is telling investors they can earn lucrative profits by investing in a lending program based on a new cryptocurrency known as davorcoin. Investors allegedly purchase davorcoin and then lend it to DavorCoin”. Davorcoin promptly plunged from an all-time high of $180 to very close to zero after a cease and desist order was made against them on the 2nd of February 2018. Useless Ethereum Token: Despite brazenly stating in the name of the project that the token has no use, the UET managed to raise $340,000 in its crowdsale, and saw a significant pump of over 300% on the HitBTC exchange in February of 2018. The scam was an obvious case of pump and dump, with the total trading volume for UET crashing back down to as low as $3 per day, after reaching as high as $350,000 per day during the pump.
It is currently an unfortunate consequence of the decentralized nature of cryptocurrency, but there is a distinct lack of recourse for scammed investors. It is wise to become as well-acquainted with the various indicators of good and bad ICOs as you possibly can. In weighing the factors that will allow you to avoid expensive mistakes, ask yourself in whose favor are the terms of the ICO slanted, yours or the teams? To what extent are you actually likely to profit from this investment? Cryptocurrency is inherently a grey area, whether you are investing in it or not. Investing is another inherently grey area, no matter what the area or object of investing might be. Laws and regulations are not always able to keep up. Trying to define and prove what was or was not a scam is not likely to be as simple as the scammed investor would want it to be. A project can be set up in certain ways to avoid being technically classified or provable as a scam, but the unprepared investor can still be burnt or scammed just as badly. Now we look at more individual indicators that can help you form a valid impression whether or not an ICO or even a fully-fledged exchange-listed coin is a scam or a bona fide investment opportunity.
Contrasting Scam & Legitimate Projects
Presale Bonus/Token Release If the ICO allots massive bonuses to team members, you may leave yourself open to getting dumped on by presale investors if you buy when the project tokens are listed on an exchange. Likewise, if the project has a short lock-up period for developers and founders, you run the risk of them selling as soon as the token is listed on a major exchange. The token release schedule for the founders of a worthwhile project should show long-term team commitment to that project. The Jibrel Network team tokens will be locked up for 5 years before release, and they had no early investor bonus in the main sale. Both of these factors instilled confidence in the JNT ICO investors, and the tokens were sold out weeks before the ICO was due to end. No Presale lock up If Presale investor tokens are not locked up at all for any period after listing, that could easily be a set up for an exit scam after the initial listing. No presale lockup for early investor tokens is a crystal clear warning, the project may be fatally rigged toward those in the inner circle, with little commitment to the long term health or success of that project.
Unsolicited Offers or Unasked for Additions to Groups Characters running scam projects will often add you to Telegram groups out of the blue or send you unsolicited emails with information about their project. Telegram is the most widely used messaging app in the cryptocurrency community and you should familiarize yourself with it to keep yourself in the loop for specific projects in which you invest as well as all kinds of other relevant crypto info. You can adjust the settings on the Telegram app to disallow anonymous additions to cryptocurrency projects if you find yourself bombarded with offers by scammers. Reputable projects at the ICO stage will spread by word of mouth, or by eloquent and meaningful articles posted on their Medium page. A project with serious potential does not need to actively seek participants for their ICO like that. They will often be able to fill their ICO hard cap in a matter of hours, or even just minutes!
Alarm bells, again, immediately, if the project has minimal online presence. The individual team members could be mere fabrications. The entire project could be a farce by utterly inexperienced characters. What if the project leaders are simply unaware of the importance of a strong social media profile? That in itself would be too strange to ignore. Top-level projects will have team members with experience in crypto and the LinkedIn accounts for those members will be easily accessible right there on the project website. You should be able to easily see and evaluate each individual’s experience in their field and ascertain what they bring to the project team. Bitconnect’s anonymous team should have been the only deterrent prospective investors needed to discourage them from putting money into that doomed project. Ethhorse, a current project with anonymous founders and operators should be steered clear of at all costs for the same reasons.
The subreddits or Telegram groups of scam projects will often feature moderators that do not allow any kind of criticism in the group chat. If, in the process of your due diligence, you encounter didactic admins that only wish to silence your questioning of certain aspects of the whitepaper or mechanism of the tokenomics
, you should be concerned. Similarly if you see a coherent critical reply attacked by many different users who refuse to engage the substance of the point being made, that may be a subreddit infested with bots. Projects that have nothing to hide will allow free debate in the chat. Ideally, they hope to develop a positive community that is itself an asset to the long-term success and overall strength of the project. Good projects do not need to automatically brand all criticism as Fear Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD).
One common tactic of scammers is to produce a whitepaper that uses too many buzzwords, and deliberately obfuscates and overcomplicates the explanation of the problem and/or its solution. A good whitepaper clearly and concisely lays out the problem and answer, as well as provides compelling arguments why a Blockchain solution is preferable to the current solution. Another point of concern is a whitepaper that gives unrealistic time frames and goals. Bitconnect’s almost comically optimistic profit projections are a prime example of this, as are the 1,354% yearly gains promised by Plexcoin. Respectable projects will set out development timescales in terms of quarters or years, rather than offering immediate profit projections, which are simply a red flag.
Advisors/Connections in the Cryptoworld
The most prestigious projects will already have partnerships made before the ICO stage, and the worst ones, i.e. the scams, will not mention any such partnerships. Icon (ICX) for example was spawned from a South Korean project named The Loop, a collaboration between 3 Korean universities and the DAYLIFinancial Group. They boasted an advisory panel consisting of the legendary investor Don Tapscott, Jehan Chu and crowdfunding expert Jason Best. On top of a solid team of advisors, good projects will also be visible at major Blockchain events such as the Consensus, and the World Blockchain Forum, etc. Scam projects will be unable to inspire this same level in confidence. As an investor, you should sense a certain presence and expect a certain feeling of trust that should guide you in your investments. After all, it is actually a people-to-people thing you are doing.
Key Stress points upon the Timeline to Identify Scam Projects Post Whitepaper Release The period in the immediate aftermath of the release of the whitepaper can also be decisive in establishing the validity of a project. How a team copes with the roadmap that they have laid out for themselves is key. Valuable insight into the operational efficiency and commitment to the project can be gleaned from the quality of and amount of code committed to GitHub. If you have any experience in computer programming you can see how clean and orderly the code is, which gives insight into the skill of the developers, and in turn the quality of project leaders’ decision-making in hiring team members. Scam projects will have little or no code committed to GitHub, or at best it will be copied and pasted from other projects just to cover their tracks. Start of ICO Sometimes, a scam project, or other project in which you would be better off not investing, will change the terms of the ICO just before the ICO starts. The Key (TKY) ICO doubled the price of tokens on the day before the ICO was due to take place, because the price of NEO had risen so drastically. Currently, the TKY token price is still only half of its ICO price. Initial investors are faced with the prospect of a 50% loss on their investment.
Some particularly greedy scammers will create a scam project with the intent of selling tokens in the ICO for BTC and ETH, and then pumping and dumping their share of the tokens immediately after listing. The team of fraudsters behind Monero Gold used this method after the crowdfunding of their useless ERC-20 token. After listing on CoinExchange.io, the team dumped their tokens until the exchange finally ceased trading. Although it is not uncommon for ICO tokens to sold after listing (just like can happen with shares of stock after an IPO), if the price does not stabilize and massive sell walls are continually placed, a scam is likely taking place and the token is being dumped.
Fake Ethereum Twitter giveaway
You may have noticed Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin’s twitter handle has been changed to Vitalik “Not giving away Eth” Buterin in recent months. This is because a group of devious scammers had created fake accounts with almost exact replicas of his profile (deviating by only one character). The fake accounts promised to deposit 1 whole ETH for every 0.1 ETH the potential sucker deposited into the wallet address provided by the scammer. These fake account “Ether giveaway” scam tweets were set up to be sent in just a matter of seconds after the real person tweeted, and usually always appear immediately after the tweet of the real public figure. Fake bot profiles then came into play, thanking the fake Vitalik, or fake Elon Musk, for holding up their end of the bargain and depositing the ETH as promised. One scammer, or group of scammers, managed to fill a wallet up with almost $20 thousand worth of ETH, which they transferred out, never to be seen or heard from again.
Effect of Scam Customers, Upon the Affected Parties
Of course, this is no fun for the targeted public figure either. They need to take steps to avoid being targeted again. This will mean changing their handle, their username, or making their accounts private. However, the injured party with whom we are most concerned is the unfortunate scammed social media user, who has no chance whatsoever of getting his or her funds back, ever. It is a harsh lesson to learn. But it is a fact of crypto reality. Nearly every one that trades crypto will at least be exposed to frauds or scams in one way or another. In this case, we think it is better to learn about scams by studying them, rather than learn from your own unfortunate and expensive experience. In the case of Mr. Buterin, these incidents were awful public relations for the Ethereum project. It had only been a few years since cryptocurrency as a whole was primarily associated with criminality and seedy transactions on the Darkweb. Any connection with unscrupulous behavior is best avoided at all costs. Negative associations could have been particularly damaging for Ethereum’s brand because the vast majority of ICO fraud is committed using the ERC-20 token as the template for the scam tokens.
Any and all the scamming or fraudulent behavior in the cryptocurrency ecosystem is bound to have a negative impact on the speed at which mainstream uptake finally takes place. Cryptocurrencies, as an emerging asset class, will be painted in the worst possible light. Crypto is aiming to, and is in fact in the process of, causing great disruption in traditional centralized finance and business. Mainstream media organizations are also part of that traditional centralized economy. Press coverage will be damning. Something is happening here, but Mr. Jones doesn’t know what it is.
Legal Recourse for Scams
We clearly understand, there is a possibility of being scammed. We know the scams are happening. The SEC has made some arrests and actually charged people for operating fraudulent ICOs. But it is a struggle to deal with the flood of ICOs coming from anywhere at any time. The SEC filed charges against two founders of a purported financial services startup for orchestrating a fraudulent ICO that raised more than $32million from thousands of investors. As you know from the ICOs we have covered so far, the lack of regulation allows for direct contact and dealing between the entrepreneurs, business owners and potential investors. While we believe this is a blessing according to the founding principles of Bitcoin and other alternate Cryptocurrencies, because it frees us from traditional roadblocks, middle-men, and all kinds of time-consuming procedures; it also leaves investors in a place where there is often little to no hope of ever recovering funds lost in fraudulent schemes.
Actions after a Successful ICO
Good post-ICO practice is characterized by stringent security, well thought-out legal strategy and clear communication. Many projects have paid the price in damage to their reputation for failing to adequately guard customer information, leaving themselves open to phishing attacks by fraudsters. Investors in the Enigma project had half a million dollars stolen from them; and a whopping $8.4 million was defrauded from investors in Veritaseum via phishing attacks. After a successful token distribution, the team’s main focus is initially on switching the enterprise from one primarily focused on fundraising, to superficially at least, a fully-fledged, functioning business. This involves removing most of the token sale-related content from their main webpage, sending newsletters to all successful ICO participants, and sending refunds to those who may have missed the deadline or the hardcap. Then, with the stressful and complicated fundraising stage finally concluded, a portion of the funds raised can be assigned to fuel the growth of the project community. This can involve hiring community managers, forum admins, and social media managers to outsource the job of keeping investors in the loop. The founders can focus on growth strategy and product development. The cultivation of a thriving and energetic community is extremely important. The community will give you free marketing for your product and your business. Community members who believe in the project, and are engaged by professional moderators, can give you very effective promotion to other prospective investors. Communication with community members is a great way to test ideas and gauge sentiment related to various aspects of your project.
The project leads must set aside adequate funds for lawyers. The project will need to address potential future or imminent problems with regulators, at the very least. The transition from fundraising project to full-fledged business can be incredibly challenging, and even more stressful than the ICO itself. The main thing to remember is that your pre-sale and ICO investors are not just silent investors waiting for a return. They are the early adopters of your solution, of your product; they are the community and promoters of your project; and they are the individuals with a vested interest in the financial success of your venture. The ICO environment is not as heavily regulated, so quarterly and/or semi-annual reporting is not required the way it is in the traditional world. That means your own style of effective communication about the progress and key developments on your project matters even more. In the ICO world, you communicate with your press releases, social media, and Medium posts. You also communicate by the very nature of your relations with your exchange, and relationships with your cornerstone investors. Effective communication and good business relationships can play a prominent role in the success or failure of your venture (by token liquidity and valuation).
If your investors start to lose interest, and stop trading your token on the exchange, liquidity will dry up and cause increasingly volatile price swings. You need to keep certain things in mind, and follow effective practices to maintain a happy and motivated community.
Social Media & Medium
In addition to your website, your social media & Medium blog most likely formed a significant part of your ICO preparations. Your purpose pivots after the ICO from one of promotion to one of communication. Consistent, informative and material Medium blogs, also Facebook and Twitter updates, ensure that investors remain engaged and well-informed of what the company is up to. Frequent activity in this space makes investors feel much more comfortable. You can foster a kind of organic community expansion that is consistently advertising your project to potential new members.
Cornerstone Investors & Exchanges
As we mentioned, your relationship with investors in the ICO world is different from that of the traditional silent IPO minority equity partners. Consistent, Transparent & Honest communication is incredibly important here. Even if an ICO is struggling to overcome a problem or whatever issues are occurring, honest communication from the team is key to business survival. You should think of and treat your exchange like a business partner too, a very important one at that. Exchanges provide liquidity for you and your investors. That liquidity is like the blood for your business. Many top exchanges demand nothing less than absolute honesty and integrity, it is imperative to maintain strong and comfortable relationships with exchanges. Everything we have said so far, also applies to your Telegram channel and forums too. These give you another great opportunity to build a thriving community. Team members and investors can enjoy lively debates in their Telegram channels. This can be constructive discussion, or critical commentary too. But it is always valuable as a direct link between the team and the community. It is always good to know how people are feeling and what they expect from you and your project. You are able to use your Telegram channel and forums to consistently adapt your marketing and communication strategy. Keep your investors as happy and comfortable as possible, and you will be more likely to attract new investors and allocations. Other forums around the internet operate more or less in the same manner as Telegram.
After a successful funding round with the hardcap reached and time to spare, legal counsel has been secured, and the community is flourishing, the team will prepare for their first listing by paying the exchange fee and waiting for the announcement by the exchange. Unless they are willing to pay exorbitant fees for an immediate listing on Binance for example, teams will usually settle for an initial listing on a second-tier exchange. The fee charged by an exchange depends on many different factors that we will cover in more detail in the next section.
ICO Company actions after a Successful ICO
Real World Case Study
The Basic Attention Token (BAT) project, when used in conjunction with the Brave Browser, allows users to pay micro-fees in BAT to their most-used sites. The idea was conceived by Brendan Eich, the inventor of Javascipt and former CEO of Mozilla Firefox. Investors absolutely pounced on it at ICO and the project raised an amazing $35million in under 30 seconds. The BAT/Brave project has delivered on time on nearly all of its targets, helped in no small part by having a working product, the Brave Browser, for over a year before the token launch. The project secured a listing on the premier exchange, Binance, in November 2017.
A project can suffer through a disappointing funding phase and, for example, fail to reach 75% of its hardcap. The team will be only partially funded. Though they may be able to initiate the project, the value proposition of the token has been compromised, potentially forever. The market has spoken. There is limited faith in the team’s ability to complete or carry out their project. Failure to reach a hardcap is a serious obstacle on the project road map. This will mean massive revisions to the timescales for development and listing. Such a project may have to be content listing on decentralized exchanges for a period of time and they will lose any post-ICO hype that could have helped the project price to “moon” early on. There is less money to be allocated. Each section of the business will be underfunded compared to the original plan. There can be delays in code development, exchange listing, marketing and community development as well.
Calling the Tezos ICO a disappointment might seem strange considering they raised over $232million. But this open-source, smart contracts fintech platform became a victim of its own success post-ICO by devolving into multiple class-action lawsuits between the founders and its foundation chairman. They suffered from a distinct lack of clearly defined roles and expectations on key positions. There was infighting at the boardroom level. This all caused an as yet unresolved delay in listing and development. This is also one example why a capped ICO can be more desirable for investors than an uncapped ICO. If the team have a set amount of capital to work with, an amount that isn’t absolutely ridiculous, like in the case of Tezos, perhaps the resultant greed and discord is less likely. Although it may not be so easy for speculative investors to make a profit from an uncapped ICO with such a massive initial market cap, it is a very impressive feat of fundraising nonetheless. Tezos’s post ICO market cap of $232million is already 64th of all projects, and would have to perform brilliantly on listing to maintain this position.
Company actions after a Failed ICO
Failed ICOs can mean either fundraising initiatives that have failed to reach the softcap and will therefore not be economically viable, or fraudulent projects whose sole intention was to steal from investors and do an exit scam. We’ve already covered scams and fraud projects in detail, but what happens when an ICO just fails to raise the requisite funds? Projects that are legitimate, with honest founders and developers, refund the ETH or BTC deposited by investors as quickly as possible if the softcap is not reached. The same process that is followed by ICOs that are oversubscribed is employed by those that have failed to raise enough capital. The process of returning funds back to the sender ideally should take a period of days, but more likely will take a few weeks. The Sappy Network, advised by Dan Tapscott, failed to come anywhere near to their funding goals. They are currently in the process of sending all investor funds back to the wallets from which they came. The statement from the founders read as a textbook example of how you should react to failure with the founder stating “In the spirit of transparency and honesty, we are sharing with the community that we did not reach the soft cap, and thus we will be honoring our terms and conditions and returning the Ethers to all contributors”
A bottleneck developed in the ICO market after the explosion of crypto prices in 2017. There was a massive increase of ICO teams on all stages along the pathway from start-up to fully listed crypto asset. Certainly, a huge part of the value proposition for both the token and the project depends on securing a listing on an exchange. It is precisely the liquidity of the token as a valuable asset on a free market exchange, that determines or even defines its value. The liquidity is what makes tokens attractive to investors, but that liquidity simply does not exist without a platform for the exchange. Unfortunately for new projects, the balance of power is heavily weighted in favor of large centralized exchanges that can pick and choose which tokens to list, and the timescale within which listing will occur. Each large exchange has its own list of pros and cons as well as its own specific procedure for coin/token listing. They also have their own particular ethos regarding the type of projects they prefer to list. ERC-20 tokens will be available for trade immediately on decentralized exchanges (IDEX Forkdelta) but those platforms are generally quite low volume, and certainly not a long term solution. Projects must often pay huge fees to be listed on the larger centralized exchanges. At first those fees will be prohibitive. The usual route is to initially list on a more reasonably priced smaller exchange like Kucoin or Gate.io.
Major centralized exchanges have the power to list anything they want, and they also each have a unique structure that projects must adhere to if they wish to be listed. Each potential new listing will undergo a rigorous examination by the exchange operators to test the feasibility for listing the token. An exchange will likely have forms available on its website that you can fill out to give them all the necessary initial information. If a particular project and token qualify for listing, the team will invariably be put under a NDA, Non-Disclosure Agreement, to avoid any insider trading or other regulatory problem
s. In the case of larger exchanges like Binance, there is a period within which owners of a newly listed coin or token can transfer them to the exchange in preparation for trading. This is a fantastic opportunity for traders to make use of the likely pump that occurs after a new token is listed on a large exchange. It is common to see up to 100% increases on the first day of trading, and a subsequent dump of up to 50% or more can follow. This allows traders holding the coin already, to sell for a good profit, and maybe buy back in at a much lower price too, if they think that is a good idea.
There are no definitive figures available to the public regarding fees that major exchanges charge new projects to list. Binance, Bitfinex, Kraken and Bittrex have all been quoted as saying that they do not charge any fee at all but this is almost definitely untrue. Knowledgeable industry insiders estimate between $500,000 and $1,000,000 USD for listing on a top-tier exchange. (There have been more rumors of 7 figure exchange listing fees since January 2018 too). This figure will vary greatly from project to project. Various factors can affect how an exchange determines the fee for a particular project. These are some of the most important ones: Market Maker Service Required Whether or not the client project requires liquidity services directly from the exchange, or can connect proprietary ones via API, will lead to a huge reduction in listing cost.
Type of Token (ERC-20 NEP-5 or DAG) Not all tokens are created equal in the listing process. ERC-20 tokens and BTC based tokens have code architecture that will almost certainly be preferred by the exchange. NEO based tokens (NEP-5) such as Ontology will be far most costly to integrate because separate new wallets have to be built to facilitate NEO transactions. The costs involved in integrating Direct Acyclic Graph projects such as Nano into the exchange structure are even worse. Expected Daily Volume Exchanges derive their profits largely from transaction fees and withdrawal fees. The trading volume a new token is likely to bring in will have a great influence on the computation of the exchange listing fee. Exchange Listing Procedures Evaluation Different exchanges have different rules for new listings. A new project must of course abide by specific rules for that exchange before they are allowed to list there. There are procedures that must generally be followed for the most noteworthy exchanges. You can get a good idea of the hurdles to be overcome before listing can take place.
Ongoing relationship with Exchanges
Exchanges, usually Huobi or Kucoin, will sometimes make it essential for newly listed tokens to engage in “trading competitions” after listing. Competitions can last between 2 weeks, or a month or more, aiming to increase the trading volume for that token, thereby increasing trading fees collected by the exchange, and giving the project extra publicity too. The whales may have made a nice profit already and be very happy about it; but the project token can still get stuck in a long period of stagnation and a loss of post-ICO hype. Once a coin or token has been successfully registered for trading on a particular exchange, the project must focus on maintaining regulatory compliance and paying things like annual maintenance fees too. Exchanges can investigate and delist coins or tokens to see if they have fallen below a certain standard set by the exchange. The exchange is concerned about such things as: an extended period with an extremely low volume; a team member connection to an exit scam; or other such immoral/illegal behavior.
Post ICO Company Evaluation
After a presumably successful ICO, the necessary funds have been obtained, and the real business, the real team challenge is now, to bring the project to life as a bona fide disruptive Blockchain endeavor! The core advantage of the ICO method of funding business startups is the lack of regulatory hurdles to navigate with regards to fundraising and fund allocation. The funds that have been raised have, in effect, been freely given to the project leads to do with what they will in a no-strings-attached transaction. Of course, there are still strings attached in that the team are tasked with making that money grow for the investors. But there is no regulatory oversight of the process. The regulatory freedom is a double edge sword. It gives a good team freedom to work however they want; and it also allows for unscrupulous thieves to use the ICO process to defraud investors of their ETH and BTC.
Advantages of being Post ICO From Investor Perspective
You should have little to fear in terms of fraud from a project in which you have invested, if you have done your due diligence correctly. You can expect the tokens to be distributed, and the exchange listing to take place as expected. And you know your project is totally legitimate. There are different ways to think about your ICO tokens after the crowd sale has concluded. If you are a speculative investor looking for a quick flip, you can gauge the correct moment and sell anytime you like, assuming the ICO has been well-received by the markets.
From Team Perspective
The post-ICO period is, from the point of view of the team, a period where stress and responsibility for the safety of investor funds is passed, in the form of ICO tokens, from the team to the investors themselves. This responsibility for tokens is replaced with the stress of building the actual company itself, and succeeding in the business as planned. A small portion of the responsibility for the project’s success is also passed on to the exchange that has listed the tokens. This is especially true if market makers have been employed by the team or the exchange to provide liquidity. After the ICO has concluded, all funds are released to the project team immediately, so they can start building their business brand, and tackling each step on the road map right away. The freedom with which startups can operate is one of the main reasons behind the explosion in Blockchain businesses in 2017. With the ICO funds safe, and money being put to work on various areas essential to the growth of the project, and the tokens already distributed to investors, the risk of fraud is greatly diminished. If KYC and Anti-money Laundering procedures have been followed correctly during the ICO phase, the risk of phishing attacks and theft will also be marginal now. At any rate, with tokens safely delivered to all participants, the responsibility has passed from the team to the investor.
From Team Perspective
The release of all funds and the freedom to allocate them with no supervision, as cited above, is certainly a tremendous advantage empowering the team to fulfil the entire breadth of their vision unimpeded. But it does have its drawbacks. If there is a mistake made in the allocation of funds, or an unforeseen problem arises, there is nowhere to turn to, and no means of generating further money via crowdfunding. The ICO is over; it is finished. The project simply has to work with what it has. Your community can sometimes turn against you when the market is going down. Times like that just add to the already intense pressure of presiding over a startup Blockchain business.
The DAICO, or Decentralized Autonomous Organization Initial Coin Offering, is a means to integrate a more specific, rigorous and regimented smart contract schedule into the ICO process. Doing so will eliminate fraudulent ICOs, exit scams, pump and dumps, and many of the other disadvantages listed above. The DAICO method, proposed by Ethereum creator, Vitalik Buterin, will merge the core concepts of both an ICO and a DAO to leverage the most relevant features of both, in order to solve the main problems in the ICO method. For example, to eliminate the risk of an exit scam, the release of funds will be spread out over a period of time, with the next allotment only being released when a certain set of parameters are met.
Buterin explains that the DAICO method will provide user protection in a manner not present in the current ICO model, ensuring funds are not misspent or used in any way contrary to the intention of investors. In simpler terms the DAICO will operate as follows: The DAICO will start with a smart contract by its executors that can set whether this is to be a capped or uncapped round of fundraising (amongst many other options) as well as including KYC requirements. After these settings have been configured, the DAICO is set into “contribution mode” and presented to the public. This stage will function identically to a normal ICO with ETH exchanged for project tokens. Once the funding period has elapsed, or the hardcap has been met, investors will have the ability to set the “tap” for the collected funds. This will set the amount per second, or amount per minute, that will be available to the executor to develop that specific portion of the project to which those funds have been assigned. If investors believe at any point that the team is misspending funds or otherwise wasting time, etc., the investors have significant options to take. Of course they could choose to release more funds to the team. But, they could also stop the tap altogether, and stop the entire ICO, by voting, and actually release all unused funds back to their own wallets from which the investment had first been made!
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