What the hell is an initial coin offering? If you’re baffled by the rise of the buzzy, blockchain-based fundraising method, you aren’t alone. Investors, entrepreneurs, and policymakers across the globe are still trying to figure out what an ICO is, too.
A few things are clear, though. First, while an ICO is a bit like an initial public offering, from which its name derives, it’s also something else entirely new—it’s an opportunity for investors to buy a stake in a new venture, but what’s the venture?
That leads to the second thing we know: the definition of an ICO is far from settled. The process of creating a new cryptocurrency and then selling it to investors in order to raise money for development work is evolving quickly, thanks to a combination of regulatory pressure and technological innovation. Even so, ICOs have raised huge amounts of cash: more than $23 billion since 2014. An animation put together by the blockchain data analysis firm Elementus, above, shows just how explosive the field has been so far. As for what happens next? Well, let’s just say you can expect more fireworks.