Between 2017 and 2018, it was hard to find anyone unaware of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). ICOs were all the rage among those looking to ride the latest wave in the crypto industry. Hence, the highest-grossing crypto ICOs raised billions of dollars from investors.
ICOs allowed many projects to raise the funds they needed to start operations and promised great returns to investors.
Also, the promises of the ICOs sought to build the infrastructure for a new decentralized industry with complex financial products and technological improvements of all kinds. But, we could also find many ICOs created to steal money from investors around the corner.
Today we will recount the largest ICOs in history and what they became over time.
What is an ICO?
As we explained in a previous article on the history of ICOs, the latter is a mechanism that allows projects to raise funds by offering the public some new tokens sold in a given time.
They are like a kind of Crowdfunding, and the funds raised are used so that the project’s authors can complete their development. In return, investors get tokens created solely for the ICO and can exchange them later on the platform or sell it in the future.
ICOs were popularized by Ethereum (ETH), which deserves to be on our list of the highest-grossing crypto ICOs. The token sale of Ethereum ended on August 30, 2014, and its goal was to raise $16 million. Each ETH cost $0.311 at that time. The profit of the first investors increased exponentially since the price for January 2023 is around $1400 [CoinMarketCap].
Most of the subsequent ICOs were built on the Ethereum blockchainBlockchain is a type of database storing an immutable set of data, verifiable to anyone with access to it —through... and were inspired by its fundraising round. But this was not the only fundraising carried out by the second cryptocurrencyA digital currency running on a blockchain and built with cryptography. Contrary to central-bank issued currency, cryptocurrency issuance rules are... More on the market.
In April 2016, the sale of shares for The DAO began. This was the first attempt by a main Decentralized Autonomous Organization on the Ethereum blockchain.
More than 11,000 investors got excited and bought tokens from the ICO, which raised more than $170 million. Unfortunately, two months later, someone stole $70 million worth of ETH in June thanks to a vulnerability in the DAO’s code.
This hack caused great controversy, causing Ethereum developers to fork the network to return the stolen funds. But, not everyone agreed, and Ethereum Classic was born.
In June 2017, one of the highest-grossing crypto ICOs broke records for how quickly it raised funds. So, we are talking about Bancor, a Swedish ICO that raised $153 million in just three hours.
Bancor (BNT) aimed to create a DEX platform where users could easily build their own tokens. Bancor was one of the first DeFi solutions to hit the market.
Though, in 2018, hackers stole $13.5 million of Bancor’s DEX. Subsequently, in 2019, United States regulations prevented citizens of this country from using the platform. In June 2017, BNT was worth $23.73, but since then, it has lost more than 98% of its value and currently sits at around $0.37, with a capitalization of $61 million.
The EOS ICO closed after raising $4.1 billion in 2018. This altcoin was based on a delegated proof-of-stake (dPoS) blockchain and was designed to serve as the foundation for new decentralized applications and ecosystems.
But, the level of decentralizationThe transfer of control from one central entity to numerous smaller entities. Generally, cryptocurrencies are decentralized. Every crypto transaction is... More of EOS caused controversy, and the project did not become the “Ethereum killer,” as some called it. Today the EOS token is worth just $0.98, a 95.68% collapse from its ATH of $22.89. Also, it is currently not as widely used as Ethereum and Tron for DeFi applications.
WhatsApp’s main competitor, Telegram, also joined the ICO fever in 2018. The platform conducted two of the highest-grossing crypto ICOs and raised $1.7 billion for its Telegram Open Network (TON), which aimed to integrate payments into the platform.
Sadly, in 2019 the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) prohibited its launch in the United States and the distribution of the TON sold in the ICO. Furthermore, the SEC ordered $1.2 billion in refunds and an $18.5 million fine for violating the Securities Law. In this way, many investors did not recover their funds.
TaTaTu (TTU), for its part, raised $575 million in June 2018. It promised to be a kind of crypto Netflix, where users would be rewarded for watching. Unfortunately, the project didn’t take off as planned despite having partnerships with actors like Johnny Depp.
Sirin Labs raised $158 million in December 2017 to build the world’s first blockchain phones. This phone would have a built-in walletA crypto wallet is a user-friendly software or hardware used to manage private keys. There are software wallets for desktop... More and was released a year later.
Unfortunately, the project did not catch on with the world’s users. Even its CEO, Moshe Hogeg, was sued, among other things, for failing to pay a $6 million bill for manufacturing the smartphones.
Bitfinex is the CEX belonging to the creators of Tether (USDT), iFinex. This project led to one of the highest-grossing crypto ICOs, raising nearly $1 billion in just ten days.
Bitfinex and the iFinex ecosystem earned a questionable reputation regarding whether Tether is sufficiently backed. Then, a series of economic problems between 2018 and 2019 caused Bitfinex to launch its LEO token and its ICO.
LEO hit its all-time high in February 2022 when it was worth $8.04, and it has declined 57.08% to trade at $3.45.
In March 2018, Dragon Coins (DRG) raised $407 million for a payment system targeting the online casino market in Asia. Alas, a series of controversies surrounding the reliability of the project and even the arrest of a Thai actor who had ICO funds in his bank account led to the token disappearing over the years.
Huobi, a Chinese exchange, launched its Huobi Token (HT) in 2018 and raised $300 million from investors. Unlike other cases cited on this list, HT has been holding up since its ICO, although it is down 87% since its ATH in May 2021, when it traded at $39.81.
Although we must emphasize that the Huobi team emphasized that it was not an ICO, since only active users of the platform would receive the token.
And we cannot close this list of the highest-grossing crypto ICOs without mentioning the Hyundai DAC (HDAC) that raised $258 million in December 2017. Hyundai created this project to integrate the Internet of Things (IoT) with blockchain technology.
However, the ICO led by the largest South Korean automaker and the world’s sixth-largest automaker failed to achieve the expected adoption. Hence, the HDAC token is no longer on CoinMarketCap’s watchlist.
The ICO fever cooled to give way to the craze for NFTs and Play-to-Earn games. However, they left a series of lessons for regulators and investors who, enthusiastic at first, mostly failed to see the return on their investment from the highest-grossing crypto ICOs.
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