Initial Coin Offerings, Speculators, and Asset Tokenization

Gerry Tsoukalas, Operations, Information, and Decisions, The Wharton School; Rowena Gan, Southern Methodist University; and Serguei Netessine, Operations, Information, and Decisions, The Wharton School

Management Science, 2020

Abstract: Initial coin offerings (ICOs) are an emerging form of fundraising for blockchain-based startups. We examine how ICOs can be leveraged in the context of asset tokenization, whereby firms issue tokens backed by future assets (i.e., inventory) to finance growth. We (i) make suggestions on how to design such “asset-backed” ICOs—including optimal token floating and pricing for both utility and equity tokens (a.k.a. security token offerings)—taking into account moral hazard (cash diversion), product characteristics, and customer demand uncertainty; (ii) make predictions on ICO success/failure; and (iii) discuss implications on firm operating strategy. We show that in unregulated environments, ICOs can lead to significant agency costs, underproduction, and loss of firm value. These inefficiencies, however, fade as product margins and demand characteristics (mean/variance) improve, and they are less severe under equity (rather than utility) token issuance. Importantly, the advantage of equity tokens stems from their inherent ability to better align incentives and thus continues to hold even absent regulation.

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