Crowdfunding — a process that involves the generation of funds for a business or project idea from a group of supporters, as opposed to one or two giant investors — has a history that dates back as far as the late 90s. However, within the last decade, crowdfunding has become a popular way for charities, startups and researchers to democratise fundraising via the internet. When crowdfunding projects are successful, new projects are given the opportunity to launch. Notable examples of popular crowdfunding platforms include Kickstarter, SeedInvest Technology, Mightycause, GoFundMe, Indiegogo and Patreon.
However, the traditional model of crowdfunding is still, in many ways, deeply flawed. Many platforms subject users and creators to steep processing fees, which take away from total amounts of generated funds. Success rates also vary between platforms — according to Kickstarter’s statistics, 78% of campaigns that raise 20% of their goal will see themselves become fully funded — whereas 11% of recorded projects will often finish without seeing a single penny. According to another study, a reported 22.9% of all traditional crowdfunding operations — which is fewer than a quarter — actually end up being successful.
Tokenised crowdfunding, which is fully operated on blockchain technology, is becoming a preferred strategy for companies, communities, entrepreneurs, researchers and other entities to collectively raise capital for a particular cause — whether it be for charity, gaming, scientific research or other objectives. This is largely due to the various advantages it entails through decentralisation — such as greater transparency, better security and faster transactions. DAOs (Decentralised Autonomous Organisations) are also now playing a vital role in this ecosystem, offering new ways for groups to execute agreed-upon decisions using smart contracts.
Here, we’ve put together a guide on the benefits of crowdfunding with tokens — including a rundown on the most popular types of token standards and models currently used for crowdfunding, highlights of how blockchain technology is improving traditional funding processes and examples of industries that are seeing their reliance on funding made easier by DAOs, NFTs and other Web3 technologies.
Popular token standards and fundraising models
The popularity of crowdfunding with tokens has been largely attributed to the Ethereum blockchain — particularly due to the ease that Ethereum provides in the creation of new coins. Serving as the foundation for an open-source software platform, the Ethereum blockchain allows programmers to create and distribute peer-to-peer programs (dApps).
ERC-20 tokens — a special type of smart contract — are crypto-based assets that have been constructed for crowdfunding strategies on top of the Ethereum network. ERC-20 is the token standard of the Ethereum blockchain and it has become the most popular in the crypto world, accumulating 70% of the total tokens in use. As such, this makes it both the easiest token to find and the most attractive to investors.
Some of the primary factors that differentiate ERC-20 tokens from their competitors include:
- The simple deployment process associated with the Ethereum blockchain, which makes the tokens easy to understand
- Their design: the ERC-20 token standard is made to address major issues with a wide number of handled tokens
- Thanks to its widespread appeal and popularity amongst investors, it is the first widely-used specification for standardising Ethereum tokens
In more recent years, we’ve also seen the emergence of the ERC-721 Token Standard — also more commonly known as the Non-Fungible Token (NFT) standard. Unlike ERC-20 tokens, which are fungible, the ERC-721 standard introduces a token that is unique and non-fungible — serving as a digital certificate that is encrypted and verifiable on the Ethereum blockchain.
Now a highly popular technology trend, an increasing number of companies have started looking to NFTs as a way to raise funds. The technology allows for the authenticated transfer of ownership of a unique asset on the blockchain, making them valuable through their scarcity and novelty. The adaptability of NFTs has also made them useful for leveraging in cases of fundraising — as not only can just about anything can be made into an NFT, but additional utility can also be attached to increase their value.
Let’s also take a look at some of the two popular fundraising models that make use of tokens:
Initial Coin Offering (ICO)
The most well-known option for the launch of new tokens, Initial Coin Offering (or ICO) is a method used by businesses and startups to raise investments by issuing cryptocurrency. Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) are similar to Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) in the traditional market. However, unlike the harsh regulatory processes associated with filing a traditional IPO, ICOs allow companies to fund their development and raise capital with the use of tokens.
Rather than selling equity with an IPO or turning to alternative funding methods, businesses can instead build their own blockchain and issue their own tokens. Investors can then purchase said tokens on the company’s platform, allowing them to buy into their products or services. Also, rather than giving buyers traditional equity (ownership shares of a business), the tokens — which usually (though not always) follow the ERC-20 standard and function on the Ethereum blockchain — are sold as having future utility on the blockchain that they fund.
Decentralised Autonomous Organisation (DAO)
Decentralised Autonomous Organisation (or DAO) is the term used to describe a group of people who form an organisation without the presence of a central authority dictating any of the rules and regulations. Instead, DAOs are governed by a smart contract — which defines the group’s rules and holds the organisation’s treasury. Once the contract goes live on the Ethereum blockchain, the rules cannot be changed unless the community votes.
Each DAO will have a different goal — whether it be a single purpose or part of a bigger project. At its core, a DAO is a community formed around a singular idea that each member believes is worth investing in.
Those who want to participate in a DAO will also need to have a “native” token for their designated project. For example, the AssangeDAO fundraising campaign (which has been raised to help WikiLeaks creator Julian Assange’s legal defence) utilises the “Justice” token. In other cases, DAOs can run more like members-only clubs — where members must buy an NFT to access the community.
The power that each person holds in a DAO is also largely dependent on the number of tokens they own. In the case that a funding campaign is successful, the price of the token increases — meaning that members can even make money from joining these types of crowdfunding campaigns.
Both investors and crypto communities believe that DAOs are the “next big trend” in crypto crowdfunding — even billionaire Mark Cuban has called them “the ultimate combination of capitalism and progressivism.”
How does blockchain improve crowdfunding processes?
Blockchain is steadily changing the game for raising capital, allowing project owners to enable funding at more competitive rates. Due to the elimination of intermediaries, projects can be executed more quickly and access to low-cost funds is much easier to reach. Also, due to Ethereum’s open-ended, smart contract protocol, developers are able to create new derivative tokens and platforms with greater ease and security.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits offered by tokenisation in the crowdfunding landscape — especially when compared to more traditional models:
Smart contracts allow participants to identify both ends of a transaction, therefore decreasing the probability of fraud. Also, given that they don’t require intermediaries, smart contracts are much faster than typical fund transfers — making them highly useful in cases where tight deadlines must be met.
Blockchain technology is also helpful in building more transparent communication between two parties — for instance, in a DAO, contracts are highly visible, verifiable and publicly auditable — meaning that every member can understand how their organisation operates at every step.
When it comes to popular crowdfunding platforms, users and creators are often at the mercy of standard fees and payment processing fees. Kickstarter, which we’ll again use as an example, charges a 5% standard fee and a processing fee of 3% to 5 % to US-based users. GoFundMe, another popular crowdfunding platform for charity causes and individual creators, deducts 2.2% + $0.30 USD per donation as a standardised transaction fee.
Conversely, the decentralised nature of blockchain is a huge asset in making crowdfunding more cost-efficient. Given that intermediaries or third parties are eliminated from financial transactions, crowdfunding is made much more affordable.
Startups are often burdened with a lack of costs — an issue that can prevent new companies from being able to form their own marketing departments or hire the right staff to raise capital. Conversely, crowdfunding with tokens presents a way for startups to become employee-owned companies — a process that can allow them to turn their tokens into internal currency and form a decentralised community without experiencing losses.
Better transparency and security
Unlike seed funding projects — which are often highly secretive throughout their funding trajectory — blockchain technology is comparatively more transparent. When an organisation decides to file an IPO in the traditional market, only a small amount of information becomes available in the public domain. However, crowdfunding with tokens offers a more transparent system, where every transaction can be stored and made visible on the blockchain using smart contracts.
Blockchain also offers an extra layer of security. With tokenised crowdfunding, smart contracts can transfer funds to a company only when a milestone has been designated, eliminating the possibility of fraud. After funding an initiative, investors are usually provided with tokens — giving them a form of ownership that can also thwart fraudulent creators.
IPOs in the traditional market come with several regulations — but the good thing about crypto tokens is that they can be sold globally and are equated to the sale of digital keys. Also, while only 3% of the US adult population meets the $1 million net worth required to invest in an IPO, there are no restrictions in ICO or other tokenised fundraising models — anyone can purchase tokens, regardless of their net worth.
Crypto tokens can also be sold globally to all investors — meaning that anyone can participate in crowdfunding initiatives, regardless of their geographic location.
Which sectors are transforming through tokenisation and DAOs?
When it comes to participatory investing via crowdfunding platforms, one of the biggest drivers of this model’s success is that it has eliminated the requirement for any type of investor to gain approval from big corporations. Put simply, this has made investing more accessible to everyone.
It’s also given a platform to investors or companies that were previously barred from the investment industry. This, in turn, has empowered contributors that are much more diverse and representative of our greater society. Within the last decade, we’ve seen a massive proliferation in funding opportunities for varying types of companies, causes and communities across the globe.
While crypto crowdfunding follows this same logic, it also comes with additional benefits — such as fairer, more democratic reward systems and solutions that are far more secure and profitable. Diversity is good for business — and by avoiding the big gatekeepers, DAOs and NFT projects have started fostering a limitless range of ideas and innovations.
Let’s now take a look at some examples of where tokens, DAOs and other forms of Web3 technology are changing various industry landscapes.
At its core, crowdfunding is a community-driven effort — making it ideally aligned with blockchain and decentralised ledger technologies. The peer-to-peer framework that comes with blockchain technology enables the development of community-based platforms — which are, in many ways, a win-win situation for everyone involved.
Crowdfunding has also shown us the propensity with which communities can collectively raise large sums in short periods of time. In 2017, the ICO fundraising model gained significant traction when Filecoin, a blockchain-based data storage network, raised more than $257 million in tokens within a mere 30 minutes. In the same year, decentralised open-source blockchain Tezos raised roughly $156 million in tokens from an online crowd sale.
Mirror.xyz, a decentralised publishing platform, is a notable example of a tokenised crowdfunding model that is leveraging NFT technology — in this case, to help writers monetise their work. To raise funds, writers can turn their work into NFTs — which can then be sold to auctions or publications. This model also allows writers to crowdfund their projects, where readers can get a cut of a story’s profits once it reaches completion. Decentralised music streaming platform Audius has also been widely praised by industry professionals for allowing musicians to crowdfund their albums or album art through the sale of NFTs.
DAOs have also emerged as a disruptive force in the blockchain ecosystem, displaying how governance can be community-driven and managed through permissionless smart contracts. Within the last year, DAOs have become an increasingly popular way for communities to fund a myriad of objectives.
Juicebox, which has been dubbed a “decentralised Kickstarter”, is a rising crowdfunding platform that allows DAO projects to raise funding from communities — all with the power of public smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain. Juicebox’s goal is to transform the traditional crowdfunding model, making the process of building a treasury and issuing tokens to a community for a decentralised project much easier. Even Kickstarter has recently announced that it will be building a blockchain-based version of its platform to compete with the rising number of DAOs, opting to utilise the Celo token (due to its “carbon negative blockchain platform”).
Also with the help of Juicebox, a group of crypto enthusiasts formed ConstitutionDAO in late 2021 — armed with the goal of purchasing an original copy of the United States Constitution through a Sotheby’s auction. With roughly 17,500 backers, the group managed to raise more than $40 million in ETH in just a few days.
While ConstitutionDAO didn’t achieve its goal of purchasing a copy of the U.S. Constitution, what’s notable is that the group was able to accomplish what it did solely based on the community’s contributions (and all without the backing of a larger marketing team or growth director). The rules established by the group also enabled members to receive a refund of their investment.
Another example of innovative crowdfunding we can observe is the DoGood Crypto project, which was founded by Randy McEwen — a philanthropic pastor with over 30 years of experience in non-profit and charitable organisations. With DoGood, McEwen’s goal is to utilise a deflationary token (called the Do Token) and launch a community of “do-gooders”, all while also functioning as both a DAO and a crowdfunding platform.
Following the biblical principle of having “all things in common”, the DAO includes a voluntary tax system on all buy and sell orders of the group’s native token. 70% of the Do Token’s taxes automatically go back to the community, where it is distributed to all token holders proportional to their previous amounts — while 18% of taxes are allocated towards the platform’s charity fund. Also, members looking to donate funds simply just need to participate in the platform’s DAO and vote for charitable causes.
In all, these models are currently showcasing the potential for communities to donate towards causes in a more affordable, convenient and hassle-free way — utilising inventive tokenomics and taxenomics to leverage easier crowdfunding. Due to their evident success thus far, it is likely that we will see more crowdfunding efforts transpire through DAOs over time.
Venture capital (VC) funding
As we continue to see the growth of DeFi, NFTs and tokens, a growing list of venture-backed startups are looking to leverage DAOs with different types of blockchain dependencies across the corporate landscape. This is helping founders dodge regulatory barriers, instead allowing them to rely on the power of smart contracts and tokens.
While the concept of democratising capital is obviously not new, this decentralised approach to funding is enabling more groups to raise funds without needing to rely on the approval of a large VC. This concept alone is already making DAOs a highly effective alternative to VC firms.
Syndicate DAO, a decentralised investment protocol, is one such example of a group that is looking to streamline capital and make the process of pooling money and investing in a project remarkably easy. Syndicate creates investment DAO templates for anyone to use to form investment clubs — a concept that essentially allows DAOs to be created within minutes with the use of an Ethereum wallet.
“At the end of the day, DAOs are a collective technology as opposed to an individual one,” Will Papper, co-founder of Syndicate, recently told TechCrunch in a recent interview. “DAOs are kind of the next evolution of the corporation because they encode both voice and exit into their foundations.”
SushiSwap, which is both a DAO and a decentralised exchange, is an example of a group that recently brought the traditional VC funding model to the battleground. With around 60,000 token holders, SushiSwap was selected by VCs hoping to invest in the project. However, with no centralised entity in place, this led to the first (and likely not the last) time that VCs needed to win over a vast crypto community.
It also appears that early investors in the space are already cropping up. Layer3, a crypto startup offering tools to DAOs, recently closed a seed funding round of $2.5 million — an effort which was led by a team of traditional venture capitalists and angel investors. Some VCs have even recently become DAOs, such as Stacker Ventures.
In all, Web3 technology is allowing for trusted transactions to take place without the need to trust those involved — while DAOs are also allowing startups to raise money without the need for third parties. As DAOs become more popular and more VCs look towards a more decentralised future, it’s widely believed that they will offer the most significant change in how venture capital (VC) funds operate in Web3.
Ali Yahya, GP of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (or a16z) has commented on the sheer power behind the DAO concept: “The fact that a DAO is just a software that can be spun up with the click of a button … but can catalyse thousands or tens of thousands of people — eventually we expect millions of people or larger numbers — that all put together capital and put together ideas to work together for some common goal … we see that as almost the purest vision of what Web3 and crypto are all about.”
One of the most conventional forms of fundraising through the purchase of tokens or NFTs can be seen within the Web3 videogame industry. Many developers and publishers are expanding their business models into this new form of financial backing. Where we would have seen, in the Web2 era of the internet, a developer may establish a Kickstarter or similar crowdfunding project, this always created a ‘middle-man’ to whom fees must be paid.
With the advent of blockchain technology, we can now see games being launched directly to the public using a similar briefing method but then financed by the selling of tokens or NFTs (which can be used in-game), which ensures all funds reach the creating team, often transcending currency exchanges due to the use of cryptocurrency.
Of course, this system offers a level of risk to the consumer – you must first believe in the project, but more importantly, you must believe in the creator and their intentions. If a developer abandoned their Kickstarter project, there was a chance you could recoup your investment, however, with tokens and NFTs, that investment is a lot more unstable.
Many Web3 games have begun in this way. Everything from DeFi Kingdoms to Aavegotchi began life with community members rallying around an idea for a game, buying and staking tokens, which become liquid assets for the developers to use to build the game and pay overheads. Once the game then launches, the holding of tokens or NFTs bestows exclusive in-game items, skills or characters to the player.
If we focus on DeFi Kingdoms, we can see how players and users invested in the game. DeFi Kingdoms was formally announced on Medium, September 3rd 2021 – though it had been playable for a few months prior – with the document stating “DeFi Kingdoms is a game, a DEX, a liquidity pool opportunity, a market of rare utility-driven NFTs”. Over the following months, the development team began updating the potential player base regularly, detailing how the game was being made and what gameplay mechanics would be implemented.
It didn’t take long for the community to rally around the game’s concept and begin investing in $JEWEL, the game’s native governance token. You can see that as the game began ramping up production in the tail-end of 2021 and the game gained more traction online, the purchase of $JEWEL went crazy, reaching a peak price of $22.33USD on 5th January 2022.
These tokens further benefit the players by enrolling them into a DAO, where community members can vote on upcoming additions to the game, or have a say in the direct development. While it’s clear to see the benefits of fundraising and community support through tokens in the entertainment industry, this method of community backing is now entering into further industries.
Funding operates differently across all industries and, as we’ve been exploring here, the advent of Web3 technologies is vastly shifting the investment landscape. In one particular industry, the reliance on funding is paramount to momentum, yet it seems archaically stuck in the past. Whenever a scientific research group wants to create and analyse, they must write a proposal, which then moves through authoritative channels to seek the finances.
Often these proposals are given funding through government grants which are backed by the taxes paid by society. With so many research topics, so many governing bodies and only so much money, a bottleneck is created. Not just a bottleneck, in the US this also becomes a monopoly for pharmaceutical firms looking to turn a profit.
Important research passes through several stages to reach public consumption:
Many times, these research breakthroughs won’t even reach manufacturing stages if profit-driven companies see no margin for business. Researchers will provide the same proposal and proof of concept, though rather than passing through trials and then onto the public, the discoveries and improvements will languish in a gulf researchers colloquially call the ‘valley of death’. Projects that happen to fall into the valley will likely never see the light of day simply because there is no profit in the improvements or patents, and this happens frequently to universities across the world.
Not only do many of these patents fall through the cracks, or in the worst case scenarios, pass, but gouge the public for prescription costs; the proposals which never even receive funding end up wasting the time of researchers. A recent study showed that out of 3570 proposals reviewed by The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia, only 21% were funded. It’s estimated that, in Australia, researchers spent an average of 34 days working on a proposal. For a total of 3727 proposals, researchers spent a combined 550 years working on these documents, which translates to AU$66million in wages.
Much of that time and money is wasted, without the public even knowing that the research is being conducted.
Can VitaDAO solve or improve this situation?
As with other industries, blockchain technology is shaking up progress through the use of tokens and the establishment of DAOs. For those unaware of what a DAO is or can be, a DAO is a distributed governance system which is formed of like-minded community members. The DAOs rules and regulations are voted on through the holding of community tokens and all decisions are actualised by smart contracts, then recorded and stored on a blockchain.
A fraction of the scientific community are beginning to push towards funding through community tokens, establishing a DAO. This movement is currently named DeSci, though as with all Web3 concepts it could change to encompass arts, history and other humanities, removing the ‘sci’. A great example of this new DAO structure is seen with VitaDAO.
VitaDAO is aiming to create a shift in ownership of patents and innovation from the large pharmaceutical corporations, to communities of researchers and patients. This is being achieved by using their own token $VITA, which community members purchase and stake in the DAO in order to take part in governance voting.
As you can see, the $VITA token pricing allows DAO membership accessible to many. Although it should always be noted that the more tokens you hold, the more votes you have to sway decisions.
Anyone can join VitaDAO and governance operates simply; proposals are made and funded by the finances within the DAO. This happens after passing the proposal through a committee of leading researchers, ensuring productivity and benefits from the proposed results. Once the proposal is made, the community votes on whether funding is released. Moving past this phase, any intellectual property or patents are owned by the DAO, developing a growing portfolio.
Community is key
The community token powers everything within VitaDAO. Many of those working within the DAO or similar DeSci structures are large proponents of focusing on those who will end up using the patents when it reaches the public. An example often given is with insulin; Molecule marketplace – imagine an OpenSea but for open research projects requiring funding – is one such example. They say, in their Medium blog post, “Imagine a new insulin treatment funded, governed, and owned by diabetics.”
This example underlines everything within DeSci currently – an urgency to shift the power dynamics and extend the ‘creator economy’ so important to the age of Web3.
It all works simply; after visiting the VitaDAO website, you can connect your wallet and review a proposal. Once the proposal is open, you’ll read a summary, followed by a much more in-depth look at the ‘problem’, ‘opportunities’ and even ‘risks’ of the research. As long as you hold $VITA in your wallet, you can then vote For, Against, or Abstain from voting.
The beauty of using tokens on the blockchain is the full transparency of each proposal, plus the voting itself. Everything is laid out for all, from wallet addresses to how they voted individually. It even shows how much $VITA is held by each member of the DAO.
Of course, not all projects fly through funding, though browsing the proposals, it seems all but one was passed in the history of the DAO. Constructs like VitaDAO show that not only do members of the scientific community want to take back control from those clutching the purse strings, but they also want to collaborate and work together more efficiently, something which is paramount to any DAO entering the market.
Away from VitaDAO, many academics are turning to token-based community funding in the hope of removing the bureaucracy and lengthy time it takes to craft proposals. Chris Ferrie decided to venture out on his own in order to raise funds for research into quantum systems and quantum engineered devices.
Ferrie took it upon himself to create his own token, $QUANTUM, which raised funds in Ethereum. Structured just like a Kickstarter project, Ferrie aimed to reach 3ETH (the total currently sits at 4.47ETH) which would be used to hire a research student who would work with him on the tasks. Ferrie was transparent with his goals stating that once the research was complete, the IP would be minted on the Zora network as an NFT, thereby making the research fully available to the public.
In Ferrie’s own words, he sees these opportunities as a ‘meta-experiment’ and poses the question, “What if research — that is often funded by the public anyway — was truly owned by the public?” He goes on to list his reasoning behind the experiment, citing “Funding bodies are large bureaucracies with archaic and opaque rules and selection procedures.” And also, “there are no places to request small grants for this kind of research.“
Let’s rotate back around to the above mentioned Molecule. Molecule is aiming to be an “open bazaar” creating a “system that could radically increase the diversity of treatments, and lower costs and time to market.” As with VitaDAO, Molecule aims to fully decentralise scientific breakthroughs, allowing for varied ownership. This is done via IP-NFTs, or Intellectual Property Non-Fungible Tokens.
In a first proof of concept, the first biopharma IP-NFT was transferred to VitaDAO to fund novel longevity therapeutics at the University of Copenhagen. It was purchased for the equivalent of $325,000 and included full legal IP.
How does this work? The IP information is stored within the NFT contract itself. Using technology from Nevermined, the data is tokenised and locked away. Only upon purchasing can this information be utilised by the buying party. The reason for tokenising this data is to be able to fully liquidate the IP and place a monetary value on it, which could never be done previously when corporations were supplying funding. This value then becomes the liquid funding, usually paid by a DeSci DAO.
This also allows, through smart contracts, for the inventor of the patent or data to be rewarded with royalties if the IP-NFT is ever sold on.
Another major worry, inherent across the internet during its Web1 and Web2 phases, is the idea of permanence. So much of what has been written on the internet is subject to change or is easily editable by authors, or bad actors. As DeSci users enter into a new era of funding and public accessibility to data, a more secure and precise version of the internet could be the key to bringing everything together.
Enter, Arweave, a Web3 protocol attempting to establish an internet which would be forever permanent and resistant to editing, their colloquial term is ‘permaweb’. Why is this important? Well, Arweave is committed to upholding two central points; firstly, their protocol is hosted on the computers of everyday people, rather than in central servers. This means that if one computer goes down, the content is backed up elsewhere and delivered to the user. Why would people host this content? Well, money, of course. Miners would function as data hosts and be rewarded with funds from the stake holding community.
Secondly, due to blockchain security, the websites and apps being hosted cannot be edited or tampered with, because, much like with NFTs and crypto, fraudulent blocks won’t be processed. This benefits society directly because there’s less chance of spreading misinformation, but also, there could be little to no censorship as the content is hosted independently.
Arweave, much like VitaDAO and the Quantum project, is powered by community and businesses investing in their community token. In this case, $WIKI.
The changes to fundraising, when switched to blockchain enterprise, are vast. Not only are steep processing fees avoided – particularly if the blockchain used is built on Proof on Stake, where gas fees can be heavily reduced – but there’s more opportunity to give creator support or community control.
Financial backing has been radically overhauled in the era of Web3; supporters can join a DAO, where they can vote on upcoming changes to a variety of projects, such as music, art, movie-making or even scientific research. NFTs can be used as tokenised memberships or direct fundraising for charities using smart contracts.
Even the way cryptocurrency operates benefits fundraising projects by acting as a digital token currency which is unaffected by traditional fiat currency exchanges. This is just the beginning; as crypto and blockchains evolve over time, as well as the programming of smart contracts, we will likely see even more dynamic ways to show financial support where it’s needed.
- May 5, 2022