startup founder
Start-ups, particularly those in the blockchain space, face a fundraising dilemma: To VC or not to VC? StartupStockPhotos/Pixabay

Start-ups, particularly those in the blockchain space, face a fundraising dilemma: To VC or not to VC? Should founders seek venture capital from a narrow group of investors to launch their businesses? Or should they issue their own cryptocurrencies and ask the decentralized “crowd” to fund their enterprises in an Initial Coin Offering (ICO)?

Companies have raised over $4 billion through ICOs in 2017 alone. To be sure, there are pros and cons in each route. But the best path in many cases is to combine the two and have the best of both worlds.

Is a first-time startup CEO who chooses to skip the VCs and go straight to an ICO really prepared to manage millions of dollars with no oversight? Consider this: Lottery winners who find themselves flush with cash overnight often waste their riches because they lack the financial know-how. Even financially-literate, experienced founders will tell you they benefit from the guidance and oversight VCs can provide.

On the other hand, when a startup relies solely on VCs for its initial growth funding, it is submitting to a centralized model that continuously favors and enriches a small, connected group of people. Through an ICO, by contrast, businesses can bring an entirely new cohort of people into these exciting projects. They can provide an opportunity to purchase tokens that allow token holders to participate in a project they believe in as it grows. In doing so, founders are able to build an organic community to help spread the word of the technology as well as be its first customers.

Clearly, each option has its upsides and downsides. The best option in many cases is, therefore, a hybrid approach: by combining venture funding with a token offering, founders can maintain a larger degree of control while still benefiting from the expertise VCs provide. They can enable individuals to participate in and support their businesses while providing comfort to the market that their projects are legitimate and can execute on their objectives.

There is much talk at present of an ICO “bubble,” with prognosticators everywhere pointing to tightening regulations and citing some examples of clearly bogus ICOs to underscore their skepticism. There are certainly bad actors looking to take advantage of this moment to make a quick million on the back of an unsuspecting public. And while this is not surprising in a new market, it is unfortunate in the near term as it casts suspicion on many genuinely promising and exciting projects. Which brings us back to the best of both worlds: By combining an ICO with VC backing, businesses can clearly signal that they have been evaluated by experts who are committing their own capital. The public can draw confidence in a project that has the approval of investment professionals.

Token offerings are not a fad. They represent an important new financial tool, and they are here to stay. But this does not mean that they are about to replace traditional funding sources altogether. Rather, when properly executed, they can form a separate, democratizing pillar of start-up finance. Venture Capital plays a key role in this ecosystem. It can provide seasoned, experienced support and guidance to new leadership teams, while signaling through its commitment of funds that a project is promising and trustworthy. Entrepreneurs should not shun these benefits. But by combining them with the decentralizing, democratizing nature of an ICO, they can spread the wealth. They can demonstrate to the public that a project is substantial enough to attract savvy institutional money, then let these individuals join in the projects they believe in. The future of token offerings is not a wild west of uncontrolled speculation, but a powerful, democratic option in start-up finance.

Pavel Bains is the chief executive officer and co-founder of Singapore-based start-up Bluzelle, a decentralized database services provider.