Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) or token sales are gaining a lot of attention, from institutional investors and individuals alike. ICOs are referred to the new IPOs or next generation crowdfunding. But the blockchain ecosystem is still young and lacks standards, thus making token sale participation a hurdle for the average person. In this post, we explain how to participate in a token sale with an easy step by step guide.


Background Info

Most ICOs today run on top of the Ethereum blockchain through a smart contract that collects Ethereum tokens and automatically exchanges these for a new token presented by the start-up company. The entire process happens entirely P2P without any exchanges or brokers as middlemen. Every ICO has a different pricing mechanism (price decreases, increases, is fixed, non-existent)*. For more info on types of ICOs follow our ICO introduction.


1. Register with a Cryptocurrency Exchange

To participate in an ICO, you need cryptocurrencies, usually Ether or Bitcoin. You cannot participate in an ICO with fiat currency. If you don’t own cryptocurrency, you will first need to buy some. The best way to purchase significant amounts of Bitcoin is through online exchanges. Transfer money from your bank account to your newly created account with a cryptocurrency exchange. Please note that the registration process might need some days due to strict KYC and AML regulation. If you don’t have a bank account or don’t want to give up your privacy by sending your ID to a third party like Coinbase, there are other options like buying Bitcoin/Ether from an ATM or locally from other people. For more info read our tutorial on How to buy Bitcoin & other Cryptocurrencies.


2. Exchange Fiat for Bitcoin or Ether

Once you registered an account with an exchange and the money from your bank account has arrived, you could exchange your EUR, USD, etc. for the cryptocurrency you want to buy. This process takes a few seconds. Your cryptocurrencies will be sent to an online wallet offered by the exchange you registered with. Keeping large amounts of coins online might be dangerous since online exchanges are vulnerable to attacks. In the past money got stolen from online exchanges. Therefore it is highly advised that you send your cryptocurrency to a wallet which is under your control. For more info on how to securely store your coins read our tutorial on How to buy Bitcoin & other Cryptocurrencies.


2. Transfer your Coins from the Exchange to a Blockchain Wallet you Control

Another reason for you to move your coins to a wallet which is under your control is the token sale participation. Unless your exchange offers the explicit possibility to participate in a particular ICO with your online wallet, the general rule is not to send funds from an exchange wallet since you won’t have access to the new token. This means that if you use a random online wallet to participate in an ICO and send money to the ICO address, you won’t receive the tokens you bought, which is the equal to losing your investment. If this happens to you then you, contact tech support and try resolving the problem. Note that most exchanges are currently overloaded with requests and mostly still have poor customer service. Furthermore, exchanges might not be obliged to process your request depending on the conditions set in their general “terms of use .”


3. Set up your Wallet

Most token sales today happen on the Ethereum network. Therefore you will need an Ethereum wallet to participate in the token sale. Not every wallet is suitable for ICOs. The most user-friendly and widely accepted Ethereum wallets are MetaMask and MyEhterWallet. MetaMask is a plugin for the Google Chrome browser. It is not only a wallet but also a lightweight Ethereum dApp browser. MyEtherWallet is a client-side wallet and does not hold your private keys. It also connects with hardware wallets like the Ledger Nano S or Trezor. Depending on the setup and the ICO one of these wallets might be recommended for the participation. If the startup hasn’t defined a preferred wallet for the ICO, we recommend using MetaMask.

MetaMask is a desktop type of wallet, and we do not recommend storing large values in it. Use it only for the ICO and then move your funds to a more secure place like a hardware wallet or paper wallet. Don’t forget backing up your wallet. Store your 12-word seed in a safe place (not in the cloud). After your wallet is properly setup & backed up send Ether from your online exchange account to your MetaMask wallet.


4. Buy ICO Tokens

Before you proceed make sure to read the general terms of the ICO and the token purchase agreement. Most start-ups provide step-by-step guides for the token sale participation including screenshots for each step. Make sure you read these. You should also join the social media channels including Slack or Telegram and follow the news around the ICO. Sometimes token sales experience technical problems and staying up to date during the token sale is crucial. Read how the Status ICO managed to clog the Ethereum network.

All ICOs start either at a certain time or a previously specified block number. You can use an Ethereum block explorer to check the block numbers. If there is a start time make sure you converted the values for your time zone. Note that some ICOs end in a matter of minutes. Therefore using wallets like Parity that allow for a more advanced setup options might be recommended if you expect the token sale to end quickly.

When the token sale starts, you will have to send ETH to the address specified by the team. You will need to set a proper gas limit which is controlled by the MetaMask interface. After you send the transaction there are a couple of scenarios:

  • You receive your tokens right after the token sale ends
  • You need to wait for couple of days for your tokens
  • You will need to redeem your tokens manually (look at token sale)

Note! In some cases, hackers have manipulated ICO websites, by exchanging the real ETH address with their own ETH address, which means that the address indicated on the ICO website to which investors sent their money was corrupted and the hackers got all the money instead of the team behind the ICO.


5. Secure your Tokens

After you receive your tokens in your MetaMask – or MyEtherWallet, or Parity – address make sure to transfer these to a more secure wallet. You will need to have some extra ETH (small amount) stored in your wallet to pay for transaction costs of sending money from wallet to wallet. Note that this will change once Ethereum updates to Metropolis, but currently it is still something you will need to keep in mind.