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How Do Smart Contracts Work?

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What are Smart Contracts

Smart contracts enable automation of certain aspects of a platform’s functionality. These digital agreements self-execute predetermined actions upon receiving a digital asset or cryptocurrency. Today, smart contracts are used everywhere in the blockchain space, but this wasn’t always the case. Let’s take a second to examine how these helpful protocols first came to be, and how they function without the need for any third-party intervention.

The original smart contract concept predates cryptocurrencies by fourteen years. Ironically, the man credited with developing smart contracts is no other than well-known Bitcoinist Nick Szabo. Many people believe Nick to actually be Satoshi Nakamoto because of his previous works.

Nick famously theorized about value-storing bits utilizing a proof-of-work system five years before Bitcoin existed. He has always been a pioneer in the cryptospace. In 1994, Nick released his smart contract code to the public. He also coined the phrase “smart contract”.

Nick Szabo via TMNews

Nick Szabo via TMNews

What Do I Need to Create a Smart Contract?

Every smart contract contains four core principals. First, you need the subject of the contract. The subject is what gives your contract access to the goods or services that the contract governs. Second, you need digital signatures (private keys) from everyone involved in the contract. These signatures are what initiates the contract. Next, comes specification of the contract terms. This part is where you lay out the exact sequence of operations that commence when the contract executes. Finally, you need a decentralized platform. A blockchain network keeps the smart contract stored in redundancy and safe from alterations.

Smart Contract Components

  1. Subject of Contract
  2. Digital Signatures
  3. Contract Terms
  4. Decentralized Platform

How Do People Use Smart Contracts?

There are endless smart contract uses. Smart contracts help you to exchange digital and real-world assets. Smart contracts live on the blockchain and cannot be altered. This added security makes these digital agreements ideal for many business scenarios.

Smart Contracts in ICOs

Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) utilize smart contract protocols during their crowdfunding events. The smart contracts automatically track, calculate, award, and distribute the funds sent between the company and the investor. The smart contract programming enables the automation of the entire process.

This automation allows companies to accept funding from a wider audience. The workload of the company is not increased, but the company’s fundraising exposure expands. The all-inclusive nature of this strategy helped push ICOs to record numbers this year. One report shows that ICO volume already doubled lasts year’s numbers by May.

Traditional Firms Look Towards Smart Contracts

Traditional firms continue entering the smart contract arena as blockchain integration continues. Today, platforms exist that utilize smart contracts for nearly everything including real estate, investments, royalties, elections, logistics, and much more.

Ethereum – Smart Contracts

The cryptocurrency, Ethereum, is best known for introducing the smart contract concept to the cryptospace. Ethereum’s ERC-20 protocol utilizes smart contracts to help automate token creation and distribution. ERC-20 is by far, the most widely used token issuance protocol in the market.

Ethereum Smart Contract Coding via Ethereum.org

Ethereum Smart Contract Coding via Ethereum.org

Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum’s developer describes smart contracts as a program that “automatically validates a condition and determines whether the asset should go to one person or back to the person who sent it or some combination.” Ethereum utilizes a second-layer protocol to accomplish smart contract capabilities without creating additional blockchain congestion.

Smart Contract Development

Since Ethereum raised smart contract awareness, more complex and advanced smart contract models entered the cryptospace. Platforms such as EOS, Steller, and NEO utilize less wasteful consensus mechanisms when compared to the Proof-of-Work system in place with Ethereum.

Say Good Bye to Lawyers

Smart contracts are removing the middleman from many of the most used business systems today. The trustless nature of these protocols allows businesses and investors the ability to increase efficiency and security simultaneously. You should expect further integration of this technology into traditional business systems as more platforms enter the market.

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David Hamilton is a full-time journalist and a long-time bitcoinist. He specializes in writing articles on the blockchain. His articles have been published in multiple bitcoin publications including Bitcoinlightning.com

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What is Equity Crowdfunding?

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What is Equity Crowdfunding

Equity crowdfunding occurs when private companies raise capital from the public through the sale of securities. These financial instruments can include shares, convertible notes, revenue shares, debts, and tokens. Today, equity crowdfunding is an important part of the global financial markets because it provides SMEs a more cost-effective strategy to raise capital versus traditional IPOs.

Interestingly, equity crowdfunding is a relatively new investment tool. President Obama enabled equity crowdfunding back in 2011 when he signed the JOBS Act, but it wasn’t until the last five years that the practice became popular. One of the reasons it took so long for equity crowdfunding to gain popularity is that it took until May 2016 for key regulations to come into effect.

How Does Equity Crowdfunding Work?

Equity crowdfunding works very similar in function to the popular crowdfunding website, Kickstarter. Basically, investors seek out private firms that meet their criteria. Once a suitable investment is found, an investor visits a funding portal website that gives them access to the opportunity and its details. Here, investors are able to explore different equity crowdfunding investment opportunities for the firm.

Key Differences from Kickstarter

Unlike Kickstarter, investors don’t receive early access to a product or service for their contributions. Instead, investors in equity crowdfunding campaigns seek to make a profit for their participation. In most instances, investors receive shares, rights, and other benefits for their investment.

Kickstarter via Homepage

Kickstarter via Homepage

Different than Stocks

It’s important to understand why equity crowdfunding provides entrepreneurs with different opportunities compared to trading shares on the stock markets. For one, equity crowdfunding firms are private companies and in most instances, startups. In the past, IPOs were the only form of crowdfunding a company could engage in. This practice restricted access to the markets for SMEs for many entrepreneurs.

Many companies simply lacked the funding to cover the huge financial and legal requirements needed to host an  Initial Public Offering (IPO). In turn, only the largest firms could generate the funding needed to launch an IPO successfully. Consequently, studies show that IPOs continue to see a decline in use as more affordable options are now available.

Additionally, these practices left investors out of the loop as well. Many IPOs are only open to accredited investors. Accredited investors make at least $200,000 per year, or can show over $1 million in assets. Notably, your assets must exclude your home. As you could imagine, this system left your average investors shut out from the most lucrative investments.

Democratized Crowdfunding

Thanks to the rise of equity crowdfunding platforms, now everyone has access to these valuable opportunities. Prior to the rise in internet crowdfunding platforms, investors were mostly VC and angel investors. These were the only individuals that had the funding to both make a major investment and wait for the mandatory lockup period before receiving returns.

No Lockup Period

Notably, investors that participated in private equity crowdfunding before the 2016 regulations implemented had to wait to access their funds for a designated lockup period, similarly to IPOs. During this time, investors were unable to trade or cash out their investment. This lock-up left investors exposed to major losses. Thankfully, the new regulations opened the door for secondary trading of these financial instruments via Alternative Trading Systems (ATS). In this way, ATS provide much-needed liquidity to the market.

Benefits of Equity Crowdfunding

Aside from the obvious financial gains equity crowdfunding brings to the table, there are plenty of other reasons why a firm would follow this strategy. For one, businesses gain strong brand support from investors. Each investor in your firm acts as a brand ambassador for your company. Since these investors need you to succeed in order to make a profit, they will often diligently spread the word about your business and products.

More Control

There are also managerial aspects that make equity crowdfunding a more attractive option to consider. For one, an entrepreneur raising capital via equity crowdfunding has total control over the offering. The entrepreneur can chose the valuation, how much capital to raise, what to sell, how much to sell, and at what price. They can even specify a minimum funding goal to ensure the firm receives enough backing to proceed with its plans. In comparison, a company engaged in an IPO is beholden to its investor’s terms.

Keep it Reasonable

Of course, with all of this flexibility also comes new responsibilities. Only companies that can produce a reasonable valuation and terms see success in the equity crowdfunding space. Investors are looking for great opportunities with minimal risk.

Crowdfunding Regulations and Rules

There are some key requirements a company must first meet prior to launching an equity crowdfunding campaign. First, the firm has to be privately owned and not listed on any stock exchange globally. Secondly, all investors must prove their identity and that they are over the age of 18. Additionally, many equity crowdfunding campaigns include limits on how much capital an individual can invest based on their income and net worth.

Crowdfunding Rules

Currently, each region has its own equity crowdfunding regulations in place. In the US, there are two main types of equity crowdfunding campaigns – Regulation Crowdfunding and Regulation A+. Both provide SMEs with a more efficient and less-costly alternative than hosting an IPO.

Regulation Crowdfunding

Regulation Crowdfunding allows companies to raise up to $1.07M annually. Currently, these companies can start raising capital for free after filing a Form C with the SEC. Importantly, if the firm seeks to raise more than $107,000, an independent CPA must review the company’s financials for the past two fiscal years.

Regulation A+

Regulation A+ companies can raise up to $50M annually. Companies that seek to go this route must first undergo a financial audit for the past two fiscal years. Additionally, they must hire a securities attorney in order to create a Form 1-A. This form must get submitted to the SEC for qualification. Unfortunately, the qualification can take some time to complete. On average it takes 3-5 months at the minimum.

Importantly, companies are unable to raise funds during this time frame, but, they are able to collect investor information to better rate investor excitement levels. This practice is called “testing the waters” and it’s a powerful tool that enables firms to receive valuable market feedback prior to the official launch of their crowdfunding strategy.

What is Real Estate Crowdfunding?

Importantly, equity crowdfunding platforms have given way to a new way to invest in commercial real estate, real estate crowdfunding. Real estate crowdfunding involves a group of investors who each contribute money to a specific real estate deal. Importantly, this strategy lowers the entry bar for investors and provides real estate owners access to global capital. As such, the practice has exploded in popularity in recent years, especially since the introduction of blockchain technology.

How Real Estate Crowdfunding Works

In most real estate crowdfunding transactions, a developer or experienced real estate professional identifies an investment opportunity. This real estate professional may decide that they don’t want to fund the entire project. This decision could be because of a lack of funds or a desire to utilize other peoples funding to complete the project. Either way, the professional would then open the opportunity to investors.

Key Players

There are three key players in any crowdfunded real estate investment. All crowdfunding real estate ventures begin with the sponsor. The sponsor is the individual or company that identifies, plans, and oversees the investment. Their responsibilities can include purchasing the asset, organizing needed work, arranging the financing, and handling the eventual sale of the property. For their labors, sponsors require a certain share of any profits they earn.

Crowdfunding Platform

The second key component of any crowdfunding real estate transaction is the platform. Think of these platforms as the middleman between investors and sponsors. Their primary purpose is to link investors and sponsors. As such, they are also responsible for collecting funds from investors. Along with this task comes a host of other responsibilities such as verifying standards, guarantying that investors meet the requirements for investment, advertising deals to potential investors, and dealing with regulatory issues.

StartEngine Equity Crowdfunding via Homepage

StartEngine Equity Crowdfunding via Homepage

Investor

The investor is the final piece of the puzzle. An investor trades their funds for some form of income distributions from the profit the property generates. Additionally, they will receive a proportional payout from any eventual profitable sale of the property. In some instances, certain voting rights are a part of the deal. for example, these rights could include whether or not to accept an offer on the property.

Advantages of Crowdfunded Real Estate

There are some major advantages realized through real estate crowdfunding strategies. For one, there is a much higher potential for increased returns when compared to other major asset classes. Additionally, investors gain access to assets that may otherwise be inaccessible to them. A such, crowdfunding real estate is an awesome way to diversify your portfolio.

Importantly, equity crowdfunded real estate platforms usually focus on a specific property. This is opposed to real estate investment trusts (REITs) that can involve billions in properties. Consequently, crowdfunded real estate investors can enjoy the benefits of single-property investments without the financial exposure of actually becoming a landlord. In the end, these investors get the best of both worlds. They receive an income as well as a targeted lump-sum return without major risk exposure.

Top Crowdfunding Websites

Now that you have a firm understanding of what equity crowdfunding is, and how it benefits the entire market, you are ready to explore some of the top platforms providing these services. Importantly, many of these companies now utilize blockchain technology to reduce the overall costs needed to manage and implement their equity crowdfunding concepts.

SeedInvest

SeedInvest was founded in 2012 and launched in 2013. The platform is unique in that it has a stricter acceptance policy. Only handpicked start-ups in upcoming future tech industries gain access to this powerful tool. Specifically, a firm needs to deal with blockchain, augmented reality, 3d printing, artificial intelligence, robotics, or space technologies. Importantly, SeedInvest‘s pickiness has paid off as the firm has successfully helped raise money for over 150 companies to date.

Microventures

The Austin-based crowdfunding platform Microventures entered the market in 2009. The company focuses solely on late-stage companies as part of its niche market. Late Stage companies are firms that are expected to go public within the next couple of years. As such, these companies are usually well-known players in the sector. For example, you can invest in SpaceX, Lyft, Pinterest, and Robinhood via Microventures. Importantly, the company only allows accredited investors to join because each investment ranges from the $5000 to $50000 range.

WeFunder

WeFunder entered the market in 2011. This San-Francisco-based firm originated from the Y Combinator accelerator program. Importantly, the Y Combinator helped launch some of the most successful ventures to date. These ventures include companies such as Coinbase and Airbnb. Also, due to the fact that WeFunder is one of the oldest platforms in the market, the company participated in writing the JOBS Act with the Obama administration.

Fundable

Fundable entered the market on May 22, 2012, as a rewards-based investment vehicle. Investors would pledge funds in exchange for pre-orders. In 2012, the firm switched over to a true equity crowdfunding strategy. Notably, Fundable’s equity crowdfunding tools are only available to accredited investors at this time.

StartEngine

StartEngine entered the market in 2014 with the goal to provide more flexibility for entrepreneurs in the space. Unlike most of the competition, StartEngine is laxer on what type of firms and investors can utilize its services. As such, investors need to use a little more due diligence when investing on the platform. Importantly, StartEngine showcased its abilities after successfully raising $10M via a self-hosted STO in 2018.

Equity Crowdfunding – The Future is Today

Today, equity crowdfunding is an essential tool used by startups to access capital markets. Consequently, you can expect to see this style of crowdfunding increase in adoption due to its lower costs and more efficient business model. Thankfully, blockchain technology continues to streamline the entire equity crowdfunding process. If the trends continue, equity crowdfunding is set to overtake the stock market as the premier crowdfunding strategy in the coming decades.

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What are Digital Assets?

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What are Digital Assets?

The definition of a digital asset is “anything that exists in binary data which is self-contained, uniquely identifiable, and has a value or ability to use.” When the term originated in the mid-90s, digital assets were items such as videos, images, audio, and documentation. Since then, technological advances have given the term new life.

Enter the Blockchain

Blockchain technology didn’t change the meaning of digital assets, but it did make the term cover a broader range of items. Importantly, many digital assets have the potential to disrupt entire industries and even the global market moving forward. Today, inventions such as cryptocurrencies are part of the digital asset revolution.

Why Did Blockchain Create More Digital Assets?

To understand why digital assets evolved so much, you need to first study why blockchain technology creates new efficiency in the market, and even new markets. Simply put, a blockchain is nothing more than a giant network of computers that simultaneously verifies data on a digital ledger. This network enables data to be stored, unaltered, and verified via code.

The transparency blockchain technology brings to the world is unprecedented. This technology allows people, for the first time in history, to unequivocally prove certain aspects of a digital asset. You can prove items such as ownership, authenticity, transaction history, and location without the need to involve third-parties. As such, blockchain technology ushered back in the age of bilateral exchange.

The ability to erase the middleman comes from blockchain’s programmability. Blockchain digital assets utilize rules that are built into the code of the network, and, or, the token itself. Importantly, these standards receive continuous auditing via the network. This coding has advanced significantly since the emergence of blockchain tech. Today, advanced integrated protocols known as smart contracts are at the core of the digital asset revolution.

Bitcoin – The Code that Changed the World Forever

Bitcoin represented the biggest change to the meaning of the term digital asset to date. This coding was the first time someone attempted to combine cryptography and blockchain technology to create a digital asset successfully. In essence, the Bitcoin whitepaper was the beginning of the digitization of the economy. Discussing the impact of Bitcoin globally, Marc Lowell Andreessen, the father of the internet browser said: “We’ll all look back in 20 years and conclude that bitcoin was as an influential platform for innovation as the internet itself.

Digital Assets - The Bitcoin Whitepaper

Digital Assets – The Bitcoin Whitepaper

2008 Financial Collapse

To understand the motivation behind the Bitcoin concept, you need to take a look at the economic state of the world in 2008. The international banking system was in the middle of a crisis. In multiple instances, governments and central banks altered regulations to further their debt holding capabilities. It was this perceived instability of fractional-reserve banking that led the anonymous founder of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto to seek to create a decentralized international economy. This new open market would be free from the stranglehold of government and borders.

Bitcoin – The Start of an Industry

As the Bitcoin concept began to gain international attention, so to did the coin’s value. In less than five years, other developers started to create their own coins. These coins such as Litecoin, Ethereum, and Monero all utilized blockchain technology to secure their value. Although these coins utilized similar technology, each digital asset had a different approach to the market.

For example, Litecoin sought to be the silver to Bitcoin’s gold, whereas Ethereum wanted to provide developers an alternative to Bitcoin’s scripting limitations. Monero took a totally different approach, creating a digital asset that focused primarily on privacy.

Digital Assets as an Asset Class

Today, blockchain technology allows us to tokenize nearly everything we own. Consequently, items that were once non-liquid such as debt can now be traded between anyone, anywhere, in person, or across the internet. This ability to tokenize any item creates entirely new digital asset classes in the market. These new asset classes continue to develop. As such, lawmakers continue to adjust regulations to account for the new efficiency that these services bring.

Token Taxonomy

As the world of digital assets continues to grow, also has the desire for regulators and investors to categorize the different types of tokens in existence. Token taxonomy is the classification of digital assets on the blockchain. Importantly, token taxonomy will play a prominent role in the markets moving forward because the classification of a digital asset determines its issuance and trading capabilities. For example, security tokens must adhere to securities regulations. If not, there are legal repercussions. The three main types of token classifications are:

  • Cryptocurrency – This type of digital asset includes traditional cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Litecoin. These tokens usually function as a form of digital cash. As such, they are decentralized and offer a true peer-to-peer exchange protocol.
  • Utility Token – This type of digital asset operates within the ecosystem of a platform to derive value and complete various tasks. Importantly, it doesn’t represent any direct ownership or investment in a firm.
  • Security Token – Security tokens are any token that by design represents a share of ownership or an investment in a company. Usually, these tokens are found in highly-regulated markets such as real estate, securities, or stock markets.

Tokenization – Changing Markets Forever

Digital assets such as security tokens continue to disrupt the real estate market. For example, platforms such as Red Swan allow property owners to tokenize their real estate. The firm recently partnered with Polymath to tokenize $2.2 billion in commercial property across the US. Tokenized properties offer some huge advantages over traditional real estate sales. For one, the entire sales process is faster and requires less involvement from third-party organizations. Also, tokenized properties can transfer ownership in seconds.

Digital Assets are Everywhere

Today, digital assets are everywhere we look. Every single currency, asset, supply chain, and even reward point has the potential for tokenization. As such, the term digital asset will continue to encompass a growing number of items. For now, tokenization appears to be the path towards the future.

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PWC & Crypto Valley Association Release Yearly STO Market Report

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PWC & Crypto Valley Association Report

As the STO market continues to expand, reporting has now taken center stage with investors and companies seeking more insight into the intricacies of the market, This week, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Strategy Switzerland and The Crypto Valley Association released their highly-anticipated Spring 2020 STO/ICO market report.

This twelve-page document is packed with insightful information to help guide investors and blockchain firms moving forward. Importantly, the report features an easy-to-read layout complete with graphics and tables to help you better understand the statistics.  Blockchain-based firms rely on this yearly overview to get a new perspective on developments within the initial coin offering (ICO) and security token offering (STO) markets.

PWC & Crypto Valley Association – Real Insight

The study includes all types of data that would be useful to professionals in the sector. For example, you can see items such as the total number of offerings or what countries are the leading hubs for blockchain crowdfunding projects. Additionally, you can see statistics on how governments, corporations, and traditional banks utilized blockchain or distributed ledger technology (DLT) to tokenize financial instruments such as securities.

The report shed some light on last year’s market movements. For one, the data suggests that the overall volume of token launches dropped about midway through 2019. In total, the report identifies 380 token offerings that completed throughout last year. These offerings raised a combined total of around USD$4.1 billion.

PWC & Crypto Valley Association Release Yearly STO Market Report

PWC & Crypto Valley Association Release Yearly STO Market Report

Initial Exchange Offerings – PWC & Crypto Valley Association

Uniquely, the report also had a section dedicated to initial exchange offerings (IEOs). These new financial instruments saw a significant increase in use during the later part of the year. Notably, the report shows that the Bitfinex IEO led the pack with a total of $1 billion in funds raised.

The study also highlighted the institutional infrastructure and emerging regulatory framework seen in the sector. These regulations helped to spur more blockchain participation from traditional entities such as banks and governments. The report points out that the Austrian Government, World Bank, Daimler, and Bank of China all directly-issued tokenized assets. These assets included securities, bonds, loans, and commodities.

Regional Statistics – PWC & Crypto Valley Association

The PWC report also gave some insight into the geographic regions with the most successful blockchain projects launched. The USA, Singapore, and Hong Kong led the pack with strong positioning across the market. Additionally, some smaller countries made it into the top spots such as the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands. Both of these locations hosted major events in 2019 including the EOS and Telegram ICOs.

Europe also saw significant growth in the market. The study pointed to Switzerland and the U.K as the leading hubs in the region. Also, Estonia took a top spot for its continued development of the country’s blockchain market.

PWC Analysis

The PWC analysis will work as a guiding light for companies seeking to expand their blockchain positioning in 2020. This yearly report continues to produce insightful and valuable market insight. In turn, you should expect to see more firms depend on this data to make the right tokenized crowdfunding decisions.

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