Telegram, the messaging app favored by both cryptocurrency enthusiasts and ISIS recruiters, has completed its presale of Gram tokens, raising a stunning $850 million from VIP investors from Silicon Valley and crypto community.
That sum alone qualifies it as the largest ICO ever - far surpassing the ~$230 million raised by Tezos, which is now mired in litigation over its failure to keep many of its promises to investors...
...But as Telegram's founders have insisted, the presale is only the beginning: If TechCrunch's calculations are correct, the company could raise close to $2 billion after sales are opened to the public.
That's an enormous sum for a company that has no revenue, and that it's founders insist should be kept free to users - and free of ads - for as long as possible. Telegram was founded by CEO Pavel Durov and his brother Nikolai, two of the creators of VKontakt, better known in the US as the "Russian Facebook."
Citing a document submitted to the SEC earlier this week that shows the money raised by Telegram is "for the development of the TON Blockchain, the development and maintenance of Telegram Messenger and the other purposes," TechCrunch points out that the Gram tokens are described in the document as "purchase agreements for cryptocurrency."
And while it might be reassuring to some that Telegram appears to be complying with the still-vague regulations surrounding ICOs, which were released last summer when the agency released its report on the DAO hack, one Forbes columnist warns that investors who expect their investment - or Telegram - to turn a profit may be sadly mistaken.
The reason for the ICO's popularity, Jason Bloomberg explains, is because Telegram is the preferred means of communication for crypto traders and other members of the crypto community. While it's not the only secure messaging app, the decision of the Durov brothers to dedicate much of the $300 million fortune they cashed out of VKontakt to maintaining the app as a free service has helped burnish its appeal. The Durovs fled Russia in 2014 after a "fallout" with some of their former investors.
And according to the prospectus cited above, as well as public comments made by the brothers, it appears the Durovs see the ICO as a means of raising more funding for their non-profit project - not as a stepping stone toward profitability, which is something they've scarcely discussed, according to their public statements.
Ultimately, Bloomberg believes the ICO is essentially another outsize scam.
Founded by Russian entrepreneurs Pavel and Nikolai Durov who cashed out of their social media company VKontakte to the tune of $300 million, Telegram is a secure messaging app that competes with the like of WhatsApp.
‘Compete,’ however, is misleading, because Telegram has no viable business model, as it makes no money – on purpose.
In fact, Pavel Durov covers all its expenses out of his own pocket. “Pavel Durov, who shares our vision, supplied Telegram with a generous donation, so we have quite enough money for the time being,” claims the FAQ on the Telegram web site. "If Telegram runs out, we will introduce non-essential paid options to support the infrastructure and finance developer salaries. But making profits will never be an end-goal for Telegram."
The ICO, therefore, appears to be a mechanism for Telegram to cover its bills. “With growing user base, he would’ve eventually run out of money,” explains Gregory Klumov, CEO and Founder of STASIS. “Therefore he opted for an ICO as a mechanism to raise funds without getting outside investors into Telegram’s shareholder capital.”
Travis Scher, Vice President of Investments at Digital Currency Group echoes this sentiment. “It really felt like it was one of these start-ups that’s burning through cash and needs a way to bring money in to keep funding their operations,” Scher says. “This is how they decided they’re going to do it.”
Of course, if investors view their purchases of the Gram tokens as a means of donating to a company that's provided so many useful and free services, then there's nothing wrong with that.
But crypto traders who hope to one day turn a profit might want to give the decision to buy Gram tokens a second thought. According to TechCrunch, some of the early buyers are already turning around and selling their tokens at a premium on the secondary market...
...But as with most other ICOs, it's unclear how the company intends to create value...