What is the Difference Between ICO and IPO in Crypto?

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Have you found yourself puzzled by the terms ‘ICO’ and ‘IPO’ used in crypto investing? You’re not alone! Investors new to this sphere often get confused between these two distinct fundraising methods.

This article will walk you through a comprehensive comparison of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and Initial Public Offering (IPOs) focusing on key differences including regulations, investor protection, procedures, and ownership rights.

Get ready to unravel the world of ICO and IPO in crypto!

What is the Difference Between ICO and IPO in Crypto?

While both ICO (Initial Coin Offering) and IPO (Initial Public Offering) are fundraising mechanisms, they differ significantly in their structure, regulatory oversight, and audience.

An ICO involves selling tokens of a cryptocurrency to raise capital for a project, often bypassing traditional financing methods. It allows for global participation but comes with less regulatory oversight, posing higher risks.

An IPO in the crypto context refers to a cryptocurrency or blockchain-based company going public in the stock market, offering shares to investors. This process is heavily regulated, ensuring investor protection but also requiring rigorous disclosure and compliance standards from the company.

Key Takeaways

  • ICO stands for Initial Coin Offering and is used by new startups to raise funds through the sale of tokens, while IPO stands for Initial Public Offering and is used by well-established companies to sell ownership stakes in their business.
  • ICOs are generally less regulated than IPOs, as they happen on blockchain technology with little to no regulation, while IPOs go through strict procedures and regulations approved by regulatory authorities like the SEC.
  • Investing in an ICO does not give you ownership rights like shares do in an IPO. ICO investors receive tokens that represent their investment, while IPO investors become shareholders with voting rights and potential dividends.

Understanding ICO and IPO

ICO stands for Initial Coin Offering, while IPO stands for Initial Public Offering.

What is an Initial Coin Offering (ICO)?

An Initial Coin Offering (ICO) is a way to raise funds. New startups often use ICOs. The money comes from selling tokens to investors. These tokens are like digital coins or shares in the project.

The value of these tokens can go up and down, just like stock market prices. ICOs do not give you ownership of the company or project. They are tied to the cryptocurrency market and are less controlled than other types of investments because they happen on blockchain technology.

What is an Initial Public Offering (IPO)?

An Initial Public Offering (IPO) is a process where a company offers its shares to the public for the first time. It’s a way for companies to raise money by selling ownership stakes in their business.

During an IPO, investors can buy shares of the company and become shareholders. This allows them to potentially earn dividends and have a say in company decisions through voting rights.

IPOs are commonly associated with traditional stock markets and go through strict regulations and procedures before being approved by regulatory authorities like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Key Differences Between ICO and IPO

ICO and IPO differ in terms of regulation, investor protection, fundraising process, and ownership and shareholder rights.

Regulation and Legal Status

ICOs and IPOs differ in terms of regulation and legal status. ICOs are generally less regulated compared to IPOs, as the blockchain market has little to no regulation. In contrast, IPOs go through stringent procedures and regulations, including being approved by regulatory authorities.

ICOs are mostly self-regulated through automated smart contracts, while IPOs follow established rules set by regulatory bodies. This difference in regulation affects investor protection and the level of scrutiny that these fundraising methods undergo.

Investor Protection

Investor protection differs between ICOs and IPOs. In ICOs, there is generally less regulation compared to IPOs. This is because the blockchain market has little to no regulation in place.

IPOs go through stringent procedures and regulations, including approval from regulatory authorities. Investing in an ICO carries higher risks due to the volatile nature of the crypto market and its susceptibility to scams.

While IPOs provide investors with ownership stakes in companies and potential dividends, the success of an ICO depends on the value and adoption of the tokens issued.

Fundraising Process

ICOs and IPOs differ in their fundraising processes. In an ICO, new startups raise funds by launching a digital asset or cryptocurrency through the use of blockchain technology. Investors participate in the ICO by purchasing tokens, which represent their investment in the project.

The fundraising period for an ICO is usually shorter compared to an IPO.

On the other hand, IPOs are used by well-established companies to raise capital from the public. In an IPO, companies offer shares of ownership to investors who purchase them on a stock exchange.

The process involves stringent procedures and regulations, including approval from regulatory authorities.

Unlike ICOs, which allow a wider range of investors to participate, IPOs are typically limited to institutional investors and qualified individuals.

Ownership and Shareholder Rights

Investing in an ICO does not give you ownership rights in the crypto project or company. In an ICO, investors receive tokens as a form of investment, but these tokens don’t provide ownership stakes like shares do in an IPO.

Shareholders in an IPO have certain rights and privileges within the company, such as voting rights and the potential to receive dividends. However, with ICOs, token holders may only have access to specific features or services associated with the project or platform.

It’s important to understand that investing in an ICO is more about supporting the development of a product or service rather than acquiring ownership.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages of ICOs and IPOs, as well as their disadvantages, will be explored to provide a comprehensive understanding of the topic. Read on to learn more about these fundraising methods in the crypto world.

Advantages of ICOs

ICOs have several advantages over IPOs in the crypto world. Here are some key benefits of investing in ICOs:

  1. Accessible to a wider range of investors, including retail investors.
  2. Faster fundraising process compared to IPOs that can take months or years.
  3. Opportunity for early investment in innovative projects and emerging technologies.
  4. Potential for higher returns due to the increased volatility of the crypto market.
  5. Ability to participate in projects that align with personal interests and beliefs.
  6. Lower entry barriers as ICO investments can be made with smaller amounts of money.
  7. Transparency through blockchain technology, which allows for easy tracking of transactions and token distribution.

Advantages of IPOs

IPOs offer several advantages for investors and companies:

  1. Ownership stake: When investing in an IPO, individuals have the opportunity to acquire shares of the company, giving them ownership in the business.
  2. Regulation: IPOs are subject to stringent procedures and regulations, ensuring transparency and investor protection. Regulatory authorities oversee the process, providing a level of trust for investors.
  3. Dividends: If a company performs well, shareholders may receive dividends as a portion of the company’s profits. This provides investors with potential income in addition to capital appreciation.
  4. Established companies: IPOs are typically used by well-established companies that have already achieved a certain level of success. This can provide investors with confidence in the company’s stability and growth potential.
  5. Access to institutional investors: IPOs attract institutional investors such as pension funds and mutual funds, which can provide additional credibility and stability for the stock.
  6. Liquidity: After an IPO, shares of the company become publicly traded on stock exchanges, allowing investors to easily buy or sell their shares whenever they choose.
  7. Track record: Before going public, companies need to provide financial statements and disclose relevant information about their operations, giving potential investors access to important data for informed decision making.
  8. Capital raising: IPOs offer companies the opportunity to raise significant capital by selling shares to public investors. This funding can be used for various purposes such as expansion, research and development, and debt repayment.
  9. Market visibility: Going public through an IPO can increase a company’s visibility in the market and attract potential customers or business partners who may be more inclined to work with a publicly traded entity.
  10. Exit strategy for early stakeholders: An IPO allows early stakeholders such as founders and initial investors to sell their shares on the open market, providing them with an opportunity to realize their investment gains or exit their positions if desired.

Disadvantages of ICOs

ICOs have some disadvantages that investors should consider:

  1. Higher Risks: Investing in ICOs carries higher risks compared to IPOs. The crypto market is highly volatile and prone to scams, making it a riskier investment option.
  2. Lack of Regulation: ICOs are generally less regulated than IPOs. The lack of regulation in the blockchain market increases the chances of fraud and manipulation.
  3. Lack of Investor Protection: Due to the limited regulation, investors in ICOs have fewer protections compared to those investing in IPOs. In case of fraud or project failure, it can be difficult for investors to seek legal recourse or recover their investments.
  4. Uncertain Valuation: Valuing tokens issued during an ICO can be challenging, as there is often limited information available regarding the project’s potential success or the future value of the tokens.
  5. Limited Transparency: ICO projects may not provide comprehensive information about their operations, financials, or team members. This lack of transparency makes it harder for investors to make informed decisions.
  6. Market Volatility: The crypto market experiences significant price fluctuations, which can result in rapid swings in token values. Investors need to be prepared for the high volatility associated with investing in ICOs.
  7. Limited Exit Options: Unlike IPOs, where investors can sell their shares on the stock market, liquidity options for ICO tokens are often limited. It can be challenging to find buyers for tokens if you decide to sell them later on.
  8. Lack of Track Record: Many ICO projects are launched by startups with no established track record or proven business model. This lack of historical performance data makes it harder for investors to assess the project’s likelihood of success.
  9. Regulatory Changes and Bans: The regulatory environment for ICOs is constantly evolving, with various countries implementing restrictions or outright bans on token sales. These regulatory changes can impact investor participation and limit opportunities for ICO investments.
  10. Project Failure Rate: Due to the high number of projects being launched through ICOs, the failure rate is relatively high. Investors need to be prepared for the possibility that the project they invest in may not succeed.

Disadvantages of IPOs

Here are some disadvantages of IPOs:

  1. Limited access: IPOs are typically limited to institutional investors and qualified individuals, which means that retail investors may not have the opportunity to participate.
  2. Lengthy process: The process of completing an IPO can take several months or even years, which can be time-consuming and costly for companies.
  3. Stringent regulations: Companies going public through an IPO must comply with stringent procedures and regulations, including obtaining approval from regulatory authorities. This can add complexity and increase costs for the company.
  4. Dilution of ownership: When a company goes public through an IPO, existing shareholders’ ownership stakes are often diluted as new shares are issued to the public. This means that existing shareholders may have less control and ownership in the company.
  5. Pressure for profitability: After going public, companies face increased pressure to deliver consistent profits and meet shareholder expectations. This can put additional strain on management and limit their flexibility in decision-making.
  6. Financial disclosure requirements: Publicly traded companies are required to disclose financial information regularly, which may include sensitive business data that competitors can access. This transparency can restrict a company’s ability to keep certain information confidential.
  7. Market volatility: Once a company is listed on the stock market through an IPO, its share price becomes subject to market forces and investor sentiment. This can lead to significant fluctuations in share prices, making it challenging for investors to predict returns.
  8. Expensive listing fees: Going public through an IPO is expensive, with substantial costs associated with legal fees, underwriting fees, and other expenses related to the offering process.


The main difference between ICO and IPO in crypto is that investing in an ICO does not give you ownership of the project or company. ICOs are used by new startups to raise funds, while IPOs are for well-established companies.

ICOs are less regulated and more risky, while IPOs go through strict procedures.


What are ICO and IPO in the crypto world?

Initial Coin Offering (ICO) is a type of coin launch for digital assets, while Initial Public Offering (IPO) is a method used by traditional companies for external financing.

How does an ICO differ from an IPO?

The main difference between ICO and IPO lies in their regulation. ICOs are self-regulated, whereas IPOs have to follow many rules set up by authorities.

Are there any similarities between an ICO and an IPO?

Both ICO and IPO offer ways for projects or companies to get funds they need for growth. They also give people who buy into them, whether it’s coins or shares, a chance to make money if the firm does well.

Is there another way besides ICO and IPO to launch tokens in crypto space?

Yes! Security Token Offering (STO) provides another way to launch tokens through tokenization which has more legal oversight than an ICO but still offers digital benefits.



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About the Author:
Alex Sterling stands at the forefront of blockchain innovation, offering a technical perspective rooted in a Computer Science background. Specializing in decentralized systems, Alex's articles dissect blockchain technologies and crypto market trends, making intricate details comprehensible for readers. They are deeply involved in blockchain project development, frequently sharing their technical expertise at tech conferences. Alex's work aims to educate and inspire readers about the transformative potential of blockchain and cryptocurrency.