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ICO vs IEO vs IDO: In-Depth Comparison and Best Option for Crypto Fundraising

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Raising funds is critical for any new crypto project. As a blockchain founder, you may be considering an Initial Coin Offering (ICO), Initial Exchange Offering (IEO) or Initial DEX Offering (IDO) to kickstart your project. This is a faster fundraising alternative compared to getting VC funding.

But how exactly do these three popular crypto fundraising models differ? 

Which method is better suited for your token launch and financing needs?

This detailed guide examines the key distinctions between ICOs, IEOs and IDOs to help you determine the best approach.

ICO vs IEO vs IDO: Major Differences

At a high level, ICOs, IEOs and IDOs have the following key characteristics:

  • ICO - A direct public token sale offering open to anyone through the crypto project’s platform
  • IEO - A token issuance hosted on a cryptocurrency exchange after vetting the project
  • IDO - A token offering launched through a decentralized exchange (DEX) protocol

While all three facilitate fundraising by selling new crypto coins and tokens, factors like sale platform, oversight, costs, security, liquidity and more vary across models.

Here’s a comparison chart summarizing the tradeoffs. Think through your own priorities to pick between launching an ICO, IEO or IDO for financing your blockchain project.






Crypto project website / interface

Trusted centralized exchange eg Binance, Coinbase

Decentralized protocols like Uniswap, PancakeSwap


None, open to all buyers

Strict evaluation of projects by exchange

Self-governed DEX protocols


Can launch instantly always

Depends on exchange review cadence

Near instant liquidity


Higher scam risk without audits

More secure via exchange due diligence

Relies on DEX smart contract code


Lower, only platform charges

Expensive exchange listing fees

Lowest fees via automated DEXs


Full control by crypto project team

Token needs to comply with exchange governance

Community governed protocols


Slower listing post-ICO depending on traction

Instant on exchange after IEO

Direct integrated DEX liquidity


Anyone globally via marketing outreach

Exchange users - larger but concentrated base

Early DeFi proponents participate

Let’s explore each in more depth.

What is an ICO in Crypto?

An ICO or Initial Coin Offering allows crypto founders to source funding from public backers globally by issuing new digital tokens in exchange for existing cryptocurrencies or fiat money.

meaning of ico in crypto

How ICOs Work

ICOs first emerged between 2013-2014 as a novel way for blockchain startups to raise capital outside of traditional financing channels like initial public offerings and VC firms.

To conduct an ICO, the crypto team simply needs to publish a project whitepaper detailing the vision, release a smart contract and kick off a token generation event. During the ICO period (typically 30 days), public investors can purchase the new tokens in expectation of price gains when they get listed on exchanges.

Early ICOs required buyers to transfer funds to a smart contract address manually. Later process improvements introduced user-friendly web interfaces and token sale platforms like TokenMarket for a seamless investor experience.

ICO Fundraising Process:

  • Project publishes whitepaper explaining the concept
  • Deploys token smart contract on Ethereum or other blockchain
  • Announces public token pre-sale and crowdsale details
  • Accepts payments in crypto or fiat currencies from global backers
  • Distributes new tokens to buyers post-ICO
  • Gets tokens listed on cryptocurrency exchanges

The ICO Boom

By mid-2017, ICOs exploded as a popular tool for crypto fundraising with over $10 billion raised by over 800 token projects the following year. The simplicity and lack of red tape enabled even blockchain startups with just a website and whitepaper to secure millions in capital.

For investors, ICOs offered exposure to innovative DLT ecosystems with the upside of 10-20X token price appreciation once the crypto got listed publicly.

However 2017-2018 also saw the peak of ICO scams, fake projects, hype and excessive speculation which eventually led to a crash. Regulators stepped in and Google banned ICO ads which dried up funding.

Yet even today legitimate blockchain infrastructure initiatives continue to launch periodic ICO rounds to expand capabilities for their live ecosystems. The ICO model has stood the test of time for well designed crypto networks.

Advantages of ICO Fundraising

  • Open Access - No gatekeepers, anyone globally can contribute
  • Cost-Effective - Avoid expensive middlemen and intermediaries
  • Community Focus - Token holders become part of the ecosystem
  • Scalable Funds - No fixed caps, potential to raise vast capital

Disadvantages of Initial Coin Offerings

  • High Failure Rate - Insufficient vetting leads to scams and losses
  • Regulatory Uncertainty - Legal gray area though improving gradually
  • Overvaluation Risk - Pure hype may inflate token price beyond raison d’etre
  • Market Volatility - Tokens fluctuate wildly post-listing on exchanges

Now that we’ve seen ICOs in detail, how do IEO and IDO crypto fundraising models stack up?

What is an IEO in Crypto?

If high ICO failure rates worried you, Initial Exchange Offerings (IEOs) emerged to offer greater reliability.

An IEO democratizes access to invest in new crypto coins by moving the token sale from a project website directly to a cryptocurrency exchange platform instead. The exchange screens and selects only credible tokens to list, lending more trust.

For crypto founders, IEOs solve regulatory and visibility challenges by letting exchanges handle compliance, KYC verification and marketing to large readymade investor bases.

Compared to almost $20 billion from ICOs in 2017-2018, crypto exchange IEOs raised over $1.5 billion across about 160 token projects in 2019 alone according to InWara data.

How Do IEOs Work?

Instead of conducting a token generation event themselves, crypto projects can apply for an Initial Exchange Offering on platforms like Binance Launchpad, Coinbase Ventures or OKEx Jumpstart.

The exchange reviews the IEO applicants based on product stage, team strengths, tokenomics and other factors. They charge an upfront listing fee to list only quality coins vetted for long term viability.

For investors, exchange IEO platforms provide secure payment channels and KYC checks to prevent fraud and money laundering risks of ICOs. Participants gain confidence in the credibility of tokens cleared for IEO crowdfunding on mature exchanges.

Typical IEO Process

  • Project submits IEO application to cryptocurrency exchange
  • Exchange reviews project details closely through audits
  • If approved, they negotiate IEO terms and listing agreements
  • IEO date is announced by exchange with investors whitelist opening
  • KYC verified participants purchase new tokens on launch date
  • Tokens get instantly listed for trading post-IEO

Binance Launchpad for example has progressed over 83 promising crypto IEOs including Axie Infinity, The Sandbox, and Polygon.

IEO Benefits

  • Venture-grade vetting by exchanges aids viability
  • Built-in listing transforms liquidity post-raise
  • Regulatory assurance via exchange compliance
  • Access to vast existing crypto investor ecosystem
  • Peace of mind for buyers via KYC checks

Challenges With IEO Model

  • High listing costs can deter smaller initiatives
  • Exchange due diligence delays speed to market
  • Investor incentives not fully aligned with projects

IEOs brought maturity to crypto fundraising through structured exchange-based token offerings. This leads us to the latest evolution in the sphere - IDOs.

What is an IDO in Crypto?

IDO expands to Initial DEX Offering - a new trend of distributing tokens via decentralized exchanges. It merges the accessibility of ICOs with efficiency of IEOs while upholding core DeFi principles.

meaning of ido in crypto

How Do IDOs Work?

An Initial DEX Offering launches a crypto token on an automated decentralized trading protocol like Uniswap, PancakeSwap or SushiSwap instead of conventional exchanges.

Project founders create a token smart contract and pair it with a base currency pool (like ETH or BNB). The protocol uses an AMM (automatic market maker) algorithm to enable swapping between the assets at dynamic rates.

Crypto ventures can easily bootstrap liquidity and kickstart IDOs without centralized intermediaries. Supporters swap base tokens from the pool to claim the IDO project’s governance or utility crypto.

Post-IDO, the token remains available for ongoing trading on DEX pools utilizing automated price discovery and liquidity sharing between platforms via mechanisms like Thorchain.

Read our in depth guide on how to launch a successful IDO

Typical IDO Flow

  • Crypto startup deploys an ERC-20 token contract
  • Adds token to a DEX through liquidity pools
  • Announces IDO launch and whitelist openings
  • Participants claim tokens by swapping base assets
  • Token gets continuous decentralized liquidity

Why Choose IDOs Over ICO and IEO?

IDOs signify the next-generation of blockchain fundraising true to DeFi’s open ethos.

  • Self-Governance – No centralized authority makes rules
  • Accessible for All – Small projects can easily launch tokens
  • Global Participation - No discrimination based on geography
  • Community-Driven – Contributor input leads decisions
  • Rapid Liquidity - Direct integration to DEX trading
  • Lower Fees - Avoid high IEO exchange listing costs

Downsides to Initial DEX Offerings

  • Volatile Token Pricing - Rapid price fluctuations from instant liquidity
  • Scam Risks - No formal vetting of projects or code audits
  • Complex User Experience - Can be daunting for non-technical participants
Read More: The Biggest IDOs of 2023 and How They Succeeded

So those are the key nuances differentiating ICO vs IEO vs IDO models for crypto fundraising. Which approach is ideal for your blockchain project?

Choosing Between ICO, IEO and IDO

differences between ico ieo and ido

We’ve covered the anatomy of ICOs, IEOs and IDOs in depth highlighting unique pros and cons. As a crypto builder exploring funding options, consider these key factors:

  • Objectives: What are your primary goals? Community owned network or moneymaking opportunity?
  • Stage: Where is your project on the maturity curve? Concept or working prototype with some adoption?
  • Team: What skillsets do you need to progress to the next level? More developers or business development?
  • Budget: How much capital do you realistically need to execute your roadmap?
  • Timeline: Do you require funds urgently or have runway to experiment across 6-12 months?
  • Ecosystem: Will network effects amplify long term success and token value?
  • Regulations: What rules govern your target markets? Do you need compliant funding channels?
  • Access: Are you better off bootstrapping organically or leveraging investor access?

Which is better: IEO, ICO or IDO?

IDOs are the best fundraising option for most crypto projects today.

Unlike ICOs and IEOs, IDOs offer the flexibility of decentralized public launches combined with automated liquidity. Crypto startups can gain investor access and trading without centralized vetting or bureaucracy of exchanges.

See our list of the best crypto launchpads for ICOs, IEOs, and IDOs

By leveraging DeFi protocols on DEX platforms like Uniswap, IDOs exemplify permissionless innovation aligned with crypto ethos. Projects willing to manage smart contract risks can benefit from lower costs and community governance.

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