The Telegram ICO: What We Know (And Don't) About 2018's Biggest Token Sale

Encrypted chat app Telegram hasn't formally announced an initial coin offering, but that isn't stopping a flurry of information about the deal.

AccessTimeIconFeb 27, 2018 at 8:00 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 13, 2021 at 7:37 a.m. UTC
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An outsider continues to steal the crypto spotlight.

So far in 2018, Telegram's rumored initial coin offering (ICO) has been the talk of the industry – a remarkable feat given the global messaging platform's executives have yet to utter those three letters together or confirm the company is, in fact, raising money via a sale of tokens called "grams."

Yet, the story's popularity stems not only from Telegram's tight-lipped CEO Pavel Durov, but also from the billions of dollars his team reportedly plans to raise through the sale.

Despite the company's efforts and strict non-disclosure agreements, which are keeping most news about the largest crowdsale in history under wraps, things have leaked here and there.

We've outlined what's been learned thus far below.



Looking back, it seems obvious what CEO Pavel Durov really meant when he told Bloomberg that he was planning "something big" in the new year for Telegram.

Perhaps he has something else in the works, but it's hard to imagine Telegram doing anything bigger than this token sale this year.



Investors started telling CoinDesk in late December that Telegram was looking at doing some kind of ICO.

Then, the first mainstream report about its plans came out, describing its unbelievably broad technical ambitions for the Telegram Open Network (TON). It included services that we've already seen from prominent companies in crypto like Orchid, Blockstack and Filecoin.

All that on top of promising super fast payments and micropayments using mobile devices, with negligible transaction fees.

CoinDesk then reported on the large amount of money the company would raise. At the time, investors told us to look for a $600 million private sale and another $600 million public sale. The company would create 500 billion tokens called grams that would serve as the payment system throughout TON.

With these announcements, fake sites quickly popped up claiming to be the place to buy grams. Confirming that one was fake in a tweet proved to be the closest Durov has come to a public confirmation of the crowdsale.

Once CoinDesk got access to the full technical white paper, we were able to report on its token economics. The paper's appendix described an unusual formula where it delineated a minimum sale price for all 500 billion tokens, where each subsequent token's price went up by a fraction of the price of the last token sold.

Working out the math, we found that if every single gram were sold under the specified formula, the TON would raise $14.7 billion over the course of its lifetime.

By mid-month, the idea that Telegram might raise its fundraising round even higher was reported by Bloomberg.

Amidst all this, early-stage investor Alok Vasudev tweeted a thoughtful thread about Telegram, describing the offering as pitting traditional tech investors (which seem to like the crowdsale) against the crypto influencers (who, by and large, have sat it out).

Early February


On Valentine's Day, we learned that investors were fickle lovers of the grams tokens. Quartz reported that investors had been selling their distributions at something like double the per gram price they purchased them for.

All the grams have been sold under a simple agreement for future tokens (SAFT). The tokens themselves come with a long lockup period after distribution, and distribution itself is dependent on Telegram completing its made from scratch blockchain (actually, one master chain with millions of additional blockchains, according to its white paper).

They come up with a lockup period that releases tokens after four waiting periods, the longest one last 18 months.

Two days later, Techcrunch found Telegram's Form D, which revealed the company was 25 percent oversubscribed from the $600 million its offering circular had targeted for the private sale. It raised $850 million.

Since rumors and unnamed sources are all anyone has had to go on at this point, and Telegram has yet to respond to any reporters request for comment (including CoinDesk), the rumors have started to accelerate (which doesn't mean they are unfounded).

Late February


Despite all the attention on Telegram, the only document from the company that's been directly released into the public domain is its Form D filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

That hasn't stopped the tech press from continuing to chase the story, and there's been a flurry of reporting here at the end of the month.

First, we heard that Telegram was conducting a secret pre-ICO that would raise nearly as much as the round filed with the SEC, according to the Verge. That report projected the total would rise to $1.6 billion, which would mean the second round was about $750 million. It also acknowledges that the final number seems to be an open question.

Next, Quartz reported that the company had a clear target for the second round of $1.15 billion, which would bring its total to $2 billion. It cited a per token price of $1.45, significantly up from the prior round, whose offering circular cited a per token price of roughly $0.30. That price ultimately rose to $0.38, due to the larger size of the initial round.

Quartz's numbers square with those shown to CoinDesk by sources with knowledge of the deal.

Finally, Telegram has apparently offered investors some kind of refund provision if it fails to deliver the TON platform by the end of October 2019, Business Insider reported.

It also cited a total crowdsale that could go as high as $2.55 billion.

Telegram image via Shutterstock


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