Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was an ICO review site known as “ICObench” which did a relatively decent job of providing helpful reviews of blockchain and other distributed ledger projects planning to raise funds via an ICO.
Today, not so much.
We thought this story was really important, so we included a lot of extra background information. However, from a readability standpoint, this post really is too damn long, so click here to skip directly to the good stuff. Otherwise, if you want the entire story (or just enjoy posts that are too damn long), keep on reading…
Thanks to ICObench and several other ICO news and review sites out there, what has happened over the past several months has done more to damage the reputation of cryptocurrency—and perhaps more importantly siphon valuable resources away from legitimate and potentially world-changing blockchain and distributed ledger projects—than the Silk Road or the Mt. Gox hack combined.
Most incredible of all, however, is just how blatant the greed and corruption exhibited by sites like ICObench has become, so much so that even the Marquis de Sade himself would blush if he were alive today.
Note: Although the Marquis de Sade is no longer alive today, if he were it is unlikely that he would be able to understand blockchain or cryptocurrency due to his advanced age. However, this inability to comprehend any of the relevant technology would probably not prevent him from qualifying as an “expert” on sites like ICObench
ICObench appears to be the most visited ICO review site on the Internet at the moment, and it is because of the growing negative influence they (and similar sites) were having on the reputation of cryptocurrency and blockchain that we created Tokenicide. Our objective was to write brutally honest reviews of upcoming ICOs to counter all the pay-for-play ICO reviews flooding the Internet. We never intended to call out any other review sites directly, but as we were preparing our review of the upcoming eInc ICO it became clear that ICObench had gone so far off the rails that the only way to have any meaningful impact would be to expose what they were doing.
So please take a moment to get into your antibacterial wetsuit while we share some context with you before diving directly into the ICObench cesspool…
The ICObench Rating System
ICObench uses a rating system for ICOs that relies on both objective and subjective criteria. When an ICO is first listed on the site, an automated assessment algorithm called “Benchy” calculates its score based on several objective criteria, such as whether the founders passed KYC/AML verification, the activity levels in the project’s social media accounts, LinkedIn verification of team and advisory board members, etc. To its credit, Benchy’s rating methodology is fairly transparent (and is available at https://icobench.com/ratings). Initially, the Benchy score represents 100% of an ICO’s rating on ICObench, but as ICObench “experts” begin to weigh in with their opinions, the importance of the Benchy score diminishes considerably. For example, the Benchy score of eInc, which had seven expert ratings at the time of this writing, was only weighted at 25%.
In addition to ICOs, ICObench assigns ratings to the “People of Blockchain” (https://icobench.com/people). These ratings are known as ICO Success Scores (or “ISS”) which are based on participation in an ICO as a team member or advisor. The details of ISS are available at https://icobench.com/faq#q-6-4, but suffice it to say that the more ICOs someone participates in, the higher their ISS.
Experts vs. Advisors
Anyone with a People of Blockchain profile on ICObench can apply to be an “expert,” by answering a series of questions and passing a KYC/AML verification check. Once the application is approved (a process that can take several weeks or longer) the person can begin rating ICOs on ICObench. Experts carry the same ISS score as before, and as their ISS increases, so does the weight typically assigned to their ratings.
Money Changes Everything
Viewed in the abstract, the ICObench Rating System is relatively unobjectionable. However, the obscene amounts of money pouring into ICOs, coupled with their fast liquidity and misalignment of founder/investor interest, creates an incentive for the “experts” to game the fuck out of the system for personal economic gain, which, as you will see below, is exactly what is happening at ICObench right now.
Have you got that antibacterial wetsuit on? Great! Then grab a couple of extra bottles of disinfectant and let’s explore the murky depths of ICObench…
How Bad is It?
Let’s start by taking a look at the top nine “experts” on ICObench:
The second column lists all of the ICOs that each “expert” is associated with, either as a team member or as an advisor, and the number of projects some of them are advising is downright astonishing. The top-rated “expert” has been involved with 74 ICOs, and as of the time of this writing, at least 25 are actively fundraising.
Consider this for a moment: How much practical advice can anyone possibly give to a project if they are advising that many ICOs? The answer is simple—it doesn’t fucking matter, because that’s not why most ICO projects hire these “experts.”
Several founders of blockchain startups have confided in us that they feel they have to hire at least one or more of the top-rated “experts” on ICObench to ensure that they get a high rating on the site. Furthermore, they were unwilling to state this publicly because they were afraid to make any “enemies” at ICObench…
We would ask that you please take a moment to let that shit sink in before we continue…
How Much Money Are We Talking About?
We don’t know exactly how much all of these top-rated “experts” charge to sit on an ICO advisory board, but we have looked at agreements signed by several of them, and the standard pricing typically includes an up-front engagement fee ($10,000 minimum), plus a percentage of the tokens issued by the ICO (1% minimum) plus a percentage of the Ether raised during the crowdsale (1% minimum). Considering the fact that many of the ICOs hiring these experts are going to raise at least $10,000,000, that translates to a (very conservative) $110,000 minimum per “expert” per ICO, not even including the tokens received.
To be clear, the ass clowns at Tokenicide don’t give a fuck about the amount of money involved since these are deals being done at arms’ length between willing participants. What does bother us, however, is that blockchain projects feel like they have to hire these “experts” as advisors, even though they’re unlikely to be advising them. That sort of mandatory payment scheme seems a bit too familiar…🤔
Even if you’re cool with the fact that these “experts” are earning a minimum of $110,000 for each ICO they agree to “advise,” and think it’s hunky dory that blockchain projects feel compelled to hire at least one or two of them to be successful, you should not be okay with what else is happening, which we discovered as we were preparing our review of the upcoming eInc ICO.
Let’s start by looking at the eInc team and its advisory board…
The project team consists of three founders and seven advisors. Any idea how many of those advisors is a top-rated “expert” on ICObench? Not one. Not two. But every goddamn one.
If you haven’t yet read our review of the eInc ICO, now would be a great time to do that, but the tl;dr; version is as follows:
It’s a fucking joke.
It is so bad, in fact, that there is no conceivable way that any legitimate review site would give it a passing grade, much less a near-perfect score, like this:
Now , to its credit, ICObench appears to prohibit “experts” from rating projects they have been hired to advise. In theory, that would eliminate any possibility of impropriety. Unless of course there is some sort of collusion between all of the top-tier experts:
If the near-perfect scores on a piece-of-shit project by themselves don’t render you speechless, the rationale given for those scores should, because:
- It has nothing to do with the founding team;
- It has nothing to do with the project (because there is no fucking way that any of these “experts” actually read the whitepaper); but
- It’s because they have a “strong advisory team.”
In other words, if you are willing to pack enough ICObench “experts” on your advisory board, they’ll make sure that the other experts rate it highly.
And this is the most visited ICO review site on the Internet. By far.
Once again, we ask that you take a moment to let that shit sink in before we wrap things up…
How About That Hubris
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this particular example is it demonstrates that the “experts” at ICObench aren’t even trying to hide what’s going on anymore. One might think that given the gold mine they’re operating, they might try to be a little more discreet about it. Then again, given the environment they’ve created, where people in the industry are afraid of them, why should they care?
Well, we care, which is why we wrote this article. And we hope that if you care about blockchain and distributed ledger technology and don’t like the damage being caused by ICObench and similar sites, that you care as well.
We think it’s time for ICObench to clean up its act or get out of the game.
If you agree, please share this story with someone else. 😊