A guide to token usage, utility, and value

There is no shortage of information available about cryptocurrencies, but there is very little in the way of defining exactly the type of tokens. When it comes to technical details about blockchain, the concept of a cryptocurrency coin is well understood; a programmable currency until that is linked to a blockchain and relates to smart contract logic in the context of a certain software application. But when it comes to the non-technical details, what is a token?

A token is another way of naming a privately issued currency. When we consider sovereign governments that issue currency, they do so with set terms and governance, directing how the economy functions with fiat currency as the medium of value. Then, we have the blockchain with new types of organisations who issue their own currency in the form of digital assets, otherwise known as cryptocurrency. These issuers are setting their own rules and terms around their operations and essentially creating new, self-sustainable micro-economies.

In other words, what was once the sole preserve of governments, is now in the hands of anyone that has the capability to create their own tokens.

A few years ago, no one was talking about ICOs or STOs, or even token models, and with much confusion still present around these phenomena, this article is designed to make things a little clearer.

Tokenomics vs Cryptoeconomics

At E&S Group, we believe that there is a difference between tokenomics and cryptoeconomics. When we talk about cryptoeconomics we refer to the incentive structures that are designed to facilitate the creation and subsequent transaction validation of a particular cryptocurrency. For example, the cryptoeconomics of Bitcoin is designed to give Bitcoin miners a reason to mine new BTC. These miners validate each Bitcoin transaction and then receive newly minted BTC as a reward for their efforts.

Individuals, businesses, and users of BTC then pay a transaction fee to the miners so that their transaction is included in the mining of the next block. This means that even when all BTC has been mined (something that is estimated to happen in 2140), miners of Bitcoin will still be incentivised to keep mining and validating transactions.

This is what we refer to as cryptoeconomics. Whilst it is quite similar to tokenomics in terms of the incentivisation of stakeholders to ensure specific behaviour, there are some differences between the two.

Tokenomics focusses specifically on the application layer of a token so that the goal of it is to ensure that a crypto-token is used within the ecosystem as intended.

This means that tokenomics is not just about the supply and transaction validation of a token, but more about the things that happen afterwards. When we consider tokenomics, we have to consider what the token is used for and what behaviour we are trying to elicit.

Having explained that tokenomics is not the same as cryptoeconomics, we must define exactly what tokenomics entails as depending on who you speak to, it can have different meanings. For some, the tokenomics of an ICO refers to certain token metrics including supply and the amount that is reserved for founders and advisors to the project. Others believe that tokenomics is a four-layer model that comprises of token functionality, token distribution, token workflow, and token governance.

Token use

A token must have a purpose, and during the ICO boom this was mainly to raise funds to the project, but now things are changing. Even if the main goal is to raise funds, the token still needs to have an additional, secondary purpose. Eventually, the aim is for investors to use the token and not just to invest in it for later speculation.

Whether the token is used to start an online platform, or whether it is to incentivise another kind of behaviour, it is of the utmost importance that the purpose of the token is clear. To be able to set up a long-term sustainable token, it needs to be designed with the tokens utility clearly set out, because if not, it will hurt the business.

Token Utilisation

A second part of the tokenomics is the way that the token will be utilised. Once you have established your purpose, clarification needs to be given as to whether the token will be used, when it will be used, and how it will be used. Consideration also needs to be given to how often it will be used and by whom. Just because you have a clear purpose for the token, does not mean that people will use it effectively, therefore you need to do token research to understand how the token will be used.

Token utilisation is as important as token value. For example, what happens when the token increases in value due to speculation? In such cases, users of the platform will be less likely to use it for its intended purpose and more likely to hold it so that they can cash in at a later date.

Token functionality

Programmable money is a term that has been used to describe cryptocurrency tokens but you also need to have an idea of what sort of functions the token will have.

For example, in the case of a security token offering, a company can issue its shares as a token, therefore, providing a financing mechanism for the company whilst also providing value for the shareholders. To be able to provide such value, the token needs to be structured in such a way that allows people with no tokens to vote and receive dividend payments. Functions such as dividend payments of voting are clear examples of functionalities that could be programmed into the token.

Token Distribution

Another aspect of tokenomics is the way that it is distributed. Often, ICO projects make mistakes in their token distribution by making it fixed that is issued at just one time moment.

If we look at fiat currencies, their supply is never fixed, instead, the central bank is able to print more money or a local bank can provide a loan. These are both means of creating money where previously there was none. From this, we can ascertain that a fixed token distribution is likely to have negative effects on its value, inflation, and of course, usage. For these reasons, it is incredibly important that special attention is paid to how the token is distributed, for example:

  • When will the token go into circulation?
  • When will it leave circulation?
  • How much will be released at first?
  • How do current and projected utilisation and value coexist?

Token Value

The value of the token is another important aspect of tokenomics. When a token is issued as a share or security, the value of the token should be clear and straightforward. For example, if a company is valued at $50 million, and 10 million equity tokens are made available, each token/share should be worth $5.

If a token doesn’t have a clear value, things can get a lot more complicated. If an issuer thinks that a token is worth X, the market may put it at a different value. This can become even more complicated when you want to enable users to exchange tokens for specific services. If the value of a token falls in the market, the price should be adjusted by the issuer.

Tokens that work in the long-run

Tokenomics has a lot of complicated and very different facets that include token purpose, utility, functionality, distribution, and supply. But there are many others that can be taken into consideration such as mechanism design, stakeholder interviews, and token governance, meaning the good token design is not as easy as some would believe.

Even if all of these things have been given consideration, the task is still not completed because to properly set up a tokenised business due attention to other parts of the business such as the token market, the business technical infrastructure, and the token and revenue model. This is not an easy task and it is one that requires the help and guidance of a professional.

E&S Group has solid experience in designing tokenomics infrastructures, as well as advising companies on all of the other important aspects of creating a successful project. For further information please send us an email on [email protected]