Get rich quick: ICO ghost writers offer initial coin offering ‘white papers’ for US$475
8,000-10,000 word business plans in Chinese in less than a week – who can resist?
Taobao, one of the world’s biggest e-commerce websites run and owned by China’s Alibaba Group, is arguably most famous for selling anything to anyone.
But a number of latest offerings are raising a few eyebrows for the wrong reasons, not least because they claim to be helping to sell one of the most controversial items on the market today: cryptocurrencies.
No less than 12 vendors on the site are offering buyers tailor-made, ghostwritten “white papers”, or business plans, on how to launch their very own initial coin offerings (ICO), or fundraisings using virtual currencies.
Two of them, who say they are based in Beijing and Shenzhen, told the South China Morning Post they can write 8,000-10,000 word plans in Chinese in less than a week, for the bargain price of 3,000 yuan (US$475). An English version will set you back another 3,500 yuan.
“In a way, they all just copy the technical parts from each other,” said Leonhard Weese, president of the Bitcoin Association of Hong Kong.
“Most ICOs don’t go into the detail they should. They just like using buzzwords.”
Calling themselves Jing Wei Ce Hua and Shenzhen Shi Xing Fu Ban Jia, respectively, the two claimed to have sold several plans already, but refused to say how many, and to whom.
Typically, ICO offers are early backers of a start-up company or project.
Similar in concept to an IPO (initial public offering), instead of getting shares in a company, buyers of ICOs are given tokens, which can usually be exchanged for legal tender, or other cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin or ethereum.
They use the technology behind cryptocurrencies, blockchain, to verify transactions, and eventually people who own these tokens expect them to be freely used as stock, or trade the tokens for goods and services.
China’s central bank banned ICOs of any sort on the mainland last September, after declaring 90 per cent of all such activities to be fraudulent.
Hong Kong’s securities regulator this week ordered an ICO issuer to halt its fundraising and return all tokens to investors. Still, ICOs are alive and well in other markets around the globe.
The ghostwritten documents being offered on Taobao claim to outline exactly how to manage and launch blockchain-based funding.
Unlike normal IPOs that are strictly regulated and marketed to the general public or institutional investors, there is still no oversight, regulation, or even guidelines of any kind for ICOs.
That takes the concept of “buyers beware” to the extreme, as there is no legal recourse of any kind in the event of fraud or foul play.
For that very reason, however, ICOs remain appealing to some as they can often help circumvent the strict fundraising process set up by venture capitalists or banks.
Experts have been quick to pour icy cold water on the idea of customised business plans to launch one.
“If any ghost writer hasn’t the technical skills, any white paper would clearly show evidence of this,” said Dave Chapman, managing director at Octagon Strategy, a Hong Kong-based digital asset brokerage.
“You can certainly pay technical writers to help prepare a white paper for you.
“But if you were expecting quality, it would cost significantly more than 3,000 yuan, it would be more like 100 times that, at least.”
Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.