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Founder and CEO of Telegram Pavel Durov delivers a keynote speech during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona
Reuters/Albert Gea
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TON OF HYPE

Telegram plans to spend more than $100 million of its mega-ICO on salaries, offices, and consultants

By Joon Ian Wong

The chat app Telegram hopes to raise up to $1.2 billion in an initial coin offering (ICO), according to Business Insider. This would make it the largest one-off fundraising using the cryptocurrency-based mechanism to date.

What will Telegram do with the money? According to documents outlining the ICO seen by Quartz, Telegram plans to spend $620 million over the next four years on the development of the chat app and related costs. More specifically, it plans to devote around $500 million to things like equipment, bandwidth, co-location (paying for space in a data center), and user-verification costs. The app plans to reach 200 million monthly users this year, and 1 billion by 2022, according to the documents.

The rest of Telegram’s ICO-fueled budget, or around $120 million, will be spent on wages, offices, and legal and consulting fees. The company employs a team of just 15 developers, according to the document. As one prospective investor, who did not want to be named, told Quartz: That’s enough for a lot of Lambos, and maybe a couple of Gulfstreams. (Quartz contacted Telegram to verify the documents, but has not yet received a reply.)

Here’s Telegram’s past and future budget, according to the ICO document:

Some context: In 2016, Facebook spent $3.8 billion (pdf) on salaries, servers, energy expenses and other items it reports as “cost of revenue” that are similar in nature to Telegram’s spending plans. It also spent $5.9 billion on research and development that year.

The TON token is expected to launch in the fourth quarter of this year. Telegram has an ambitious plan, laden with crypto jargon, to use the token for decentralized storage, payments, and domain names. As TechCrunch puts it, it’s an attempt to build a decentralized internet, a goal shared by more established crypto protocols like ethereum. (Ethereum raised a relatively paltry $18 million worth of bitcoin for its 2014 launch.) Top-tier venture capital firms in Silicon Valley are said to be taking large positions in a private sale of TON tokens worth $600 million that ends in February.

Telegram’s plan has also drawn skepticism. One analyst at longstanding cryptoasset firm Pantera Capital called the scheme “$600 Million TONs of Crap” in a Medium post. Among the problems he cites are a lack of technical detail in the offering documents; a reliance on unproven technologies; and the restricted circulation of the technical white paper, impeding investor scrutiny.

Whatever its merits, even if Telegram raises the mammoth amount it’s aiming for, it still wouldn’t be the largest ICO to date. A protocol known as EOS (paywall) has raised $1.3 billion since it started a rolling offering of tokens last June, according to data provider EOS Scan. It releases a tranche of tokens every 23 hours. Now that’s something to chat about.

Joon Ian Wong
Technology Reporter
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