Any football fans among the 14,000+ people attending Hong Kong's annual Rise technology conference were no doubt surprised by one of the speakers at 2017's event.
Among the throngs of entrepreneurs, innovators and investors from around the world, former Chelsea, Juventus and Italy star Gianluca Vialli took to the stage on 12 July to talk up the online platform that could be a game-changer for fans looking to help financially sustain grassroots and professional football clubs.
Co-founded by Vialli and a team consisting of Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Unilever alumni, Tifosy is a crowdfunding platform much like Kickstarter or Indiegogo where fans back projects with cash to achieve specific monetary targets, all with the promise of tiered rewards for backers.
Rather than delivering finished products like those sites however, Tifosy plays on football fandom by offering supporters the chance to support their club off the pitch and not just on a matchday.
Examples of successful Tifosy projects include League One team Portsmouth's campaign to build a permanent home for the club's first team and its youth academy. The campaign raised a total of £270,000 which made it the largest football crowdfunding project in the UK.
While many of the global campaigns ask for set goals for exclusive club paraphernalia, some go deeper and offer fans the chance to become shareholders or receive an interest rate on loans.
Currently, League Two club Stevenage is hoping to reach a target of £500,000 to fund redevelopment of the northern stand of the team's home ground at Lamex Stadium via a five year bank-free mini-bond scheme, with backers yielding "Club Credit" to spend on merchandise, stadium food and drinks, matchday events and other bonuses.
"All campaigns on Tifosy are created together with the club, and fully endorsed by them," reads the official Tifosy website. "Tifosy only launches campaigns that can be fully trusted by the fans and ensure full transparency and accountability"
Vialli's attendance at Rise marked the next step for Tifosy, with the decorated striker-turned-manager-turned-pundit highlighting the importance of the company's future and what tech's next generation can learn from the beautiful game.
"There's a lot that football clubs can learn from startups but also a lot that startups can learn from football," said Vialli on stage (via South China Morning Post). "Recruitment is key, 70 per cent of the manager's job done in the summer when signing players; staff need to share the same values, have skills that complement each other, and a sense of shared responsibility."
"The second is culture. Clubs work very hard to create the right culture ... if the culture's right then people want to work for you, and make it a massive successful company."
With the Financial Conduct Authority granting Tifosy a license to operate its fun-funding operation in the UK, the London-based team's next aim is to expand into the lucrative Chinese market and raising £1m through its own website by offering company shares - a funding round it hopes will help it achieve its ambition of "transforming the sports finance industry."