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Innovation@Duke

The latest news and stories from Duke’s innovation and entrepreneurship community

Five Questions With John Antonelli, Co-Founder of Real

John Antonelli ’23, a Melissa & Doug Entrepreneur, answered questions about his venture, Real.

Tell us about your venture and what inspired you to start it.

My current venture is Real, a community-centric fan engagement platform for the next generation of sports fans. Real serves live interactive sports data faster than ESPN with personalized notifications for all major US sports leagues. Currently, Real has 125K+ monthly active members that have spent 33+ million minutes over the last 30 days, and has started generating revenue through a virtual bucks model. I’m one of the co-founders of Real along with my two older brothers. I’m working on marketing, member acquisition, and community development. 

The inspiration for Real originated from our love for sports. More specifically, my personal inspiration has come from my passion for sharing sports content on social media. Originally, I started sharing sports videos with popular songs on Vine and grew an audience of 80,000+ followers in 2014. Then in 2015, I started a basketball Instagram page @bball and grew it from scratch to over 860,000 followers. On @bball, I would create, curate, and distribute basketball content. Now, I leverage @bball’s audience and the relationships I have made with creators, influencers, and professional athletes to help grow Real’s brand and member base. 

What has your Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs experience been like so far, and what are you most taking away from it?  Are there other ways you’re plugging into Duke’s innovation and entrepreneurship community?

Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs has allowed me to meet like-minded individuals solving unique problems and learn more about their stories as people and founders. In addition, the advice and support received from the faculty in Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs and the I&E community have been invaluable to my growth as a person and as an entrepreneur.

What’s a significant hurdle you’ve faced with your venture, how did you address it, and what was the outcome?

One significant hurdle was figuring out how to acquire new members at scale, especially on a shoestring growth budget through social media content marketing. It took me 9 months of content iteration for this to finally click. In December 2021, we had 43,000 total registered members and 9,000 monthly active members. Fast-forward 11 months later, we have 295,000 total registered members and 124,000+ monthly active members. There’s still more we can and will be doing in the near future to scale Real’s growth. Iterating quickly and often with our members’ feedback and intentions in mind has allowed us to build a product people need and care about.

What are the next steps for your venture, and what most excites you and motivates you to keep moving?

I’m looking forward to expanding our sports offerings and scaling our monetization efforts. This will require us to build out our teams on the engineering side and marketing, and community strategy. I’m most excited to continue on this daily, weekly, and monthly forever-changing journey. I truly learn something new every day, and that’s what motivates me to keep going.

As you prepare to leave Duke, what parting thoughts do you have about your venture and your time here?

In the long-term future, Real will have millions of monthly active members, serve live data for global sports and leagues, and generate good cash flow. This is all a matter of when and I’m excited to execute every day to make this come to life. 

For my time at Duke, I am grateful and appreciative of all the professors, faculty members, and students that have pushed me to be the best version of myself. From my freshman year until now, I have a more clear understanding of myself and how to articulate, communicate, and learn how to learn. As a result, my relationships with family, friends, and peers have become stronger and more “real.”

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