Three brothers teamed up to create a platform they believe will transform the community experience of live sports viewing as we know it.
It was in February of 2020 that the idea for Real all came together. That was when Louis Antonelli, a Cornell computer science graduate who was the first engineer at tech startup Guilded before it was acquired by Roblox, called his youngest brother, John Antonelli at around 4 a.m., fired up with a vision that would eventually become the Real business.
John is now a rising senior at Duke, a computer science major and the owner of an Instagram basketball account (@bball) with more than 875,000 followers, so he too shared a passion for the sports world. And now, expanding the family business even more, middle brother Jimmy Antonelli has come onboard part-time to head Real’s design efforts.
At the time, the Real idea was new and expansive, envisioning live data as a connector between sports fans all across the country. But the brothers committed to it and now have a tangible product that they feel already shows Real’s value proposition.
As a social sports data app, Real enables members to experience interactive live play-by-play data and play/player-rating algorithms while earning in-app points from active usage, poll and peer challenge participation. Everything on the Real app—from the reactions, comments and personalized notifications—is centered around live data, Louis said.
Essentially: in real time, members can engage with the sports moments they care about the most alongside thousands of fans around the world.
“This is one of the first times in history where play-by-play data is real time enough to make this viable,” Louis said. “So when you’re watching something on TV, and it pops on your phone instantly, it’s a very new feeling, and it hasn’t really been possible until now.”
Currently, Real is available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store with more than 4,000 five-star reviews. Near the end of the NBA Finals this year, the app surpassed 115,000 monthly active members—who were spending on average six minutes on the app per day—to follow the sports data for their favorite players.
Since launching in March 2021, Real has utilized data for the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB and NCAA men’s college basketball. While the platform doesn’t have video or images on it, its power is in communicating data, providing fans the ability to receive their sports data and analysis before the rest of the world.
“If you’re watching the game at home, this is a perfect complement where you can also feel like you’re watching the game with thousands of other people at the same time,” Louis said. “It creates this cool community experience around every single play.”
In terms of Real’s business model, Louis and John said that based on consumer concerns over data privacy, they’ve elected not to go the advertising route. Instead, there’s a digital currency within the product to unlock premium features that enhance the experience.
So far, the Antonellis have been dedicated to bootstrapping Real, with every single dollar spent from their personal career savings. They are confident that Real is on the edge of becoming a fully sustainable business without needing any outside funding at all.
Looking back on the startup journey so far, Louis is a bit surprised by just how strong the appeal of play-by-play sports data is for their members.
“I didn’t realize how far that would take us as a product,” Louis said. “It’s obviously been a couple of years now of monthly, weekly iteration, but the vision has stayed pretty true. This is very innovative, and people just feel the difference.”
“One Day At A Time”
In the more than two years the brothers have invested into Real, they have a motto that guides them, John said. It’s: “One Day At A Time.”
“It’s this idea of taking everything a day at a time,” John said. “Little iterations that can compound over time have really empowered us to where we are today.”
It can be tempting to get lost in the news of other companies’ big investment rounds or the traditional ad revenue business models of other startups, but the Real team is focused on plotting their steady growth their own way, Louis added.
“When you live in a world of instant gratification, it’s really difficult to do the little things every single day for the next thousand days,” Louis said.
In many ways, it’s just the beginning for Real. In the future, Real’s vision is enormous: dominate the entire global sports landscape as well as live events. In fact, the startup aims to aggregate historical data for every sport, league and live event as far back as possible.
As the Antonellis say, this is all ultimately to further their mission of creating the highest quality sports community experience with the best technology available.
“We’ve had people say, ‘Real has given me an escape from my home life and allowed me to connect with people around sports in a way that I haven’t before on other platforms,’” Louis said. “It’s given them this refreshing escape in their lives, and that’s the core driver.”