Anne Juceam is the founder of Reality Fantasy League, a website and growing viral phenomenon that combines the thrill of fantasy sports to Reality TV fandom. Anne, who also consults for early stage startups on operations and project management, shares how she turned her own passion for The Bachelor and Top Chef into a game with friends that now has more than 25,000 active customers.
Melinda Wittstock: Anne welcome to Wings.
Anne Juceam: Thank you so much.
Melinda Wittstock: I’m really curious how you came up with this whole idea of combining reality TV with fantasy sports to create Reality Fantasy League. What was the AHA moment that led you to this?
Anne Juceam: Sure. Well I am a huge TV viewer. A big fan of all TV content. And I had spent probably 10 years watching my now husband organize and have fun with his fantasy football league, a group in which I was never included. And I wanted something for myself.
I knew that I loved and obsessed over my favorite content, like the show Top Chef for example as much as he did with football so I started a league. At the beginning I was just tallying the points using pen and paper. And posting the results on a blog for me and my friends. And we were just having fun.
Melinda Wittstock: That is so interesting. So how long ago was this?
Anne Juceam: That was about four years ago and I really just kept going with it. You know I started hosting events for my friends and pretending that I had a pop up restaurant in my apartment. And just really taking it to the next level and having fun.
And I got to tell you that I will never forget the first time a contestant on my team won a challenge, meaning I won points on my league. I leapt out of my chair as if I was cheering at a sporting event. It really transformed my viewing experience.
Melinda Wittstock: So for people who can’t quite imagine this, can you paint the picture? How does it work for a show like say, Top Chef or the Bachelor? What are you actually competing on?
Anne Juceam: Sure. Well fantasy leagues have long been available just to sports fans. So I’m really thrilled to bust open the doors and welcome everyone to participate with the rules and the lingo and the fun of it all centered around content you actually like.
So in fantasy sports, and take football for example participants assemble an imaginary team of real football players who earn points based on what they actually do in the game. So Reality Fantasy League mimics that process.
But instead of football players my users draft and build teams of bachelorette’s. And instead of touchdowns or interceptions, we earn points when a contestant earns a rose, or receives an invitation on a group date.
And we have rules, and recommendations to help you. We welcome all levels. You do not have to have prior fantasy sports experiences to play. We really just want to invite and empower every TV fan to take their viewing experience to the next level.
Melinda Wittstock: That is fascinating. So is this all done now on an app, or website, or both?
Anne Juceam: Yes it’s a website, realityfantasyleague.com. It’s so interesting because back to when I was doing this by pen and paper and just having fun with my friends, a really funny thing happened. Is that the more I talked about it, the more people wanted in.
And I ended up with a wait list to get into my league. I couldn’t believe it. And I wanted to include everyone but I wasn’t going to do the math for all the leagues since I was just doing it with pen and paper.
And I really just thought to myself, you know there should be a platform where fans can play fantasy leagues for their favorite shows. I should be that person; I should build it. So I did.
And it’s funny, I’ve since researched the emergence of fantasy sports as a case study, and the original story is remarkably similar. A group of friends coming together, pen and paper. They had a shared passion for a particular type of entertainment. That’s really how this all started.
Melinda Wittstock: So is this now a whole algorithm behind here? So you’re not doing the math on pen and paper anymore. Is it technology?
Anne Juceam: Yes. So I have a system where I input the points after every episode. We upload the points the morning after an episode to avoid spoilers for our West Coast viewers because unlike sports, these shows aren’t live. And then the points trickle down to each and every league depending on that specific league’s craigslist roster of contestants.
Melinda Wittstock: Wow this is incredible. So how many people do you have doing this now?
Anne Juceam: We have over 25,000 sign ups now.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh gosh that’s awesome. I bet these shows love you as well because you’re sort of a technology platform fan base for engagement around these shows. I mean are they sort of sponsoring you? Or do they promote you in any way? Are there any tie ins?
Anne Juceam: Not quite, not yet. I’m certainly open to it. But I hope to have their support whether in an official or unofficial capacity. I know again after studying the emergence of fantasy sports, this bottom up approach to fandom, this movement of starting with a passionate fan base really just helps everyone involved.
Fantasy sports, the passion there really rose the popularity and the value of the leagues and the networks themselves because being a sports fan and then having this other outlet, it all just feeds in together and raises the profile of every brand involved. And that’s what I see happening with reality fantasy league. Just a way to even increase even more the passion and the fandom of the following of these shows.
Melinda Wittstock: So what’s the business model? How do you make money?
Anne Juceam: That’s a great question. From a commercial standpoint I really think the possibilities are endless. We have first part engagement data. I think there are opportunities for branded partnerships. I have my first pilot affiliate link program launching soon.
I think there are opportunities for a marketplace of products and events. We really only need to look at the existing reality sports platform as a starting point because the variety of TV shows we can touch, I think has an even broader appeal.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah absolutely. How fascinating. My goodness. So Anne, have you always been an entrepreneur? Sorry I’m going to pick up on that question again. Sorry, the beauty of tape.
So Anne I loved hearing you describe you know, how you create this thing. It just starts out as a passion. It’s kind of a lark; it’s fun. But have you always been entrepreneurial?
Anne Juceam: I think so. You know, I have a great entrepreneur as an example. My mom ran a baking business out of our home when I was a child. And I used to watch her make her cakes and then go on deliveries with her. I was the chief taste-testing officer at the time.
So I’ve always had access into that, an eye into it. Before all this I was a practicing attorney for many years. And always had some entrepreneurial ideas and leanings on the side. But a law firm just really isn’t a place to scratch an entrepreneurial itch.
Melinda Wittstock: No it’s not. In fact, it’s kind of intriguing to me that you have a law background and you’re an entrepreneur. It’s a rare combination.
Anne Juceam: Yeah although it’s hard to be both at the same time so maybe that’s why I used to be one and I’m now another.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. Right. But you have a lot of experience though as a consultant working with other entrepreneurial companies and founders. Has all of that consultancy in terms of helping them, helped you now as you now step into being a CEO and founder of your own thing?
Anne Juceam: Oh absolutely without a doubt. It’s really been an incredible window from a networking standpoint, seeing how people prioritize, building their own businesses. That part has been invaluable for sure.
Melinda Wittstock: What do you think some of the biggest challenges have been though? So I’m going to ask that again. I’m sorry. It’s Saturday. Okay.
What have some of the biggest challenges been for you along the way the past four years? Have there been moments like for a lot of entrepreneurs where your hearts in your hands? And where you’re like, “Oh my God how am I going to make this work?” Or, “How am I going to pay people?” Or all those kinds of things that come with entrepreneurship. What have been some of your challenges along the way?
Anne Juceam: Of course. Off the top, one of my biggest challenges was my site actually crashed. Which thankfully I can laugh about it now and maybe it’s one of those badges of honor. But in one of my biggest increases in usage, the site just crashed.
And it was one of those moments where it’s eight o’clock on a Monday night and I have to convince my engineer to get to work and get this thing back up and running. All while reaching out to my users to say, “Stick with us we’ll be right back.”
That was a big moment for me, which thankfully we worked through. And I learned from it. Now I can get into my … I learned yet another thing about the back end of my website and how to adjust for changes in the usage. And someone without a technical background, anything I can add to my arsenal to be able to do on my own is really helpful.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah it’s true. I mean it’s good to be able to know how to do stuff on your own, but then not necessarily all that great if you do fall into the trap of trying to do it all yourself, because it’s very difficult to scale a business.
Anne Juceam: Sure.
Melinda Wittstock: Are you at the point now where you can bring on other people to help you kind of create this technology? Give me a sense of how big your team is and how you’re going about growing it?
Anne Juceam: Well I had an engineer and a designer help me get the site off the ground. And I now have some interns helping me with some marketing efforts and social media. And I’m also now interviewing and vetting some consultants to help with some other projects. So really as you said, piecing it together and trying to do as much as I can without wearing myself too thin.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. Exactly. That’s the thing. I mean you find, I don’t know business four or whatever, five actually now I’ve got four and five going at the same time. And one of the things that I’ve learned along the way is that I have to get out of my own way you know?
Anne Juceam: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: And if I try and do it all myself, it’s like I can’t. I’m just good enough to be dangerous but there’s a certain point where you get in your own way and you can’t grow the company. You just create a job for yourself rather than a really scalable business. Where do you ultimately see this being like in terms of size, and what not? Where yours big vision? Where are you going to be five years, 10 years from now with this company?
Anne Juceam: I’d love to continue adding shows to touch even more audiences, more pockets of fans. And I think that this can really go beyond the reality TV model. You know, I started with competitive reality TV shows because it was the most [inaudible 00:20:26 to sports.
And it also happened to be where my passion was as a TV viewer. But I think there are opportunities for other live events, award shows, and even scripted TV. So I think the possibilities are endless.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh gosh you could do the Oscars, or the Golden Globes, or the Grammy’s, or something like that.
Anne Juceam: Exactly. Exactly. Yep. Or red carpets, predicting what people are going to wear. I think there’s a lot of ways to have fun with this.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, maybe. That’s a good one. Okay. So how about this, how about this? So you know, all founders start out with this vision of how it’s going to be, but it rarely turns out that way. It’s always something that’s a little different or surprising. Have you had any surprises along your way?
Anne Juceam: I have. I mean first of all, the fact that this thing has grown to where it is, is a huge surprise given that I really just started this for me and my friends. But along those lines really the biggest surprise and the most beautiful surprise for me has been connecting with these users that are now a part of the platform and really seeing a community take shape.
I mean on the one hand these people are total strangers to me. But on the other we are birds of a feather, just really obsessed fans bonding over our shared favorite TV content. And I’ve started doing some user interviews to reach out to them, which is really the best thing I’ve ever done for the company. It’s just taught me so much. I can share some anecdotes with you of things I’ve learned about my users.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh yeah. Absolutely.
Anne Juceam: For example, one of them I spoke to told me that she would watch every season Top Chef living at home with her mom. And then she got a job out of state and moved away. And having their league on the site is how they stay in touch.
Another user told me that he built a physical plaque that hangs in his office so that the winner of the league every season can be featured on this plaque that he built. He also organizes a potluck at the beginning of every Top Chef season. And then they vote on the best dish, and that’s how they determine their draft order.
It’s just amazing the creativity and the passion that they have really in taking control over their favorite content to strengthen connections within their friend groups, their family, their communities. And just having fun with it. It’s been amazing to hear those stories.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s wonderful. So it’s great to be inspired by your customers, and close to your customers. And really taking such an interest in them; I mean that’s a sure fire way to succeed. What are some of the other things that inspire you? Do you have any role models or anybody that’s been really a major impetus, someone that you look up to, other female founders? Who are some of your mentors?
Anne Juceam: Well that’s a good question. I mentioned my mom being an entrepreneur as I was growing up. My parents are definitely a big inspiration for me. I also was recently accepted into the Monarch Incubator, which is for women lead companies.
And getting exposure to these other women entrepreneurs and the founders themselves of this program has really been inspiring. And really just on a professional and a personal level to have this network of other women who are achieving their goals and building businesses is really wonderful just to watch up close and personal.
Melinda Wittstock: It is. You know we all need people around us and communities: I’ve found on my own journey whenever I’ve tried to do something on my own it just takes more time and more stress. And it’s so much easier when we’re collaborating with each other. It’s impossible to do this alone right?
Anne Juceam: Right. It’s important to ask for help.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah it is. Like, we need coaches. We need mentors. We need peer networks. We need all that kind of love, and safety, and accountability as we go out and do this. So that’s great that you’re in an incubator of some kind. Well I never miss an opportunity to encourage every female founder to make sure you have not just one but like several kind of mentor networks right? So you really get that support that you need.
Anne Juceam: Yes, for sure.
Melinda Wittstock: So this is exciting. Give me a sense Anne how fast this is growing. So say you’re at 25,000 people right now, where do you expect to be by the end of 2019 and beyond? How fast is it growing?
Anne Juceam: Oh that’s a great question. Well it really depends on the technical aspect. If I can get some more shows up on the site. I’m less interested in the hyper growth right now. I’m really trying to focus on engaging my current users and making sure they’re motivated.
So I’m doing some other efforts right now to outreach to my current users, and commissioners in particular because they’re really my inbuilt preferred program. In order to play the game and have fun with this, you need to invite other friends along to play with you. So those commissioners that I have are really important.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh gosh what a great model though because you really have the potential for network effects.
Anne Juceam: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah.
Anne Juceam: [crosstalk 00:26:30
Melinda Wittstock: Right. Exactly, and especially if you’re leveraging social networks to do that. That’s super, super smart. Well look, I’d love to have you on the podcast later in 2019 and check in with you, and see how things are going. And in the meantime, do you have any special offer or anything for our listeners today?
Anne Juceam: That sounds like a good challenge for me. I’ll have to put it on the calendar as a check in. And yes, you can go to realityfantasyleague.com. That’s the site. Right now we offer games for Top Chef and the Bachelor. And so lots of opportunities to play!
Melinda Wittstock: Fantastic. Anne, thank you so much for putting on your wings and flying with us.
Anne Juceam: Thank you for having me.