Serena Williams' Other Face


For Serena Williams, Saturday is reserved for the family. So, this past Saturday with her in Rome is meaningful: exactly four years ago she met her husband, Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of the online community Reddit.

The opportunity for the couple to celebrate their meeting as Mr. and Mrs. Everybody: a walk in the gardens of the hotel with Olympia, their daughter of 22 months. The setting is more romantic than it looks: the private park of Rome Cavalieri is 6 hectares and is decorated with animal sculptures in marble and bronze.

The majestic environment is perfectly suited to the American tennis legend, with its 23 Grand Slam titles, which is regularly used to deconstruct stereotypes. But her husband is not left out, between Reddit and his investment fund valued at $ 500 million. It would seem that Serena Williams is also interested in venture capital. She is the first sportswoman to join the annual list Forbes American self-taught billionaires, with a fortune estimated at $ 225 million, based essentially on his ideas and his brand. Over the last five years, she has quietly invested in 34 startups. Last April, the US officially announced the launch of its investment fund, Serena Ventures, which aims to finance businesses.

Athletes are now richer than ever, thanks to the explosion of broadcasting rights for sporting events. The 50 best-paid sportsmen had a combined $ 2.6 billion in revenue last year, compared with only $ 1 billion 15 years ago. But Serena Williams is far from the only one to make the most of her earnings: in the NBA alone, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have all created their media. Kevin Durant, Andre Iguadala and Carmelo Anthony have launched their venture capital fund. Serena Williams, however, is the only one to direct her investments towards the only thing that matters: herself.

"I wish to participate fully in the project. I want to embody the brand, not just reflect it. " Serena Williams can count on her experience in the field of fashion and design. If the champion continues the competition (her powerful return after giving birth last year has definitely won the rank of icon), and intends to pocket checks from sponsors such as Nike or JP Morgan, she also counts make the most of your fortune with successful investments.

The story of the Williams sisters is worthy of a Hollywood film: a black father who takes care of the education of his daughters and who, despite his limited knowledge of tennis, teaches them to play in the streets of Compton, in California. Serena remembers: "We saw people walking in the street with AK-47s and we said, 'It's time to go home.' When we heard gunshots, we bent down on the ground.

Richard Williams is determined and insists on not placing his daughters in a private tennis academy and avoids the well-oiled circuit of junior tournaments. Serena's hard work, especially after her first Grand Slam victory at the age of 17: "Her commitment conditioned the rest of my career, both on and off the court. He taught me to try my luck and stand out. "

At Serena Ventures, we are particularly interested in companies founded by women from minorities. In the United States, only 2.3% of the venture capital invested finances women-led startups (when looking at male and female-controlled firms, this figure rises to only 10%) . This percentage falls further when it comes to black or Hispanic founders. 60% of Serena Williams' investments have already been directed to businesses run by women or people of color. The champion explained: "What better way to convey this kind of message? ".

Of the 34 companies it supported through its investment fund, over three quarters were in the start-up phase. "This experience is fun. I do not make bets. I'm not one to take risks, but I feel that seed capital suits me perfectly. "

Given the exponential risk posed by early stage companies, Serena Williams has surrounded herself with a team of Silicon Valley mentors, such as Jill Smoller of the William Morris Agency, who looks after her partnerships (of value not far from 250 million dollars) for almost 20 years. There is also Chris Lyons, from Andreessen Horowitz, an informal adviser, but especially a great friend of the American champion, who estimates: "She is more devoted than 99% of the people here. She turns regularly to me to ask me my opinion on companies. We also have Sheryl Sandberg, a longtime friend and chief operating officer at Facebook, with whom she sits on the board of SurveyMonkey. According to Serena Williams: "I often ask her for advice on different topics".

But one of her mentors stands out from all the others, and for good reason: it's her husband. "I rely a lot on Alexis," she explains. When she met him in 2015, Serena Williams had never heard of Reddit, and the entrepreneur (whose fortune is estimated by Forbes to 70 million dollars) does not know much about tennis. They are, however, a common ambition that will be the cement of their relationship. Alexis Ohanian says, "She is determined to shine in everything she does."

Serena Williams's mission is to invest in business where her name and brand can really change the game. With its 30 million followers on social networks, its influence is invaluable. His Nike outfit has generated more than $ 2 million in promotional value for the brand in the last 12 months, according to data from Hookit, which studies the influence of celebrities on social networks. "Serena is a unique voice of her generation, reaching an audience that goes far beyond the boundaries of tennis," says Hookit CEO Scott Tilton.

But the champion does not stop there: fashion icon in the eyes of all, she launched last May with Serena Ventures a self-financed clothing line, S by Serena. After waiting for an investor to create clothes, she explains: "I did not have the right angle of approach. I had to invest in a personal project. The collection offers dresses, jackets, tops, jeans, etc. and displays prices for most under $ 200. Serena Williams even won a fashion show at New York Fashion Week next September, thanks to the help of her great friend Meghan Markle, who caused a sensation by wearing one of the blazers in the collection. The latter has also been out of stock in a few hours on the brand's website. Next step ? A jewelry collection for this year, and a range of beauty products for 2020.

With all these investment activities, the American wants to spend less time on the courts, and favor the Grand Slam tournaments. At the age of 37, she has become a monument to tennis, and feels that she still has a few years of play in front of her. "I'm in no hurry to leave this sport," she says. At Serena Ventures, on the other hand, she will be able to continue to play all her life. "I want to create a brand that is sustainable, like my sports career. It's not sophisticated or trendy, but it's stable like my game. "

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