Serena Williams announced on August 16 that she is stepping back from tennis to focus on her family and career in venture capital. Williams shared the news in a candid essay she wrote for Vogue.
Aug. 23, 2022
LAKSHMI VARANASI, BUSINESS INSIDER
5 min read
Serena Williams is becoming full-time venture capitalist
Serena Williams - Empowering future leaders at Serena Ventures (picture:HVO)
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William's launched her venture firm, Serena Ventures, back in 2014. Through Serena Ventures, Williams and her partner, Alison Rapaport Stillman, angel invested in over 60 companies, according to a press release from the firm. The firm's investments have spanned across sectors ranging from financial tech companies like Propel and Cointracker to edtech unicorns like MasterClass to consumer product startups like Billie and Daily Harvest.
In March, Serena Ventures announced that it had raised an inaugural fund of $111 million from banks, high net worth individuals, and family offices. Williams told Dealbook at the time that the fund would invest in founders with "diverse points of view."
Williams, in her own words, is "evolving away from tennis." Now, she's ready for her venture career to take centre court.
In her essay, Williams goes deep into her motivations to be an investor. She wrote that a few years ago, she attended a conference organised by JP Morgan Chase. One of the speakers at the conference was Caryn Seidman-Becker, the CEO of the security company Clear. Williams wrote that Caryn said that less than two percent of all venture capital money was invested in women. At first, Williams wrote that she thought Caryn misspoke. So, Williams approached Caryn after the conference to confirm whether the figure was true, and Caryn did.
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Serena Williams at National Bank Open (picture:Sporting News)
Williams wrote, "I kind of understood then and there that someone who looks like me needs to start writing the big checks."
According to Serena Ventures' website, 53% of the firm's current portfolio companies are founded by women. Around 76% of the firm's investments are founded by individuals from historically underrepresented backgrounds. Within that, 47% of investments have black founders and 12% have Latino founders. The firm's numbers outpace the national statistics on venture funding by a long shot.
In March, Serena Ventures served as the lead investor in a $2.1 million seed round raised by Calico, an e-commerce enablement company founded by Kathleen Chan. In January, the firm participated in a $7 million Series A round raised by Chatdesk, a customer support messaging platform, founded by black entrepreneurs Andrew Olaleye and Aneto Okonkwo. The firm is also an investor in Esusu, a fintech startup that was one of the first black-owned tech unicorns. The Serena Ventures portfolio currently has 20 startups, Stillman tells Insider by email.
"An integral part of Serena Ventures' mission is to back founders who have incredible potential that might be overlooked by other investors and connect them with the core ingredients of opportunity: capital, mentorship, and support," Stillman writes to Insider by email. "Our ability to write bigger checks and lead seed rounds enables us to better deliver on this mission and provide something to entrepreneurs that almost no one else in the world can: a deep understanding of the long and exhausting road to the top.
Serena Ventures itself has been run by a team of six women until now. Williams joked in her essay that they recently brought on a man who is the firm's "first diversity hire."
For Williams, venture also runs in the family. Williams' husband, Alexis Ohanian, is the founder of two venture capital firms— Initialized Capital and Seven Seven Six. Ohanian founded Initialized Capital in 2011. He left in 2020 to launch his current firm, Seven Seven Six, which has invested in companies like Dispo, Lolli, and Yuga Labs, according to its website. Stillman told Insider that "no crossover or competition" between Seven Seven Six and Serena Ventures. She added that Seven Seven Six has "their own investment thesis." Williams ultimately hopes her legacy will go beyond her historic career in tennis.
"I admire Billie Jean because she transcended her sport," Williams wrote. "I'd like it to be: Serena is this and she's that and she was a great tennis player and she won those slams."