Serena Williams on building her brand and being a Verizon Media board member

Serena Williams and Verizon's Guru Gowrappan at Advertising Week / AWNewYork/Shutterstock

Serena Williams has done plenty to impress on the court as one of the world’s best tennis players and athletes. Off the court she is also staking a claim as a top entrepreneur and businesswoman, building her own clothing line, serving on the advisory boards of Verizon Media and Survey Monkey, and building like-minded companies through her Serena Ventures venture capital business.

Williams talked about her business ventures and her Verizon ties at an Advertising Week panel with Verizon Media chief executive, Guru Gowrappan, where she explained how she has built her own brand through her separate ventures, and how working with other companies like Verizon, Nike and Survey Monkey has helped her be a better businessperson.

As the chairwoman of the Verizon Media global advisory board, Williams stated that she had an opportunity to make an impact on a company that has over a billion users monthly.

“For me, why wouldn’t I want to be part of something so huge? What a great platform for me to speak about things I believe in and things that just shape the world in a better way. Also, it’s about getting a great group of people in the room that can also bring their expertise in their different fields to the board and to the company,” Williams told the crowd.

Gowrappan said Williams has helped Verizon Media grow, especially as it has made multiple transitions, from AOL to Oath to Verizon Media.

“What Serena and the team have done is change how we think about our products. If you think about all the advice from our board members, including Serena, they impact directly as the athlete and…to those running their companies, several billion people globally. What Serena has brought is that you have to act like a winner, act like a champ and really have the discipline. With Serena there’s a lot of transparency and authenticity. She will say honestly what she feels, and we want that,” he stated.

“We want to have that one-on-one relationship with our customers, because we want them to be honest. Serena has pushed us to take this to the next level. We’ve changed from thinking about things in a quarterly way to…thinking long-term.”

Williams discussed her other ventures, including her showing at New York Fashion week for her clothing line, S by Serena. She said that her clothing brand is about "changing the way you feel when you put on our outfit, you want to feel sexy, you want to feel confident, and you want to feel sure."

She said that a main goal of S by Serena was to get rid of the word ‘exclusive’ and bring in the word ‘inclusive’ because tennis is such an exclusive sport, but along with her sister, they were able to make it more inclusive.

She is also a board member for Survey Monkey and for Poshmart, which she said has been instrumental in building her own brand. “You have to think about how to build a brand, and one thing I’ve always done is say what do the best do, and do what the best do, and do it a bit better.

“When you’re building an overarching brand, you have to get the best – the best people,” she said. She credits her ongoing relationship with Nike for helping take the next step with her businesses.

“Nike is one of those brands that’s not going to be afraid. And I admire that. I’ve been with Nike…for over 15 years, so I’ve been able to see the ins and outs of how they successfully run such a great consumer brands company.”

Williams also talked about her venture capital firm Serena Ventures. It focuses on early-stage investments in companies led by women and people of color, and those that embrace diverse leadership, individual empowerment, creativity and opportunity. Even though the effort was started in 2014, Williams stated that she wanted to have a “great portfolio” before announcing, which has led to a diverse assortment of companies backed by the firm, including Daily Harvest, Lola and Teespring, and one she said will continue as it grows and diversifies.

All of Williams’ efforts are part of her brand building, which goes beyond the court and will allow the transition to full-time business person after tennis. “Serena Williams is a brand. I think of myself as a mom, a sister and a daughter, but it is a brand,” she stated.

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