W HAT SHE DIDN’ T write was “Packed by Venus Williams, seven-time Grand Slam singles champion and three-time world No. 1.” That might be a little
unnerving to the amateur tennis player
on the receiving end of Venus’s warehouse serve. How does someone ft into
that outft? Williams doesn’t have to
“I always dreamed of being an entre-
fulfll orders any more than Michael
Jordan, majority owner of the Charlotte
Hornets, has to pass out towels on the
bench. But like other successful entre-
preneurs who love to work not just
on their businesses but also in their
businesses, she wants to understand
her company from every level.
preneur,” she says. “That was one of my
Wimbledon champion, check. U.S.
Open champion, check. Olympic gold
medalist, check, check, check, check.
Business owner, check again.
Williams is the founder, CEO, and
now sole proprietor of EleVen by Venus,
a company that makes women’s tennis
togs, performance clothing for yoga,
ftness, running, and dance, and casual
gear known as athleisure wear. After
struggling to reestablish her brand, not to
mention her health, following a couple of
setbacks, she’s now in full control. Sales
tripled last year, according to EleVen,
and could quintuple this year as she
expands distribution and takes the brand
international. She’s also the founder
of V-Starr Interiors, a seven-employee
design frm with clients ranging from
luxury residential properties to tennis
clubs to hotels. Sometimes the two cross
over: The Midtown Athletic Club chain
carries the EleVen line in its boutiques
and has also hired V-Starr to design
lounge and hotel suite renovations for
its fagship facility in Chicago.
Behind her are bankrupt retailers, a
soured manufacturing partnership, and
some rookie mistakes. Ahead of her is
a venture she hopes will take her far
beyond athletic and athleisure apparel
to more of a lifestyle brand, one that’s
about performance and empowerment.
“Eleven is better than a 10,” she says, by
way of explaining her brand message.
“It’s about reaching your best, pushing
beyond the limits, and coming to win.
Even if you don’t get there, it’s about that
journey.” That’s not insignifcant from
a woman who has lost multiple Grand
Slam fnals to her little sister Serena,
among others. This is her connection to
women who may not labor under the
spotlight but compete nonetheless.
“Once you tell that story,” she says, “you
As of December, she was ranked 17th.
can see the light bulbs going on.”
Being a full-bore entrepreneur would
be difcult enough for a retired athlete
trying to make a life and career transi-
tion, but Williams is doing it while main-
taining a full schedule on the WTA Tour.
And, at 36, she is a veritable antique in a
sport in which players often peak in their
early to mid-20s. It’s multitasking on an
entirely diferent level, although she
doesn’t necessarily see it that way.
“When you’re an athlete, you’re ‘done’
early in life,” she says, “so I decided to see
that not as a limitation but an opportu-
nity. I’ve always been focused on having
goals beyond tennis.”
Lots of athletes and music and enter-
tainment fgures have used their celebrity
as a bridge to business. Baseball great Ty
She climbs gracefully
down the warehouse
ladder, and then
items in the shipping
box. Like every
worker, she double-checks the packing
list—and then takes
a moment to
by Venus” on a small
card. Nice touch.
24 - INC. - FEBRUARY 2017