Serena Williams’ father made her manage her money from the start



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Even as a teenager, tennis star turned venture capitalist Serena Williams was already managing her own money.

Before she was the first-ever 23-time Grand Slam champion, Williams was a 16-year old prodigy who turned to her father when she started getting her first real paychecks from tennis and sponsorship deals, she said in an interview on Bloomberg’s The Deal podcast with Alex Rodriguez and Jason Kelly. But while he was an astute businessman, Williams’ father, Richard Williams, made sure Williams managed her own finances.

“I remember having to figure that out and having to learn how to manage from a very early age and not get crazy with it, and so he empowered us to do that,” Williams said in the interview.

The elder Williams, portrayed in the 2021 film “King Richard,” was a major influence not just on Williams’ career, but also her second act, she said. He helped make her and her sister Venus Williams into superstars, but he also taught Williams many lessons about business. 

When Williams was seeking what would become a reported $13 million sponsorship deal with Puma as a 16-year-old, her father made sure she came along while he negotiated with major Puma investor and movie producer Arnon Milchan. Although she admittedly fell asleep during the late night negotiation, Williams said she incorporated the lessons she took from that first sponsorship when she made her own deals later.

“I’m 16, my dad is negotiating, they’re going back and forth and he wants me there for the whole time to make sure I know what to do in the future,” she said.

For her entire career, her focus was on her game, so much so she admitted that she often forgot to pick up the checks she would win from participating in tournaments. But thanks to her father, she also developed a knack for business and sponsorships, as evidenced later by the half billion dollars she would earn throughout her more than two decade-long career.

“I learned early on that your paycheck from tennis—maybe that’s why I forgot them—should be your smallest earning,” she said

After retiring in 2022, Williams began to dedicate more time to Serena Ventures, the venture capital fund she started in 2014, and she’s been able to use many of the lessons she took from her father and her own business dealings. And she’s channeled the same competitiveness she used on the field into her work.

“For me, success right now is having great investments,” she said.

At Serena Ventures, Williams has aimed to help level the playing field for women and people of color after she learned that only 2% of venture capital dollars flow to women founders and only 1% to Black founders. Serena Ventures has invested in more than 20 companies and Williams has made dozens of angel investments. The fund’s portfolio of companies contains 68% that were founded by women and people of color, she said.

“We don’t care what you look like, but we hear your story if you’re a woman, we hear your story if you’re a person of color, and a lot of people that look like me don’t even get their story heard.”

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