Venus Williams made her triumphant return to the tennis court this year after nearly a year off due to injuries. All eyes were on her during last month’s U.S. Open, where things didn’t go the way she planned — but she’s not dwelling on it.
“I was definitely very rusty, just kind of hitting my stride,” Williams tells me of her U.S. Open performance after taking a year off from competing in the tournament. “I’ll be playing next year. I’m looking forward to it. [I’m] putting my work in early, being prepared.”
Thinking 10 steps ahead is something that’s propelled Williams to victory in seven Grand Slam singles and five Wimbledon championships, just to name a few of her accomplishments on the court. It’s also how she’s built two wildly successful companies — activewear brand EleVen and interior design firm V Starr.
“It’s all the same,” Williams explains of the similarities between playing tennis and her approach to running her businesses. “You have to plan ahead, you have to prepare, you have to set goals, you have to reevaluate when it doesn’t work out. You have to build the right team … To see the work that our team can produce and for us to succeed together, it’s such a great feeling.”
One of the biggest of these partners is Amazon. Aside from selling EleVen products through the retailer, Williams has also partnered with the company on Amazon Launchpad, a platform that was created to launch and elevate small businesses.
“I want my product to be accessible; I want people to have the opportunity to find them easily,” she says of her decision to work with the company, pointing out how it furthers her commitment to accessibility and building the right team. “Amazon gives you such great tools to be able to reach those customers and build your business. Once you launch, you’re not there by yourself. You are fully supported to be able to succeed.”
Williams took her commitment one step further when she spoke last month at the Amazon Accelerate conference, an in-person and virtual event based in Seattle that is dedicated to promoting the long-term success of Amazon selling partners.
Yet Williams’ grand slam piece of advice for getting a company off the ground is counterintuitive to everything budding entrepreneurs have been told: You don’t have to make your business your entire life.
Multitasking is an art, sure, but for Williams, it goes much deeper than that.
Perhaps it’s not about juggling as many things as you can but understanding that you can pursue multiple passions at the same time while carefully assessing when to make moves in either direction. It’s like anticipating your next swing by watching the motion of the ball.
“Being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you have to go all-in,” Williams says. “People think it means I have to quit my job and now live off my credit card and here we go — it may or may not work. You can always start your business and your new dream while you work your current job to mitigate the risk. You don’t have to take all the risks that people often envision — they think that entrepreneurs are the riskiest people on the planet, and a lot of times they aren’t.”
Williams practices what she preaches, and she does it seemingly effortlessly. When she founded V Starr in 2002, she was simultaneously ranked No. 1 in the world by the World Tennis Association.
Despite being entirely different challenges, the roadblocks to success in both business and tennis have been strikingly similar, the largest being inequality and the expectation that women have to work harder and make more noise to succeed.
Williams says she’s experienced it firsthand in the sports world, from being paid unequally to being offered fewer opportunities than her male counterparts. She points to the U.S. women’s soccer team’s equal pay deal, saying that the decision was long overdue but isn’t enough.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” she says bluntly. “And it’s so important for women and men to step up and put their hands up and say, ‘I see this. I want to do something about it.'”
It’s part of what’s inspired her to start EleVen’s Privilege Tax Campaign, which highlights the gender wage gap in the United States. According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women in the U.S. still earned an average of 17% less than men at the end of 2021.
“When you leave the United States that gap gets wider,” Williams says. “If we keep up this pace, maybe in the next 100 years we’ll be able to bridge that gap, but we need to bridge it sooner.”
It’s that look-ahead approach coming into play again as she explains that part of being successful in any endeavor is doing your research in a way that allows you to “know the bumps and the pitfalls along the way that can happen.”
After all, success for Williams has always come by balancing her different passions.
“I’ve been really blessed to do something that I love, which is tennis, for my entire life,” she says. “And I thought, [In] my next chapter, which I want to start before the first chapter is over, I’m gonna do something I love.”
Although love might translate to zero in tennis terms, when it comes to Williams and her drive to take her businesses and career to next level, it means everything.