Serena Williams enters the multi-billion greenback athlete care market
Retired tennis player with venture capital and fashion businesses, Serena Williams has an estimated fortune of R$ 1.3 billion
serena williams knows what it’s like to feel pain. She played tennis professionally for nearly three decades, ending her career in August at the age of 40. But, according to her, she never found a remedy that would solve this problem.
So she added another title to your brilliant resume🇧🇷 co-founder of Will Performwhich helps in the physical recovery of athletes with topical pain relief products and muscle and skin care. Think newer, cooler, more pleasant-smelling and slightly more expensive versions of BioFreeze and Icy Hot, their competitors in an industry estimated to be worth US$ 1 billion (R$ 5.2 billion).
“My coach said, ‘The one who recovers the best is the one who wins,’” Williams told Forbes via Zoom from her home in Florida. “We as athletes are putting our bodies at risk every day. It is very important to be able to recover.”
Williams says he came up with the idea for Will Perform in 2021 from the consumer products specialist Eric Ryan. Over the past two decades, Ryan, 50, has enjoyed a string of successes, co-founding Method eco-friendly soaps, Olly gummy vitamins and supplements, and Welly dressings and first aid. All three companies were partially or fully acquired by much larger companies.
The timing was good for the Williams-Ryan duo. “In recent years, especially towards the end of my career, I started to think more about recovery and also the role it played in my career,” says Williams. She sees a market that includes any active person, and herself. “I want to make things that people really need, that I can use and that are very authentic.”
Ryan found that existing topical pain reliever brands connect more with older male consumers, but that consumption patterns turn to young people and women🇧🇷 “We saw this as an opportunity to really try to develop a creative brand that would connect with that audience,” says Ryan. “But we have to do it in a way that doesn’t alienate men.”
The path that connected Williams and Ryan passed through Berkeley, California, where the venture capitalist Erik Moore drive to Base Venturesthe first black-run venture capital firm in the region.
Ryan and Moore met by chance in a hotel gym in Bali, Indonesia, two decades ago while they were on their honeymoon, and became fast friends. Base Ventures has backed Ryan’s nutrition startup Olly, his first aid company Welly, and Ryan has invested in Base Ventures.
Williams, also an investor at Base Ventures, met Ryan through his investment in Olly. They were introduced by Moore in 2020 and hit it off.
“I want to make things that people really need, that I can use and that are very authentic.”
Ryan brought Hank Mercier as CEO of Will Perform and third co-founder. Mercier worked for Ryan at Method and stayed on when the soap company was acquired by SC Johnson in 2017. He ran all of North America for SC Johnson’s lifestyle brands, which include Method and Mrs. Johnson’s cleaning products. Meyer, among others.
THE Will Perform raised $8 million (R$41.6 million) from three investors known to the co-founders, in a round led by Erik Moore’s Base Ventures. “Serena has supported Base since the early days and we are excited to support her work,” says Moore.
THE Serena Ventures, The venture capital firm founded by Serena Williams also invested, as did Obvious Ventures, co-led by Ev Williams (known for co-founding Twitter and the blogging site Blogger). Coming full circle: Ryan also serves as a consultant for Obvious Ventures.
Serena Williams business
Williams is multi-faceted, running her venture capital firm, writing a children’s book, overseeing her two other ventures – fashion line S by Serena and SW Jewelry – lecturing and mothering five-year-old Olympia.
She is also a member of the Forbes 2022 List of America’s Richest Self Made Womenwith an estimated fortune of US$ 260 million (R$ 1.3 billion)🇧🇷
Asked about a possible return to tennis, which she hinted at at an October press conference, Williams good-naturedly says, “You never know what’s going to happen to me, do you?”
Although she delegates some areas to the Will Perform team, she is often hands-on, for example when it comes to packaging. “I wanted to create something that felt different, new and exciting for Gen Z or millennials to use.”
The look is different – the image of the tennis player appears prominently on the front of the roll-on pain relief product, and much smaller on the back of the other three products that Forbes tried before the launch. Each has a plastic loop connected to the lid, designed to clip onto your gym bag.
The US market for topical pain relief is worth about $1 billion (R$5.2 billion) a year. One of the products, Will Cool, will cost about $1 (R$5.2) more than its competitor BioFreeze. What you get for that extra dollar is “a product in a custom bottle with a delicious formula and fragrance,” says Mercier.
The items went on sale last Thursday (8th) on the Will Perform website, and will be available at Target starting December 18th.
To spread the word, Will Perform CEO Mercier is ditching traditional advertising and investing in Target displays and social media content — leveraging Serena Williams’ 16 million Instagram followers and her 10.6 million Twitter followers. “What I love about Serena as a co-founder: She wants to win,” says Ryan.