- Serena Williams launched Serena Ventures in 2014 and has invested in over 60 companies.
- In March, the firm announced it had raised an inaugural fund of $111 million.
- Williams’ partner shares how to win an investment from the fund, which gets 200 pitches a week.
Last week, amid the bright lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium, Serena Williams played what were likely the final matches of her tennis career. In early August, the 23-time Grand Slam champion wrote in an essay for Vogue that she would be retiring from tennis.
For fans of Williams, this year’s US Open was likely a bittersweet moment. For aspiring founders, Williams’ retirement opens a window of opportunity. In her next chapter, Williams said she planned to focus on her venture-capital firm, Serena Ventures.
Williams launched Serena Ventures in 2014. Since then, she and her partner, Alison Rapaport Stillman, have made angel investments in over 60 companies, including the edtech unicorns like MasterClass and consumer-product startups like Billie and Daily Harvest.
In March, Serena Ventures announced it had raised an inaugural fund of $111 million from outside investors including Alphabet, Norwest, LionTree, and Kapor Center.
Stillman told Insider a core part of the mission of Serena Ventures was to back founders with “incredible potential” who might have been overlooked by other investors. More than half of the firm’s portfolio companies were founded by women, and more than three-fourths were founded by people from historically underrepresented backgrounds, according to the firm’s website.
Insider chatted with Stillman about how to land a spot in the Serena Ventures portfolio. Below, Stillman explains how the firm evaluates prospective investments and what makes the winners stand out.
The best way to submit a pitch to Serena Ventures is through the contact form on the firm’s website. It receives about 200 pitches there a week, and Stillman said they read each one.
Founders should send a deck with their pitch even if it’s just a “teaser deck.” Stillman said long emails and 10-page business plans, on the other hand, were not welcome.
“You want to do something that’s going to make it easy for us to understand your business,” Stillman said.
About 10 to 20% of pitches receive a follow-up from the firm. Either Stillman, Williams, or another member of the firm’s six-person team will schedule an introductory call with the founder.
The team also scores each prospective investment that makes it past the introductory rounds. Stillman said it scored companies in due diligence across a number of metrics. Those include “business opportunity, founder fit, business model, and mission alignment,” she told Insider by email. The scorecard helps the firm remain objective in its evaluation process.
“Maybe we’re so enamored by the founder, but when we actually take the time to dig down into the economics, it might not be the right thing,” Stillman said. “It’s a helpful tool for us. It’s not the only thing.”
Ultimately, any founder who wins an investment from Serena Ventures will also have gone through a couple of rounds of interviews with Williams and Stillman. The entire process from pitch to investment can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, Stillman said.
It’s all about the market
Serena Ventures invests in early-stage companies, but Stillman said the firm understood that companies wouldn’t always adhere to their original pitches as they grew.
“We know that what you’re selling us at the pre-seed or seed probably isn’t going to look like what the Series B investor sees at some level,” she said.
Still, one key factor the firm looks for in an investment opportunity is whether the company is tapping into a sizable market that it’s excited about.
Serena Ventures’ portfolio companies span a variety of industries, but Stillman said there were a few areas it had always been interested in. Financial services for what Stillman called the “unbanked and underbanked” and women’s health companies have always ranked high on its list.
Every quarter, the team brainstorms sectors it wants to dive deeper into. Right now, the firm is excited about companies that address aging. That includes companies that focus on issues from mobility to menopause to deathtech, Stillman said.
Coachable founders are key
Another important factor is making sure that a founder is coachable. Stillman said it’s especially important for founders to be self-aware enough to know when they need to hire employees.
“The founder can’t be doing everything,” Stillman said. “It’s hard. It’s your child. It’s your baby. To be successful, though, you have to let go of the reins.”
Ultimately, Stillman believes that a Serena Ventures company is defined by three qualities.
“A Serena Ventures company is gritty, mission-oriented, and pushing boundaries,” she said.