Playing on a Different Court

Venus Williams isn’t lacking for trophies. She’s won 71 WTA Tour titles, including 23 Grand Slams, and four Olympic gold medals. She’s still a top player, but now she’s also focusing on making her sportswear label, EleVen by Venus, a global brand. Venus the entrepreneur, like the tennis player, works hard, recovers from mistakes—and remains a relentless competitor
THE BOSS Running a business, says Venus Williams, is the opposite of winning in tennis. Tennis is all about you. Business is all about your team.

She climbs gracefully down the warehouse ladder, and then carefully places items in the shipping box. Like every diligent warehouse worker, she double-checks the packing list—and then takes a moment to hand-write “Packed by Venus” on a small card. Nice touch.

WHAT 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 fit into that outfit? Williams doesn’t have to fulfill orders any more than Michael Jordan, majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets, has to pass out towels on the bench. But like other successful entrepreneurs who love to work not just on their businesses but also in their businesses, she wants to understand her company from every level.

“I always dreamed of being an entrepreneur,” she says. “That was one of my lifelong goals.”

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, fitness, 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 firm 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 flagship facility in Chicago.

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