Serena Williams has been an investor in early-stage companies since she founded San Francisco-based Serena Ventures in 2014. The venture capital firm already has a portfolio of 60 companies including SendWave, MasterClass, and Daily Harvest, and in March 2022 raised a $111 million fund to invest in underrepresented founders.
On July 21, Williams, along with other entrepreneurs and investors, sat down with Candice Matthews Brackeen, founder and CEO of VC firm Lightship Capital, during Black Tech Week in Cincinnati to discuss the kinds of companies she’s interested in and how founders can pitch her on their ideas. Here are some highlights.
Companies that directly affect people
While Serena Ventures has invested in a wide range of companies, Williams says she is especially interested in those that “affect everyday people in different kinds of ways,” such as fintechs. She also expressed her affinity for companies that are located or do business in Africa, and says she would love to augment her portfolio of African startups. “I’m a big believer in having Black people invest in Africa,” Williams says. “That’s really important to me.”
Companies with the promise of growth
Initially, when Williams was investing with her own money, she was less concerned about the risk involved because losing it would affect only herself. Raising a fund changes the equation, she says: A company needs to show promise from the start, and if it doesn’t it’s likely not worth the risk. “I look at the company, and the first thing I ask is ‘Does it fit our thesis?'” she says. “And second of all, ‘Does it work? Is this going to be big enough for me?'”
Getting in touch
Williams recognizes that it’s not easy to get in touch with VCs. As with other firms the investors at Serena Ventures rely on introductions from people they know, but, Williams says, they also have a more open approach. The fund has an email address on its website that’s continually monitored by people at the firm. Williams acknowledges that the vast majority of those who email get rejected, but notes that it’s worth trying, and that founders should send at least three emails if they don’t get a response. Plus, a rejection doesn’t necessarily mean she’s unwilling to help. “Maybe we don’t invest in them, but we want to support them still,” she says. “And sometimes the best way to support is actually not investing.”