Serena Williams and Reese Witherspoon are widely recognized for their amazing talents— Williams as a tennis champion with 23 Grand Slam singles titles, and Witherspoon as an Academy Award-winning actress. Yet both women have been pouring their energy into businesses that are helping to create a more inclusive world.
Witherspoon founded Hello Sunshine, a media company that focuses on female-centered stories told through film, television, podcasts, and books. Williams leads Serena Ventures, which invests in companies that embrace diverse leadership. And, each has channeled her passion for fashion into businesses: William’s Serena and S by Serena, and Witherspoon’s Draper James.
During our global digital event, Conversations for a Changing World, Williams and Witherspoon sat down for an interview with award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien—an entrepreneur herself as the founder of Starfish Media Group. Here are four takeaways on purpose-driven entrepreneurialism from their conversation.
Prove Them Wrong
Don’t let others’ doubts about your abilities hamper your motivation to start a new venture. In fact, Williams has flipped that negativity on its head and turned it into personal motivation.
Williams points to her decision to start a fashion line. She studied art and fashion and felt prepared for the endeavor, even when some suggested she stick to the tennis court. “Tell me no, and I'll show you that I can do it. That is something that really inspires me,” she said.
Those experiences also inspired her to start Serena Ventures. Shocked by the statistics around how little venture capital funding goes to women- and minority-owned businesses, she saw an opportunity to connect more of them with investors. Her message to investors who haven’t considered the value of diversity: “Look at people of color, look at women who also have wonderful ideas and can have an opportunity to create something really awesome and really cool.”
Stick to Your Principles
Witherspoon said she started a media company due to her frustration with the lack of representation of women in the film industry. Yet it was also important to her to avoid taking funding from those who didn’t align with her priority of making female-centered films, which is why initially she self-funded the business.
“I broke the number one rule when you're starting a company in Hollywood, which is, don't put your own money into it,” she said. Her point of view: “I'm going to put my money where my mouth is, and I believe enough in myself. I always say, I am my own lottery ticket.”