After quitting pro tennis Serena Williams is investing in wellness of injured sportspeople

After quitting pro tennis Serena Williams is investing in wellness of injured sportspeople


World-renowned tennis icon Serena Williams is putting her proceeds from sports to physical recovery of sportspeople injured in the line of duty to enable them lead normal lives after retirement, Forbes business and financial newspaper reports.

Serena who retired from pro sports this year at age the 40 after nearly three decades explained that her motivation comes from her own experience on the tennis court and physical fitness, which would at times threaten her career.

“In all that time, she says she never found a reliable remedy. That’s the motivation behind Will Perform, a start-up she just launched that targets physical recovery from workouts with products for topical pain relief and muscle and skin care,” the newspaper reports.

Williams hopes to shake up the estimated $1 billion industry with what’s marketed as newer, cooler-looking, nicer-smelling, slightly more expensive versions of products from competitors like BioFreeze and Icy Hot. She came up with the idea in 2021 in collaboration with veteran consumer products whiz Eric Ryan, who cofounded Will Perform.

Hank Mercier, previously of Method eco-friendly soaps, serves as Will Perform’s CEO and its third cofounder.

Says Forbes, “Will Perform looks to better connect with female and younger consumers than competitors in the topical pain relief sector while not alienating older male consumers. Williams has been hands-on with packaging, looking to create something that feels ‘different’ and ‘fresh’ for Gen-Z and millennials.”

It adds that the star athlete’s image appears on the products, which come in sleek, round white plastic bottles that sport bursts of colour and come with a plastic loop that hooks on a gym bag.

Ryan, who cofounded Method as well as ventures like Olly gummy vitamins and supplements and Welly bandages and first aid, sees younger consumers as viewing health and wellness as a lifestyle pursuit.

“Think how we exercise (trendy workouts like Soulcycle and Barry’s Boot Camp) and dress (Lululemon-inspired athleisure, anyone?). His revelation meshed with Williams’ focus on self-care and recovery to formulate the ethos of Will Perform,” the reports says.

Will Perform raised $8 million from three investors with deep ties to the cofounders, in a round led by Erik Moore’s Base Ventures. Serena Ventures, the venture capital firm founded by Serena Williams, also invested, as did Obvious Ventures, a firm co-run by Ev Williams (known for cofounding Twitter and blogging site Blogger).

“I want to provide things that people really need and things that I can actually use that are very authentic to me says,” Serena Williams.

Ryan brought in Hank Mercier as the CEO of Will Perform and its third cofounder. Mercier had 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. Meyer’s cleaning products, among others.

“I call Eric Ryan the Serena Williams of packaged goods,” Mercier says, only partly in jest. The respect that both Ryan and Williams have across the industry, he says, has made his job easier, in everything from landing Will Perform’s first-choice contract manufacturer to luring experienced executives to create the nine-person Will Perform team.

Williams is a multi-hyphenate, running her venture capital firm, authoring a children’s book, overseeing her two other entrepreneurial ventures – the S by Serena fashion line and SW Jewelry – doing endorsements and speaking gigs, as well as being a mom to five-year-old Olympia.

She also ranks as a member of Forbes’ 2022 list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women, worth an estimated $260 million.

Asked about a possible return to competitive tennis, which she hinted at in an October press conference, Williams says with good humour, “You never know what’s going to happen with me, right?”

Though Williams delegates some areas to the Will Perform team, she’s been hands-on at times – for example, when it came to packaging.

“I wanted to create something that felt different and felt fresh and felt exciting for Gen-Z or for millennials to use,” she says.

The look is distinctive – her image appears prominently on the front of the pain-relief roll-on product Will Relieve, and much smaller on the back of the other three products Forbes tried in advance of the launch.

The products come in sleek, round white plastic bottles that sport bursts of colour – a bright-green ring around a lemon-yellow cap for Will Relieve, and two tonnes of orange atop the Will Soothe daily muscle lotion. Each of the products has a loop of plastic connected to the lid, created to hook onto your gym bag.

The US market for topical pain relief, says Mercier, is about $1 billion annually. One of its topical pain products, Will Cool, will cost about $1 more than existing competitor BioFreeze or $12.99 for a 3-ounce roll-on bottle.

“What you’re getting for that extra dollar is “a product in a custom bottle with a formula and a fragrance that’s delightful,” Mercier says. Items will begin selling Thursday at the Will Perform website, at Target starting December 18. To get the word out, Mercier is forgoing traditional advertising in favour of in-store displays at Target and social media content—leveraging Serena Williams’ 16 million Instagram followers and 10.6 million Twitter followers.

“What I love about Serena as a cofounder: She’s about winning,” Ryan says. “She’s this icon of style, beauty and grace. She and I bond over design and style. There’s just nobody else who brings those two opposing ideas together.”

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