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For Serena Williams, Her Tonal Super Bowl Spot Is More Than an Ad – She Has Reveal How Much It’s Cost

Tennis legend Serena Williams is starring in a Super Bowl ad this Sunday for Tonal Systems Inc.’s home fitness gym, but there’s a whole lot more going on than just another celebrity pitching a product during the big game.

The 23-time Grand Slam singles title winner is also an investor in the company, which was valued at $1.6 billion in a funding round last year. It’s part of a larger Williams portfolio that includes several startups now valued at more than $1 billion, including Impossible Foods Inc., Daily Harvest Inc. and Noom Inc.

“I love playing tennis, but know I can’t do it forever,” Williams, 40, said in an interview. “I would see companies pop up, like Instagrams and Snapchats, and wanted to understand how I could get on those cap tables,” referring to the lists of a company’s investors put together by venture capital firms. “I asked around, did my due diligence, then started investing.”

Williams founded her venture capital firm, Serena Ventures, in 2014. She currently serves on the boards of Poshmark Inc., Momentive Global Inc. (formerly Survey Monkey) and Sorare SAS, a $4.3 billion sports NFT startup backed by SoftBank Group.

Her fund is shooting for a well-rounded portfolio and has investments in e-commerce, consumer products, fintech and health care, among other categories.

“We focus on pre-seed and seed, and like to take anywhere from 8% to 12% of the company,” Williams said. “For Tonal, I invested at the Series C stage because I was intrigued by the product and the opportunity to have such an incredible strength training machine at the house.”

Williams said she was shocked to learn that startups with only female founders were getting a mere 2% of venture capital funding, something she’s trying to change.

“I built my team to have no unconscious biases, so we invest in everyone,” she said. “But it’s important for us to give opportunities to those getting skipped over — if the founder happens to be a woman, or happens to be a person of color, that’s a bonus for us. Our portfolio is 60% diverse founders.”

Her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, is also a prolific investor who’s backed dozens of companies worth more than $1 billion, including Instacart Inc., Coinbase Global Inc., Cruise.com and several in Williams’ portfolio, according to his website.

The couple met in Rome in 2015, when she was living in Europe for several weeks.

“Our first conversation was about investments, that’s literally how we met,” she laughed.
It was Ohanian who introduced Williams to Tonal in 2019. But other than that, she said he doesn’t typically source deals for her.

“We keep our businesses extremely separate,” she said.

Williams, whose list of achievements includes four Olympic gold medals, is one of the highest-paid female athletes in the world, with earnings of $45.9 million in 2021, second only to Naomi Osaka, according to Forbes. Much of her income is derived from sponsorships and investments.

She’s also no stranger to the Super Bowl. Last year, she appeared in two ads, one for Nintendo Switch and the other for Michelob Ultra, and she’s in another this year for that beer. In prior years, she’s done spots for Bumble and Mini.

Tonal, which is based in San Francisco, has other high-profile investors, including Amazon, Silicon Valley venture capital firms, and sports celebrities like LeBron James, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Michelle Wie and Maria Sharapova. But the product also speaks to Williams on a more personal level.

“What I love about this Tonal campaign, ‘Strength Made Me,’ is that it celebrates women who are not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally strong,” she said.

Para snowboarder Brenna Huckaby, soccer player Lindsey Horan, and swimmer Simone Manuel will be featured in social media posts associated with the campaign over the coming months.

“The key takeaway is to embrace your strength, no matter what other people tell you,” Williams said. “And you can achieve amazing things.”

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