THE BOB JOHNSTON PODCAST
By Bob Johnston
May 28, 2020
SEASON
1
EPISODE
14
Tennis Legend Venus Williams & Zeel CEO Samer Hamadeh

If you’re interested in ways to keep a calm head and healthy body during times of crisis and high-pressure, then this podcast is for you. And while you’re at it, pick up a few workout tips from Venus Williams!  

This week, I was lucky enough to riff with Zeel CEO, Samer Hamadeh, and tennis great, Venus Williams. Zeel provides health and wellness services (both in person and virtually), to consumers and businesses. Venus, in addition to being one of the world’s all-time greatest athletes, is a Zeel board member.

We covered a lot of topics ranging from what they each do to keep a calm head during times of crisis, to keeping employees (and yourself) fit using virtual environments. How can you combat “tech neck” (if you’re spending too much time hunching over your device like the rest of us!)? Plus, you’ll hear a lot around their incredible entrepreneurial mindset.

As an added bonus, Venus shares her workout regimen in today’s work-from-home environment (hint: she does uphill lunges while taking team calls) and you’ll get to hear about her virtual workout with 15,000 people, hosted by Zeel and Salesforce.

Samer Hamadeh is the founder and CEO of the on-demand wellness company, Zeel, and co-founder and former CEO of Vault.com. Hamadeh began his career as an associate at the Los Angeles management consulting firm L.E.K. Consulting, where he focused on corporate and business strategy. Before that, he co-founded and managed a customized textbook printing company, worked at Chevron Corporation, and co-authored The Internship Bible and America’s Top Internships, published by Random House's Princeton Review imprint.

In 1996, Hamadeh co-founded Vault.com and served as CEO until the company was sold to the New York private equity firm, Veronis Suhler Stevenson.

Hamadeh sits on the board of the non-profit PeaceWorks Foundation and is or has been a board observer, angel investor and advisor in two dozen early-stage companies, including Directly, Campusfood.com (sold to GrubHub Seamless), Crunched, Splurgy, and PublicStuff (now part of Accela). Samer is also a mentor at several accelerators, including German Accelerator, Lazaridis Institute, Blueprint Health, NYCSeedStart, and First Growth Venture Network, as well as a member of Young Presidents' Organization and the Executive Board of Venture for America.

Hamadeh holds a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and a Master of Science degree in chemical engineering from Stanford University and is a David Rockefeller Fellow. He is a scout at Lightspeed Venture Partners, which he joined in January 2010 as an entrepreneur in residence.

Venus Williams has 22 Grand Slam titles (7 Singles, 13 Doubles, 2 Mixed Doubles) and 4 Olympic Gold Medals and is known as one of the best players of her generation.

Venus’s first singles Grand Slam victory came in Wimbledon 2000, where she defeated World No. 1 Martina Hingis in the quarterfinals, her sister Serena in the semifinals, and defending champion Lindsay Davenport in the final. She also won the U.S. Open singles title that year, defeating Hingis in the semifinals and Davenport in the final. She won the ladies singles event at the Sydney 2000 Olympics that year, as well as the women’s doubles title with Serena to clinch 2 Olympic gold medals. She successfully defended her Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles the following year, making her only the sixth woman in history to win the singles titles at both Wimbledon and U.S. Open in consecutive years. At the U.S. Open final, she defeated Serena in a fierce contest; this was the first time in the Open Era that two sisters had faced each other in a Grand Slam final.

Her ranking rose to World No. 1 for the first time on February 25, 2002 which made her the first African American woman to hold the top ranking. That year at Wimbledon, she reached her third consecutive Wimbledon final, facing her sister for a second time in the final. Serena was victorious this time, and also snatched the World No. 1 rank with this victory.

Venus  is considered of the all time tennis greats, but her life off the court is just as active. She has her own clothing line called “EleVen” and is a talented artist and interior designer. She also has her own interior design company and promotes gender equality. Lastly, she serves as a director and strategic advisor at Zeel.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Castbox, or your preferred podcast platform.

SELECTED QUOTES
Optimism amidst uncertainty is admirable."
– Venus on keeping a winning mindset, regardless of the circumstances
Building the plane while you’re flying it."
– Samer on being nimble and pivoting his business to adapt to circumstances
EPISODE MARKERS

7:48 Minute Marker
Navigating a startup – going from $50m in annualized revenue to zero in March

11:50
pivoted to virtual wellness for businesses

10:22
11 states are re-opened for in-home massage and Zeel is back to pre-COVID numbers in those states

12:10
“People are ready to see sports and looking for brightness, happiness and a return to normalcy” – Venus

14:15
“Tech neck”
safety protocols implemented

15:40
Entrepreneurs not sweating is what it takes to make your dreams come true - staff feels this and they’ll be on board with your shared vision
“Optimism amidst uncertainty is admirable”
Driven by the technology angle

17:56
Venus is a very successful entrepreneur, not just an athlete
EleVen by Venus
Venus’ partnership with Credo Beauty

19:12
How venues handles moments of self doubt and discomfort
Allows herself to enter into it for 10 minutes or so but that’s it
Be confidant, smart and agile – stay ahead of wha you think will happen tomorrow

21:50
“Building the plane while you’re flying it”  – Samer

22:30
Venus stretch class with Salesforce will be 15,000 people tuning in on Thursday, May 28th – biggest virtual audience ever for Salesforce

24:02
Venus works out while taking calls, i.e. Monday morning call with leadership and team
Lunging up a hill taking a call
Alexis Ohanian, Reddit founder, is her brother-in-law, says entrepreneurs need to invest in their health
20 minutes of movement a day makes you a better entrepreneur
Samer on being “pathologically optimistic” – on entrepreneurs threading the needle, working hard, and 10 years later being an overnight success

27:25
An overnight success takes 10 years

30:30
“Take time to allow your employees to be well and exercise – let them know it’s allowed” – Samer

30:59
Venus using Prosecco bottles as weights
She’s off the booze because she has “covid belly,” i.e. eating too much food too often

32:03
Samer and Venus on being creative during stressful times
Venus says make time for it, share vision and lead your team
Samer blocks a trip on his calendar for 3 days once per quarter then cancels it last-minute; he then goes into hiding and uses those three days for creativity
Daily Huddle with leadership team for 20 minutes – Samer
Daily high, daily low, what you affirm to the group that you ned to get done – Samer
Getting more efficient during COVID, easier to schedule meetings and this is helping vision

35:20
Contrarian views that both Samer and Venus hold

37:44
Samer on virtual wellness and how it looks post-COVID
Yoga and meditation one on one is better in virtual setting with your company’s teams, i.e. they can meet up all in one place as opposed to doing it in smaller sessions in company offices around the world
"IoT things on your body + video will be hugely powerful to assess; it will be an adjunct to personal care" – Samer

GUEST FOOTNOTES
SPONSOR:
RECENT EPISODES: