Inc. (USA)

The Visionary: Stephanie Morimoto

In Venus Williams, Asutra’s CEO has found her ideal doubles partner.


Stephanie Morimoto was six months into running Asutra, her Chicago-based wellness company, when she received a voicemail from a man claiming to represent “a well-known individual” who wanted to chat about her business. At first, Morimoto assumed it was spam, but a LinkedIn search proved otherwise. She quickly called him back.

The man on the other end of the line, as it happened, was reaching out on behalf of seven-time Grand Slam tennis champion Venus Williams, who, he said, “‘loves your products and wants to talk to you,’ ” recalls Morimoto, 46, Asutra’s owner and CEO.

That led to a meeting, and a few months later, in the spring of 2019, Williams agreed to join the company as part owner and chief brand officer.

It was a critical moment for Asutra. Morimoto was in the process of relaunchin­g the company, which she had acquired in 2018 from its original founders, a pair of brothers. Asutra at the time made a few products, several of which Morimoto used personally. Practicall­y all of its sales were on Amazon. Morimoto, who had spent years working in nonprofits and then as a consultant at McKinsey, saw untapped potential. “They had focused on optimizing for Amazon, but not necessaril­y on building a brand,” she says. “There wasn’t the look, feel, and story you’d expect from a holistic company.”

Teaming up with the tennis legend, Morimoto says, was certain to deliver her nascent branding effort a boost. But it was also gratifying that Williams, too, was a fan. “I’ve been passionate about the health and wellness space for years and know firsthand the importance of prioritizi­ng well-being in all forms,” says Williams, 43. “With Asutra, I saw an opportunit­y to leverage my experience and help the brand positively impact people’s lives.”

Morimoto admits that having a famous business partner has its challenges. Despite her enthusiasm for the venture, Williams goes dark when she’s in “tennis mode,” which dominates much of the year. “It can be lonely,” Morimoto says. “We’re not sit

ting next to each other in the warehouse every day. It’s not like we can just turn to each other and solve problems together.”

Instead, Morimoto networks with other founders and CEOs with whom she can bat around ideas. And she has people she can confide in within Asutra. When she was relaunchin­g the brand, she asked a former colleague from the nonprofit world, Kate Gilligan, to come on board as marketing director. For Gilligan, the decision to take the job had much to do with Morimoto’s ability to lead a growing company. “She can work with anyone’s style while speaking to their strengths,” says Gilligan.

Morimoto sees Williams as a power player, of course. The tennis star’s public love of a weighted silk sleep mask helped land it a spot on the annual list of Oprah’s Favorite Things, which led to an eightfold spike in year-over-year sales in 2022 and a halo effect on other products. (The company, whose sleep mask also hit Oprah’s list in 2023, declined to share revenue figures.)

Williams has offered integral feedback on new product formulatio­ns, too. One particular creation she embraced was a pain-relieving body butter containing magnesium—Asutra’s “hero ingredient,” as Morimoto calls it. Williams started using the compound to limber up before training.

Her response prompted Asutra to expand its line of oil sprays and lotions. Those “healing magnesium” products are now the company’s top sellers and include a melatonin-infused lotion for bedtime and a spray designed to ease post-workout pain and speed up muscle recovery.

That attention to detail proves Williams’s commitment to the brand, says Morimoto. “To play tennis at her level for that long, you have to be incredibly goal-oriented,” Morimoto says. “She sets that North Star and then focuses on it until she gets the job done.”

That’s not unlike Morimoto, too. “Her passion for her work is contagious,” says Williams. “She’s always willing to teach, collaborat­e, and even learn herself, which makes her such an incredible leader.”

 ?? ?? Stephanie Morimoto (left) says tennis star Venus Williams helped their wellness company score big by identifyin­g its “hero ingredient.”
Stephanie Morimoto (left) says tennis star Venus Williams helped their wellness company score big by identifyin­g its “hero ingredient.”

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