Ryan Williams’ startup has not only raised substantial equity for his tech startup but has seen it invest in over $1B in assets. The venture, Cadre has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Harold Callais, Breyer Capital, Goldman Sachs Investment Partner, and Class 5 Global.
In this episode, you will learn:
- The vision of Cadre and the future of real estate investing
- Fundraising and activating your network
- Ryan’s top advice for entrepreneurs
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About Ryan Williams:
Ryan Williams was raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in a predominantly Black and Creole community. His interest in entrepreneurship began at an early age, and he started his first business, a sports apparel company, at 14 years-old. This company eventually became one of the largest sports-based e-commerce companies in the US, and he sold it during his freshman year at Harvard College.
Ryan’s interest in real estate further developed during a trip to Atlanta in 2008, during the subprime credit crisis in the US. He noticed that many of the houses that were foreclosed were in communities of color. Ryan decided to partner with his wider network to purchase distressed properties with the goal of renting them back to the previous owners. This endeavor made him realize that it was possible to do well economically and to do good for the community.
Prior to founding Cadre in 2014, he worked at The Blackstone Group in its real estate private equity division. At The Blackstone Group, Ryan was involved in over $3 billion in transactions across multiple asset types. Prior to Blackstone, Ryan worked at Goldman Sachs in its technology media group where he worked on transactions totaling more than $5 billion. Ryan holds a BA from Harvard College.
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Connect with Ryan Williams:
Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
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Alejandro: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So very excited with the guest that we have today. So our guest started his journey as an entrepreneur entrepreneur at 13 years of age I mean I think that you’re gonna find this story. You know behind our guest today remarkable building scaling financing. You name it all the above growing from corporate to the startup world and and and really helping people out and leveling the field on real estate I think that you’re gonna find quite inspiring the the journey of our guest today so without further ado. Let’s welcome our guests today Ryan Williams: welcome to the show.
Ryan Williams: Thank you I appreciate it.
Alejandro: So originally born in Louisiana and raised there. So so give us a walk through memory lane. How was life growing up.
Ryan Williams: That’s right. You know life growing up was you know all in all was filled with some highs and some lows I’d say highs for me were you know, frankly, just having an amazing family around me support system. you know community was relatively tight knit lows were um you know I didn’t always have a leg up most times had a leg down and in many ways you know I grew up working class grew up with a lot of love around me from my family but with the community that didn’t have really high expectations of things that I’d ultimately be able to do and so. Um I always leaned on my faith in my family and and frankly, that’s what propelled me to the heights that I’m at today and and the fact that people believed in me maybe saw more of me than I saw myself which is really how and why I got my entrepreneurial journey started which has been frankly, a catalyst to you know my um. My my role is today and a lot of the opportunities and blessings I’ve had today.
Alejandro: And certainly when when others saw problems you saw solutions and that’s what happened when you were thirteen years old so what what? what happened there.
Ryan Williams: That that’s right? Well you know I grew up I played sports and you know this was in the 90 s when things like headbands and wrist fans were still worn and still cool and I liked wearing headbands and wristbands. Um. I couldn’t afford though the Nike or the Adidas or the jordans um and so I realized that um you know first for myself I wanted to find a more affordable product one that still is high quality but where I didn’t have to pay $20 you know to put a headband on and I realize that there are other people like myself who also. Wanted to have a sense of ah pride in their apparel but couldn’t afford the big name brand. So I basically went to the wholesale garment district near me at the time and bought headbands and wristbands for you know, ¢50 a dollar a pot for myself initially. But then ultimately for friends and teammates I personalized them using in a local embroideerer. Um, and started selling personalized headbands and wristbands and you know it became ah a business that I started again initially out of ah pain challenge and the like but ultimately built to a place that was was solutions oriented and focused and. Was just so fortunate that I got a lot of great mentors who heard of me and learned of me through the growth of the business as well as through the network that I was able to create through organizations like the national foundation for teaching entrepreneurship or nifty. And those mentors again saw more of me than I saw myself and encouraged me to think bigger to go further to run faster and because of their support I ended up ultimately scaling that business. You know making a good amount of money from the business itself but learning some life lessons that have taken me. Ah, pretty far so far.
Alejandro: So it sounds like you were ah well off, you know you understood how you were able to to not only bring a solution but also monetize it. So how do you end up, especially being in ah in a community as you were saying that you know it was not surrounded by money all over the place I mean obviously you were saying working class. Um, but at that point I mean you were able to really understand how to make money and how to make a living out of it. So what led you into hey I want to go to harvard I mean I’m sure that you were probably the only one the only kid in the block that that went to Harvard. So so what led you there.
Ryan Williams: That’s right I definitely was yeah you know, um, what ultimately led me to to a go to Harvard was you know mentors who said you know why not apply and see if you can get in the worst they can do is say no and you’ve already beat the odds in so many ways and i. You know was able to find these mentors through some nonprofits and some organizations that focused on helping underserve youth and giving them an opportunity to build businesses or to learn in different ways and so it was really these mentors who said apply you know. You want you can get your fees waived for your applications given you know, just where where you know just frankly because I didn’t have any money and so um, they they can encourage me to do it. You know I’ve never been shy I’ve always been fearless and always said look if you know there’s an opportunity to beat the odds you know I’m gonna take my chances and. Harvard saw I guess an entrepreneur and me and someone who had done well academically and and accepted me I plot regular decision didn’t go through any of the other you know, programming or otherwise and. Like I mentioned you know it was a playground of resources when I got there and and that was a huge inflection point in my journey. Yes.
Alejandro: And a lot of people there you know, very privileged right with different backgrounds the elite and I know that you know for you that was a culture shock. But how do you?? Um, and and you were alluding to it I mean being fearless. How do you,? you know, just just just Quiet. You know those noises those voices that maybe you know like we’re having you at a disadvantage or whatever that was to just say you know what? I’m just going to keep it moving.
Ryan Williams: And you know it’s a great point and you know for me what I’ve always done is is try to rely on my faith and my family and and I always look to you know I focus on the future. But I never forget about the past or you know my history or my family’s history and and I try to put things in a context and. And say like look you know the fact that I am where I am now means that somebody sacrificed way more than I ever could sacrifice. You know the fact that I am where I am now means that you know someone along the way in my an history beat the odds and in ways that um, you know I probably can’t even fathom and so know for me to allow. Ah naysayer or someone who you know doesn’t necessarily believe I could be successful to to stop me would be a disservice to them and be a disservice of those that came before me and I also think that there is just a reality too as an entrepreneur. You have to maintain a level of optimism and hope you have to believe you can beat the odds because building a business. You know our case lasting as a business and growing for for eight years Consecutively is ah is rare and it’s something that you know if you if you were to you are betting man. You’d say you know 9 times out of 10 when it happened. And so when you think about that reality and the fact that to build something and to grow something and to to do something that’s never been done before you have to be unconventional and beat the odds then it builds a resiliency muscle. You know it builds a butte of you and belief that you can prosper in the face of adversity. Um, and it builds ah a view and a belief that anything is possible. Um, and so for me, it’s always been about harkening back to those that came before me realizing that you know I beat the odds and and making sure I know that no matter how challenging the circumstances are I have people I can. Rely on I have people I can you know go to um and you know I have enough confidence in myself that I’ll figure out whatever the challenge or issue is or at least be resourceful enough to know who to ask to figure it out.
Alejandro: Now in your case being there in in harvard that gave you exposure to many different things but 1 of them you know was definitely real state when you were building this kind of like boot camp for for for there for for the universe there for the ecosystem there.
Ryan Williams: Yes.
Alejandro: That led you into the asset class of real estate. So what was that journey like I mean how how did real estate come knocking to you.
Ryan Williams: That’s right. You know it it was it was again one of those things where you know I guess the universe all conspired to to bring me to the place where I started my own real estate business. Um, and so much of this was was timing and the like but basically in my freshman year of college. I started an organization called varias financial group and I started this organization to help students who didn’t come from wealthy privileged backgrounds to have ah an opportunity to have a level playing field and understanding of finance and financial services. Um, you know I realized we had all these resources at Harvard but you know most kids who didn’t come from those backgrounds most kids had no idea how to get started and finance and they didn’t even know what investment banking meant but they were still going to be thrown into investment banking interviews so long story short as I built a set of financial curriculums. Um I had I asked after a bunch of cold calling some Harvard business school professors to teach the curriculums to undergraduates which is the first time that it had ever happened before I had Mba students mentor and um, you know one of the tracks in this program that I ultimately started was real estate I got to know some professors from the business school. And real estate space folks like Arthur Siegel who had built a long career there and the more I learned about it the more I recognized you know it was an incredibly lucrative sector but it was so opaque and it was frankly so closed in and that stuck with me. It stuck with me to the point where my sophomore year which was. During the subprime credit crisis I was able to actually be presented for the first time with the opportunity to buy real estate. Um, and this came to me through my roommate in one of my best friends neighborhoods you know he grew up in Atlanta Georgia southwest Atlanta Georgia. And there were a lot of foreclosed homes up and down the street and a lot of people who were underwater on their homes and were trying to build back their futures and frankly didn’t have much of a chance to do so because of a lot of predatory lending subprime lending and so I said look I I have all these kids and classmates who have a lot more money than I do. Um, why not try to raise some money to start buying some of these homes but not buying them just to make money but buy them to enable these communities to destabilized and so ultimately, that’s what I did I started buying single familymi homes throughout Atlanta raising money from classmates renting them out back to the community members or owners when I could.
Ryan Williams: and um and I built this business to the point where you know it became a ah profit driver for me personally, but it was really that trajectory and journey of the first business and organization I started up opening my eyes to a ah world that previously was closed to me real estate and then you know acting. On this recognition that real estate was a lucrative asset class when I was presented with an opportunity that many others may have seen as a challenge you know distress and financial loss and you know people’s wealth being wiped out to me. Um, you know I said well how can we turn this into a good thing. How can I make this something where. You know people have another shot at the american dream and home ownership versus you know, kind of being miring and your your your your your challenges and your adversity.
Alejandro: So in this case I mean it sounds like again, you know, really pushing the entrepreneurial you know site that you have in you seeing you know solutions where everyone else is is is encountering problems but in your case I mean after graduating from Harvard you know. Rather than taking that on full time and and going at it. You know you you ventured into into corporate America you know on the site you know, sort of speaking and you went to Goldman Sachs you know investment banking and then after that you went to blackstone private equity. But I think that in this case, you’ve been able to get like I would say that 2.
Ryan Williams: I did.
Alejandro: Best backgrounds in order to be a ah, very powerful entrepreneur and and full of and resourceful entrepreneur because I find that on the investment banking Side. You get to see all these different companies you get to see what works what doesn’t and then on the private equity Side. You get to develop that pattern recognition as Well. So How do you think that. Ah, the experience in in in both institutions has prepared you enough to really have an edge when it comes to analyzing and approaching problems now.
Ryan Williams: Sure yeah I mean really what what? Um they did was they credentialized me. You know they they taught me how to be rigorous in everything I did and they taught me the importance of human capital and surrounding myself with you know, incredible people both you know. Culturally and then also functionally and technically and so beyond the credentializing what I would say is that Goldman I got this breadth of exposure to some of the fastest growing companies. Um, but I also got to operate as an entrepreneur within that institution and what I mean is you know I got to work with partners you know and probably was punching above my weight. Um I got to work on sort of new initiatives and new projects. But I got to understand how Goldman went about serving their clients and building financial models and that all prepared me ultimately to be on the principal side at Blackstone you know where I was able to apply those analytical skills and that entrepreneurial drive to invest. Um, and to take a principle orientation and to understand risk and to understand risk and reward and upside and how to best balance the two. So what I would say is that there was a perfect you know set of experiences for me in terms of understanding both client service but also principal investing and building value and managing risk. But what it also did was it enabled me to you know, build this network that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to create and go to frankly some of these folks as actual investors in my future venture. The final thing I’d just say about the experiences in each I still as an entrepreneur within those institutions and. That’s something that I’ve never let go of that’s kind of again where I think my my superpowers are is helping find opportunities and you know, frankly, figuring out how some institutions can reinvent themselves and how large organizations can can reinvent themselves and going from 0 to 1 um and I had these huge platforms where I could do things like. You know help build out and scale some of the most powerful businesses. We built that blackstone whether it was the the real estate private equity single family home ventures or the multifamily business we were standing up and so I’ve never lost that entrepreneurial drive. And but I’ve tried to round out that experience that you know it could be a little rough around the edges sometimes with these institutional quote unquote validators.
Alejandro: So at what point at blackstone. Do you realize his time to to get going in your in your entrepreneurial career full time first.
Ryan Williams: Pretty early, pretty early on and and frankly I went there recognizing that I had a lot to learn and it was one of the best places where I could learn about investing and about spaces like real estate but no I’ve always been driven um by helping promote. Ah self-determination amongst the underserved help leveling the playing field and create solutions. You know that are personal or solutions that are are based off of addressing problems that are personal to me and so when I got to blackstone I knew that I was going to see you know so much real estate and so much wealth being created. But I didn’t fully appreciate is for how few people it was being created for and so pretty quickly I saw that you know sovereign wealth funds and large institutions were the largest investors in our business and in our funds and the average individual had little to no way to get access to these asset classes. So to me, it became. You know do I want to continue to you know make the the point one percent of the point 1% more wealthy or do I want to start building a business that will start with an institutional type approach but ultimately level the playing field. You know, investing in real estate as easy as it is to buy and sell products on something like Amazon. And help frankly create a more inclusive global economy where individuals could invest like institutions. So I knew pretty quickly. That’s what I want to do and build the question was how the how is what took me a little bit longer. Um, and I spent you know, probably more time than I should have. Ah, you know, thinking about the how while I was still working at Blackstone.
Alejandro: So then what triggered giving the notice and taking the leap of faith.
Ryan Williams: A few things number 1 you know in 2012 which was a couple years before I’d really gotten my feet wet at blackstone. The jobs act was was passed and the jobs act is what ultimately allowed you know individuals to invest in private placements. In a more liberal and open manner and so when that happened I realized that you know this whole idea of wouldn’t say crowdfunding but you know ah funding for the masses was something that was actually a lot more palatable and you know my idea of being able to let individuals invest like institutions could actually be brought to life. That was one dynamic and you know you can’t control that because that was initially political in nature. The second was you know I started seeing that you know real estate investing and real estate asset class was was still relatively cheap and you know what I wanted to do was make sure that. Unlike 2008 2009 individuals could actually participate in the recovery that I saw was happening and the growth of the space that would be happening in subsequent years and so that almost increased the urgency of leaving to build cadre and to to scale this marketplace and platform we’ve built. Um, and then I think the third thing was I was you know making the rounds with different investors and you know I had about 10 people who ultimately said they’d back me they believed in me and and it was really those 3 dynamics that all converged in 2014 that led me to make the leap and you know when I left people. Laughed at me. They thought I was crazy. They said you know why would you leave this place. You’re you’re making all this money. You know this is a crazy idea of democratizing access to real estate letting more people invest you know, just take the the conventional path but my view has always been. Know the only way to get unconventional outcomes and returns is to do unconventional things to take unconventional risks and to see the world. You know in different ways and try to elevate above what everybody else is doing so that you know, kind of was more of a philosophical driver for me and I said you know i’m. Um, never been like the pack with a wide start now.
Alejandro: So what ended up being the business model of cadre. How do you guys make money.
Ryan Williams: So we are a platform technology- driven platform that enables people to invest in either individual real estate buildings or in portfolios. So what we’ve done is we’ve created ah a technology interface where anyone can go on. See commercial real estate properties that will generate return and yield our returns historically have been north of seventeen and a half percent every year um and they are able to now invest you know in smaller stakes in these buildings so you could basically own a. $25000 stake in a property or $5000 stake in an individual property you get yield, you get return. Um, and basically we let people build their own diversified portfolios of real estate. We have about 5000000000 worth of real estate volume on the platform to date. Um, we have thousands of customers and users and the way we make money are transaction-based fees every time we list the new property for people to invest in we make money when that property is closed and listed. Have recurring fees. So every every year you know we have an asset management reporting fee because we provide real-time updates and we have a secondary market fee because we’ve launched the industry’s first secondary marketplace. So and people can now sell their stakes in these buildings to other users on our platform as well. And we charge a transaction basic fee as well. We have a performance fee so whenever we outperform which fortunately has been the norm. Our team receives a small percentage of the profits or promote. But our biggest fees come from our asset management recurring transaction fees. And secondary market fees.
Alejandro: And I mean obviously a different Ryan and a different network. You know, post Harvard and Goldman Sachs and blackstone I mean incredible networks now that you’ve been able to to build so I guess what was that process of activating those networks whether it was to. Gain access to talent you know for for the employees that you were really and the team that you were assembling to for example, even the the funding that you were raising I mean how is the process of activating you know those networks. What does that look like.
Ryan Williams: Um, yeah, it’s it’s not easy and I’ve always said that um you know the the output is never greater than the input the work that that it takes to. You know, raise the amount of capital that you know we’ve been fortunate enough to raise or hire the number of people. Um, you know it’s a low conversion game. You know for for every you know one hundred investors I speak with that say no, you might get 1 or 2 yeses and you just have to know that that’s the case and you know that? ah. Vast majority of amazing ideas were not initially viewed as amazing ideas or otherwise and and maintaining that level of confidence can be tough but but it’s also just the reality of you know, being an entrepreneur when you do go out and decide to to fuel growth and raise money if that’s the path you choose. Um, and so the path and the it’s been tough but some of the things that I’ve done um that I think have helped activating the network number one I always make sure it’ symbiotic. You know I always make sure that there’s something that I can give in addition to asking for. Um I’ve found that. That’s the best way to build relationships and partnerships. It’s the best way you know to help. Educate as well. Some of the investors who might not understand the space and sector so you know if I can offer some insight into real estate for a Vc might not know it. Um, you know that’s going to help illuminate and educate and inform them. Um, and then maybe they’ll also invest as well because they like the idea but there’s a level of credibility and trust you can build. And just a level of of balance with those kinds of relationships and and the like the second thing I would say beyond just making sure it’s symbiotic is follow up. You know I always make sure I follow up with every single person that I speak with or meet with good bad or otherwise regardless how the meeting goes make sure I have reminders to check in with people whether it’s. You know talent. Maybe ah try to hire someone and they said right now is not the right time I’ll ping them again in a few months and you know most people don’t do that and I think that goes a long way in showing you care goes a long way in showing you respect other folks and that’s been I think critical for for me cultivating my networking. Again, all it takes is 1 person to say you know what? I’m gonna give this guy a shot and I’m going to spend the time with this person or you know I’m gonna hear them out and um and I felt like if I can you know at least just get my foot in the door then I have a good shot then of closing if it’s a candidate or an investor converting them. So just keeping kind of those relationships ongoing has been critical for me. Um, and then I think the final thing is like people want to know that you are ambitious and you have the big vision. You have big ideas. Ah you’re going to swing for the fences. You know the the people I’ve met with and that have invested in me and joined my company.
Ryan Williams: Been people who see that you know real estate’s one of the biggest asset classes in the world. And yeah, there’s almost an audacity to try to reinvent it that appeals to a very specific type of person or investor and so I’ve always tried to make sure I’m thinking bigger and bigger more ambitious. Um, and and that I have a clear plan to execute or a clear plan to help someone grow if it’s a talent that I’m looking to bring under the the umbrella.
Alejandro: And and so far I mean how how much capital have you guys been able to raise.
Ryan Williams: So at the corporate level. We’ve raised about a hundred and fifty million dollars of corporate capital and you know on our platform we’ve we’ve invested more than $1000000000 worth of capital into real estate properties to date.
Alejandro: I thinkrao obviously investors like Andresen Horowitz and other tier one investors which is impressive so you were alluding to it now with the size you know and and and and kind of like the scope of the operation that you guys you know have built. I mean anything else that you can share in terms of numbers like maybe like number of employees or anything else on the operation side.
Ryan Williams: Yeah, so we’re we’re about 105 employees so we’re still relatively lean which you know I’ve been focused on by design. We have a couple of offices around the country. You know New York’s where I spend most of my time. Um, we do believe that you know there will be more opportunity for distributed remote work so we’re in that camp. But we also believe in the value of being in person in terms of you know other numbers and growth. You know for the business itself as I mentioned about 5000000000 worth of real estate property value on the platform. Um, we just saw um you know more than 75% top line growth year over year in terms of revenue our business has profitable unit economics which we’ve just grown into and achieved and and in terms of scale for the business itself. Um, you know we’ve been ah, really focused on building out our customer base. We’ve got almost 40000 investor accounts on our platform customer accounts on our platform. Um, you know we um have a number of partners folks like Ford Foundation Goldman Sachs Harvard who many of whom have invested on our platform itself and. You know, been users in addition to the thousands of individuals. So we’re the first platform that’s been able to bring together large scale institutions and individuals under one umbrella and let them coexist and let them invest in world-class real estate together.
Alejandro: And in terms of vision. Imagine if you were to go to sleep tonight Ryan and you wake up in a world where the vision of cadre is fully realized what does that world look like.
Ryan Williams: Yeah I mean the world ah is is one in which you know alternative investments are no longer alternative for billions of individuals. It’s a world where you know billions of people can invest in an array of alternative properties like real estate or sectors like real estate. As easily as they can invest in stocks or equities on any of the big platforms out today. It’s a world where people have truly healthy financial portfolios where you know instead of the average individual having 2 or 3 or 4% of their holdings and alternatives. Um, you know they actually have 3 to 4 times that amount in. Um, so that they have a hedge against inflation so that they have you know the ability to diversify outside of stocks bonds and crypto and so they can have more vibrant financial futures. Um, and where they understand the space too because it’s not enough just to invest and have access you want people to be empowered to understand why does real estate grow this way. Why is it a good hedge against inflation. Why is. You know depreciation’s so important and those are all the benefits of our platform and what we try to offer investors but we want to be the catalyst to usher in that new era of true inclusive financial economics.
Alejandro: Now imagine Ryan that I put you into a time machine and I bring you back in time and I bring you back in time where you’re able to have a sit down with maybe that 13 year old that 13 year old Ryan that was.
Ryan Williams: E e.
Alejandro: You know, thinking about selling those wristbands and headbands and you know launching that first operation and imagine you were able to sit down and give that younger Ryan one piece of advice before launching a business. What would that be and why given what you know now.
Ryan Williams: Yeah, yeah.
Ryan Williams: M. The one piece of advice that I would give to to a younger Ryan a 13 year old Ryan is um, make sure that you are surrounding yourself with partners. And partners can be employees. It can be investors that are aligned with your values that are aligned with you know your beliefs and ah that are aligned with your aspirations. Um, you know I’ve been fortunate to. Build a number of different businesses and organizations and have some amazing partners and that’s made all the difference and I’ve seen people who have not and that’s also made all the difference in their businesses. You know organizations not succeeding but I’m someone who generally trust people and you know looks to the positive. And and I’ve had experiences with employees where that’s backfired on me and that’s largely been a function of not them pulling the wool over my eyes but me not um, you know believing and trusting my gut and instinct about principles and values and that you know are do we all are we selfless. Are we fearless. Do we keep a high degree of of excellence and quality and all that we do, um, you know are we going to never sacrifice on ethics or integrity right? And so it’s those kinds of values and principles that you can you know talk to people and interview for and test for but sometimes. I have seen those become depriorzed because somebody has an amazing resume or you know they have the right skill set for what you’re looking for and that’s you know backfired on me every time and I’ve seen it backfire on others as well. So I would tell my my younger. Younger orion that it’s all about people you surround yourself with but specifically the values and the principles that they uphold and that sometimes it’s better. You know to forego an opportunity if you’re not going to be working alongside people that share your principles values or otherwise.
Alejandro: I love it so Ryan for the people that are listening. What is the best way for them to reach out and say hi.
Ryan Williams: Best way for them to reach out and say hi is to go to http://cadre.com contact us I look at every single zndesk inbound message. We get as I mentioned we are actively growing our customer base. We want more people to participate in private real estate opportunities and they can log in and. Join our platform as well as reach out to me to to discuss the benefits of real estate ownership. How it’s helped me personally and how it’s helped thousands of others.
Alejandro: Amazing. Well Ryan thank you so much for being on the deal maker show. It’s been ah, an honor to have you.
Ryan Williams: Likewise It’s been an honor to be on and look forward to speaking again soon. Thank you to everyone listening.
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