The collective groan emanating from Cadre’s headquarters in Manhattan could probably be heard all the way to the White House. “I would be lying if I said the political angle wasn’t frustrating or concerning,” Ryan Williams, the CEO and founder of Cadre, says in as matter-of-fact a manner as possible. “There are people who won’t work with us [because of the Kushner connection], and we get that. But we have over 80 investors in the company. Jared is a passive investor who has no operational control.”
Driving home the point, he gestures toward the dozens of employees toiling industriously at their desks in Cadre’s wide-open office space, maintaining a website where qualified investors can view detailed information on apartment and office properties, with video walk-throughs, maps, lists of tenants and long memos packed with data points. “It’s a normal day, and everybody is executing,” Williams insists. “It doesn’t distract us.”
Yet the issue surrounds him. Literally. The office he points across, in the historic Puck Building in Manhattan’s trendy Nolita district, is owned by the Kushner Cos., run by Jared until he decamped to the White House. Williams developed and incubated the Cadre concept with Jared and his brother, Josh. In today’s startup world, where the term “cofounder” can signify little more than buying coffee for everybody during stealth mode, either of the Kushners could have taken that title with full justification; Williams has even referred to them as such. Many of the big real estate players who adopted the Cadre funding platform came through Jared’s introductions; Josh’s venture fund, Thrive Capital, made the key early investment. Josh sits on Cadre’s board—and works two floors above. In other words, it’s extremely hard to detach the Cadre brand from the Kushner one.
A lot has been written about the self-enrichment going on with the Trump administration. Ryan Williams, however, suffers from the opposite problem. He’s the American Dream personified. (Mark Cuban, a Cadre investor who emails with Williams weekly, describes him thus: “Smart. Focused. Learns and reiterates continuously.”) He has a product that promotes transparency, liquidity and lower costs: With the click of a mouse, investors can buy stakes in properties without the ridiculous double fees charged by traditional property investment firms and also exit via a new secondary market. Yet Williams pushes his startup forward, dragging along his relationship with the White House like a two-ton anchor.
Williams has accumulated a dizzying array of backers with ties to the current Trump era. Besides Cuban, the president’s biggest business-world heckler, there’s Peter Thiel, his biggest Silicon Valley water carrier, and George Soros, the poster boy for right-wing conspiracy theorists. But as a policymaker and presidential whisperer, it’s Jared Kushner who creates Williams’ headaches, refusing to divest, despite sitting in on all sorts of decisions that could affect Cadre. “Ryan has dealt with it by being transparent and honest,” Fascitelli says, “and spending more time than he should explaining it to investors, sponsors and institutions.”
This article marks the first time Williams has delved deep into the specifics of this unprecedented balancing act. (Jared Kushner declined to comment. Josh Kushner emailed an anodyne statement about Williams and Cadre.) Over the past two years, Trump has busted a lot of norms, many derived from emoluments issues and a family which continues to own wide-ranging business interests while leading the federal government. As Ryan Williams strives for scale, with an otherwise feel-good entrepreneurial story, the 30-year-old also races to ensure that he’s not one of the many brought down because of their proximity to Trump.