Celebrating Diversity with Ryan Williams and Peter Boyce II
You both have truly authentic personal brands—what values from your upbringing have helped drive your authenticity and professional success?
Ryan Williams: Resiliency, ambition, humility and giving back have all been important to me and instilled within me since my earliest days. When it comes to resiliency, I look at adversity not as a challenge, but as an opportunity to grow to expand what I personally think is possible.
When it comes to ambition, it’s important to not let society’s expectations define you –don’t allow preconceived notions of what success looks like define what’s possible and what you can attain or imagine.
Finally, I’ve always been taught that to whom much is given, much is required. As you grow, it’s important to “pay it back” and not forget where you came from. I’ve had so many blessings and so many people take me under their wings, that it’s a good reminder when I’m able to take a step back and see some of the milestones—at Cadre or personally—I’ve been able to achieve. I remember who helped me get here, and I make sure that I’m doing my part as well.
Peter Boyce II: I draw a ton of inspiration from folks around me, from mentors along the way, and from those who are a few chapters ahead. This gives me a tremendous amount of energy and simultaneously makes me want to ensure that I can share that with others. I think about how it’s been paid forward to me and rather than waiting someday to do the same thing, I like to do it while I’m currently in the journey. That’s a big part of my kind of world view and how I craft my identity.
I always think about this quote that I read in high school, “Fill your mind with great thoughts. To believe in heroics makes heroes.” When I think about that quote, I think about the things I’ve seen and the people I’ve worked with—folks like Ryan and others. This fills my day with something that feels heroic, inspiring and worth doing. When I think about the kind of legacy that I want leave and the way I want to spend my time and cultivate the relationships around me, it’s been a big source of my philosophy. These have been key pieces in the way I think about building my brand identity and something that’s been authentic to me since I was a child.
What’s the one piece of advice you would give to young people who are just getting started in their careers—particularly young minorities?
Ryan Williams: Sometimes, for people who haven’t had a direct example of success, or don’t have a ton of resources, there can be a conventionality in terms of what paths they choose. There’s a tendency and a gravitational pull to less risk and take less chances. My view is that one of the best ways to get unconventional outcomes and uncommon results is to do unconventional things. So I always say, shoot for the stars, take chances, take risks, be ok being unconventional and be ok being different. The worst that can happen is that you’ll learn and grow from it. The best that can happen is that you can completely transform the trajectory of your life or others lives.
Another piece of advice I have heard is that “output is never greater than input.” I think that a lot of people see the fruits of the labor, but don’t understand that while others might be out socializing,, you’re working. Peter is a perfect example of this.
Peter Boyce II: I think it’s key to really recognize that you have more control over your time and energy than you’re often told. If you can channel that time and amplify it towards something you’re passionate about, you can accomplish incredible things and compound progress really quickly. This is where finding mentors and people who are helpful and inspiring to you early on is important.
The other piece of advice is recognizing that playing to one’s strengths is key, because you can create your own game when you shift to that mindset. Find what that thing is that you’re so personally driven by—that everyone looks to you for perspective on, and make it a key part of what your contribution is to your community, your work, your life and the people around you. This is something that I saw in Ryan when we were together in school—I saw the ways that he was doing this with the work he was leading on campus. I always think back to finding those places of strength and learning and how to create and play your own game, because it’s something that’s available to all of us.
You’re not only mentors to others, but you’re also great at maintaining relationships with your own mentors. What tips can you share when it comes to mentorship?
Ryan Williams: I generally go to people not just with my hands out, but with something to give in return. Sometimes—especially when someone is older or more experienced than you—there’s this element of “I don’t know what I can bring to this.” But you can bring a perspective on how people your age think, how people in certain industries think, and how people from certain places think. I always try to ensure it is a symbiotic relationship where we’re both growing and learning.
Second, doing what you say you’re going to do is effective for building relationships with mentors. If someone is investing in me, taking a bet on me, or spending time with me, I try to do everything in my power to deliver when I say I’m going to do something. It’s about going above and beyond, and I’m showing these people that I’ve made an investment in them and that that investment is going to pay off.
There’s nothing better than seeing someone grow and be a better version of themselves because of the time you spent with them and the resources you’ve provided to them.
Peter Boyce II: I get chills on this topic—it’s my favorite! A friend wrote a blog post about this a few years ago titled “Who took a chance on you?” It was a really interesting way to frame what mentors can really look and feel like early on, when they took a chance on you. Whether it was a founder that chose to work with you, or someone with decades of experience who took time to grab lunch with you and help illuminate a path that wouldn’t have otherwise been apparent.
For me, this person has been Caryn Effron, an incredible longtime mentor and friend. I’ve learned a lot from the way that she’s cultivated relationships and mentors in her life. She’s one of those folks who took a chance on me as early on as high school, but there are countless others that I’ve been lucky to work with as well.
Ryan Williams: I feel mentorship is a key topic for Black History Month, because when you don’t look like everybody in the industry and you don’t have the same background, it’s powerful to have people who are willing and excited to invest in diversity. By doing so, it adds another dimension to a network that’s historically been pretty homogenous.
Thinking back to my own career—whether it was the Thrive Capital, General Catalyst or Khosla Ventures team, other mentors or investors, I am grateful to those who invest in the merits of what I’m doing versus anything else. You don’t forget that, and I think then the onus is on you to pay it back and add more dimensions to the network—there’s power in diversity, inclusion, expanding people’s perspectives, and enlightening people. I’m incredibly grateful for the bets and investments people made in me, and hopefully people see that a new light and perspective in this industry has resulted in transformation.
We are in New York City, where everyone seems to have an opinion about Amazon pulling its HQ2 out of New York City. Can you speak to the future of tech and diversity in New York City?
Peter Boyce II: I believe that diversity is one of New York’s superpowers. If you think about the way we remix technology with existing industries—financial services, marketing, education, fashion—the headquarters of so many of these companies are here. When that talent gets together with engineering and technology, it becomes really exciting. We also have to remember New York’s history of folks arriving on Ellis Island from all parts of the world—that open-mindedness is in New York’s DNA.
We have great creative people from all over who want to live in this city day in and day out. What that means from a lifestyle perspective—the kind of cuisine you can eat and the kind of people you can bump into on the street—is that there’s a really rich heterogeneity. One of the things that got me so excited to be in the world of venture here is New York is to take that diversity and make it a core fundamental strength. One of my mentors and new Chairman of our firm is Ken Chenault, former CEO of American Express. Here in New York, Ken helped champion the role that diversity can play as a core pillar of the culture and leadership of companies, and that’s something I’m incredibly grateful to be part of.
Ryan Williams: New York is the future of a lot of different industries because I believe it’s the future of technology. One of the most important dynamics to catalyze innovation is having different perspectives, and one of the best ways to encourage those perspectives is to work with as many people from as many backgrounds as possible, which includes, socioeconomics, ethnicity, and geography. So you have this melting pot, and then you have these enormous industries with a lot of people who are excited about applying technology to them, and that becomes a great formula for transformation.
I’m very bullish and excited about New York and in the time since Cadre launched, the growth of this ecosystem on so many different fronts is incredible. Four or five years ago, it was rare to sit outside or be on the corner in New York and hear discussions about tech. Now you hear it frequently, so it’s a sign of great things to come.
Are there any myths about the tech industry that you’d like to debunk for young people or minorities who are hesitant get involved?
Peter Boyce II: If you take a look at the current leadership for the companies that define the world we live in, it’s safe to presume that what the leadership looks like in the future can change, will change, and should change. When I see Ryan on the cover of Forbes, it opens up a new channel for people of color and other underrepresented groups to recognize that they that they can be at the helm of something incredibly exciting, and something that’s going to have a huge impact in society. That’s what I get really fired up about because it gets back to my core philosophy, “If you can see it, you can believe it.” If you have folks that you can model yourself after, it creates the path to an exciting and accessible journey.
Ryan Williams: I think one important idea for people to have, whether its black or other minorities or anyone who is or feels different in some way, is that as human beings, we’re generally a lot more similar than we are different. There are certain things that will rally everyone and drive similar behaviors and experiences. Whether it’s a sports team or building a company, when you have alignment on a mission, it’s inevitable that you’re going to face obstacles, and build resiliency, faith and trust in each other. I think about the journey of building Cadre—we have a diverse team in a lot of different ways, but I feel that our openness to working in an environment where you’re going to have shared experiences has promoted those similarities and has helped us grow and learn. Always assume positive intent when you’re dealing with people who might be different or have different experiences, because at our core, we all have the same desires elements that created us.