When University of Southern California student Samer Dhillon started Quest Investment Firm three years ago as an 18-year-old, he made all of $35 in the first seven months.
“It was tough, and there were points where I didn't want to go forward," Dhillon told NBC News. “People were thinking I'm just some failure.”
It would have been understandable if Dhillon, 21, decided to abandon the business. After all, he also is a non-scholarship forward for the USC men’s basketball team, a biology major who does Alzheimer's research, the creator of a mobile health clinic that treats homeless people in the Los Angeles area, and the founder of the Deep Roots Foundation that provides scholarship money to students from his Sacramento high school.
Instead, he convinced a pair of USC alumni he met at a networking event to take a chance and invest with Quest. His positive returns on their money spurred them to reach out to wealthy friends about the company. Quest, which he started with $2,000 of birthday money he had saved over the years, now has $3 million under management from its 32 clients along with three part-time employees.
“I can’t do anything without it being to the fullest," he said. “I wasn’t going to walk away just because it started slowly, and I wasn’t going to ask my parents for help because I wanted to do it on my own.”
That determination has always been there for Dhillon. Before he started Quest, he had to pass the Series 65 exam from the North American Securities Administrators Association to be certified as an investment adviser. While many people take years to prepare for it, he did it just months after his high school graduation.
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Dhillon, who is 6'8'', then turned down full scholarships to play basketball at Division I programs like University of Pacific and Pepperdine to attend USC. He only played eight total minutes in six games this past season for the Trojans, but he believes the advantages at USC outweigh his lack of playing time.
Being an athlete at USC not only gives him access to potential NBA and NFL players who may need a financial adviser, it also allows him to pick the brain of USC head coach Andy Enfield. Enfield took a detour in his coaching career to become a vice president, which included buying a now-lucrative minority ownership stake, at New Jersey-based Tractmanager in the early 2000s.
“Andy Enfield has helped me out a ton because he has a business mind," Dhillon said. “He’s made millions, and he’s given me some great advice about how to grow (Quest) organically.”
Dhillon typically wakes up at 6 a.m. and calls his Quest clients before the stock market opens. After class until 2 p.m., he usually has basketball practice or workouts until 7 p.m. Once he gets his schoolwork done, the dean’s list student stays up until about 3 a.m. either working on Quest, conducting Alzheimer’s research under Dr. Judy Pa at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, or providing free health exams for the homeless in areas like Compton and L.A.’s Skid Row with a team of doctors.
“I want to do it all," Dhillon said. “My dream is to have a huge office where one side is Quest, and the other side is a hospital where I’m a chief neurosurgeon. I just want to help people in different aspects of life, which is the theme of all the different things I’m involved in.”
He also makes sure to fit in some time to still be a college student, which included dropping $6,000 on a nice dinner in Beverly Hills for his basketball teammates.
“I built that into the schedule, and we had a great time," he said. “We’ll go to Six Flags, and I go on hikes all the time and surf a lot. There’s a time and place for it. It’s all about priorities and time management.”