Financial Advisor - Semi Spahillari

Semi is a trailblazer and an entrepreneur at heart. Semi was born in the chaotic streets of Albania and came to the United States from Greece at a young age. By the time he was 15 years old. He was playing soccer for the New England Revolution. After a few years of playing soccer. He tore his ACL and had to pause his soccer career. Soon after, he started a business with partners exporting gold from Africa, and eventually went on to grow the company and sell it to a Canadian company for a significant profit. After the venture, Semi went into the financial advising world. He is currently a passionate million dollars roundtable financial advisor, helping his clients through financial investment, life insurance, and retirement strategies.

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Pamela Bardhi 

Welcome back to Underdog. I’m your host, Pamela Bardhi. And today, I’m super excited to introduce my next guest to you, Semi. Semi is a trailblazer and an entrepreneur at heart. Semi was born in the chaotic streets of Albania and came to the United States from Greece at a young age. By the time he was 15 years old, he was playing soccer for the New England Revolution. After a few years of playing soccer, he tore his ACL and had to pause his soccer career. Soon after, he started a business with partners exporting gold from Africa, and eventually went on to grow the company and sell it to a Canadian company for a significant profit. After that venture, Semi went into the financial advising world. Sammy is currently a passionate million-dollar Roundtable, financial advisor, helping his clients through financial investment, life insurance, and retirement strategies. Today, we welcome Semi.  I have a super special guest here with me today. Semi and I’m going to allow him to introduce himself.

 

Semi 

Thanks for that. Hello, everybody. My name is Semi and Pammy, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate you listening to my story and thinking it’s good enough to be on the show.

 

Pamela Bardhi 

Oh, my God, I can’t wait. Can’t wait to share it. So, speaking about your journey, sort of tell us from day one. When did you, because I know you came from Albania, so we obviously got that Albanian vibe show. That’s a bias. But do share your story a little bit and sort of everything you’ve been through today in a nutshell.

 

Semi 

Sure. So, I was born Albania. Right. The week that I was born, was the week that the old government was being overthrown in my city, actually. So, as you can imagine, I was born when there were riots or fires, or people clashing with the police in the city that I was born in. And being an only child, my parents said, we don’t want somebody to grow up in such civil unrest. So, they thought it’d be a good idea that they escape, and then they go to Greece. So, I was actually born in Albania, but less than a year after I was born, my family actually moved to Greece. They first moved to Athens, where they stayed for one year. And then I had a couple of aunts and uncles that had settled on an island in Greece called Paris Island. So, they said, you know what, I feel like we can start a new life and we’ll build something on an island. So, when I was two years old, I got to experience the journey of traveling from Albania to Greece, and then from there to the actual island in the Aegean. So lived on the island. We’re there for about 11 years. And the things I remember, obviously, there’s pictures too. But the things I remember from my life there is we’ve literally finished school, my friends, and our school was actually located on the top of the hill. And if you looked from the school, all around the hill, you could actually see all the different beaches that were around the island, which is super cool. So we jumped the fence after school, and we’d run all the way down to the beach. And all we did for probably seven or eight hours straight, or just play soccer on the beach, talk to tourists, which is where I actually learned how to speak English.

 

Pamela Bardhi 

Oh, wow.

 

Semi 

From that and from movies and again, play soccer, go fishing and play soccer. So more or less, all we did was play soccer, and be on the beach and then get home late night. Do some homework and sleep and do it all over again. So fast forward to 11 years later, I was at the time 12 years old, my parents decided, you know what they saw that I was doing really well in school. And I was surpassing a lot of the other kids and I was actually doing really well in soccer too. So, they thought, I don’t know if the island is going to be able to provide everything that I need to really grow both as a student as a businessperson or at soccer either. So, they thought there would be a good idea that they move to the United States. Now here’s a fact, my dad’s story of how he came here needs like a whole show on its own or like a whole book on its own. But I’ll give you a little bit of the background. So, my dad was actually right in Albania. He’s got a lot of different books published, which is super cool because I remember one time I posted on Facebook, and there are all these people from my friends list, I was like, wait, I read those books, my kids, that’s crazy. So, my dad wrote those. And so he wrote also for different newspapers, he wrote for the government, against the government. He was like a really good reporter in some ways. So, he left Greece, and I’ll tell you why that’s important in a little bit. So he left Greece and decided to take a plane from there to Brazil. There he was caught, and he was put in jail for a week. Got out. They didn’t deport him. He moved up, one to Mexico, got stopped, got put in jail for another week. Then he entered the United States, through New Mexico, he got stopped, got put in jail. And then he came out, found a lawyer for an attorney. They cleared for political refugee, and that’s the grantor and they said, we can see the writings you’ve done. It makes sense. So, he brought me and my mom over, so I came here when I was 12 years old. And that’s kind of where my story in the United States began. So, this is kind of where my life enters into a new chapter in a way. So, when I first came here, I spoke English fairly well, but it was kind of hard to make friends in the beginning because when we first came here, my mom got actually diagnosed with leukemia. So, I remember going to school, and then after school Dad picking me up and having to go to Mass General Hospital to see mom. So, I didn’t really get a chance to really connect with any students, especially outside of school or after school. The only thing that I had other than school and you know, go and see my mom was soccer. Thank God for that. I was pretty good at it. So, when I first came, I started playing. I think it was like low kickers like those who traveled to different towns. And in the beginning, most of those games were finished, like, you know, like 2-1, 3-1, 41. And then when I joined the team, I think we’re beating teams like 14-1 or like 12 to nothing or something like that. I think I had like eight or nine goals per game. Everybody was telling my dad, you know what, you should sign them up for something more competitive. So, dad signs me up for the Revs Academy Human Revolution. So, I joined the academy when I was 13. I played there for a couple years. And then I actually got put on the team when I was 15, which was school, then started the games. But I got to practice with some of the bigger guys. It was cool, because back then, you know, I was like five, three 100 and like 20 pounds. So, it’s pretty small, super quick. No matter what, like I always you always saw me running around the field, everywhere, played there. And then when I turned 18, the coach thought that’d be a good idea that I get bigger and stronger. Go to college play, get my degree and come back and reach out for the team if I still have the skills. So, I end up playing freshman year. Unfortunately, halfway through my freshman year, I tore my ACL, on my knee. Came back sophomore year, same knee retort, ACL and meniscus. So that was in a way, and I always, I think back to this, and I’m like, wow, if that had never happened, that wouldn’t be where I am now. Like, my life would have been completely different. You and I might never have met who knows where I would have been playing in a different country. So, we never would have met. But one thing that I did have was my studies. So, I got super sad, super depressed about losing soccer.

 

Pamela Bardhi 

Right? Because that was your outlet.

 

Semi 

That was my outlet. Yeah, and like the only two, I guess. I was a kid that liked every sport like in gym class. I got paid to play every sport. I was always athletic. Yeah, but my two like loves, I always like doing well soccer and also was like MMA. I like doing mixed martial arts. I’m wrestling, some punching, some kicking. But unfortunately, I couldn’t do either of those with a knee surgery, right? So, I got super sad, super depressed. But thankfully, I kind of fell back on my studies. So, I graduated college with like a 3.94. I did pretty well in school. And being from strict Albanian parents, they basically said no pressure, but you got to go to Harvard.

 

Pamela Bardhi 

No other alternative.

 

Semi 

 We went through all these things to get you to the United States, right? You’re an only child through all these hardships, you got to go to Harvard. There’s no alternative so I applied for grad school of Harvard and actually end up getting waitlisted. So, I said while I’m here for the summer, I might as well do like a summer business program. So, I did like the second mix of international relations. And that’s where I met two guys. One time, I’m in class, we just happened to be sitting next to each other. We’re talking about the studies and we decided after class, we should go have some Chinese food. Cool, Harvard Square. I love Harvard Square. I’ve been going there since I was a young kid before I could drink or go into any bar. It was just a thing to do. When I was like, 16, we just walk around Harvard Square, like see the kids that would be dreaming that one day, maybe we’ll go to Harvard. And as we’re going to the restaurant, one of my two friends decided to take some money out of the ATM. So, we went to the ATM. And that’s exactly the story of the last business, which is like it’s so like, it almost came out of nothing, though. I feel like it’s important to show people that sometimes an idea can be born from nothing.

 

Pamela Bardhi 

Nothing. Absolutely. This wasn’t nothing in a way because we went to the firm to grab money out of ATM. And he clicked summary of his checking account, right? And there was like five and a half million there. So, I was like, where’d you find all this money? Apparently, both of their father’s very wealthy businessmen in China, one had a travel agency since the 70s. One did imports and exports of Jade. So, like they had big, big businesses. So, he basically said his dad sends him money every month to make sure that he’s okay, lots of money. Make sure he’s okay. So, we’re sitting, eating dinner and I was like, guys, what are we doing? We have all this money. You’re not going to use all the money for school. Like that’s, I know how it’s expensive. But like, it’s not that expensive. We just started a business. So, we started throwing out ideas. They had all different types of ideas. We want to do frozen yogurt, they want to do Korean barbecue, they want to do all these different things. And I’m thinking, if we’re going to really make it and really have a lasting business and legacy, we need to think outside of the box. By a stroke of luck, a couple days later, one of his father’s ex-business partners was doing some work in Ghana, Africa. Of all places, he was playing with precious stones. So, he was exporting rubies, diamonds, all different types of stones. And he said you know what, I have a lot of the relationships, a lot of the connections here. If you guys come here, and you have the money, I can show you guys how to get into the gold business. Now, I never thought that at such a young age, I’d be visiting Africa. I always dreamed of traveling the world, but more as a tourist, not so much as a businessperson. But we decided, you know what, we’re going to Ghana. So, we went we got tickets. The guy seemed very sure of himself. Sometimes confidence sells. Guy believes it’s got to be true. So, we went to Accra, Ghana. And that’s where we met the guy. And he told us kind of how the business works. So, there are two ways that you can make money. One way that you can make a little bit of money, one way that you can make a lot of money. But in order to get to the way that you make a lot of money, you first have to go through the way of making a little bit of money. So, what we’re doing, in the beginning, is we were buying gold from actual gold shops there, and they’re selling it for like 5% off market price like you’d get it here. We’d get that gold; we bring it here. And we’d sell it to different refineries, one in Dallas, one in New York for 2% off market price. So, in the beginning, we’re making like 3% on each shipment, probably losing another 1% from travel costs and security at the airport, and so on and so forth. And then we learn how things really work there. So, in Ghana, in order to get into the gold business, you buy what’s called a concession. So, it’s like a piece of land, and you almost in a way lease it from the government. So, the government allows you to work that land. But you need to have your own workforce, you got to find your own guys to hire your own equipment, so on so forth. And so, on the peak view, the short version at the peak, we’re getting the gold there for about 12% off market price, bringing it here and selling it for 2% off. So, we’re making 10% on each shipment, which was great. Three to 10. Just by logistics.

 

Semi 

Yeah, like five, five months’ worth of like relationships. I mean, once it took out, like international shipping license, and all different stamps that we had to get because companies here. Funny enough, but it’s something brand new that I learned when I got into the business, companies here did not accept gold from places like Africa. A lot of the gold shops or a lot of the refineries here didn’t accept gold from Africa, even if it had all the stamps, and it was 100% legal, due to humanitarian reasons of there’s nothing to prove that there was no child labor in a way. So, for us to be able to get into these refineries, we actually had to have all these different meetings with different refineries in Dallas, Texas where we sat down with them, and we’re like, no, we’re legit guys. Like we have the names of everybody working for us. Nobody is underage. So finally, we’re able to get in, become friends with a lot of different refineries. Fast forward to two years and eight months later, since we started the business. There’s a company from Canada that had sent two of their reps to see if they could get into the gold business in Ghana. We met with the guys, and they went back to Canada. And then they came back two weeks later, and they decided, you know what we want to work with you guys. But to be honest, we want pretty much your equipment. And we want the guys that work for you guys. And we want you guys to stay on the board as consultants. So, in a way, they wanted to buy our company. So, at the time, out of the three partners, I was all about guys, this is like our business. This is our legacy. This is going to be for parents or kids or grandkids like we have to grow this. My partners were kind of like a kind of want to go back to China take over my parents’ business. And I kind of want to go to Northeastern now. I don’t, I no longer want to try to go to Harvard. I just want to get my master’s and go back to China. So, and I wasn’t going to be able to do this alone, just the logistics like too many things to do when I have to do the travels all by myself. So, I couldn’t do it by myself. So, against my judgment, we ended up selling the company. Silver lining, when we first got into the business, they invested all the money, I didn’t have any to invest. But when we sold the company, we actually split it equally, three ways. So, I came out I guess a little bit better in the end. They had at the time broken even already. So, like they didn’t lose any money. But I did come out a little bit better in the end, because I had invested the least probably the most time because I spoke the best English so I had to be the one to create the contracts with an attorney. But I came out a little bit better in the end. So that was like the first business I kind of got into and sold. So I got to learn from the inside what it’s like to have a business where it’s like to grow a business, what it’s like to have to worry and have a sleepless night of are you going to be able to make payroll. Your guys have worked all week, is there going to be enough money at the end of the week for them to for you to pay them. And for them to be able to bring it back to their families. So, I got to live all the High Times and all the really low times of having a business. So, after selling the business, I needed a little bit of a break. So, one of my you know, I was 25 when we sold the business just turned 25. You know, I always had these little dreams that like a 25-year-old, I guess would have of like owning a red Mustang, which was one of the dreams that I had. Bought it. Drove it through the winter here. I was like, never buying this car. I sold it after a year. Not doing that again. Probably about 12 times in the snow. Oh, no, no that again. But I did pay off my parents’ house, which was a big dream of mine. They had a house in Watertown, Mass. A lot of the money from the sale, and was going towards paying off their home mortgage. So that was one of the good things that came. The other dream that I had was I really wanted. I was born in Europe, but I never got to travel around Europe besides Greece and Albania. So, I really want to do a big Europe trip. So some more than I should have probably, a lot of the money went towards that travel. So, I was gone for about six months. So then like a big Europe trip. So, I went from here, Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Prague, Rome, and England. So, like I did big, like upside-down you and hang on to. Came back after five and a half, six months, and decided to go back into the workforce. So one of the things that really stood out at me, especially from my own family, and also the people in the cultures I met overseas, is that I thought that there was a big need for financial education both in the Albanian Greek community, but especially in the international community. There are not enough classes in school here to really, you know, take people to the next level when it comes to their business knowledge. But there is something called business class. And the same thing in college. There are finance classes. Very different in Greece and Albania. If you think that there’s not enough financial education here, triple that, and that’s how it is overseas for a lot of different people, a lot of different countries. So, I saw that there was a big need for financial education in the international community. So I thought that what I wanted to do is combine my business knowledge where I could work with business owners because I got to experience what it’s like running a business, but also be able to help people and educate them when it came to finances. So, I decided that my career was going to be for me to become a financial advisor. So, plow out a lot of different firms and got a lot of different callbacks a bunch of different job offers. What I didn’t want to do is a lot of the companies just it’s specifically wealth management. In a way, to put it bluntly, I didn’t only want to work with the rich. I didn’t only want to work with people that had a lot of money. And also, didn’t just want to be behind a computer doing analysis of different funds and stocks. And it didn’t sound fun to me. But what it did sound very interesting to me, and fulfilling in a way is one being able to teach people and really explain to them how things work in the United States, how retirement plans work, how taxes work, how this works, how you combine real estate and also be able to make a name for myself as the go-to person in the community. For if somebody has any questions about anything financial taxes, please go to Semi because he usually replies back right away.

 

Pamela Bardhi 

So that’s it for part A of my interview with Semi. Stay tuned for part B

Tune in to the episode to hear the rest of my incredible interview with the one and only Semi Spahillari!