During the pandemic, Salman Siddiqui found the courage to pursue the entrepreneurial path he had always dreamed of.
At the time, the 40-year-old, who is based in Philadelphia, was quarantining and working remotely from his lake house in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. "It's beautiful out here. All I want to do is cook and go barbecue, go for a run, enjoy where I was," says Siddiqui. "It was difficult to unplug. And it really caused me to think about what I want, and the things I want to focus on."
In July 2020, Siddiqui quit the six-figure petrochemical industry consulting career he started in 2006, to pursue his side hustle full time: building real estate from the ground up.
Now, the real estate investment and development firm Siddiqui co-founded in 2017, Philly Capital Group, which acquires and builds multifamily apartment buildings, has built a real estate portfolio worth millions of dollars.
Friends and family discouraged Siddiqui from quitting his job, which paid him about $200,000 plus a bonus of up to $50,000 a year. In comparison, the cash he earned from his real estate business in the last year amounted to about $60,000 to $70,000.
Forgoing the steady paycheck for the thrill of entrepreneurship was necessary, he thought, if he wanted to think bigger. "There's this idea of generational wealth that we talk about," he says. "And, you know, to really build that, it wasn't going to happen at my job."
Besides, "there's always going to be some excuse to not leave," Siddiqui says. "And it came to a point where I was like, 'Listen, it's now or never. Just go for it.'"
Siddiqui was drawn to entrepreneurship and investing from an early age. "I wanted to buy real estate when I was graduating high school," he says. "There are ways to hustle your way into creating value in real estate. You can be scrappy. You can be a problem solver."
Before going to college, Siddiqui says he asked his dad, "Why are you going to spend all this money on tuition? Let's build more business, buy more real estate, and go that route."
His parents, who immigrated to the United States from Pakistan "with not much," advised him to take a more traditional path instead: "No, you're going to go to college, and you're going to get a good job, and you're going to wear a suit to work."
Siddiqui earned his MBA from Fordham University in New York City while working his first job in consulting. While paying off grad school debt and "being broke in New York for a while," Siddiqui saved money to buy his first property by living with roommates in "not the coolest neighborhoods."
In order to find the right investment property, Siddiqui was "leaving work as soon as I can, taking the train out to Brooklyn. From there, I was getting on buses and running around all over — you know, going to open houses, touring neighborhoods, and so forth."
In 2015, he bought his first property, a three-unit multifamily building in East New York, Brooklyn, for about $700,000.
After receiving the keys, Siddiqui recalls buying a sandwich and drink from the deli and having a picnic on the floor of the building. "It was glorious. And I really enjoyed it because it was a proud moment for me," he says. "It was [Boar's Head] Salsalito turkey, cheddar cheese, little bit of mayo on whole wheat. And I probably had a Poland Spring seltzer water with a little orange flavor in it."
The value of the East New York property has grown to up to about $1,100,000 by November 2021, according to Zillow. Siddiqui says he earns $1,600 to $2,000 a month in positive cash flow from the property.
He now owns three properties valued at about $2.6 million in total.
Siddiqui says he and his business partner eventually "tapped out of our own capital. And so we began syndicating deals. And what that means is we raise investor capital to invest in and build real estate."
While still working full time in consulting, Siddiqui co-founded Philly Capital Group, which builds and acquires multifamily, mixed-use residential buildings. "It can be anything from four apartments to our biggest project right now is 65 units that we're doing with, you know, typically like a street-level commercial space," he says.
Developing real estate involves raising money from investors, securing loans from the bank, getting approvals from the city, designing the building with an architect, hiring a contractor to build the project, and leasing out the units with a property management firm. Siddiqui sums it up as turning a "square of dirt into a revenue-generating asset."
The company has built a real estate portfolio valued at about $40 million, including estimates of future value for properties currently under construction.
Siddiqui and his investors are paid in equity and rental income. In the last three years, Siddiqui says he has built around $1 million in equity for himself through his work with Philly Capital Group. If a building is sold, its owners are paid in apportion with their equity.
Siddiqui felt spread thin working full time in consulting and developing real estate on the side. He saved up enough of a financial cushion and went all in during the pandemic in 2020.
Though his business has yet to generate nearly the amount of personal cash flow that his full-time job did, he has no regrets. "The foundation we built and the upside ahead is far beyond anything I can do in my corporate job," he says. "And so now it's about duplicating and creating an environment where I can also get the day-to-day sort of income that's comparable to what I was getting before."
Siddiqui's parents were initially "apprehensive" about him quitting his job. But visiting his construction sites helped win them over. "The touch and feel makes a difference. Like kicking the tires," he says. "So when they actually go out and see some of the projects … the pride on their face was just a beautiful thing to see."
That was meaningful to Siddiqui, since his parents' journey is what inspired his ambition. "Our parents came here from nothing. And they built all of this. What are you going to do with it?"
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