From South Central to an Ivy League and back again, investor David Gross has used real estate and wisdom to change the face of one of Los Angeles’ toughest neighborhoods. Thanks to a unique educational experience, seasoned by the chance to escape poverty and dysfunction, the LA icon has been able to pour his knowledge into several entertainers over the years, including YG, Nipsey Hussle and more. Most recently, he hit up “Assets Over Liabilities” to continue educating the masses alongside hosts Rashad Bilal and Troy Millings.
Back in the 80s, David Gross’ mother sent him and his older brother to Texas for a period of time in hopes of securing a better future for her boys and to keep them out of trouble. The young go-getter’s brother, who is three years his senior, went to Houston while he was sent to a smaller town in East Texas. Gross lived with his aunt, a former English teacher and “super disciplinarian,” in a neighborhood of less than 500 people. He credits this experience with preparing him to attend Cornell University in New York City. “That one thing changed my life. Like, being somewhere where there was no chaos, someone who was on me every day, no matter what I did,” he recalled.
The LA legend’s exposure to the upper echelon came at the suggestion of his high school basketball coach, who was also his math teacher at the time. Gross was encouraged to take a standardized test that would afford him the opportunity to attend a special program and take college courses during his last two years of high school. This program put him around other students who dreamed of attending universities like Stanford, Harvard and MIT — which, in turn, pushed him to aim higher. “I didn’t have anybody in my family. I didn’t have anyone — nuclear family, extended family — that was ever a professional. But I had images from watching movies and watching TV. I wanted to be a businessman. I wanted to have a briefcase. A cell phone. A Benz,” he recalled. “I went to Cornell wanting to be a businessman, and I found out what that was over the course of four years.”
As Gross went on to describe his ascension in the world of finance on Wall Street, the “Assets Over Liabilities” hosts asked him about his perception of his family at the time. “By the time I went to Cornell, my older brother had already done his first few years in jail. So, our lives are just completely different,” he reflected. “So, I got to two or three schools and I’m on Wall Street. He’s just living the street life. But when I first left Wall Street and to me, was making a lot of money, the first thing you do is step up for your family.”
After 20 years of living the high life in NYC, he decided to move back to Los Angeles following the credit crisis of 2008. This is when the investor initially felt the call of entrepreneurship. “I stayed in New York that long because that’s where you had to be if you wanted to be at the top of finance,” Gross explained. “Things had changed. My mind changed. After the crisis, Citi Bank got bailed out twice. The stock fell so much, we had to do a reverse split 30-1 just to be listed on the stock exchange again.”
The respected businessman went on to explain the shift in his mindset that pushed him out for good: “Now, what that means is anybody who worked there their entire career — think about people in their 50s, a bunch of 50, 55-year-old traders, bankers about to cash out — that plan is done. A $60 stock, $50 stock and you’ve been receiving your compensation in stock and options on stock for 5, 10, 20, 25 years — millions turned to hundreds of thousands like overnight.”
Playing by that “old school” model of staying at one company for his entire career was devastating. “I thought I was doing the right thing this whole time,” Gross said about the newfound sense of freedom he felt after watching his million dollars drop down to six figures. This difficult period in his life would lead him into real estate. “Real estate is the most scalable thing that one person can do in finance,” he asserted. This is why he went back to Columbia University to get his master’s degree in real estate development. During his time there, he proposed a real estate certificate program for entertainers and athletes as his thesis.
Just as Gross was completing matriculation for his program, news of a high-profile athlete abusing his wife made national headlines and caused Columbia to reconsider the long-term association with professional sports leagues. Considering the fact that he’d already spent a year and a half developing a curriculum, he decided to get started as a consultant to an NBA player from the Miami Heat. Still a student at the time, Gross asked to be put in touch with the Players Association and the union agreed to underwrite the program. “‘If you will come and teach it, we will make this a class offering to our players over the summer,’” Gross was instructed, “and so I did that for three years.” He’d become the go-to real estate consultant for dozens of NBA players, which led to a relationship with DJ Khaled.
Now well-established in New York and Miami, the young hustler made his way back to LA. He then partnered with Will Smith to assist in launching the actor’s production company Westbrook Inc. as well as Jaden Smith’s water company, Just Water. After proving his worth in a niche demographic, David Gross made his mark in his hometown as an investment manager. “I spun out and created Confluent after about a year and a half of being in LA,” he explained. “It’s crazy because I met [Nipsey Hussle] during that time period at a Lakers game, and the next day he mobbed out at the office in Calabasas.”
After witnessing first-hand the lack of progress for the communities he’d left behind some 30 years prior and drawing the correlation to the glorification of street culture in hip hop, he knew change was needed. But, the rising icon couldn’t go about helping in a traditional means. This led him to develop the business plan he would go on to pitch to Nipsey Hussle. “I had to have someone with ties to the community – The People’s Champ,” Gross insisted. “I’d been following Nip since the first song I heard, ‘Hussle in the House.’”
When the young leader first met with Nipsey Hussle, the rapper’s camp had him focused on finishing his debut studio album, Victory Lap. But six months later, he’d meet Nip again — this time with YG at another Lakers game. “They’re sitting right by me. By the second half, I pitched him: ‘Imagine if we had a workspace where entrepreneurs came and we could plug them in with mentors, give them resources … we can do our own ‘Shark Tank.’ We could bring different people from the culture and we could invest in them.’ And I was like, ‘When would you want to follow up on this? I know you’re in album mode.’ He was like, ‘No. This is more important than music,” Gross recalled about the conversation.
“He was like, ‘I can meet tomorrow. Where’s your office?’ — and literally, he showed up the next day,” he went on. Thus, the Vector90 coworking space was born.
Learn more about David Gross and his business leadership via the latest episode of “Assets Over Liabilities” above.