Neya Abdi

by Neya Abdi

posted on March 4, 2021

Elan S. wants to be more than just a consumer. He wants to generate value, make money, and do it on his own terms. No boss. No job insecurity. Just him, his work ethic, and his drive to succeed.

In 2018, he traded in his nine-to-five role as a consultant in the automotive industry and reinvested that energy into transforming his passions, such as photography, from side hustles to full-blown ventures. So when he heard about Turo and the opportunity to become a host, he realized he’d stumbled upon a golden opportunity. 

“I thought, ‘This platform actually works.” 

“I’ve always loved cars, people, and business, and then this opportunity came up to make money from my passion in cars, without the risk of opening a dealership and putting in capital. It was a foot in the door for me.”

He figured he’d give it a shot. If it worked out, he’d add a new revenue stream and if it didn’t, at least he’d be doing something he enjoyed — meeting new people and talking about cars. “You can’t have a full-time job and then a side business that you also dread doing. You have to have passion to do it to carry you forward when times get tough.” 

He started small by listing his Ford Fiesta on the platform in August 2018. From his past experience as a solopreneur, he knew not to go into things with huge expectations, so he didn’t expect too much too soon from his Turo listing. To his surprise, his debut on the platform exceeded expectations. 

“Really quickly the bookings came,” recalls Elan. “I was surprised. How is it that me, living in North York, Ontario with no marketing, has people somehow finding and booking my car — my little, tiny 2011 Ford Fiesta hatchback. I thought, ‘This platform actually works.’”

Ramping up cars and earnings

After a lucrative first couple of months, he figured the risk-to-reward ratio was pretty compelling and added a second car. After riding out the slower winter season, he began ramping up significantly so that within a year of joining he had about eight cars on the platform. 

Today, Elan’s Turo portfolio fluctuates between eight and ten cars. He routinely monitors the performance and popularity of each vehicle, sells off any underperformers, and replaces them with more promising options. 

His focus on scaling up has reaped rewards. He went from gross revenue of $2,000 in 2018 to over $25,000 in 2019 and then to over $50,000 in 2020. Over the years, he’s dedicated more time to one very important scaling activity: Optimization.

A strategic approach to picking cars

“The best thing about Turo is that it’s allowed me to learn what it’s like to build and scale a business,” says Elan. “There are a lot of things I didn’t know before, even with having a few side hustles.” 

When he started, Elan knew the importance of things like picking cars that would be appealing to consumers, not just appealing to him. For instance, when he scaled beyond his primary vehicle he looked for mid-market, consumer-friendly cars that he could book for a decent price. While he does have a few luxury cars in his portfolio, he was disciplined about adding them since he knew those would be limited to vacations and wedding bookings. A smart decision considering these lucrative revenue streams practically dried up during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I would put myself in the shoes of the consumer to try and think about what kind of cars I would like to book as a guest,” Elan says about his early car-buying decisions. “That’s where I started. I like to do research with my cars. I try to figure out which ones are reliable, which ones have common issues, which ones are well reviewed, which ones will last in the future without giving me or guests too many problems. I try to find really good deals in the market.”

Keeping costs from eating into profits

A key ingredient in Elan’s success was his shift in mindset in the early days of car sharing. He chose not to think of Turo as just a way to make some money on the side and instead decided to view it as a business. That meant streamlining operations, keeping costs low, and protecting his profit margins. One of the steps he took to improve this was working with an accountant friend to prepare financial statements, so he’d have a better grasp of the business fundamentals. 

“I’m in the process of sitting down with an accountant, and they’re preparing financial statements for me. I don’t have a finance background, and this will help me understand how much debt I’m leveraging, what my return on debt is, what my return on cash is, and more. I think about how much cash I put into the business and how much cash flow I’m getting out. And the cash flow for Turo is pretty good.”  

At the end of the day, why does Elan do all of this? Sure, it’s one of many revenue streams he uses to diversify his income, remain free from relying on just one job, and ultimately obtaining financial freedom. But what exactly does financial freedom mean to Elan? 

A combination of leisure time and the ability to devote more energy to supporting causes that matter to him like environmental sustainability.

“Money is a lubricant. It’s only worth what you can do with it. My end goal is to have enough money to pursue my passions. I think the sharing economy is very important in terms of maximizing our resources and limiting waste, and having that capital can help solve these kinds of problems in the world.”


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