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posted on November 11, 2019

With flying colors

James has always wanted to fly. For an incredibly practical person, he dreams big and has a strong entrepreneurial streak. When he and his wife, Niesha, were living in Washington, it seemed like a smart idea to start sharing their cars. “We had three cars and two drivers,” he says, and it occurred to James that he could be earning a few extra bucks. They began sharing their car on Turo, which was then called RelayRides, and hosted several trips. “We mostly were thinking of it as a way to earn passive income now and then, it wasn’t something we were dedicated to,” James reflects.

At that time James was doing Special Operations in the Army, but he had always wanted to fly Apache helicopters — “That’s why I joined the Army!” he says with a laugh. So in 2015, he and his wife left Washington to go to flight school in Alabama, and after that he was stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas. “Around that time I remember seeing this article about a couple in San Diego who had two cars, two Teslas, and the cars were paying for themselves on Turo.” James thought that was awesome, and he was definitely interested in getting a Tesla of his own. But it also seemed a little risky. “They hadn’t come out with the Model 3 yet, so that was a lot to invest,” James reports.

It began with a minivan

He did, however, already have a growing family and kids, and for that reason, he and Niesha drove a minivan to get everyone around. James noticed that anytime he and his family had to rent a minivan it was a hassle. “You’d have to rent from a normal rental company, and in El Paso, when you go to Hertz or Enterprise, the minivans were often not available because they’re popular, and the prices were outrageous, they were like $120-200 a day — who wants that?”

So James and Niesha decided they’d get a new minivan and if his predictions were correct, it would lead to interest from guests on Turo, and if not, then they’d have a brand new van. At that point, James had done his research and had seen some videos from other hosts on Turo, many of whom started their YouTube channels after they’d already become seasoned pros. “I thought we might as well make a video and show what happens from the very beginning,” he says, which is how Turo Tales, his video channel full of trials and triumphs, got rolling.

To say that things panned out for the better would be putting it lightly. James and Niesha now have nearly 400 trips under their belts, and five cars listed on Turo — though depending on how long he’s away and whatever else is happening at home, the number fluctuates. That’s James’ favorite part about being a host on Turo. “I love flying helicopters, there’s nothing more fun than flying Apaches, but I obviously can’t work on my own schedule in the military. I can manage my whole business on Turo, and I have all the control to set pricing, to set days when cars are available, to set delivery details,” James says. He also is grateful for newer tools that allow him to send automated messages that tell his guests most of what they need to know upfront so they feel comfortable, because he just can’t be on his phone 24/7. “I honestly think hosting on Turo is the smartest business, there’s so little risk. Even when we had one of our cars totaled, it still paid for itself.”

The family that hosts together

James is now a Chief Warrant Officer 2 and just spent the past nine months in Afghanistan, so he acknowledges that he couldn’t make hosting work without his family. “My wife, she’s amazing, she’s incredible, she works hard, she takes care of the family and the cars.” But Turo is a family affair in their household, so it’s not just the adults who pitch in. “The other thing we did with our cars is we got one per kid.” 

He and Niesha have six kids, aged four to 19. Each kid in his family helps out with the car that’s theirs. They name them, they help clean and repair them, and they’re also learning about the business side of things. “When I’m home, we’ll get online together and do things like raise the price over the weekend, or drop the price for slower months.” He’s set up his earnings so a portion of whatever each kid’s car earns every month goes into a separate account for them. “They’re learning a little responsibility, we get to spend quality time together, and sometimes we have fun competitions in the family.”

Advice from a veteran host

The biggest piece of advice James has for new hosts is to start with affordable cars. “Price is the number one thing people look for, and then delivery. Our Ford Escape and our Scion TC paid for themselves quickly because we didn’t pay that much up front for them.” But he also says being a good host on Turo is about changing the way you think about your cars. “It’s not just MY car, it’s an asset that is making me money so that I can have my actual dream car,” he says. 

Speaking of dream cars, James is getting close to his own. The goal is to buy two Teslas and list them so they can pay for themselves. But he’s also keeping in mind that in the next year, he could get stationed somewhere else. “What if we went to Germany or Korea? I mean, there’s Turo in Germany, but is it always worth transporting seven cars with you to your new home?” he asks. That said, he knows he’ll get his dream cars eventually and he also thinks that the 2,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel would enjoy it too. “People would watch somebody trying out Teslas in their life and on Turo.”You can tune in yourself at Turo Tales, and the next time you’re in El Paso, book one of James’ cars for an excellent Texan adventure.

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Ready to start your car sharing journey? See how much you could earn with the Turo Carculator, and list your car on Turo.

Kamala Puligandla is a writer and an editorial assistant at Turo. She is always on the hunt for a strange story, a great snack, and the perfect outdoor spot to consume them.