posted on August 10, 2021

Paving his way to a successful career with help from Turo

When Toka M. told his parents he wanted to drop out of university to become a race car driver, it wasn’t an easy conversation. But after seeing how committed their son was to making his racing dreams come true, they came around.

“They saw that I was serious and committed, and they saw the work ethic that I was putting towards it, so they were like, “At least he’s not playing PlayStation all day and saying he’ll become a race car driver.”

Racing soon became a fast tracked (no pun intended) education in business and marketing due to the challenges of making it in this industry, a prime example being the high cost of entry. Just think of all the logos splashed across a professional driver’s fire suit and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how much money is in the game.

While Toka comes from a hard working immigrant family, he grew up in Toronto community housing and does not come from money. Nevertheless, he refused to let that get in his way. He enrolled in driving school and scraped together the money to start competing and winning in series like the Super Production Challenge.

“In the environment I come from, there are a lot of ceilings. The majority of them are self-inflicted ceilings, because of social norms. So my main goal is if I can inspire my friends, they can inspire their own friends, and it’s gonna be a chain reaction.”

Racing onto Turo in a “humble” Nissan Micra S

When it came to earning money to cover the costs of racing, Toka was committed. He worked several jobs, including time in a fine foods market and as a finance manager, to raise funds.

“I get my motivation and persistence from racing. Every day that I don’t work hard, is a day that I’m potentially losing money, which is a day I’m potentially losing seat time. That’s enough motivation to get me going and do my work. My persistence also comes from racing because in racing, the fastest driver is not always the winner. In racing, consistency is the winner. I have to be fast, consistent, and disciplined not only on the track but also off the track. I’ve just incorporated that racing habit into my everyday lifestyle.”

In 2019, he heard about Turo from fellow host Elan S. After seeing that Elan had more than six cars listed and was managing them while working full time, he figured Turo would be a good way to get some business experience while making a little money on the side.

“The main motivation was that it was a good business experience. Something I can learn, like school. That’s how I was looking at it. Like free education or getting paid to learn.”

He was already located downtown near Billy Bishop Airport and Union Station, which would make it easy for guests to meet him. He started by listing his own car, a Nissan Micra.

“It was a very humble car. It was a 2019 Nissan Micra S. I think it was the second-cheapest new car you could get at the time. It had manual locks — you actually had to lock each individual door — and roll up windows. Pure base model. I got it shipped from Mexico, straight from the manufacturing line. I was like, ‘I don’t know how well this is going to do on Turo, so I’ll just put it on as a learning experience.’ To my surprise, it was booming. I had to schedule days off, because if I didn’t the car would be gone all week, all month. I was very surprised.”

As the summer wound down, he was cautioned that business might slow down during the fall, but the colder temperatures barely put a dent in his bookings. Encouraged by his success and eager to become a diverse host, he listed a 2017 BMW 328d M Sport and watched as his bookings spiked during the Christmas season.

Developing his entrepreneurial side on Turo

As the bookings rolled in, Toka started putting more time into developing his Turo listings. He decided he’d commit to it for a year to really see if it was a worthwhile way to make side income.

“The main motivation was the entrepreneurial side of it. I want to be diverse with a lot of businesses. I was making decent money from Turo, so I started putting more time into it. Now, I’ve developed a routine where I optimize. I put in the littlest amount of time and maximize my profits, so I can focus on my main goal and make easy money on the side.”

It worked out. Each car started paying for its own monthly payment, parking, and maintenance. When COVID hit, he streamlined his cleaning process and threw wipes and sanitizer into his cars, so his guests would feel comfortable. Over time, his new guests turned into regulars.

“You want to make sure you’re always in communication with the guest. You don’t ever want to leave them in the dark, because a lot of the time they rely on you to know what’s going on, especially when you get a first-time guest. They have no idea what they’re doing. So always be communicative towards the guest as well as being very responsive. If you can reply within a minute, they love that and it provides more confidence for them. The majority of my clients now are repeat customers.”

His advice for other Turo hosts is to focus on customer service especially by taking advantage of features like automated texts and to focus on streamlining as often as possible, so you can maximize your time without compromising on safety or customer service.

All of this effort has allowed him to save up a decent amount of money that he says he sets aside as a buffer for car payments if he ever hits a bump in the road on Turo. So far, he hasn’t needed to dive into it. Instead, he’s grown to calling his host earnings his “opportunity fund” for his racing.

“Let’s say there’s a race team in America. They’ve been seeing my videos, they’ve been seeing me on Turo’s blog, and they say, ‘Toka, we’d like you to come out to San Francisco to test drive this car, and let’s see how you do’. That means I can get a plane ticket to San Francisco, get a hotel, get race car insurance because if it goes bad I’m not going to be able to afford the car. Now I’m in a position where I can say, “Yes, I’ll be there next week.” I’ve got available funds, I’m there. If I impress them, they might give me a full ride for the whole season.”

Taking lessons from the marketplace to the track

Toka’s been able to apply many of the skills learned through racing to his car sharing business. One of the most useful skills he’s developed is resilience, which allows him to take risks like joining Turo and adding more cars.

“I’m 23. I can bounce back from anything. Worst-case scenario, I just liquidate and start from scratch, but that’s not even a bad case cause I’ll have capital at the end of the day.”