Torsten Kunert had palm trees delivered to his house in Los Angeles just before answering the phone on Sunday, March 7. “You can go out and spend a real fortune on palm trees,” he said.
“So instead I scoured the internet and found a guy who was losing his landscaping business and had tons of palm trees and cacti. He was literally giving away tons of this stuff,” Kunert continued. “I filled up three trucks with the plants. I gave him some good money, of course, but I would have paid 40 times more if I had gone elsewhere. This is all to say that there are ways to search and save your money.”
Kunert, 52, who lived in and out of Europe and South Africa for much of his youth, is a well-heeled businessman.
From delivering newspapers as a pre-teen, being drafted into the South African army as a young adult, doing marketing for his mother’s safari lodge and taking a three-year hiatus to volunteer with the Mandela family, to becoming enamored by the booming E-Commerce industry in the early 2000’s when he moved to California—he’s done it all, sometimes simultaneously.
In the Golden State Kunert settled down with his family of seven, bought and sold handshake.com, joined—then left—Uber as a recruiter, started a YouTube channel which now has 38,500 subscribers and began a platinum limousine company.
But, he says, the most satisfying has been mentoring “the little guys.”
One of those guys is Kunert’s 13-year-old son, Ryan, who started his own merchandise line of clothing via YouTube.
“He watched me and would do livestreams with me and said, ‘you know dad I feel like I can do this’ so I said ‘absolutely,’” Kunert said. “I set him up with a computer and got his channel going. He’s like my little protégé, I try to work with him as much as possible.”
Kunert finds joy in helping people change their lives by teaching them how to build confidence and invest in themselves. He says he gets a lot of satisfaction in hustling and giving back.
“If you can touch someone’s heart or help them, that’s what’s really rewarding,” he said. “It’s not all about take, take, take.”
He owes much of his ambition to his parents who frequently told him, “if you don’t try it out, you might regret it one day.” He said that they would encourage him to do everything he wanted to do within reason.
“When I asked them if I could deliver papers, they told me to find out who the area manager was and to introduce myself to them, and that’s exactly what I did. This is something I’ve held onto and continue to do,” Kunert said. “I just introduce myself to people and see where it takes me. It was a good lesson and it gave me a huge confidence boost as a youngster.”
This is the same formula he shares with his clients, too.
On his Youtube channel, the Rideshare Professor, as he’s known, Kunert makes videos for drivers of the various rideshare platforms. He talks about safety protocols, ways to maximize earnings and how to get people “out of the Uber hamster wheel.”
In the comment section of each of his videos Kunert promotes The Rideshare Driving School, a series of webinars he created. He also leaves a phone number and email that people can reach him at for help or to ask questions. His main goal for the channel is to help rideshare drivers create “a game plan so they are not just driving aimlessly from place to place.”
“I share a very basic formula that is very easy to learn and very easy to grow organically,” Kunert said. “I teach them to utilize their vehicle and treat it like it is their office.”
Daniel Howard, 62, an Uber driver from St. Louis, Missouri and virtual friend of Kunert said that one of the best pieces of advice The Rideshare Professor had ever given him was “to set realistic goals, to know why you are driving and to understand the risk.”
“Any career can, and should, be fulfilling,” Howard said. He has spent 47 years and about 70,000 hours of his life driving.
“The gig economy sounded good on paper, but it failed at its origin. What Torsten and some of the other guys are saying is that drivers like me don’t have to be stuck in this cycle forever. We can use it as a stepping stone to catapult our careers and drive full time,” he added.
Kunert’s YouTube channel didn’t start out as mobilization oriented as it is now, however.
In the beginning Kunert used his platform to connect with potential Uber drivers as a recruiter for the company. He would make somewhere between $200 and $500 for every driver he brought to the company, he said, depending on their unique ratings and the number of trips they completed. In total, Kunert said he brought several thousand drivers to the company.
In 2017 when the new CEO of Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi, took charge of the company he wanted to change the way that recruiting worked. Little by little, Uber began to decrease payments per driver due back to recruiters. Eventually, Kunert said, Uber deactivated some of its top recruiters so that it could escape paying them out. To this day, Uber owes him about $750,000 from drivers he still had in the pipeline. “They literally pulled the rug out from underneath so many of us,” Kunert said.
By 2019 he took the case to court, where it is yet to be settled. “I don’t recruit for Uber anymore. I absolutely don’t like their business tactics,” Kunert added.
“I feel like my Uber journey has taken me along many paths,” he continued. “I am so proud of my role now because I empower drivers and I don’t allow them to be pushed around by these big companies.”
Kunert tells drivers that they have to fight for what they do, their earnings and their investments because the companies are not showing them any respect.
While rideshare companies squeeze more and more profits out of their drivers via bait and switch tactics, Kunert said they are not putting anything back into the system. In contrast, “the little gig workers are the one paying taxes, refueling vehicles and purchasing insurance.”
To mitigate this, Kunert tells each of the drivers who reach out to him to save up and purchase a bigger or more luxury car. This way, drivers can begin to classify themselves in a higher echelon category on the app. His logic is that once you have the car you can get it registered to become fully compliant before slowly starting your own business by gaining private clients. The end goal, of course, is to live a totally different and more independent lifestyle by making your way out of the Uber bubble altogether and owning your own driving business.
“I would get them small business loans, help them set it up, show them how to do social marketing and how to get clients by word of mouth,” Kunert said.
Thomas Gibson, 56, is one of Kunert’s clients and close friends. He drives for Uber part-time in San Diego and has gained many private clients along the way.
“Torsten is my mentor. He has provided me with invaluable information,” Gibson said. “During one of our first meetings together he told me I should get a YouTube, start a website, create business cards, get my small business license and upgrade my car, so I got a Cadillac. He also gave me tips on professionalism and providing amenities to passengers in order to entertain them, earn tips and gain referrals for my private business.”
To really make this switch work Kunert emphasizes personality, comfort, patience, skill, charisma and determination.
Gibson added that you have to have goals and you have to hustle. “Location is really important, too, as is providing an experience for your passengers as opposed to just a ride,” he continued. “By experience I mean letting them play music, listening to their stories about the boyfriend who just broke up with them, having water bottles, mints and tissues on hand. That sort of thing.”
Following Kunert’s formula, it took Gibson around two years to get his private driving business running smoothly, though there is still a long way to go.
Gibson started out driving for Uber 90% of the time and privately for 10%. Since then these numbers have fluctuated but nonetheless Gibson prioritizes not having any empty miles. One way he does so is by monetizing trips back after dropping off a private client by picking up an Uber passenger.
“I love when drivers check back in with me and share these amazing stories of how much they have grown in the business since we last spoke,” Kunert said.
“That really is very touching, and it makes all of this worth it, just knowing that I’ve made an impact on people’s lives in big or small ways,” he continued. “In fact, the only job that might be more fulfilling to me is being a dad, though the Rideshare Professor is an extremely close second.”