Before joining TaskRabbit in March 2020, Kingsley Onyemali worked six jobs. It was better than the alternative: In 2018, the professional mover was homeless in Austin, Texas, two years after emigrating with his family from Nigeria to Oklahoma City. He was trying to save money for housing so his family, still in Oklahoma, could make the 360-mile trek south to join him.
But he had to hustle: Onyemali had a full-time job at a Lexus dealership, ran a small garage-organizing company, and worked sporadic gigs with Uber, Amazon, DoorDash, and Grubhub.
Along the way, he amassed enough money to afford housing: first an apartment in 2019 and then a house in 2020. Even then, he still had to work multiple jobs — until last year, when he made $108,592 as a mover and furniture assemblyman on TaskRabbit, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.
The business hasn’t stopped since. “During this inflation period, work doesn’t slow,” Onyemali, 40, tells CNBC Make It. “I don’t feel anxious when I don’t have something to do because I’ve been able to save for the rainy day.” But there are costs: Onyemali says he works 50 to 60 hours per week to earn those six figures. Here’s how he built his TaskRabbit business from the ground up.
Building a career as a mover
In an email had never worked with his hands before immigrating to the U.S.; he says: As a certified accountant, he oversaw brand and image development for a Nigerian mayor. In Oklahoma, he refashioned himself as a mover. He changed careers partially because it meant spending more time with family and partly because it was readily available to work.
“Grades and school made me feel like I never needed those [physical] skills — but coming here, the game was different,” Onyemali says. “I didn’t see myself working for someone or being in the corporate world. I wanted to have time with my family.”
After working some local gigs, a series of job leads led him to Austin, where he stayed with an employer for two weeks and saved up $2,300 to buy a used Nissan Ultima. But Austin — where the median monthly rent for a three-bedroom apartment is $4,649, according to Apartments.com — wasn’t initially affordable.
Sometimes, Onyemali slept in hotels or crashed with friends. On days when he didn’t have jobs lined up, he slept in the car. “This is America. Nobody puts you on their couch forever,” he says.
Hustling for an American dream
In 2018, Onyemali started his garage-organizing company. The business was slow initially, so he worked as an Uber driver and an Amazon, DoorDash, and Grubhub deliveryman. Combined with his job at the Lexus dealership, he says those gigs earned him roughly $60,000 per year.
By December 2018, he’d cobbled together enough to rent an apartment for himself and his family. But renting wasn’t the goal, so Onyemali continued working multiple jobs to start saving for a house. It took him about a year: He closed on a newly built home in January 2020.
Joining TaskRabbit two months later didn’t immediately pay off. On email earned just $37,000 from the platform in his first year. But he picked up handyman skills on the job that eventually helped him gain more clients and charge steeper prices — leading him to quit his other jobs in October 2020. “Before I started on TaskRabbit, I had never mounted a TV,” he says. “Now, I can mount 10 in an hour. Many of the services I offer started as skills I picked up on different TaskRabbit jobs.”
Using reputation to charge ‘premium prices
On email says he takes on about 60 projects per month on TaskRabbit, and his five-star reputation on the platform allows him to charge “premium prices” starting at $70 per hour.
Recently, he’s suffered from an algorithm change: TaskRabbit used to rank its search results by highest reviews, but now it ranks them by lowest price. “Now, you have to go to a third page even to find me,” he says. “But I understand I also have the choice to reduce my prices to pick up more jobs.”
A TaskRabbit spokesperson acknowledged the algorithm change in an email exchange with CNBC Make It. “Overall, we are working to provide the best match possible between Taskers looking for work and clients looking for help,” the spokesperson wrote. “We do this by ensuring tasks are distributed effectively across our Tasker community so that our clients are matched with a Tasker who can do the job at a reasonable price, and more Taskers can receive more opportunities to earn money.”
Through the first eight months of 2022, Onyemali still made nearly $60,000 off TaskRabbit. He’s investing most of that money into his garage organizing business, mainly because he doesn’t have to spend on TaskRabbit marketing and advertising. “Before TaskRabbit, I was making just enough to keep things in motion but not enough to save or invest,” Onyemali says. He hopes to dedicate more time to scaling the garage business in 2023.
Looking ahead, Onyemali says he wants to start integrating his TaskRabbit skills with the work he used to do back in Nigeria. Ideally, he wants to make money helping people understand how to operate new technology, which may eventually replace manual labor, he says. “This morning, I helped someone change a window screen,” Onyemali says. “Even if a machine could eventually do that work, you’ll still need a human to set up the machine.”