Grabbing coffee before you head into work? Running to the grocery store to grab eggs?

You could be making money while you’re at it.

A new cell phone app available on select military bases, called JoyRun, connects users with people in their communities who are running errands — and don’t mind adding a couple extra items to their lists.

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“I basically can turn on my phone and make money whenever I want,” said John Slater, a Navy veteran who lives near Joint Base San Antonio and has made about $60,000 on the app in the year and a half he’s been using it.

The Texas military installation was among the first to pilot JoyRun in the summer of 2017, after the company received multiple requests from the military community to expand the app, originally intended for college students, said JoyRun CEO Manish Rathi.

Here’s how it works: Users can log on and see if anyone in their area is making a lunch run or a trip to the store within the next few hours, then put in a request for someone to pick up items for them while they’re there. The person who takes on the errand, known as a runner, then makes the trip and delivers the goods, charging up to $5 for their services.

“It allows you to get food, groceries, other stuff brought to you by members of your own community,” Rathi said.

Runners can even set goals in their profiles, so you know if your money is going toward a cruise, car repairs or charity.

About 20 percent of JoyRun runners have been using the app to earn money for Christmas presents in recent weeks, according to the company. (JoyRun)
About 20 percent of JoyRun runners have been using the app to earn money for Christmas presents in recent weeks, according to the company. (JoyRun)

The service is comparable to other gig-economy apps, such as UberEats or GrubHub — but better, if you ask Rathi.

It’s generally more affordable, “community-driven” and targeted toward “middle America,” he said.

And it’s been gaining in popularity among service members, military spouses and veterans — especially around the holidays. Nearly 20 percent of runners have said in the app that they’re hoping to earn money to buy Christmas gifts, according to information provided by the company.

Besides Joint Base San Antonio, JoyRun is now available at and around Fort Hood and Sheppard Air Force Base, also in Texas, as well as Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, and the Air Force Academy in Colorado. Residents of Goodfellow, Minor and Offutt Air Force bases can expect to be able to log on soon, and another 26 installations are in the queue.

So far, more than 10,000 active-duty service members have used JoyRun, and nearly 1,000 veterans and military spouses have done runs, according to the company.

Rathi said most of the growth has happened organically by word of mouth. If troops or their families hear about it and it’s not already offered on their installations, they can put in a request on JoyRun’s website. Through these requests, the company is able to gauge interest at specific locations and build a team of users already committed to using the app.

Slater said he’s been hooked since his first weekend as a runner, after he’d taken time off from the restaurant industry to recover from surgery. Now, he said, there’s no need to go back to his day job.

“Good days, you make $300 to $500 before tips, and some days can be very good with tips, especially right after pay days,” he said.

One thing he likes about JoyRun is that a runner can get paid for multiple orders at once, unlike other delivery apps he’s looked into. Say a whole barracks floor wants Panda Express or McDonalds, for example, Slater can charge each person $5, making more than he would delivering one order at a time. JoyRun takes 20 percent of the fee, but the rest goes in his pocket.

Slater has turned it into a business and has dedicated resources to marketing his services to users on base, incentivized by a bonus point program built into the app. He’s even donned a cowboy hat since becoming a runner to help build a brand, so that he’s easily recognizable and more memorable to his customers.

In doing so, he’s built relationships with troops who use his services, as well as employees who work at the restaurants he frequents.

“I’m having so much fun,” he said. “You’re making these people really happy. I like seeing that.”

Army spouse Julia Erb started using JoyRun in July when her husband was deployed and she was home sick with three kids. Now, she works as a runner in the app, setting her own flexible schedule each week. (JoyRun)
Army spouse Julia Erb started using JoyRun in July when her husband was deployed and she was home sick with three kids. Now, she works as a runner in the app, setting her own flexible schedule each week. (JoyRun)

Julia Erb, an Army spouse who lives near Fort Hood, has been using the app since July and has found it useful for meeting new people, too. Just recently, she went to the gym with another spouse she met through JoyRun.

“I think it’s more than just an app, because it’s community and you know people and you get to see the same people,” said Erb, who manages a team of regular runners in the area by making sure all shifts are covered. “It’s more personable than someone delivering.”

Unlike Slater, Erb now uses the app more to receive deliveries than to make them. But when she does decide to run, she said it’s easy and something she can do with her three kids in tow. Plus, it’s helped her pay for Christmas gifts this year.

“We can all use extra money, and it gives you a sense of that you’re helping the community,” she said. “It isn’t like any other food delivery app. I like what they stand for.”