‘I’m Not Waiting Around for Things to Happen:’ The View from a Small Business Owner
After 10 years coordinating large-group international tours for another travel company, Daniel Milks branched out on his own in late 2018 when he founded My XO Adventures, a boutique firm that specializes in custom small-group tours.
“It had been my dream to have my own travel business,” says Milks, a 28-year resident of Sarasota. “The XO stands for love of travel.”
To build trust with potential clients, he organized travel clubs through meetup.com that met at local restaurants. “People got to know me a little bit better, and once they got a sense of who I am, they started to make reservations,” he says. Last March, for example, he led a 16-person trip to Cuba.
He also developed a small group driving/walking tour of Sarasota in 2019 after visiting the library several times to delve into the region’s history as far back as the native Americans who were its original inhabitants.
Milks bought a 15-passenger van, had it wrapped with his company name, and drove it around town as an Uber and Lyft driver. “I didn’t need the money,” he says. “I wanted to get the name and word out there.” His Sarasota tours began to flourish, thanks to that name recognition and to advertising with TripAdvisor and Expedia. “I was the creator, the driver and the tour guide,” he says.
When the coronavirus pandemic ground travel to a halt in March, Milks started delivering groceries for Instacart. He makes six or seven runs in a full day. “I enjoy it,” he says. “It gets your mind off stuff because it sets you on a mission. A lot of people are afraid and don’t want to leave their house for a lot of different reasons. I’m helping get them through it. I’m doing a good deed, and that’s the way I run my business, too.”
Meanwhile, Milks says he’s busy redesigning the company website and “preparing ourselves for 2021 and the difference in the way people are going to travel.” Instead of international trips, his focus will be on multi-day trips around Florida. “Why don’t we explore our own back yard?” he says. “There’s so much to see here that we have not seen before.”
He’s also planning a small group "glamping" trip to national parks around the U.S. “I’ll be taking that van and a covered trailer for luggage and will travel across the entire United States with small groups of no more than eight people,” he says. “We’ll hit as many national parks as possible and I’ll sell it in segments; you meet me where I’m at. Our country is absolutely beautiful and amazing, and I can bet most of the people in the travel club haven’t seen half of its natural wonders.”
“We are not on hiatus,” he says. “We will 100 percent survive even if [the pandemic] extends over a period of time.”
Milks says that in the meantime, if he can help himself and help other people, he’s fine. “I’m not waiting around for things to happen like unemployment checks,” he says. “The Instacart, the Uber and Lyft, they supplant what the tours were bringing in, and I’m grateful for it.”
“There are a lot of people out there in a similar situation,” he says. “They may have a certain amount of pride or shame. I don’t have either. I’m surviving.
"We have to be as flexible as we can, look at the assets we do have and figure out how we can use them to make it through this time period, which is really hard for everybody.”