“Entrepreneurs are seen as change agents in communities and I had never ascribed to such an aspiring label before, but there’s power to ascribing to what you aspire to be. So that’s kind of how I got started.” Val Rodriguez, co-founder and CEO of Driftour, never foresaw herself as a tech startup founder. Like many, Val didn’t know what being an entrepreneur really meant. However, in entrepreneurship she found the perfect avenue to pursue her passion for community growth, which led to the creation of Driftour.
Driftour is a micro-tourism subscription service for Tallahassee’s local and visiting explorers, who seek authentic and unique adventures. It offers locals two kinds of subscriptions, Solo Staycationer and Staycationer Duo. These packages provide Tallahassee residents with various options to engage locally in a brand new way. They include one monthly immersion, an exclusive event held and hosted by a local business, and access to self-guided tours. For visitors, the company offers The Weekender. This package gives visitors access to locally themed self-guided tours for the duration of their stay, as well as itineraries they can follow at their own pace based on the kind of Tallahassee experience they seek. Through Driftour, anyone with a traveler’s soul can explore the capital city in an unprecedented way.
Val’s experiences as a student at Tallahassee Community College and Florida State University set the foundation to start a business that cultivates her vision of impacting systemic change in communities. She now gives back to the city that gave her everything to pursue her passion. It began at TCC where she was student government vice president and attended conferences, spoke in front of 300+ students, and developed her resume. “I have so much love for TCC. I was able to accomplish a lot of great things that began to shape me into the professional I am today, because I opened the door and asked a question,”.
At Florida State University, Val’s undergraduate studies did not initially involve the college of business. Instead, she gravitated towards social sciences and opportunities like the social entrepreneurship specialization. There, she was invited to attend an interdisciplinary design thinking exchange program with students from the College of Communication and Information. Through this program, Val and 4 FSU STARS (Students & Technology in Academia, Research, and Service) students went to Puerto Rico with the task to partner with creative entrepreneurship students from the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón and prototype a business idea. Val and her partners formulated an events calendar that would allow locals from different parts of the island to connect with other locals and exchange tourism information. Residents would then use the platform to discover new parts of Puerto Rico. The bedrock of the prototype were local businesses thriving with genuine community interest and support, while producing economic growth. It would also attract tourists interested in local authentic experiences and invite them to get to know and invest in Puerto Rico. “When you shop at the local businesses, the local establishments, the corner store with the really good pinchos, you become a traveler who invests in community growth,” Val explained. Going through the exchange program gave Val the idea of bringing an initiative like this to Tallahassee.
After graduating, Val and Chelsea Schneider, Driftour’s co-founder and Val’s former business partner, started Driftour and applied to Domi Station’s Get Started incubator program. “I didn’t get into Get Started, but they told me I could reach out to them, so I did. They reviewed the problems in my application and gave me a year’s worth of membership to work on those problems,” Val said. “A really cool aspect about Domi is that even though I didn’t get into the program, I showed an initiative to get productive feedback and they opened up resources for me. That personal connection is more apparent in smaller cities.”
Val and Chelsea used Domi’s mentors and coworking space to work on Driftour. They participated in 1 Million Cups and began testing out immersions with local businesses, which exposed Driftour to a whole new network bringing in pivotal results. “The best part of growing professionally in Tallahassee is working alongside revolving doors of people passionately working to uplift the community,” said Val. “You’re a part of something bigger in Tallahassee.”
From that moment, Driftour progressed to an easily-navigable, user and mobile-friendly web-app with GPS directions for each immersion. Last month, Driftour beta launched with “The Barista Experience Immersion” hosted by Red-Eye Coffee. This event takes staycationers through a coffee triad by learning how to make lattes with baristas and how to brew your own coffee using different methods. The immersions allow local business owners to form a meaningful bond with customers while delving into a different and engaging marketing approach. Local businesses and organizations can reach out to Val to hold immersions or sponsor self-guided tours. Hosting an immersion with Driftour results less costly than regular marketing fees and brings new traffic through the door.
For some, the misconception that Tallahassee doesn’t offer much past college and government resources is prevalent. Val invites residents and visitors to get to know Tallahassee, see what it offers, and get inspired by the people living and dreaming in the capital city. There is a community culture waiting to be explored. “Driftour is for those with exploratory tastebuds,” Val emphasizes. “We are your guide to the local current.”