While most travelers are content to traipse at their leisure, others make it their livelihood. Enter Dylan Gallagher, tour guide extraordinaire and founder of White Wolf Private Tours, headquartered in San Francisco, California. Gallagher spent six years on the road in North America showing people some of the most amazing spots on the continent before deciding to launch his own business.
“My motivation was to organize a more efficient, more traveler-friendly tour company,” says Gallagher, who began with a firm called Orange Sky Adventures. “In the process of running that business, I became an expert on Yosemite National Park. After four years of leading hundreds of tours in the park, I saw what was missing: luxury, private tours led by an actual Yosemite expert for those who can afford it.”
His customers see the area in a fresh and totally upscale way. All tours are fully customized to the individual’s desires, and he spirits them around in a Mercedes GL 450, guaranteeing a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Being able to charge the costs that come with running an extravagant service has been integral to Gallagher’s startup and long-term success.
How did your credit history affect the way you financed your venture? Any challenges with scores or access to credit?
My credit history was everything. It helped me secure vehicles, open large lines of credit and fund my business. Without my credit cards and a good credit score, White Wolf Private Tours would be years behind where it is today.
When I first started my business, I thought banks would loan to me as they say in their advertising. They’re supposed to help a small business, right? In reality, many would only loan under specific stipulations, like you would need to have three years of tax returns for the new business, which doesn’t make sense because it’s a new business! Or they’d need proof that I had money in the bank, but if I had the money, I wouldn’t need to ask for any. After my third loan denial, I knew that credit cards were the only way I could get my company off the ground. I couldn’t rely on my personal income because it was zero. I quit my job to begin the company.
Which credit cards do you have and use and why did you choose them?
I currently carry five credit cards and about $66,500 in available spending: a Chase United Explorer Card, which has a $10,000 limit, the Wells Fargo Business Platinum card with a $12,500 limit, a Wells Fargo Small Business Advantage (my $5,000 business line of credit), a Blue BusinessSM Plus Credit Card from American Express card with a $30,000 limit, and the SimplyCash® Plus Business Credit Card from American Expresswith a $9,000 limit.
Besides the high limits, I chose these cards because they don’t have annual fees (at least in the first year) but all have lucrative rewards. Each year I receive over $1,500 in cash rewards just from the Wells Fargo Business Platinum alone.
I reinvest all my rewards back into the business. Because I’m a tour company, I can always use more equipment, such as binoculars to see the rock climbers on Yosemite’s El Capitan or new coolers to keep drinks cold. If I am stocked up on equipment, then I use the cash back option to pay down debt and keep money in the company.
How are credit cards helping you and your business become successful – and any words of wisdom for other small-business owners?
There is no question that credit cards have helped me build White Wolf Private Tours faster than if I didn’t have them. A small monthly payment is nothing for my reward in making my dream come true. I do carry over some debt at this stage because I financed a few important expenses, but I have a plan to pay it off. The only way I was able to create the company so quickly was because I could charge what I needed with the credit cards. I’m confident that the cash flow will come later because I already know what I am doing and what the market needs.
I’ve learned some important lessons about borrowing money along the way, though. Before I spent with the cards, I needed to understand my business and industry inside and out. Since I do now, from this point forward I only borrow money when I absolutely know that the cash flow will pay off my balances. If I don’t, I will be in a world of trouble.
My recommendations to other entrepreneurs are to use your credit cards to pay for as much as you canand enjoy the rewards you get back from them. You can boost your credit score with purchases and payoffs. At the end of the year, your taxes are easier with a simple import to QuickBooks, so do that too.
And keep your credit score high. A strong score will go a long way to help you finance expected and unexpected expenses.