2023 was a pivotal year for Zebulon LLC. We doubled-down on our motto of “Work Smart. Have Fun. Make Money” and continued to carve out our place in the outdoor experiences industry.

Work Smart: Finding our Stride and Making Our Mark

2023 was truly a “full-circle” evolution for the Zebulon team. Corey joined the team just after the New Year, growing our capacity for creating high-quality content and increasing our ability to deliver on leadership theory, business strategy, and more. As 2023 waned, we bade Chris farewell and wished him success with his own industry endeavor, the River of No Return. If you need a sales rep out West for rafting gear, he’s your guy.

Going Full-Send on Conferences

In 2023 we pulled out all the stops to maintain a consistent presence at as many industry conferences and trade shows as possible. 

We kicked things off with the first of two Colorado River Outfitters Association conferences. Zeb gave his crowd-favorite “The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Outfitter Pricing” presentation, as well as “Calculating your Way to a Potential Raise” which introduces profit-driving financial education to non-owner outfit leaders.  

From there, we paid a visit to the Montana Outfitters & Guides Association, including a moving night with the Big Hearts Under the Big Sky foundation. Next up was the Association for Challenge Course Technology, where Zeb co-presented on employee retention with GoApe and our friends at the FlyBook.

After a brief hiatus, we ramped back up for the fall/winter’s triple whammy. First, it was CROA conference #2 in November (where Zeb presented on building a robust Employee Ownership Culture in your outfit). Then, it was time for America Outdoors in December (where Zeb had an audience filled to capacity learning how to Inflation-Proof their outfits). Last but certainly not least, we went to the Idaho Outfitters & Guides Association just before Christmas. At IOGA we made some invaluable contacts, and Zeb presented his “Three Tickets to Profitability.” Whew! What a marathon!

Conferences By The Hour

All told, Zebulon LLC actively participated in and presented at six industry conferences in 2023. Over the course of all six conferences, we dedicated more than 530 business hours to the cause. This includes time spent building presentation slide decks, workshopping and rehearsing the presentations, traveling to the various conference centers, presenting in front of live audiences, manning our trade show booths, and networking with fellow industry movers and shakers. Those 530 hours translate into more than 67 full days dedicated to building up our industry. Go team!

A stylized pie chart from Zebulon's 2023 Year in Review showing the breakdown of how 530 hours were dedicated to industry conferences.

Have Fun: Walking the Talk

Life’s not worth living if you’re not having a little fun along the way. We think this applies to both work and leisure, so here are our “fun” highlights of 2023:

Our Innovation Journey Births “The Eddy”

The Zebulon LLC team stands in front of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Zebulon LLC team in St. Louis, Missouri.

In June, Corey and I attended one of the finance industry’s best conferences: Woodard’s Scaling New Heights. This conference is a great way for me to complete the majority of my legally-required “Continuing Education” hours needed to maintain my CPA license – something I take very seriously.

Not only that, but Scaling New Heights is also the perfect opportunity to level-up our own service offerings. This year, we learned about new technologies and business management styles at the conference. Plus, during our downtime between sessions we managed to both visit the iconic Gateway Arch AND hatch the idea for The Eddy, our CEO peer group dedicated to industry growth and innovation. Pair these innovations with some rockin’ live music and cajun food in St. Louis where the conference was held, and you’ve got yourself an event that is both fun and impactful!

The Proof Of The Pudding: Getting On-Board with Power BI

Another fun product from summer 2023 is our newfound commitment to embracing cutting-edge technologies. Namely, we’ve made huge investments toward harnessing the power of data. We’re doing this by implementing Power BI to discover even more trends and insights than before.

We’ve hired Skypoint Cloud Inc to build a series of data warehouses and dashboards so our clients can chat with their own data. This partnership is also providing us with a birds-eye-view of what’s happening across the industry. Our goal is to analyze everything from granular details to big-picture trends, so our outfitter clients and industry followers can make well-informed decisions. The Power BI data visualizations are AWESOME, and we’re having a blast playing around with new systems.

Now, when we say “we’ve made huge investments,” we really do mean huge. Even after an initial $60k build-out investment, the maintenance cost of implementing this data-driven Power BI tool into our weekly routines will make up ~40% of our annual operating expenses. We’ve gone full-send on Power BI, and we can’t wait to see what kinds of “Eureka!” moments our investment will bring our clients in 2024.

Zeb's family river rafting with Scenic River Tours in 2023's Year in Review.

The Smith fam on the Gunnison River.

It’s All Fun & Games Until … Well, It’s Always Fun & Games in Zebu-land

Having fun is one of our biggest priorities at Zebulon LLC. To this end, we have unlimited PTO and everyone is actively encouraged to step away from their computers – and to do so frequently.

Some of Zeb’s “Have Fun” highlights from 2023 include an awesome snowmobile tour with his family over at Grand Adventures, and going down the Gunnison River with the good folks at Scenic River Tours. Corey, our in-house globetrotter, made it all the way to Oktoberfest in Germany this year (Prost!), and she nabbed other passport stamps from Switzerland, Costa Rica, and Guatemala, too. 

Make Money: Dedication to Growing Bottom Lines

Above, we mentioned spending hundreds of hours on conferences alone in 2023. Well, it’s no secret that we meticulously track our time here at Zebulon LLC, so let’s take a closer look at what other areas of the business we dedicated ourselves to.

Time: Attract, Convert, Deliver, Collect

If you’ve read Clockwork by Mike Michalowicz, you’re probably familiar with the following four components of business endeavors:

  • Attract: Bringing brand awareness to new prospects, and demonstrating the value you provide
  • Convert: Turning the prospects you attracted into paying, happy customers
  • Deliver: Following through on your promises, and serving your clients to the best of your abilities
  • Collect: Making sure you actually get paid

In 2023, the Zebulon team’s Attract/Convert/Deliver/Collect breakdown (or A/C/D/C for short) looked something like this: almost two-thirds of our time was spent delivering on our promises, and just over one-third was spent attracting, converting, and collecting.

A stylized pie chart from Zebulon's 2023 Year in Review showing the breakdown of the company's time investment by category (Attract, Convert, Deliver, Collect).

Talent: Fewer Clients Mean Bigger Impacts

After some soul-searching in 2023, we adjusted our service offerings and reduced our monthly client headcount to between 6 and 8 at any given time. At 2023’s peak, we had 13 clients on the calendar simultaneously. Zeb learned the hard way that delivering services to 13 clients in a given month isn’t sustainable in the long-run, so by the end of 2023 we delivered on all promises and intentionally scaled-back to 7-8 clients on monthly retainers.

All told, in 2023 we helped 18 clients manage an overall portfolio worth over $38 million revenue. This is sizable growth from the $25 million revenue we helped manage in 2022. 

Of the 18 total clients we served in 2023, we still have access to (and have permission to share aggregate details of) 12 clients’ financial records. We’re thrilled to report we helped these 12 generate almost $25 million in total revenue in 2023, a $4 million increase from 2022. Not only that, we helped them generate a whopping $7 million in net operating income, almost doubling 2022’s $4 million NOI. That’s an extra $3 million in profit!

This means our clients now average $2 million in revenue and a stellar $570k average NOI. Having a NOI that makes up 29% of revenue is double the industry standard. Not bad!

Stylized graphics showing Zebulon LLC's total managed portfolio ($25m in 2022 and $38m in 2023) and the average client stats.

Treasure: Zebulon’s Own Wealth Creation

Our original goal for 2023 was to bring in $400,000 in revenue and $200,000 in Net Operating Income. This was a hefty goal, considering just two years prior, Zeb brought in a mere $170,000 revenue as a one-man show.

Well, we ended 2023 right spot-on, with $409,000 in revenue and a $192,000 net operating income. And guess what? We have even bigger ambitions for 2024. We’ve beefed up our goals and we’re gunning for $550,000 revenue and $330,000 in Net Operating Income in 2024. 

We also hold ourselves to high standards of giving over here, so no 2023 wealth discussion would be complete without a nod to our philanthropic endeavors. Zeb continued to tithe to his local church in Gunnison, and Zebulon LLC collectively donated to various industry non-profits to the tune of $9,755.

A stylized bar chart showing the breakdown of Zebulon LLC's actual revenue & client count for 2023 ($409k and 18 clients) and target revenue & client count for 2024 ($550k and 8 clients).

Setting our Sights on 2024

2023 was a formative, whizz-bang of a year, and we can’t wait to see how 2024 unfolds.

On the Docket: Client Visits

On the immediate horizon, we’re stoked to be planning visits to some of our valued clients. We can’t wait to explore the Kern River in California with the good folks at Sierra South Mountain Sports in April. Come early May, we’ll be checking out the Peshtigo and Menominee Rivers in Wisconsin with Wildman Adventure Resort. During peak summer, Zeb plans to jump over the divide to visit our newest client, Royal Gorge, for a weekend retreat of ziplining, rafting, good grub, and to stay in a sweet Airstream!

Keeping Our Foot On The Gas

In June, we’ll be attending Woodard’s Scaling New Heights conference again. Not only will this knock out most of Zeb’s required Continued Education, we have big ambitions to continue embracing Power BI and innovative technologies, and learning as much as possible from the finance experts at Woodard. Plus, we’re hoping to grow the Zebulon team in the coming year, and where better to start our recruitment journey than at a conference full of eager, finance-oriented specialists?

We’ll of course be returning to as many industry conferences as possible in 2024. We’ll come prepared with new, hard-hitting presentations designed to help outfit owners and leaders work smart, have fun, and make money. The first presentation of the year is already pegged for May: Zeb has been invited to keynote the annual Southwest Colorado Small Business Conference!

On Your Marks, Get Set, Go!

All in all, Zebulon LLC is in a great place for 2024. We have a phenomenal crew of innovative, growth-minded clients. We’re thrilled at the positive feedback our outfit incubator “The Eddy” has received. And, we have big ambitions to continue our own journey of learning and growing as a company. We’re ready to let ‘er rip!

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