Dark Horse CPAs with Chase Birky
Randy connects with Chase Birky, co-founder of Dark Horse CPAs, on Episode 120 of The Unique CPA. Chase explains the platform model Dark Horse uses to support CPAs under the firm’s banner support services. CPAs can start, scale, and grow their practices through collaboration and shared resources within Dark Horse’s innovative structure. The two touch on how this model can help avoid burnout and promote mental health.
Chase joined us a speaker and panelist at the 2023 Unique CPA: Bridging the Gap Conference the week of August 28.
Today, our guest is Chase Birky. Chase is the co-founder of Dark Horse CPAs. He currently serves as the president and CEO, their course is by all accounts, a top 500 CPA firm, maybe making it to the top 400 range this coming year. Chase himself was listed this past year on CPA Practice Advisors’ “40 Under 40,” and was a finalist for CPAs Innovative Practitioner of the Year. Chase, welcome to The Unique CPA.
Thanks, Randy. Happy to be here.
First question is: What the hell is Dark Horse?
That’s a fair question. So Dark Horse is really a platform CPA firm, and what we do is we provide really everything that you would possibly need to be able to run a firm—to be able to start a firm from scratch or to be able to scale it, you know, once your existing, it’s really, you know, serving the entire lifecycle. So it’s not just about growing from zero, and it’s not just about maintaining or growing, you know, from an existing practice.
So branding, marketing, technology, staffing, you know, systems and processes, technology, all the things that you need to do, you know, to run a firm that distract you from client service, you know, distract you from advisory work and growing that practice.
So, I need to know more, because, to me, it sounds like you’re a company that supports other CPAs to help them grow their business, but they’re really growing that internally within their course, right? How does that relationship work with someone, hey, I want to build my business, whether I’m starting up or whether I have an existing, Dark Horse is going to help me. Is Dark Horse themselves actually doing taxes and accounting and payroll? Or you personally or? Or how is that relationship? Why did somebody come in with Dark Horse?
Yeah, so I mean, it is a paradigm shift, because as a leadership team, our customer is the CPA, versus the traditional partnership, where the client is the customer, right? So, you know, really, all of our focus is on supporting the growth and development of our CPAs and their staff members. So, you know, we’re a C corporation, so everyone is W-2. So that’s kind of the general structure. We do a lot in terms of stock options for folks to be able to buy in, at all levels, you know, to have that level of ownership in what we’re doing. And a lot of it’s performance-based, as is compensation, and all of that.
It really is, you know, a different way to look at a CPA firm, you know? Instead of trying to control quality from seven levels of review, you know, our mindset is more let’s give folks the tools and the resources, you know, in the platform to collaborate with other CPAs, you know, to be able to get quality right, on the first go, as opposed to trying to fix it on the back end. So, yeah, in a lot of ways, it’s just, you know, we’d like to call ourselves the anti-CPA firm.
Alright. And I like it, and I’m getting the hang of it. It is a total change in changing from structure, which I love. I mean, I’ve talked Blake to Oliver from cloud accounting podcast, he and I have talked about, you know, structures of CPA firms, do they need to change? I think that’s a hot topic with him. Daniel Hood, from Accounting Today posed the question, do we need CPA firms? You know, kind of as a, hey, he just wanted to get people’s reaction. So I think there’s the thought process out there, that it needs to happen. But you’re making it happen, which is the awesome thing.
I still want to kind of understand that. What’s your typical is there main two models? One is I have a firm already and I need help. So I come in and as another as a I want to start a firm so I reached out to Dark Horse and they helped me Are those the two main ways people come in with you?
Yeah, so two pathways to become a principal of the firm, which you can think of as a partner in a traditional partnership. One is through our accelerator program, where folks are typically at a manager or senior manager level at a traditional firm, and we build them from scratch to six figures in a couple of months. We’re essentially utilizing the marketing engine that we’ve created through digital means that are driving qualified inquiries through our website, phone calls, you know, a number of different sources, coaching them up on how to have that conversation. We find a lot of folks have never really been in that seat when they join us. You know, maybe they’ve shadowed a partner, you know, while they’ve done some of that bizdev work, you know, and have kind of observed some of that stuff by osmosis, but have never really had the opportunity to operate in that seat. And if they have had no training on how to do that.
One of our VPs is kind of God’s gift to sales, in my opinion. And so he’s able to work with them to really help them find their voice, help them articulate their value, you know, make sure that they’re, you know, having the client or prospective client feel heard, and just really, the nuts and bolts of how to do that, and then reviewing with them, you know, reviewing recorded calls, you know, so you can get into the X’s and O’s, you know, this is what they were asking, you know, even though they said it this way, this is how we want to approach that.
All that to say, we work very closely with those accelerators, you know, while they’re growing and developing professionally and growing their practice, and so as a result, they’ve been able to grow really quickly. Some folks have gone through the programme in as little as three months, others take closer to a year, or somewhere in between. But once they get to a certain revenue level, then that’s kind of the benchmark, there’s some other criteria, but where they’re eligible to become a principal.
On the other side, its existing firms, you know, typically in the sub $2 million space in terms of annual revenue, that, you know, has hit a ceiling in terms of their growth. And a lot of times, that also means the owner or partners in that firm are working a lot, you know, because of staffing, because of systems or processes, because of technology, because of all the myriad things, you know, that could be better, and that they’re trying to handle the best they can, and also trying to serve clients and also trying to, you know, develop their staff, you know, to rise up to that next level. So, they merge their practice into dark horse, and, you know, take advantage of what we’ve built, you know, and take a lot of the stuff they were doing off their plate and have access to the better technology and all that sort of stuff.
So in a lot of ways, you know, it’s really, like I said before, a lifecycle sort of thing, you know, this is meant for long term relationships, it’s not, you know, something where we want to buy someone’s book, and then kick them out, you know, our, again, our customers a CPA. So if they’re not there to service their client, and there’s no transition plan for those clients, we don’t really want the clients because that’s not our customer.
So then, in this situation, these two scenarios, let’s say you’re buying the for merging in a firm, are they principle immediately, or they still have to hit certain criteria that you’ve set up?
No, they’re a principal immediately—they get a stock option award, and then there’s an annual grant formula too. But we vet very hard before we merge into practice, you know, and there’s been a number of practices we just haven’t merged in, because it wasn’t the right fit.
So you know, it’s a long process. And it’s also a lot of moving parts and a transition, you know, from migration of data to client communications, you know, so on and so forth. So, it doesn’t happen overnight. I’ll just put it that way.
So when you say migration data, so when they come in, are they switching everything over to the technology that you’re using the software platforms you’re using? Exactly, yep. All right, that has to be a pain. Or is it not? Well, it’s a pain for you guys.
Yeah. It’s probably also a pain for them, you know, because we can’t do everything for them, you know, in that transition, they’ve got to be actively involved. But you know, we’re actively building out better systems and processes and staff, you know, so that we can take more of those firms on and not have to, you know, kick the can down the road for capacity.
And when I say pain, it’s just that transition. And I honestly shouldn’t say that, because this is what I hear too often: Aww, I’ve gotta spend, like, 50 hours implementing this new software? Even though in reality, it’s gonna save me 2,000 hours over the next three years or whatever. But yeah, I can’t spend that 50 hours now. And that’s, unfortunately, a mindset in our industry, I feel way too often. So I don’t want to put this impression out there that doing all of this is a pain because in reality, it is going to make you so much more efficient at what you’re doing. And I assume that’s one of the benefits that you all bring, or why they come in is because of all this behind the scenes support you have from software and processes and everything else.
Yeah. I mean, there’s an easy way to free up some of that time: it’s raise prices on your clients, fire the bad ones, you know, do the pruning you should have done to open up some capacity, you know, for what you think you don’t have time for, you know, and I was actually just talking to one of our principals yesterday who We had about a year to year and a half worth of coding, you know, and it was constantly like, I’m too busy right now I just, I can’t even wrap my head around doing something like this. And now talking, you know, to him in retrospect, he’s like, I should have done that a year sooner, right? Because it’s not like anything got better during that year, year and a half, you know, I just kicked the can down the road.
Exactly. And everybody thinks I just need that year, my to do list is gonna shrink if I just have more time, if I just put in more hours if I just work, you know, 12 hours a day. And that never happens.
It’s a fallacy.
Yeah, definitely a fallacy. So yes, anybody listening? Don’t put it off. If you think of something like this, whether it’s technology, whether it’s Dark Horse, whether it’s a change in processes that you want to implement.
if you’re not doing those things in the here and now, you’ll never do them. And if you do, it’ll be way too late.
Yep, exactly. Alright.
After that tangent, let me go back for a second—the accelerators, the brand new ones. So is this ever hey, I’m training this new person as an accelerator on how to run a business. And we’re going to show them all the tools and the technology and then put them off on their own and they leave? Or is it always, hey, no, you’re here and our course. And the whole goal is you’re going to build this practice, we’re going to help you and now you’re going to be a principal, you know, three months to a year down the road. It’s more of the internal not, let’s train them and let them free and let them go?
Yeah, I mean, more the former versus the latter, but essentially, once they, you know, get promoted to principal, there’s a buy in for the book of business that they’ve built. But once they pay off that buy in, they’re free at any point to, you know, take that book of business into their own corporation, merge it elsewhere. You know, we’re not here to chain them to Dark Horse. We want it to be, the market is telling us where our value is. So if they don’t see the value, you know, we’re providing, you know, versus the, you know, profit-split formula, you know, then shame on us, right? We should have provided more value so that they’re, you know, not, you know, wanting to leave.
We’re not going to solve for, you know, issues of ego, you know, if it’s got to be you call the shots, your name, you know, on the firm like, that’s, we’re not going to solve for that, right? So there’s some things we won’t solve for. But generally speaking, you know, we’re very confident that the value that we’re providing now and what we will be able to do, you know, over the coming years is going to be far more value than we’re actually capturing.
Yep. Alright. So I get the concept now better. And I appreciate that. I love it. I mean, this is my opinion. I don’t know if you agree, but I think we are a little bit in a crisis mode, maybe not even just a little bit as a profession right now. And not only as a profession, but just in general. I mean, right now, obviously, you know, I mean, there’s not as many people going into accounting degrees, people are coming in and they’re leaving, we have this perception and reality of a high burnout profession, which I know we can change. And I know you believe that as well. But without accountants a lot of things. We need accountants. So it’s not just the profession that’s a little bit in a dilemma right now. It could be the economy without accountants, maybe I’ve got a high opinion of ourselves, but I believe it.
Yeah, no, totally. I mean, there’s a reason we are employed, you know, by businesses and individuals. We serve a very critical function in the economy. Right now, it’s easy to look at, okay, the supply and demand factor, you know, there’s way more demand than there is supply for services. So we’re going to jack up our rates, live high on the hog. But there’s going to be a time, maybe three to five years from now, where technology gets to a point where it compresses, marginalizes compliance work, and more non-CPA firms are able to enter the space and then that talent equation is balanced out by the non traditional firms that are able to service at least that compliance need. And so it’s sort of an interesting inflection point we’re in right, it’s like there’s not enough talent right now. There’s a lot of clients, we can charge what we want. So the end result for partners is they’re making a lot of money, right? Because they’ve got pricing power. But when you look at where we’re gonna be in some number of years, it’s like if you get high on the hog and just comfortable, you know, and all of your work is compliance-oriented, because it’s high margin and you’re just turning and burning, you’re gonna find a rude awakening when those fees started to come back down to Earth and maybe go below historic norms, you know, after inflation if and you haven’t set up your practice for advisory and the skill set, you need to be relevant in the future.
Well, that’s a good segue because I was gonna ask about the types of services then I mean, traditional CPA firm, but I’m assuming this is I’m making an assumption, I should just ask the question, you’re now the bill by the hour firm?
No. I mean, there’s certain circumstances where we do you know, just because it’s hard to, for example, flat price an audit, not knowing if it’s going to be a hundred hours of work, or five, or, you know, depending on who the auditor is on the other side, and what level of sophistication they have, and how deep they’re gonna go into certain things. So some of it is hourly billing, you know, just because there is no way to either value price it or to accurately predict our time, but 90 to 95% of the work is value price.
So the price, how about subscription, is that come into place? Is that part of the value formula?
Yep, yep. And, you know, we’re endeavoring to move more and more towards that, right, because it’s just a lot less transactional. You know, when it’s once a year, when it’s something that’s hitting their account monthly, you know, it requires you to constantly be adding value to their situation. So we want to make sure that these subscriptions aren’t a payment plan for an annual invoice, but they’re rather, you know, an ongoing set of services.
So you just sounded like Ron Baker there. Have you read his new book, or…?
I heard him talk recently, and he was able to put into words what was in my head there.
Yeah, Ron’s great. He obviously is he’s looking to change the profession as well. And he was on the podcast recently. He’s been on a couple times, but actually spoke at our conference too, but I always just enjoy speaking to him or listening to him. He has some great insights.
He’s able to instill truth in a way that is kind of like, oh, yeah, you’re right. You know, someone else says something differently, you know, but is the same thing it’s like, yeah, I don’t know. He’s got a way about him.
Yeah, he definitely does. Alright, so you just mentioned we were talking, we just segued into pricing, and you were talking about the billing. I think you were working there too. Is this then when you set these up? Are you billing people monthly, then is this automatic payments? You’re not waiting for checks, you know, what’s coming in each month? How do you handle billing?
Yeah, so I mean, we’ve got a best practice way that we, you know, push people towards, but there’s a level of autonomy that folks, you know, are afforded at Dark Horse. We don’t want to control and micromanage how they run their practice, because that’s a big differentiator for us as as opposed to merging into a large traditional partnership, where you become really middle management, even if you have a partner title. You know, this is about, you know, you being able to still design the lifestyle, and you know, the clientele and how you’re going to work with them, where we’ve gotten, I guess, maybe more sophisticated, through experiences, just that there’s a certain lane that we need people to operate in, you know, from a technology and systems and processes standpoint, because if we want to leverage the collective and add value to everyone’s practice, we’ve got to have people doing things in a consistent fashion, you know, so that we’re not doing one thing that helps two practices out and helps no one else out.
So we’ve gotten more towards, you know, the side of getting people marching kind of the same direction. But when it comes to billing, you know, our best practice in the way that we are coaching our accelerators, and our existing folks is ignition, get the payment upfront, automated.
Right. Alright, that makes sense. I think that’s definitely the way to go. And I probably should have went this way a little sooner. But let’s go back again, then to when people want to be part of their course. And your leadership team, your client is Dark Horse, or the people coming in to their cars. And I guess the first question is how many people are just concentrating on building the, or supporting the Dark Horse advisors or individuals?
Yeah, our leadership team, I think, is eight or nine of us right now. And that has doubled, you know, in 2022. So that’s gonna continue to grow, you know, as the business economics allows for it. You know, and having people you know, in more defined roles, you know, because when we first started this, we were all wearing a bunch of different hats, so as time goes on, you know, wearing fewer hats, but always a Dark Horse.
I was gonna ask about that!
Yeah, and, you know, making sure that they’re the expert in their area, you know, so then give that next level of support, you know, to our accelerators and principals.
Okay. And then I want to talk about then, that support team, what are the support items? I mean, you’re bringing in and that red and you talked about you know, inbound sales do it you’re you’re bringing business to them. So when we talk about business development, then how are you doing that for these people in general?
Yeah. So it’s a heavy digital focus. So we’ve spent a god awful amount of money on our website.
And that’s a technical term, right?
Yes, that’s quantifiable, I believe. Yeah, so a lot of money, more than I would care to, but nonetheless, you know, these things aren’t cheap, and they don’t happen overnight. They require a ton of your involvement, you got to have a reason for it, right? Most CPA websites are a glorified digital business card.
But you know, so we built the website in such a way that communicates who we are, who we work with how we can solve, you know, folks problems, also, you know, making sure that they’re aware of what our pricing is. It’s not going to be exactly “this is the price,” but it might be a range, but making sure that the price shoppers of the world that are just looking for the lowest price are pushed away from us by what they see there. So we’re really dialed in on the SEO and paid advertising side to make sure that the sort of inquiries we’re getting our the types of clients we want to work with, then making sure that they get directed in our website to what our pricing is, how we work with clients, you know, so that the folks who are going to object to that are not wasting our folks’ time on those initial consults.
So, you know, essentially, our accelerators, for the most part, are on a rotation of taking these inbound inquiries. So you know, people are inquiring through the website, setting up initial consults, we’re stepping up to the game plan of how to do those, you know, proposing, engaging, kind of the whole thing, right. So in a lot of ways, you know, that’s kind of the majority of how they’re building. But then there’s obviously tons of referrals from clients, from other principals who have something that came to them that it just isn’t in their wheelhouse or something they want to do that they’re sharing with everyone else, you know.
So it’s really about reciprocity and collaboration. And it’s not just referrals and leads, but it’s, “I don’t know anything about inside versus outside basis in a partnership,” you know, I’m going to ask a question, and then someone who does know that say, “Hey, I’ve dealt with this, here’s a client, take a look at their tax return the work papers, you know, and then let’s get on a call and address any questions you have.”
And so it’s super important that the folks we bring into Dark Horse, and this is part of our evaluation, whether they’re an existing firm merging in an accelerator candidate, you know, or even, you know, someone who would support a principal is making sure that they’re very much aligned with participating first and consuming second—meaning, if everyone’s orientation is around helping and providing answers and insight, then there’s a lot more to go around for everyone. So, you know, if you’re someone who wants to come in, and just consume that, and not actually participate in that conversation, just not a good fit.
Right, more collaboration, more, you know, sharing ideas, more helping each other out.
Because it’s a big thing that, you know, any small firm, especially when you’re first starting out struggles with its accounting and tax are such vast fields, that it’s like, feeling the obligation as a general practitioner to perform a colonoscopy—it’s like, could you learn how to do it? Maybe? Should you? Probably not, right? But, you know, we’re held to a different standard, just because there’s not enough awareness, you know, from the public in terms of, you know, like an attorney. Injury Law is one type of law, you know, employment law is another. And, you know, people know, is like, if you’re not in that area, they shouldn’t go to you, they don’t have that awareness of us. But, so the point being that to be able to have other folks to collaborate with, you know, and if it’s something that, you know, you can’t just learn from them, you know, in an hour or two, you know, you might joint venture and say, hey, I’m gonna have this person come in, and help me on this engagement with this element, you know, so you’re not in a position where you feel like you might be, you know, subject to a liability claim or just not serving the client well, and having to turn that business away.
Okay, then that’s a good point. I was thinking this question then. So the collaboration and all that. When these businesses merge in, I mean, it almost sounds like they’re building their own business, but it’s not we’re still all working together. And this is not we have segregated ten different CPA firms within Dark Horse that are running independently. It’s still a whole team effort, right? And how do you create that then, it’s the atmosphere you guys put in?
I mean, it’s a blend, right? Because ultimately, as a principal, you’re responsible for your clients, your supporting staff members, You know, that doesn’t go away. It’s not like we absorbed—
Yeah, I’m sorry to cut you off, but I’m old. So I’ll forget this question. Support—your staff? Do you have a specific staff or staff shared between all the principals?
So the way that it works, generally speaking, is that our folks have dedicated support team members. So you know, it’s less of a pooled approach, like it is at a traditional partnership where, you know, one person might do stuff for ten different partners. You know, you have fully dedicated folks that you’re the one who’s hiring, right? We’re not placing them for you, because it’s got to be a good fit for your practice.
But that’s on their P&L. They’re responsible for managing, developing and growing those folks, we help them in that process. Because a lot of times it’s an underdeveloped muscle for folks, because they don’t see it in a traditional accounting firm. All they see is, you know, someone tells you to do something, I do it, they give me review notes, I get an annual review. And I gotta just figure my way through this, right? And there’s so much more that goes into developing people.
Okay, so as I said, track this, you were going down the line of these principles and how they run their practice. I think that’s where we’re going, right?
Yeah. So I mean, ultimately, they’re responsible for their practice, right? But we’re one firm with one mission. So it’s a bit along the lines of, okay, you might be a state, but you’re still an American, right? You might be a Nevadan, like I am, but I’m still an American, right? And I don’t discount what’s important to the country because it’s not specific to my state. So it’s a similar dynamic in that regard. And everyone participates in the whole, you know, they’ve got stock in the company that has a value attached to it, and people can see that grow. There’s a financial incentive to be tied into the firm at large, and also to be a part of where we go, right. So, for example, we had, we identified that there was a huge bottleneck in everything that led up to being able to prepare tax returns—all the back and forth with requests with follow up questions, so on and so forth. So we got a committee of our principals together and said, “Hey, we need to solve this.” And driven largely by them, we were able to source the right SAS company to solve that. And we spent, I mean, between our team and their team, maybe 750 to 1,000 collective hours, you know, getting this to a point where it was asking the right questions in the right language, with the right automated touch points and follow ups and automatic exporting where it needs to go. You know, so the folks that volunteered for that committee, you know, got to be a part of shaping the offering and what we’re doing here, we even gave an RSA to the principal who was really leading the charge there.
So alright, so I’m getting so many questions running through my head right now that we could go on for for 10 hours, I think. But I want to hit some of these in addition. One, first, how many principals are there?
So well, as of February 1, which it’ll probably be in arrears by the time folks are listening to this.
We’ll be at right around 30 at that point.
Okay. Alright. That’s how many people overall?
100 people overall, we’ve got 25 of those are in the Philippines. So we’ve got an actual Corporation over there. So it’s not just through, you know, an outsourced agency, so to speak. And we’re looking to build a service center there as well, so that we can have a supplementary source for folks to get kind of that core bookkeeping and core tax work done, as well as training folks from the ground up the way that we want them to be trained so that our principals could then hire them out of that service center and have someone who’s a lot more plug and play.
Right. Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. And that’s, I mean, so many firms, big and small, are looking at that offshoring, outsourcing, and I think it’s going to be extremely important. I love the way you guys are doing it with your—I’ve talked to other people that have their own separate firm or practice set up in the Philippines or in India or in wherever. I’m just not sure from a tax standpoint, if that’s a pain in the butt or not for you guys.
Fortunately, we’ve got a company that handles all of that compliance stuff, because yeah, there’s a lot.
Yeah, I’m sure there’s a lot. Alright, so I want to go back to this whole, the principals in their practice within the practice. I don’t know if I’m saying that right. But kind of, that’s how I’m envisioning it. And then tying that in with the back to where we were talking about business development.
Of these 30 principals, I’m assuming they obviously all have different skills, different passions of clients they like to work with, different industries, basically their niche. Do most of them have a niche expertise? And then when these sales come in, are these potential new clients, are we somehow addressing them to a, here’s our real estate expert, we should get that over there? Or, the first question is, niche—is that a thing?
Yeah. But I will say very few people come to Dark Horse with the established niche, or even knowing what they want that to be. A lot of them just come in as generalists, right? And then it’s, it’s a matter of, okay, I’ve been exposed to a lot. What am I most passionate about, you know, where can I add the most value? You know, who do I love serving the most, you know, and then developing a niche out of that more general book of business.
One of our, actually our first accelerator that we hired back in 2019, when we were really in our infancy stages, decided that his niche was going to be cannabis. So we’re launching a full website around cannabis, with separate branding, and all of that, you know, to support his endeavor into that space, you know, and making sure we’re driving the right sort of traffic his way.
So, yeah, I mean, it really, as time goes on, it’s, it’s gonna be more of a collection of niche, you know, there’s always gonna be generalist, but it’ll be a collection of niche services, you know, the broad swath of clients out there, but you know, if they’re in cannabis, or if they’re manufacturing or whatever the niche might be, they click into that, and then it’s the principal or principals that support that we’re directing that traffic to.
Okay. And then one other question then around niche because you know, we have generalists as well. But I mean, being a tax, even generalist is a lot different than being an accounting generalist. Are they building their book doing both? Or do they have experts that support them? I mean, I hate audits. I think you grew up as an auditor, I do not like it at all. I don’t like accounting at all. I like taxes. They’re completely different in my mind. I mean, how do you handle that within these principals’ books?
Yeah, I grew up as an auditor, but I rebelled against my auditor parents, so to speak. So we actually don’t do any audit or review or any attest work. Although we have some folks that do some level of that and a separate entity. But as Dark Horse, that’s not what we put ourselves out there to do for a lot of reasons I could dovetail into, but I won’t.
So what you’re doing is you’re already setting yourself up for a private equity cut. You don’t have to answer that! We can cut this out.
I mean, I’m not, you know, so interested in private equity, just because I don’t feel like I have real clarity on what the ultimate vision is of that.
But I do have a lot of interest in IPOing at some point.
Okay. And that’s, do you need that, for that purpose? Would you need to have the attest work separated?
Yeah, I mean, CBIZ is kind of the template of that, where they have their audit practice separate from, you know, their, the rest of their work.
And so, you know, that’s really what private equity is doing in a lot of cases, right? Because they can’t invest in the, you know, CPA firm, the attest side anyways. So that’s kind of becoming the, any capital, you know, that’s coming into CPA firms, whether it’s private or public, you know, needs that structure. Fortunately, we don’t have to parse those things apart, because we don’t have the attest practice.
Okay. Alright. And that’s it. I was thinking private equity. We were talking earlier, too, because when you’re talking about three to five years, when everything’s becomes you know, so automated and certain things that you need to be more of an advisor, I think private equity is, that’s one of the things that they’re going to accelerate, because they’re obviously going to spend money on, you know, being as efficient as possible, because that’s what they do. And so, to compete, you know, we need to be doing the same from a technology standpoint.
So I feel like I’m jumping all over. It’s just that I’m so intrigued with what you’re doing. I’d love to dig into more of that technology as well. But I don’t know if we have time for that. I mean, obviously, you have a set of software packages that you transfer everybody into when they come into Dark Horse. And do you want to, you know, expand on the technology aspect and how that helps you guys?
Yeah, I mean, it’s obviously getting the right apps, you know, that’s a good, or major component of it. Right. So you’re working in the best in class app, as opposed to a Thomson Reuters suite or CCH suite. Not to throw shade at that. But you know, typically they’ve got one product, they do really well, which is oftentimes their tax prep software. Some apps they do okay. And then a lot of it is just garbage, to be frank. So people will get into those because they’re integrated, and they don’t have to find the other things, the other apps to supplement that, right.
So, you know, we feel confident with the core apps we have, and we got to those apps, not by just saying, Ooh, this is a good one, ooh, this is a good one. But more so from the standpoint of designing what our workflow is, what it should be, what apps are going to support that in the journey, you know, make sure that we were looking at it from that standpoint, versus trying to reverse engineer that, on the back end, by getting the apps we thought we needed, and then realizing, you know, it wasn’t the ideal stack for how we’re trying to do our work.
But it’s so much more than app selection, right? It’s getting the apps customized to do the right things, you know. Very few apps work the way they need to off the shelf. HubSpot is a great example of that, if you take that off the shelf and don’t do anything to it, it doesn’t do anything for you. So it’s getting that level of customization, obviously making sure people know how to interact with the app, it’s about connecting them. It’s about creating automations, you know, either through API, Locode, or even RPA, where you know, the API or Locode doesn’t work. But you know, it’s how you tie all that together. It’s how you design a use case around it, how you get people familiar with where these automations occur, what triggers them, so on and so forth.
I mean, we’re not trying to build proprietary software like a proprietary CRM to replace HubSpot. Like there’s no reason for us to do that, because HubSpot is a great app, and they’re, you know, well funded to continue that product roadmap, right? We just want to layer on top of it, you know, and customize it for our use case, so that we’re really operating as efficiently as we can, throughout the stack. And also, you know, we’re working on creating our own operating system where we bring in all of these apps into a centralized place, you know, to allow for single source of truth and a single touch point area to really use the core functionality of kind of all of that.
All right, so like I said, I am so intrigued, I can keep going for another hour. And I want to. I think maybe you and I are gonna have to talk but we might have to do a part two of this because it is anything that will help this profession, I just want to—I get so intrigued with. But we’re gonna have to wrap up today unfortunate, believe me, I’m going to start crying after this because I want to talk more, but—
We could put the “To be continued, dot dot dot,” at the bottom of this.
We’ll do that. We will do that. I’m sure Justin who does the editing will definitely do that. So why don’t you give us a wrap og what we’ve talked about today, or, or highlight two important things that you, that maybe we missed or just you know, give us a little a bow on top of what we’ve done so far.
There’s a lot of areas I could go with that. This might not be as you know, summarizing. But it’s been a big thing that’s been on my mind is really just intentionality. And I say that because we can do everything we possibly can technology-wise, systems and process-wise, staffing-wise, you know, we can give you everything you need. But if you don’t build with intention, all that is still gonna result in working way too much. You might make a ton of money because you’re super efficient and you charge the right prices. But you know, there’s a human element that is a really big focus for us. Because if we’re not helping people read the label, if they’re inside the jar, you know, then ultimately, they’re going to get to a place of burnout. And I think as an industry, as a profession, that’s the existential crisis out there is how do we design firms that, you know, don’t encourage burnout or don’t enforce it? You know?
Yep, enforce is huge. I think that is a big part of part two of our interview, because that is one of my biggest passions right now is talking about burnout in the profession and how we can avoid it. And if we don’t avoid it, what the problem is, and that’s, I share my personal story. So it’s a lot of fun to talk about, because I think I see it helping people.
Alright, two final questions. And the last one will be contact information. But before that is, and the funny thing is when I was starting to research you for this, I’m like, oh, I got to introduce you to John Garrett. You would be great for his show. And then I just found out you were on this show recently. So but the final question that I have, and I did not steal this from John.
What’s my “And?”
Well, it’s basically what I asked is what’s your outside of work passion? So yes, your “And,” which I know what you said on John’s, I assume it’d be the same thing. But what do you like doing when you’re not working?
Yeah, I mean, I am an introvert. So part of that is just “me” time. A lot of accountants can probably relate to that. We have to turn a switch on, you know, at certain points of our day, but I recharge, you know, in solo time and time with my wife, but I love to golf, I love sports, especially football. I’m a huge Oregon Ducks, and Seattle Seahawks fan. You know, and spending time with friends and family and traveling and, you know, just mixing it up, because I’m in this house working too many hours as it is.
You’re not supposed to be working that many hours. That’s the whole point of what we’re doing right?
I should just take my own medicine.
Exactly. That’s what I say sometimes.
So alright, and then finally, if people want to find out more about their course, or you I didn’t even get to ask you about the hat today. So we’ll do that next time. But if they want to find out more about you in their course, where would they look?
Yeah. So on the accounting side, in terms of how we’re serving accountants, and you know what our model is—ABetterWay.cpa is the website to find that out. Our client facing site is DarkHorse.cpa, but you know, if you want to really start a conversation, you can fill out, you know, the form on ABetterWay.cpa, or just reach out directly to me on LinkedIn. I’m pretty easy to find my name is unique enough that if you search for it, you’ll find it.
Alright, well. Thanks again Chase for doing this. You and I will talk after, but I think we’ll schedule this again, and just again, thank you so much for being on today.
Absolutely. Thanks, Randy. And looking forward to part two.
About the Guest
Chase Birky is a co-founder of Dark Horse CPAs and currently serves as its President & CEO. Chase graduated college during the great recession and started out in the Big Four, but after experiencing the culture there, left to build a firm that specialized in serving small businesses and individuals, oft overlooked by the big players.
Dark Horse was born from Chase’s and co-founder Max Fritz’s belief that small businesses, entrepreneurs & intrapreneurs are often “dark horses” amongst their larger, more well-known competitors, and that the right guidance can help bring success. As Chase himself has said, “especially during these uncertain times, small businesses need a trusted advisor to navigate the highly fluid and often confusing business climate brought about by COVID-19. Small businesses, now more than ever, need a Dark Horse CPA.”
Meet the Host
Randy Crabtree, CPA
Randy Crabtree, co-founder and partner of Tri-Merit Specialty Tax Professionals, is a widely followed author, lecturer and podcast host for the accounting profession.
Since 2019, he has hosted the bi-weekly “The Unique CPA,” podcast, which ranks among the world’s 5% most popular programs (Source: Listen Score). You can find articles from Randy in Accounting Today’s Voices column, the AICPA Tax Adviser (Tax-saving opportunities for the housing and construction industries) and he is a regular presenter at conferences and virtual training events hosted by CPAmerica, Prime Global, Leading Edge Alliance (LEA), Allinial Global and several state CPA societies. Crabtree also provides continuing professional education to top 100 CPA firms across the country.
Schaumberg, Illinois-based Tri-Merit is a niche professional services firm that specializes in helping CPAs and their clients benefit from R&D tax credits, cost segregation, the energy efficient commercial buildings deduction (179D), the energy efficient home credit (45L) and the employee retention credit (ERC).
Prior to joining Tri-Merit, Crabtree was managing partner of a CPA firm in the greater Chicago area. He has more than 30 years of public accounting and tax consulting experience in a wide variety of industries, and has worked closely with top executives to help them optimize their tax planning strategies.