John Warner was raised in St. Louis, the starting point of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, one of the most important journeys in the history of American exploration. After graduating from Truman State University, he started on his own historic journey – in the field of accounting. He began with a memorable year inside the IRS – an experience that later proved to be excellent preparation for a move into public accounting at a large national CPA firm. There he spent seven years growing a national tax real estate practice serving international real estate investment and management firms.
In 2018, after those seven years in the large firm tax practice, John decided it was time to pursue his passion – working with small businesses. He set up an LLC and started his own practice. While he found the work with small business owners and entrepreneurs exciting and challenging, he recognized that he had a long road ahead. Building a CPA practice would be a herculean effort, involving countless hours to establish the infrastructure of the firm – designing, implementing and maintaining a technology stack, managing IT, creating a website, setting up all the legal and profession-specific accounts and certifications required to practice, getting insured, sourcing competent accounting talent and the countless other responsibilities every business owner has to take on. And let’s not forget the time and energy required to build a book from scratch or the cost (and headaches) of buying a book of business.
Still in the early phase of his new practice, John pursued an opportunity to win some contract work with Dark Horse CPAs. He met with Chase Birky and Max Fritz at Dark Horse, and the conversation went well beyond temporary contract work. At the time, Dark Horse was in the early phases of developing a new business model focused on partnership and growth that would eventually become the Dark Horse Principal Accelerator Program. John was intrigued. He saw it as a way to jump-start growth in his client base, while benefiting from the support of an established firm and brand. He signed on in July 2019.
Five Crazy Good Months
“The ride with Dark Horse has been great for my business,” says John. “The firm shares my passion for serving the small business community. I knew that building a practice would take long-term sustained effort that would create significant sacrifices for a young family like ours. Dark Horse compressed what would have been a multiyear process into less than a year.”
Dark Horse marketing efforts focus on SEO supported by relevant digital content, and various paid search campaigns, to drive inbound service inquiries. As the first and only Accelerator, John followed up on all the new leads coming in. “At times, it felt more like a ‘wild horse’,” says John. “The growth was fast and furious.” Five months after joining Dark Horse, John’s business was self-sustaining; he had more than enough revenue to qualify to become a Principal and, as such, was made an equity Principal in the firm. Over the two years since joining Dark Horse, his business has doubled in size, and he now has two employees working for him to support the client base.
Perspective on the Accelerator Program
“My experience as the first Dark Horse Accelerator has been a fulfilling time in my career,” says John. “The firm offered excellent operational and sales support that definitely contributed to my success. Beyond that, I had many opportunities to offer suggestions and feedback on the program, and Chase and Max were open to evolving and changing. The program, and the firm as a whole, improves with each group of accelerators.”
The Client Connection
John’s clients are small businesses across a number of industries. He works closely with business owners, often as an integral member of the management team. “When I worked in a large CPA firm, I would prepare the tax returns and have maybe a 15-minute call with the client. With Dark Horse, I am engaging closely with clients in a forward-looking way, advising on operations and planning. I personally find the work more fulfilling than the typical accounting role. I get great satisfaction from offering insights that enable clients to strengthen the fundamentals of the business and make informed decisions.”
For example, a distributor of compostable tableware, seeing demand drop off in the economic shutdown of 2020, was able to pivot its business model and shift production into PPE protective gear. John got involved in inventory tracking, commissions and forecasting to assure success of the initiative.
Disruptive Can Be Constructive
Dark Horse purposely created a disruptive business model to counteract the century-old accounting firm approach based on long work hours, inflexible schedules and a slow and unpredictable path to partnership. The Dark Horse mission is to empower CPAs with the resources that allow them to build their practice without sacrificing their personal life. Dark Horse Principals run their book of business where, when and how they want. This is made possible, in part, by leveraging innovative technology, including tightly integrated operational software supplemented by proprietary robotic process automation that frees up accountants to spend more time with clients.
“We take an innovative approach. Each Principal has the support of Dark Horse in commissioning new bots, reporting suites or any other technology that you can’t just get out of the box. I’m fortunate to be part of this collegial, smart and collaborative group of CPAs who are really embracing technology.”
Asked if he made the right decision in joining Dark Horse, John enthusiastically agreed. “The blend of being part of something bigger while retaining the autonomy needed to create a lifestyle that works for my family and myself has been life-changing. And the technology, training, marketing, staffing, exclusive revenue streams and collaboration with other CPAs have allowed me to build a half-million-dollar book of business in under two years.”
Explore the Dark Horse Accelerator Program
Visit the Dark Horse careers page to learn more about our mission, story and core values. Aligned CPAs can inquire about both location-specific openings and remote openings for Accelerator and Principal positions.