Episode 119 – Scott Hoppe

Scott pedals his way to better work connections


Scott Hoppe got into cycling when he was a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He bought an $800 bike and began riding it everywhere he went as a way to exercise and lose some weight. This eventually led to him entering both crit races, which are shorter, “crash happy” tight circles, and road races, which are much longer distances. He finished in 6th Place in the most difficult road race he’s competed in was in Boonfield, CA, a very mountainous part of the Pacific Coast Highway. When he’s not racing, he’s been known to ride his bike to some CPE events and even across the Golden Gate Bridge to work.

In this episode, Scott and I talk about how his cycling allowed him to learn that his limits were greater than he thought. He can now see through the “hurt locker moments” in order to dig deeper and stay focused longer. Scott is big believer in finding common ground to develop stronger relationships. When he was with larger firms, he often started “biggest loser” challenges or Wednesday night runs. He feels that if you’re at a larger firm, you shouldn’t wait to ask for permission but rather take it on yourself to create the culture you want. “Don’t be scared of failure, so fail forward and fail fast.”

Scott Hoppe is a Partner with Why Blu in San Francisco. He was named to CPA Practice Advisor’s 40 under 40 list and is the Vice President of the California Society of CPAs Education Foundation.

He graduated from the California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo with a Bachelor of Science, Accounting, and then a Master of Science, Taxation. He later received his Doctorate, Accounting from Golden Gate University.

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    Welcome to Episode 119 of the Green Apple Podcast where each Wednesday, I interview a professional known for a hobby or a passion, making them stand out like a green apple in a red apple world.

    When I tell you to imagine an apple in your head, I’m sure for most of you, it’s red. I know it always is for me because in school, A is for apple. Remember that picture? Always up on the board, always a red apple because that’s the stereotype. But the interesting thing is that all apples actually start out green and then over time as they grow on the tree, they turn red, turning into that stereotype, but deep down inside all of us is this passion for something other than our jobs and that’s what I love to shine a light on each week here on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Thanks so much to everyone for subscribing and leaving ratings and comments on iTunes or the other Android apps. It’s so encouraging to hear how much you enjoy what someone described to me as the least business-y podcast out there. That’s pretty classic. And I’m doing some research. It’s a super short one-minute anonymous survey about firm culture and how maybe the green apple message may apply in your world. If you’ve got just 60 seconds, please go to greenapplepocast.com. You can click that big green button there and answer a few quick questions. Again, it’s totally anonymous. I really appreciate the help.

    Now, it’s time to introduce you to this week’s guest, Scott Hoppe. He’s a partner with Why Blu in San Francisco. It was named a CPA Practice Advisor’s 2017 “40 Under 40” list just last year. I know you’re super busy, Scott, so thank you so much for taking time to be with me on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Scott: Thanks for having me, John.

    John: Oh, yeah. I’m just glad that you’re able to be here. We were able to talk on the phone a little bit ago, and I gave everyone a little bit of your introduction but maybe in your own words, a little bit of where you’re at now and kind of how you got there.

    Scott: Yeah, sure. So my career started off in San Francisco in tax at PwC, spent a couple of years there before leaving and going into industry. And for anyone that’s in public accounting now listening to this, very, very big, big draw they’re working at this company, Gensler, it’s an architecture firm, eight hours a day maximum and if you go over eight hours, you get paid overtime.

    John: Right, wow. Yes, yes. A couple of people just fell out of their chairs listening to that.

    Scott: Exactly, right. When you’re sitting there in public accounting where it’s endless hours and you could swim in a bucket of your hours — so I left and it was a stepping stone for doing what I ultimately wanted to do which was open up my own practice and finish my PhD.

    When I was at Gensler, I started my doctorate and I was there for just under a couple of years before starting my own practice. For the last three years, I’ve been running an accounting firm, Hoppe Tax, in San Francisco and it’s 100% cloud-based and my team that I work with is all over the U.S. but my primary partner at least at the accounting side of things, she’s from Deloitte and she’s in Florida.

    John: Oh, wow. Look at that. Opposite sides of the country. That’s so great that you guys — so how did you guys meet up then?

    Scott: Really random. QuickBooks throws out a conference each year, QuickBooks Connect. And it’s in San Jose. I went a couple of years ago. I didn’t really do bookkeeping so I’m like, I went on the prowl to find a bookkeeper that was good. Lots of people do bookkeeping. And throughout this, I met a ton of people. I met one lady and she eventually introduced me to Diana. I don’t know how many degrees, it’s probably a few degrees separation but also when I got linked up with this lady in Florida who was like phenomenal, Big Four, good work quality, like does accounting, gets the big pictures, running her own practice, it was amazing.

    John: Yeah, that’s unbelievable. I actually spoke at that conference last year so yeah, that was pretty cool.

    Scott: I probably saw you.

    John: Yeah, yeah. It was pretty — our paths have crossed so many times. I’m in your shadows. I’m right outside your window right now. No, but that’s still cool, man. Kudos to you for finishing the PhD and then going out there and starting your own practice. That takes a lot of guts, man. So you’re making it happen. That’s pretty awesome. I mean that takes a lot of time as well.

    Scott: Thank you.

    John: One thing that I love to ask everyone though is just like what made you want to go into accounting?

    Scott: I can remember the moment that I decided it, and it was very well thought out. I must’ve been in high school which seems kind of weird but there’s never a right time to decide this. My dad and I were in the backyard and we’re throwing the football back and forth and I’m like, you know, maybe I want to do this accounting thing. I know I want to do business.

    So once you want to do something in business, you’re going through what type of decisions like international business, or human resources, finance, accounting, marketing, et cetera. Even though I liked personal investing, I like doing it myself. I was interested in stocks. I didn’t know if that’s exactly what I wanted to do.

    And then outside of business, well, I was in high school, I built computers like custom computers and sold them, sold them and supported and serviced people. Yeah, I did that because I worked at Circuit City, if you remember that name.

    John: Oh, nice, nice.

    Scott: I could see that people weren’t getting their needs met with what was off the shelf from HP and Compact and all these guys. But Circuit City, they gave us a 401(k) and I remember being like, “All right! 401(k). Good deal.” So I was wired for this.

    John: Yes, exactly. You have no choice, man. This is your destiny.

    Scott: No choice.

    John: The sooner you embrace it, the better it is for everyone, right?

    Scott: Right, right. So then flashback, we’re in the backyard, throwing the ball around with my dad and I’m like yeah, this seems like a good idea and there’s no flags, no parent’s going to be like, “Don’t be an accountant.” If anything, they’re like, great!

    So we fast forward and we get into like you’re in college, you’re taking your general ed class and I had this accounting teacher Dan Galvin, and I liked the guy and I didn’t know if I had the chops for it so I ask him, “Hey, am I cut out for this accounting thing? Can I do it?” And he’s like, “Well, you seem like you pick up on it. Yeah.”

    Just that little confirmation there from him on a quick conversation was enough for me to be like all right, I’m going to do this and dive all in and that’s what I did and I went to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. I transferred there so there’s these things called internships that I had no knowledge of, like zero to 60 into the whole thing and that’s it. I just catapulted right into accounting and here I am.

    John: That’s great, man. Well, congrats dude. I mean that’s fantastic. I mean really, really fantastic. Yeah, that’s so funny. The high school kid getting jacked up about a 401(k) like that’s so funny to me. That’s really funny to me. Really funny. But yeah, but there’s certainly a whole other side to you, Scott, and that’s what we’re going to have some more fun with, but it’s just what hobby, passion, when you do have some free time, do you like to go do on nights on weekends?

    Scott: Yeah. I got really lucky too with the school going to Cal Poly because it was very outdoorsy and prior to that, I played football and I wrestled in high school but I was always like a bigger guy so let’s say like when you’re a bigger guy that plays running, biking, swimming, everything on like the backburner.

    So but then you know, in the first couple of years of college, you go through this transformation, I’m like no, I’m going to take care of myself and I had this little — this job after Circuit City down in the industrial park of my town which was like maybe a 5-mile bike ride up and down a hill. I’m from Benicia so if anyone’s listening that’s from there. There we go.

    I stared riding this bike to and from work and I’d sweat and I was like oh, man. Well, it was like a little $500 Fuji bike that I got from a standard store and I started enjoying it so much that when I eventually crashed it when I was in college in the beginning, you don’t need to know why, but you crash it —

    John: The statute of limitations hasn’t passed yet? Is that what it is?

    Scott: So I bought this new bike, right? I went on to something like I’m talking about bikes because I love biking and so you get into Cal Poly, it’s like super outdoorsy and I crash this bike and I go out and I buy a bike that’s $800 but it’s an off-brand and for anyone in the biking world, going from $500 on brand, it’s way overpriced, $800 off-brand means you’re getting so much more bike for your money.

    I felt like that first moment when you’re a kid and you learn how to ride and you have complete freedom, it was amazing and I have forever since that bike ride, I can remember the specific route and everything, I just fell in love and ever since, I’ve been biking, I’ve raced bikes once I got out of college. I raced bikes in college towards the tail end, I got to San Francisco and joined a couple of clubs here and raced for this thing called Squadra. So we’re sponsored by Audi, and then we’re sponsored by Muscle Milk. I like went all over the state and raced. I loved it. I loved it to no end. So that’s my big passion. That’s what I would do if I could do anything. Actually, it’s how I get to my CPE events.

    John: Oh, nice.

    Scott: I’ll stay at a hotel a little bit away and I bike in.

    John: That’s so cool, man. That’s so cool. It’s like the guy on the Harley except it’s the cycle. That’s like, yeah. Look at that —

    Scott: We’ve got the spandex.

    John: “Here comes Scott.” Click, click, click, click, and hear your shoes clicking along. It’s like, “There he is.”

    Scott: I definitely stand out.

    John: Yeah, that’s so great, man. That’s so great. So it all started from this $800 bike. Yeah, I mean that’s awesome, man. That’s so cool. That’s really neat. That’s really neat. And so what are some of the more rewarding things or the cooler races or I mean how do these teams work? I mean I never participated or seen anything like that.

    Scott: Yeah, good point. So you have a couple of different types of races. There’s more than two but generally, you have a road race and a crit race. A crit race, think like NASCAR, you’re just going around a really tight circle for some set period of time like 30 minutes, 45 minutes, those are streamers, you’re flying, you have your team and you’re trying to set yourselves up and you’re constantly in this strategy and this battle with other people to block them out and to block wind or —

    John: Oh, man. It sounds like a roller derby almost but on bikes.

    Scott: Yeah.

    John: Like it sounds crazy.

    Scott: It’s crazy. And here’s the downside of crits. They’re like crash happy.

    John: Yeah. That’s nuts.

    Scott: I’m big on helmets.

    John: Right, right, and elbow pad and just jeans. Like, why is he wearing a snowsuit? We’re doing the crit race today, that’s why. Road rash everywhere, man. Yeah, that would be terrible.

    Scott: Exactly. So you have these things when you’re like they’re all over and they’re fun then you’re hammering away but then the road races are for me, a lot more fun, because that’s when you’re racing through vineyards and you’re climbing mountains, you’re not necessarily just doing like the same lap a ton of times but you’re probably out for an hour and a half to three hours doing a bigger 40 to 80-mile loop and that just lends itself to — it’s more like a fast bike ride at that point, a competitive normal bike ride and I dig that.

    John: Right, right. No, that’s cool, man. That’s really neat. Is there any race that stands out to you or one that’s you know, coolest?

    Scott: Oh, yeah. There’s this one that’s up in Bloomfield, California and it was like the most difficult race I’ve ever done. It’s you’re getting on into the lost coast and Bloomfield’s like more Northern California, like a couple of hours north of San Francisco or three hours north. It gets really mountainous so you’re doing this super difficult race then you go from inland California to Highway 1 and you’re on the coast for a bit, well, the race finishes up this massive mountain so you’re chugging up, you’re chugging up, you’re so tired, you’re depleted, it’s 80 miles.

    I get in sixth place which — awesome. That’s a good finish. And right afterwards, I’m like okay, let’s head back to the car. My now wife, who I wasn’t dating at the time was at the bottom of the hill with a couple of our friends and we slept — I think we had a Chevy Impala that we rented in San Francisco and we slept in the back of it, like four of us the night before the race.

    John: That’s funny. Yeah, yeah. You have to sleep in the car.

    Scott: Exactly. So you power up this hill and I’m like okay, I’m ready to get back down to that Chevy Impala, all I can think about is I get a cold beer after this race and great. Well, downhill, I’m like depleted on everything and I hit this super sharp corner and it’s like a hairpin and I’m going way to fast that my wheels lock up and I’d fly over my handle bars and I break my collar bone.

    John: Oh, no, no. It’s after the race.

    Scott: So I finish this race and everything and then I just — yeah. I destroyed myself.

    John: Man, that’s terrible. That’s unbelievable.

    Scott: Exactly. I don’t even know I was hurt. I think I drove us back to Oakland for like a party and we’re out the whole night and then my arm was swollen or shoulder was swollen the next. I’m like I probably should go to the doctor.

    John: I think I hurt something, yeah. That’s unbelievable, man. That’s awesome. That’s cool though, man, sixth place. I mean that’s pretty huge. I mean I’m impressed. Yeah, I mean that’s fantastic, man. Would you say that riding bikes translates to doing tax work or being an accountant? Does it make you better at it?

    Scott: Yeah, absolutely. For a couple of reasons. First of all, when you have to see yourself through some of the locker moments, it translates well to being in the busy season in taxes and knowing what you’re capable of and your boundaries, your own limits. On the flip side though too, it’s like when you look at — I was the guy, when I was at PwC, if you rode bikes, you wanted to talk with Scott because you knew Scott rode bikes, and it’s a lot of fun. So you got partners that were giving in to biking or they were into it, and yeah, new hires and the whole spectrum. It was a lot of fun to have that community around it with them.

    John: Yeah. So how did you bring that up? I mean how does that come up in conversation? Because I know a lot of people, you know, they have a hobby or passion but they’re like, well, it has nothing to do with accounting so I’m not going to talk about it because there’s no charge code to talk about cycling. How do they usually come up for you?

    Scott: People probably ask me like what I did in the morning. Some type of question along those lines and practically, every morning, I biked across the Golden Gate Bridge. But I was also in early. I’m an early riser so I biked across the Golden Gate and back. I’ve done all this stuff and I’m in the office and I don’t think people believed me so then like you load up Strava and then they’re like, “Holy crap, you’ve gone 30 miles before even showing up to the office?” I’m like yeah, that’s what I do. I like this stuff.

    John: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m a little bit crazy.

    Scott: So then the word spreads.

    John: Yeah, and then you find other cyclists as well or even people that are maybe not as rabid but still ride. And then yeah, and then you have something in common. And what do you know? I mean you’re a staff and you’re talking to partners. That relationship would have never happened if you were just talking about tax all day long.

    Scott: Yeah, they can trump me on tax all day, but bikes, I got to.

    John: Yeah, that’s a good point right there. That’s my one up. You’re in my world now, buddy. That’s hilarious. That’s so funny. So yeah, I mean certainly stronger relationships with co-workers at the very least.

    Scott: And you used to be able to put pictures up and you’re in that cube, sorry for interrupting you, but you used to be able to put pictures in the cubes. I don’t even think they have cubes anymore so I don’t know what you do.

    John: Yeah, it’s all the hoteling and whatever. Yeah, yeah. What made you want to just open up and not be scared that people were going to judge you for being less of an accountant because you have something outside of work that’s maybe more important than your job?

    Scott: Oh, yeah. That’s a good one. I was like, because I lost a lot of weight and when I was 18 to 20 and that’s when I got into biking and everything, I’ve always been like big on the health and fitness side and that’s you know, could be an area of improvement in accounting.

    So I took it passionately on myself to start the Biggest Loser challenges at the office and I started like, hey, let’s run once a week in busy season. So Wednesday nights, we’d go on runs and anyone I want to come would go so I guess I didn’t make it so much of a secret that I was interested in everyone kind of taking care of themselves even as they dedicated so much of their times in their self to the firm.

    John: Yeah. So you made it more than just about you which is great because then no one can really get anger or think that you’re taken away from work because yeah, I mean that’s the biggest thing is just people look at these hobbies and passions as kind of throwaways or nice-to-haves or well, if you have some extra time and clearly, you’re dedicating time to it which is fantastic, man.

    That’s really cool, really cool. How much do you think it’s an organization itself, the firm, to create a culture where it’s okay for people to talk about their hobbies/passions, and how much do you think it’s on the individual just to go and create that Biggest Loser challenge or create that Wednesday night running group or whatever?

    Scott: That’s a good question because hey, I didn’t ask permission, that’s for sure. The closest thing I asked for permission was like when you’re talking to the partners I’m like do you want to be in, are you in?

    John: Right, exactly. It’s not even permission. This is happening. Are you in or not?

    Scott: Because of our background, like I’m in the tax world, my first answer is going to be it depends.

    John: Right, exactly.

    Scott: I’m going to say like, if you’re in the Big Four, you take it on yourself, it’s up to you to create the culture because that culture’s established and you do have a lot of leeway to make it your own.

    John: Yeah, I agree.

    Scott: But when you start looking at like a really, really small firm — and I’ve worked at the spectrum I guess, the smaller firm, I don’t see the barrier being there but man, if the owner’s just like not interested, it’s going to be tough to be like yeah, yeah, hey, how about we take people away from doing these tax returns going on the run and there’s only three people and they’re all gone while the owner’s sitting there, not running, not happy and not having employees working probably you need to get owner buy-in on that small scale.

    John: Right, right, yeah. Because I mean I think what you’re saying is that the smaller the group, the more the top-down matters where within the Big Four as a whole, yeah, you can create your own little domain. But if you have a manager that’s a real curmudgeon, and that’s going to really make it tough because just zero in on your little area than that top-down tone really, really matters more and more.

    So that’s an excellent point but I love how you were like I never ask permission. It was just go do it. Because I think that that’s the thing is most accountants and most professionals in general are just super risk-averse and they’re afraid that they’re going to get in trouble and come to find out, you’re not in trouble. You’re celebrated. It’s actually a good thing.

    Scott: If it feels right, do it.

    John: Yeah, just do it. I mean what’s so wrong with it? I mean what’s the worst thing that can happen I guess? So do you have any words of encouragement for people that are maybe thinking of doing something or are scared to step up?

    Scott: Yeah. Fail forward. Fail forward and fail fast and don’t be scared of that. Failure’s probably the biggest thing that when you talk about risk aversion, you want to overcome because it’s not a bad thing. You’re testing it out, you’re learning something, there’s a takeaway and there’s no better place than if you’re at the Big Four and there are so many people.

    There’s lots of layers of review to learn as much as you can and to try things out and to try communication styles out because you’ll work with people that talk and communicate in a number of ways that may be different than what you’ll ever see again or maybe something you’ll definitely see again and you already have experience with it.

    John: Yeah, yeah, no, that’s exactly it. I mean just let it out because then your personality comes out, your hobbies, passions come out, who you really are is out there and that’s what people want to see and want to gravitate towards. That’s for sure, man. That’s for sure.

    So well, that’s awesome, man. I mean congrats on all your success and I’ve never ridden a bike outside of like a city bike here in New York City in a long time but before I fire up the spandex and come on out there and ride with you, I do have my 17 rapid fire questions that I like to run everybody through just to make sure that we can hang out and that we’d actually get along because I’d imagine that riding takes a while so here we go. I’ll start you out easy, I’ll start you out easy. Do you have a favorite number?

    Scott: Yeah, 63.

    John: 63, why is that?

    Scott: I know how to say it in French and it was my football number when I was a sophomore. Soixante-trois.

    John: How about do you have a favorite adult beverage?

    Scott: Oh, man. I can’t remember now what’s the name of this beer.

    John: Fancy German beer. Okay, what’s your favorite tax form?

    Scott: How about 3115, request to change accounting methods.

    John: Oh, there you go. All right, all right. Would you say that you’re more suit and tie or jeans and a t-shirt?

    Scott: I say my personality’s jeans and t-shirt but I like to wear a suit and a tie.

    John: There you go, mix it up a little bit, mix it up. All right. How about do you have a favorite TV show of all time?

    Scott: Of all time, let’s not do that because then if I say Game of Thrones right now which would be a good hit, we’ll switch around Suits though. Suits is a good one.

    John: Okay. Suits is a solid answer. That’s a good answer too. Both of them. How about when it comes to computers? Are you more PC or Mac?

    Scott: PC.

    John: PC? Yeah. When it comes to your mouse, how about right-click or left-click?

    Scott: I think I like the options that right-click gives me.

    John: I like it. That’s a good answer. Good answer, man. Would you say you’re more Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Scott: Star Wars.

    John: Star Wars? Yeah, me too. Absolutely. Absolutely. How about pens or pencils?

    Scott: Pens. Commit.

    John: Nice. Okay. How about do you have a favorite color?

    Scott: Blue.

    John: Blue. How about a least favorite color?

    Scott: Red. Red and gold for the 49ers.

    John: Okay, wow. Least favorite. Wow. How about more Sudoku or crossword puzzle?

    Scott: Crossword.

    John: Okay. How about do you have a favorite actor or actress?

    Scott: Yeah. Matt Damon.

    John: Oh, solid. We got four more. Are you more of an early bird or a night owl?

    Scott: Early riser for sure.

    John: Early riser, all right. Would you say you’re more oceans or mountains?

    Scott: Mountains.

    John: Mountains, all right. How about cats or dogs?

    Scott: Dogs without a doubt.

    John: Dogs without a doubt. And the last one, the last one. The favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?

    Scott: My bike. It’s a Trek Madone. I built it in 2010 and it’s like the one that Lance Armstrong rode when he was in the Tour. I love that thing.

    John: Sweet. Yeah, man. I figured that that would be your answer. So very cool, man. Very cool. Well, thanks so for much, Scott, for being with me today on the Green Apple Podcast. This was fantastic.

    Scott: Yeah. It was a lot of fun. Thanks, John.

    John: Wow. That was so great. I loved how Scott said don’t be scared of failure so fail forward and fail fast. That’s so true. I mean so many times, we’re just taught to be perfectionists and I know I suffer from this as well but done is better than perfect. So get out there. Experiment. Like Scott said, there are controls in place to make sure that something really bad doesn’t happen. And before you know it, something magnificent is what’s created. So get out there and don’t be scared of failure.

    If you like to see some pictures of Scott in action or his massive bike collection, connect with him on social media, maybe go to greenapplepodcast.com. All the links are there. While you’re on the page, please click that big green button and do the anonymous research survey about firm culture.

    So thanks again for subscribing and sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread which is to go out and be a green apple.

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