Since starting Cinnamon in the spring of 2019 — and even before then — I’ve frequently sought out suggestions for women-owned businesses. I take particular pleasure in hiring women in fields that are dominated by men, so last year during tax season I decided that my years of Turbo Tax were finally over, and it was time to find a female accountant. I turned to the internet for a suggestion: Was there an accountant in Los Angeles who aligned with Cinnamon’s values of promoting women in the workplace? Why yes, my Facebook group of choice let me know, there was an all-female office run by Yvette Davis called The Counting House, just down the freeway in Glendale. And Yvette was, according to the multiple recommenders, absolutely fabulous.
But even the glowing co-sign couldn’t prepare me for the eccentric, brilliant energy that Yvette gives off whenever you’re in her presence. We met up in person in early 2020 — when that was still safe — and her boundless, pragmatic optimism made me feel right at home with her from the moment we met. Finances are a sensitive subject, and Yvette knows this better than anyone, but her straightforward approach helps even the most timid or uncertain new entrepreneur feel comfortable putting all their cards on the table. Her main expertise at this point is helping artists, creatives, independent contractors — and women — navigate the sometimes daunting tax and finance world. It may be daunting for us, but it’s simple for her.
“I always swore I didn’t want to be an accountant because my father was,” she remembered when we spoke a few months later for an interview. “I was like that’s never something I want to do ever, ever, ever. Then I worked in a tax office all through college, and I was like ‘Oh my God, the thing that I don’t want to do I ended up doing!’ But, I realized that I actually liked numbers, I enjoyed math and algebra — I could understand this stuff. It’s like a puzzle that always has an answer, and I like puzzles and problem solving.”
Moving to Glendale as a one-year-old after her parents fled an imminent revolution in Tehran, where she was born, Yvette saw firsthand how immigration can impact families. Even though she considers herself “a total valley girl” and attended Glendale schools, including high school and college in the area, the history of her family leaving Iran — and why they had to — isn’t something she takes lightly.
“My family was one of the earlier families that fled right before the major revolution happened,” she said. “We just got lucky in a sense that we got our visas or permits approved to leave. But it was very burdensome to see the adjustment to a new country for my family, because my grandmother is a survivor of Armenian genocide. So she had fled Armenia, settled and created a life in Iran, and then had to flee again, with the same kind of persecution. That was very difficult for her to deal with. But with my family, again, we were very fortunate in the sense that we had education. My family spoke English. So when they worked in American corporations they were pretty familiar with the culture here.”
Since her father worked in the field of accounting, and Glendale is a tight-knit community, Yvette found a job early on as an apprentice with another accountant. Because of her real world experience, she used the job as a source of income during college, and chose to formally study other things. “I had my accounting training as an apprentice in a sense, I learned how to do it by being in the office,” she remembered. “After I worked in that CPA office and learned the value of that, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I knew the wealth of knowledge and experience I was gaining from him. I did take accounting classes afterwards, but it was like… I don’t need to do this because I learned it the actual real life way.”
Instead, Yvette earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in Anthropology, getting a Bachelors degree in the subject at USC and a Masters in Anthropology from Cal State LA. Her studies were close to home, with a focus on Middle Eastern subcultures and how cultural identity gets transferred from immigrant-generations to American-born generations. She also studied the belly-dancing community and how differently the practice is perceived in the western world versus the eastern one, even to the point that such a feminine energy sometimes invokes the Madonna/whore dichotomy.
“My studies on belly-dancing were, again, all about girl power stuff,” she laughed. “I always wanted to teach because I’ve always been really passionate about helping people get educated. But if I didn’t have this accounting background, maybe I wouldn’t have pursued Anthropology, because it’s very difficult to get that Indiana Jones job — that’s like one in a million. I’m personally passionate about people and culture, but I always wanted to be independent. And knowing how to do my taxes, understanding the financial world, that helped me be independent. I wouldn’t have to rely on anybody, and I did see that.”
After graduate school, Yvette worked at her father’s accounting firm for a while before deciding to branch off on her own in 2014. She founded The Counting House six years ago with the intention of making it a woman-owned business that hired predominantly women. Currently, the office is all-women, though that isn’t a hard and fast rule for her. What’s more important to her is teaching workplace skills that build confidence, and being a boss who shows appreciation.
“I really wanted to have that woman-owned business and focus on hiring women,” she said. “I’m always open to hiring men but I know that hiring women and showing women that you don’t need to ask permission is important. Just do it. I didn’t ask anybody ‘May I open up a business?’ No, I’m going to show you how I’m going to do it. Everybody, look at this — you can do it too. Yeah I have a big mouth. Yeah I have a colorful personality. And guess what? That’s okay. Because at the end of the day I’m reliable, I’m responsible, and that’s what people want.”
Over the last six years Yvette has built her business considerably, with the above mentioned focus on helping women and artistic types learn how to navigate the world of personal and professional finance. She prides herself on being a translator between “right brain” people who see taxes and accounting as intimidating and numbers as gibberish. “I like working with artistic types and right brain type people,” she laughed. “Being able to explain numbers into colors or something, so an artistic person can understand it. Or break it down into English, not accounting English, so that people can understand what they’re doing and what they’re paying.”
“When I worked at the CPA office while I was in college, there were a lot of women who came in after their husbands passed away,” she continued. “It would be a very old world style, where the husband took care of everything financially, and when they died, these women had no idea what their situation was. I didn’t want to be like that. I wanted to be able to take care of myself and handle this stuff on my own. So it became very important. And it became like a super power in a sense, and I liked it. Being the detail-minded person that I am, it fits.”
As a new business owner filing my taxes for the first time, the fear and anxiety I felt last year was extremely real. But, by the time I finished working with Yvette, all of that angst had melted away and was replaced with a hefty, satisfying refund. Plus, I even learned a few things along the way, like how an S Corp differs from an LLC. If you’re an artistic type who is discouraged by the thought of approaching your tax return, consider trusting Yvette with the job. And, if you’re the kind of person who would love to do an Oracle reading at your accountant’s office, then she’s the CPA for you.
“I do taxes, I do bookkeeping, I do accounting,” she explained. “That’s all the same. What do we do that’s different? We like to laugh in our office. Quirks of my personality: I like essential oils and crystals, so we’ve got that. I’ve got artistic clients, they make Tarot cards, Oracle cards, and we do Oracle readings sometimes, we have clients come in and pull a card. We have to pay our taxes, it’s nauseating, it’s gross, but when we meet together, we laugh. How many times have you and I laughed together? Why do we need to be so stuffy and uptight?”
“At the same time, I like to work with artistic individuals who feel so overwhelmed,” she continued. “The system is so terrifying and so scary. Breaking it down and going no, it’s not as scary. Most problems can be solvable. And with a smile and everything, we could talk to the IRS and we can solve the problems. Money is intimate, it is intimate. But if you’re comfortable with me, and I’m comfortable with you, that’s how we can make magic.”
As far as direction for other women who are interested in working for themselves, or starting their own businesses, Yvette has two main pieces of advice: Be yourself, but also remember you are your own worst enemy. For her part, she enjoys doing business in Los Angeles where things are more relaxed. But at the end of the day, work is work, and sometimes it can be be brutal. Still, nothing great ever came from sitting around doing nothing.
“You can be your crazy self with purple hair, and whatever, who cares?” she said. “We live in California. And it’s a different world. People can be unique characters. But the number one thing is be reliable and responsible so that people know that you are there. My other realization is that I am my worst enemy. The advice I give to myself too: Some days it’s like, ‘What the hell do I do this for?’ But then there are days where literally, we’ll be sitting around having lunch and we’re just laughing. And it’s worth it. We all have to work. And what I’ve learned is that it’s going to be hard. But I also am a believer that nothing good comes easy.”
Learn more about The Counting House here.