Gravity Payments CEO Dan Price has been a proud member of the CEO networking group YPO for the past several years. As part of the organization, he’s had the opportunity to network with other entrepreneurs and business leaders as well as participate in seminars and trainings that allow him to expand his own leadership skills. Recently, he sat down with Kevin Daum, author, Inc. contributor, and host of the YPO podcast 10 Minute Tips from the Top, to talk about the challenges he’s faced growing the company without ever losing sight of Gravity’s core mission of helping small business owners succeed. Read the transcript below.
YPO: They say there’s no such thing as bad press. But what happens when good press hijacks your message and derails your progress? My guest today found out first hand. When he was a teenager, YPO member Dan Price was living the life performing in a rock band. The music was fun, but it also offered business inspiration. In the band’s work with local restaurants, coffee houses, and bars, Dan saw merchant businesses barely coping with credit card processing. They were suffering from high hidden fees imposed by corporate giants with all the negotiating power.
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Frustrated by the imbalance, Dan and his brother Lucas started their own credit card processing company called Gravity Payments providing small business with the latest technology and lower fees. Dan would soon find himself in a rockstar-like media spotlight. He instituted a $70,000 minimum wage for all employees at Gravity Payments, prompting numerous articles and television interviews. Soon after, Dan and his brother had a public legal battle over the business model worthy of a Behind the Music episode. Now with the media frenzy calmed and the legal case resolved, Gravity Payments has found its stride once again, growing profitably at better than thirty percent annually. Dan, welcome to the show.
Dan: Thank you.
YPO: Now you got quite a bit of notoriety when you decided to pay all your people the same amount.
Dan: Yeah, and that was good and bad, right? Because we set a minimum salary floor of $70,000. Some people make more than that, so not everyone makes that, but we brought up probably about half the company to a level that’s kind of similar to that and so there’s a lot more pay equality than probably what would be normal or comfortable for some people. It’s worked well for us because we really do kind of work as a team, and for us, the unfortunate aspect of it is that what we’re really passionate about is helping independent businesses have credit card processing not suck so much because it really does suck and you get raked over the coals with hidden fees, high fees. It’s really opaque, the service isn’t good, and that’s what we’re really passionate about. But obviously what the world really knows of us so far is that we pay a lot or the people that work there make a lot of money on the lower end.
YPO: Well that must have made recruiting easier?
Dan: In a way it did, but we were getting really high-quality people before. I’m really proud of the decision because we’ve had some really great human impact. Our retirement savings has between doubled and tripled, our commute time is a lot lower, and I feel like people now have the license and the capability to really take their job to the next level and take their career to the next level, which really benefits us as a company. But we constantly now have to remind people that what our clients know us for has nothing to do with pay equity or pay equality. What our clients know us for is that we make credit card processing simple and easy. We reduce headaches. We reduce costs. And I think for us to succeed as a company long-term it really has to be more about our clients, not just the way we take care of or think about employee pay.
YPO: And then do the clients, do they wonder if maybe your services are too expensive for them because you’re paying everybody so much?
Dan: We had that concern initially and we had maybe about a dozen clients who did have that concern. We even had a handful that left us because of it, but all of those have come back. So that’s really exciting for us that they kind of renewed their faith and hope in our mission. We think that trying to make credit card processing not suck is something that we’ve only gotten maybe ten or twenty percent of the way there after working on it for fourteen years, so we think it’s going to take a few more decades.
YPO: And so what’s different running the organization now at 200 employees than it was at say fifty?
Dan: I think the difficulty with communication is that we as leaders underestimate how much effort we need to put into communication and how redundant and repetitive we need to be. And so 200 people, I feel like that just becomes really necessary to remember what are the most important things in the business and how do we reinforce that? Where are we going? And also I try to think about where do we come from? What got this whole thing started? Why are we doing what we’re doing? Where are we now and where are we going in the future?
YPO: Are you instituting new aspects of infrastructure with that process? I mean it used to be at fifty people you could talk to everybody without any problem. At 200 people, that’s a whole different weight.
Dan: There’s another YPOer, a brand new YPOer, in the Seattle chapter named David Niu, and he’s been a friend of mine for a long time. And he has a company called TINYpulse, which is a one-question survey. It’s once a week you get a one-question survey, and everybody in the organization answers it. So we use that tool, and that’s really great to get that little pulse that’s really kind of low-hanging fruit. But to me there’s no substitute for calling and interrupting and kind of getting either in the ear or in the face of everyone in your organization top to bottom. And I personally get sometimes more out of conversations with people on the front line than I do with people in leadership or management.
YPO: You have enough of a farm with that many employees to start developing talent from below, so what are you putting into the company as far as leadership development?
Dan: We do a lot. We’ll read together. We do it kind of ad hoc, sometimes I’m involved, sometimes I’m not, sometimes somebody in leadership is involved, sometimes they’re not. But we have a lot of learning activities that go on. Sometimes I’ll take a seminar that I’ll go to through YPO and I’ll think of how do I translate this same message? I’ll try to do it quickly. So for example in Seattle recently we had a negotiation seminar at the chapter level, and I took that content and I just held an open office hours for as many people as wanted to come. I had many fifteen or twenty people show up, and it was about negotiation, and we directly applied the lessons that I learned in the YPO seminar with people so that they could kind of get the concepts, go through the examples, and then they’ll come out of that and hopefully run and be better negotiators and think about having better relationships with our vendors but also making sure that we have a competitive differentiation between us and competition on the relationship and the deal we have with our vendors and suppliers.
YPO: Gravity’s on its way. You seem to have a good handle on it. So what does life look like for Dan Price when he’s sixty?
Dan: One of the things I love about YPO is the focus on family and the personal. It’s not just all about business. It’s about you as a whole person. I think the critique on me so far in my life that some of my friends have is that I’m probably a little bit heavily weighted toward the business category. And I’m really enjoying that. To me there’s a little bit less of a separation and it’s connected. I certainly have goals. I’d like to have a family someday, but to me it’s just kind of one breath at a time, and just appreciate every breath that I get.
YPO: Is there some aspect of legacy that you think about?
Dan: I definitely think about the finality of death and the ways that it is final and the ways that it is not final and the time that I have between now and then and trying to be a good steward of that opportunity. One of the things that a lot of people get caught up in is trying to be the best or make the most money or have the most success. And I have the advantage of being the same age as Mark Zuckerberg, which means there’s no possible way that I could ever imagine winning that game, so I have to pick a different game, which is really inspiring for me. And to me it’s more interesting to think about. I’d rather have a smaller company or a financially less successful company that has stability through integrity than to have a bigger or more financially successful company.
YPO: So it’s not about finding more companies, more ways. You’re happy in this lane and heading down this path.
Dan: I am, and you know one of the things that’s given me great pleasure in being at this conference at YPO EDGE is I’ve had multiple YPOers and ones that I’ve known for a long time email me and tell me, “We implemented a $70,000 minimum wage, too. We didn’t tell anyone about it because we wanted to keep ours private, but we did after you made your announcement.” And those things are really cool. Those things are really exciting.
YPO: Okay, Dan, it’s time for the rapid-fire questions. What is your favorite question to ask when you meet someone new?
Dan: Either what drives you or can I be your credit card processor?
YPO: Name three of your personal core values.
Dan: Transparency, love, and progress.
YPO: Who’s had the greatest impact on you as a leader?
Dan: My father, Ron Price. He does not have a college degree, but he does and accomplishes way more than a lot of people that do just by sheer hard work.
YPO: What is your favorite business book?
Dan: I’m biased, but it’s his book. He wrote a book called The Complete Leader. He’s all self-taught, and what I love about it is it’s something like twenty-five chapters that are each fifteen or twenty-minute reads on a specific topic.
YPO: What are you reading right now?
Dan: I just finished a book called Hit Makers.
YPO: What is the one leadership trait that brings success?
Dan: Courage I would say because there’s a lot of 51/49 decisions, and having the courage to go forward with the right amount of force even when the decision is not perfect.
YPO: What is the one leadership trait that kills success?
Dan: Thinking about yourself.
YPO: Name one daily behavior that will help a leader grow?
Dan: Meditation. Just sitting there and listening to yourself breathe for five minutes is so powerful, and if I do it before a meeting, which I rarely do, I just perform so well and I wonder why don’t I do it all the time?
YPO: How do you know an employee is valuable?
Dan: I’d say it’s somebody who’s a team player who’s willing to do whatever it takes.
YPO: What’s your strangest daily habit?
Dan: When I’m late for a meeting, and I really don’t want to be late, I drive in the bus lanes.
YPO: What is the best way to show employees appreciation?
Dan: Saying thank you is important, but I think actually even more important than that is just in your own quiet space to recognize what a gift the people that you work with everyday are giving to you.
YPO: Well, we certainly thank you for the gift of your presence today, Dan. It’s always a pleasure spending time with you.
Dan: Kevin, you’re the man. I would love to come back and see you anytime.