You may recognize Jessica Mah and Dan Price from the cover of Inc Magazine (September and November, respectively). After both speaking at the Inc 5000 conference, Jess and Dan became fast friends. They sat down recently to dive into some of the lessons they learned as business owners. Asking each other three questions each, Jess and Dan get personal about life, death, entrepreneurship, challenges, and what keeps them going.
DAN: What was it like being on the cover of Inc. Magazine? What was the moment that you found out? What was the first moment that you saw it? And how do you think about it today? Did it change your life at all?
JESSICA: Great question. I didn’t fully understand that I was going to be on it until I saw the real copy when I picked it up from the Inc. office. They said, ‘you’ll be on the cover,’ but I thought it’d be a tiny, half-inch photo. You think ‘Inc. 500 list,’ they’re going to have all 500 tiny photos on the cover, right?
DAN: What was your reaction?
JESSICA: My reaction was holy $%!&! This is pretty wild. And I definitely had the imposter syndrome. I thought, “am I really deserving of this?” I’m not even number one on the list. I’m high up on the list, but not number one, so I was definitely a little surprised, shocked, but really thankful. It has changed some areas around my personal psychology. I thought wow, there’s just so much potential, I should think bigger and bolder than I have before.
DAN: Awesome. And you’re a pilot. You’ve flown me before. It was an incredibly smooth ride – I was very impressed. What could entrepreneurs out there learn from pilots? And, from your experience, what did you learn about entrepreneurship from becoming a pilot?
JESSICA: That’s also a great question. It’s taught me how to best learn something that’s really technically challenging. When we’re teaching things at inDinero, it gets pretty complicated. Accounting and taxes aren’t easy, but there are a lot of best practices for how to teach complicated material that the pilot community knows well. I’m applying all those best practices from the pilot world over to inDinero, so I think I’ve gotten some very tangible business value from it. But I think the point is, if you take a hobby that’s very challenging and difficult to learn, then you’re going to be able to find ideas on how you should apply those principles over to your business, no matter what it is.
DAN: That’s really cool. I’m down to my last question. Tell me about one of your unsung heroes at your company and somebody that really changes the lives of everybody that works there, but maybe doesn’t always get the spotlight or recognition.
JESSICA: I would say someone who really stands out to me is our Head of Talent, Sarah. She’s recruited over 50 employees in the past six months she’s been working for us. She’s absolutely incredible, and she cares so much. She came from Nike where she did diversity recruiting, so she’s passionate about diversity, about making sure employees are happy. She makes sure they’re getting a great experience. No one really talks about her because she’s not customer-facing or bringing in revenue, but she’s bringing in the people who do all the work, so I really think highly of her. It’s crazy to think how impactful internal recruiters are.
DAN: That is so cool. Great answer. Now it’s your turn to ask me questions.
JESSICA: Thank you. Well, the first thing I’m very curious about, Dan, is with all of the media attention you’ve received and the $70,000 minimum wage that you’ve implemented, what was your biggest surprise? What would you have done differently knowing what you know about all of this now?
DAN: Well, it’s interesting because the way I normally try to do change is with a lot of one-on-one conversations and then a lot of engagement. I try to have the whole group decide together, and that’s 100 percent my playbook for change. But this time I did it completely differently. I basically had a top-down mandate. But I think back to that moment of announcing the minimum wage to the whole company, and then celebrating the change together. It was such a fun moment for us. For me, it was like a burden that you’ve been carrying around on your shoulder that’s weighing you down. And all the sudden it’s lifted and you’re light and you feel free. That’s the way I felt in that moment. It’s fun to have well-thought-out conversations and do things more by the book, but doing something that was somewhat spontaneous, and some people even called reckless, was just one of those moments in my life where it’s like wow, I actually get to do something that makes me really happy, that makes me really excited, that I just love being a part of and just feels so right and feels so good.
JESSICA: That’s awesome to hear! What’s your biggest fear personally, and then also for your business in the next few years?
DAN: My biggest fear by far is death. I grew up in a conservative Christian home, so I grew up really cherishing two things. Number one, I have an eternal Creator who loves me unconditionally; number two, I’m gonna live forever, literally. Not in some figurative or metaphysical sense, but the way I am now in my own consciousness, I’m gonna live forever. Those things were so real to me as a kid, and I was so connected with them, that I don’t want to lose them as an adult. I want to be able to endure, but obviously our lives are so short and so fleeting. I’m still young, so I hope I have a lot of years, but it’ll seem short. I just hope that there’s more to it than that, and that’s probably the thing that I fear the most in life.
In business, I think that my biggest fear is not living up to the opportunities that are presented to me and not living up to the responsibilities that are given to me. At times, I’m asked to stand up in front of an audience, and I view that as a responsibility to be a spokesperson for a new way of doing business. It’s a responsibility to ask people to question how they are framing humanity, how are they framing business, and what they see as their purpose for life. If I have an opportunity to help people connect with themselves and ask themselves those questions, and I don’t take it, or I don’t do a great job with it, then I would feel really bad about that. So I think my fear is just that I won’t live up to what the potential is of some of the opportunities in front of me.
JESSICA: We should talk about the life extension and cryogenic stuff sometime. I’m pretty fascinated in the thought of not having to die… let’s save that one for drinks next time. Last question for you. Given it was just Thanksgiving, what are you most thankful and appreciative of from 2015?
DAN: Well, I’m so thankful for my physical health. To me, everything else I do in life is predicated on being physically healthy.
Each of us can look at our lives, and look at the problems we’re facing, and wish that they weren’t there. Mine’s no different because Gravity’s in a challenging situation with some of the changes that we have. As you know, I’m in litigation with our one other shareholder besides myself. He’s also my brother, so that’s really tough for me on a personal level. There’s so many things that you could look at and feel bad for yourself, but the fact that I’m physically healthy and able to function, and all my direct family, including my brother that I’m not getting along with, are physically healthy just means so much. It gives us the potential to try to do better tomorrow and to improve every day. Especially my partners and colleagues at Gravity, the fact that we have the physical health to live another day. And so to me that’s probably the thing that I’m most thankful for, that I appreciate the most.
JESSICA: That’s great. I think people out there will really appreciate seeing that since they may feel they are on the grind.
DAN: I know. It’s the simple things in life that are the best. Being healthy is way better than being on the cover of a magazine. I mean, being on the cover of a magazine is awesome, but being healthy is way more awesome.