Dan Price is the CEO of Gravity Payments, a card payments company he founded as a teenager that had made him a millionaire. He’d done well. He owned a gorgeous house that overlooked Puget Sound. He’d been presented with the National SBA Young Entrepreneur of the Year by then-President Barack Obama.
But five years ago, he had a revelation while talking to some of his employees when he realized that his personal success hadn’t translated to them at all. The cost of living in Seattle was (and remains) high and even employees making $40,000 a year were struggling to make ends meet for their families. Price was struck by the inequality of the situation and realized that he could do something about it.
Price is a Christian and tells the BBC that he is deeply concerned by the way greed governs American society. The top one percent of Americans have more money than the bottom 50 percent. “We’re glorifying greed all the time as a society, in our culture,” he told them. “And, you know, the Forbes list is the worst example – ‘Bill Gates has passed Jeff Bezos as the richest man.’ Who cares!?”
Price decided to be the change he wanted to see in the world. He took a huge pay cut, gave up his stocks, mortgaged two of his houses and made an announcement to his employees: from now on, $70,000 would be the minimum wage of any Gravity Payments employee. Price arrived at the number because he read a Princeton study that found that was the optimum salary for happiness.
That was five years ago and since then, Gravity Payments has prospered. It’s twice as big, his business has tripled and — most importantly, according to Price — his employees can afford to start families of their own. Before the shift, one or two babies was born every year among the team. In the five years since, there have been 40.
“There was a little bit of concern amongst pontificators out there that people would squander any gains that they would have,” Price said. At the time, Rush Limbaugh told his radio listeners that “I hope this company is a case study in MBA programs on how socialism does not work because it’s going to fail.”
“We’ve really seen the opposite,” Price noted.
Price said he’d hoped the example and its success would lead to broader, more systemic change among how Americans think about money and minimum wage, and he says he’s disappointed that the wealth gap has only grown since then.
But he’s seen the personal benefits in the gratitude of his employees — who banded together to buy him a new Tesla after he spent several years driving around in an old Audi.
“I’m the same age as Mark Zuckerberg and I have dark moments where I think, ‘I want to be just as rich as Mark Zuckerberg and I want to compete with him to be on the Forbes list. And I want to be on the cover of Time magazine, making lots of money.’ All these greedy things are tempting,” he admits.”
“But my life is so much better.”