Weak wage growth helps explain why this long economic expansion has been so tepid. Until Price dropped his wage bomb, much of that debate was punditry. He gave it a name and a face: a modern Robin Hood helping the working class by stealing from himself -- and perhaps from shareholders of other companies whose bosses are now also putting employees ahead of profits: imwithdan! Was it coincidence that Walmart, that paragon of parsimony, coughed up raises for its lowest-paid workers? Then the inevitable backlash came.
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Price has been pilloried on Fox News and trashed by the multimillionaire Limbaugh "I hope this company is a case study in MBA programs on how socialism does not work, because it's gonna fail". A Times story in July was so laden with quotes from disgruntled customers and staff that Price's worried friends called to say he always has a place to stay if things don't work out. Others accused Price of orchestrating a clever publicity stunt.
Lucas declined to comment; Dan denies his brother's claims. Price isn't backing down about pay going up. Now he's going all in. He revealed to Inc. As majority owner, he is not exactly penniless. But if Gravity fails, so does Price. That doesn't make any sense. Having to depend on modest pay is not a bad thing. It will help me stay focused. And business owners will stay focused on him. The Dan Price Pay Experiment will either be hailed as a stroke of genius showing that entrepreneurs have underpaid their workforces to their companies' detriment, or as proof positive that Gravity is being run by a well-intentioned fool.
He wears the full hipster regalia of ripped jeans, untucked shirt, and sneakers.
Why I Took a $12,000 Pay Cut — and Why It Was Worth It
The office looks as you might expect -- desks and computers in bland cubicles -- but the space is reorganized every six months so people can sit near different colleagues. Being comfortable wasn't a goal in Price's family when he was growing up in rural southwest Idaho, near Nampa. He and his five siblings took turns waking at 5 a.
On his own, Price spent hours reading Scripture and reached the finals of a national Bible-memorization competition in the fifth and sixth grades. Like his siblings, he was homeschooled until age That's when he rebelled a bit, dying his hair with red and blue streaks and painting his nails like the punk rockers he listened to. Price learned to play bass guitar and formed a Christian rock trio called Straightforword spelling intentional , which was successful enough to tour and get national airplay.
At 16, when the band broke up, he decided to help the struggling owners of bars and coffee shops where they had played by negotiating cheaper rates from the credit card processing companies, which offered little more than exorbitant prices and spotty service.
Though his family struggled financially, Price never thought of his enterprise as a way to make money. Inspired by his father, Ron Price, a self-employed consultant who often spoke of living according to your values, Dan says he just wanted to help friends like Heather, who ran the Moxie Java coffee shop in Caldwell, Idaho.
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By the time he entered Christian Seattle Pacific University in , Price had developed a more sophisticated business model: processing credit card transactions himself using outsourced technology. Though fluent with computers, his real skill was negotiating -- cobbling together deals with the myriad firms involved in making a single credit card swipe go through smoothly.
While continuing to serve his Idaho customers, he found enough new ones in Seattle to start Gravity Payments with Lucas, five-and-a-half years older, and already a college graduate. He agreed, and the two eventually wed when Lewellyn was 20 and Price was 21, but the union didn't last, ending amicably in Dan and Lucas were partners in Gravity and shared responsibilities but had a falling out about 18 months after launch. Lucas was frustrated at being given menial tasks by his kid brother, and in , they agreed that Dan would become majority owner. Lucas is now an executive at the Seattle texting startup Zipwhip.
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Funded in part by Dan's savings, credit card debt, and student loans diverted to fund his venture , the company grew rapidly as Gravity built its own technology and brought the card-processing systems in-house. He somehow graduated from college in , won several business awards, and met President Obama. Then the recession hit and Gravity fell rapidly to earth. Revenue dropped 20 percent, and vendors and clients went bankrupt. Price was spooked.
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Always stingy with pay, he had offered employees the usual startup promise: We'll give you an exciting place to work, and you'll learn so much you'll eventually be financially successful -- either here or elsewhere. But after his encounter with Jason Haley, he decided to try a new tack.
The 20 percent raises Price implemented in were supposed to be a one-time deal. Again, profits rose by a like amount. Baffled, he did the same in and profits continued to rise, though not quite as much as before, because Gravity had to do more hiring. She was smart, capable, and worked 50 to 60 hours a week. As a numbers guy, he knows all the statistics. Even as the nation's productivity has improved 22 percent since , median wages have risen only 1. Wages have actually fallen by 3 percent since the recession.
Meanwhile, productivity gains are going to CEOs who earn, on average, about times more than typical workers, compared with By any measure, Gravity was doing relatively well.
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About 40 percent of the profits went to Dan and Lucas as dividends Dan put his in an emergency savings account for the company. The rest went back into the business. But Price worried that employees with money troubles would fail to provide the top-notch service that had made Gravity successful.
He also believed that low starting salaries were simply wrong -- contrary to his values, which his father had always taught him to respect. I'm going to do it. Price has vowed not to raise prices, lay off staff, or cut executive pay. More than half the cost will be offset by Price's pay cut. Since that April made-for-TV moment, Price says he's had no second thoughts --mostly because he's been learning how his employees had been struggling.
Is there a magic number that keeps workers focused while still generating a profit? Price calculated a figure but never imagined the publicity he's gotten would boost new customer inquiries from 30 per month to 2, within two weeks. Customer acquisition costs are typically high, so in that sense, the strategy has paid off. And in this business, customer retention is key.
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Gravity's 91 percent retention rate over the past three years -- far above the industry average of about 68 percent -- has been crucial to its success. Maria Harley, Gravity's vice president of operations, looks at a different set of numbers. While the company had to hire 10 more people than anticipated to handle the new business, most nonlabor costs -- rent, technology, etc. If you continue to submit your Monthly Report forms, you may be able to receive disability assistance without having to reapply:. If you do not continue to submit your Monthly Report form each month after reaching your annual limit, you will need to reapply for assistance.
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