Work Hard, Figure Out Solutions, and Help People: A Talk With Dan Price

Dan Price often gets asked, by would-be entrepreneurs, what first step they should take to achieve their goals.

“The first step is doing something for someone,” he answers.

I heard Price speak last night as part of Brenthaven’s “Entrepreneur Unplugged” series, and it was clear even before Price began formally speaking that he was very, very interested in learning about other people.

He reminded me, in many ways, of Ira Glass — when I met Glass several years ago I was struck by how intently and energetically he listened to everyone who spoke to him, and Price was the same way; despite admitting that he sometimes only got two hours of sleep a night these days, he was actively listening to and connecting with everyone who wanted to connect with him.

Ira Glass, you might say, is interested in people’s stories. Dan Price is interested in how he can help. He told us the story of how he formed a band called Straightforward in junior high and went on tour the summer between seventh and eighth grade (the full story is even better; Price was homeschooled in rural Idaho until seventh grade and was worried about being socially awkward, but he immediately shows up, starts a band, gets hundreds of people to come to their gigs, and goes on tour), and then an adult sat him down and told him that, although he was a good-enough musician, his real talent was not in music. His talent was running a business and serving others.

Price used the word “serve” many times during his conversation, both referring to the customer service that helped his company Gravity Payments build its reputation and its clientele, and referring to what appeared to be his general philosophy of life. “The first step is doing something for someone.”

I feel like I’ve buried the lede at this point, although part of me assumes that everyone knows who Dan Price is; he’s the CEO who recently announced that he would cut his salary to $70,000 so that he could pay every Gravity employee a minimum salary of $70,000. As he explained:

“I was a on a hike and thinking about what people at Gravity made, and how much value they add. These are people who cancel a date at 9 p.m. to help a client. People in the trenches with me, making just enough to get by.”

He asked himself why he made so much money when they made so little, comparatively. Yes, he had founded the company and part of his salary was due to his experience and — as he put it — “the cost of replacing me,” but did the disparity have to be so high? Was there a way he could help his team?

It turns out, of course, that there was.

“I see the video [of making the pay raise announcement to the Gravity team] and realize it’s one of the happiest moments of my life.”

Price’s happiness radiates throughout the conversation and afterwards, as he continues to answer questions, meet fans, and shake hands.

It is clear from Price’s talk that he is as into “disrupting” everything as anyone else in the tech industry; he told us how he started building Gravity at age 18, and to solve the problem of going to college and running a business at the same time, he would give his professors a form letter on the first day of class that explained he only planned to attend half of their class sessions while maintaining a 3.9 GPA. “If that’s a problem for you, I’ll drop your class.”

But the difference between Price and other tech entrepreneurs is that Price does not disrupt to benefit himself. He disrupts to help other people. It’s how he got the idea for Gravity in the first place: what if there were a way to make credit card transactions better and save businesses money?

Three themes kept coming up in Price’s talk: work hard, figure out solutions, and help others. Serve. The first step is doing something for someone. Turns out that’s the second step, too — and maybe all of the steps, if you’re someone like Dan Price.

I’m so glad I got to meet him in person.

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