The way Dan Price conducted himself onstage at Inc.'s Vision 2020 conference Thursday in San Francisco, you'd never know the degree to which one of this year's most celebrated entrepreneurs has been enveloped in controversy.
A primer: Earlier this year, the mediagenic Price, founder and CEO of the Seattle-based credit card processing firm Gravity Payments, shocked the business world by announcing to his 120 workers--and to reporters from The New York Times and NBC, who were on hand--that he would make $70,000 the minimum wage at his company. (He cut his own pay substantially in order to afford those higher salaries.) The move led to substantial coverage in an international swath of of media outlets, including Inc. Overnight, he became a key figure in the global conversation over income inequality, and a half-million-dollar book deal followed.
But this week, Bloomberg Businessweek published an article that called into question portions of his narrative. Among other things, it asserted that the pay raise may have been predated by a lawsuit from his co-founder brother, who no longer works for Gravity and with whom Price tussled over his CEO pay package. The article also stated that Price's ex-wife made allegations during a TedX talk in late October that he was abusive towards her.
In a half-hour speech, after which he took no questions from the audience, Price told his story: He was a homeschooled child in a deeply religious and conservative family in Idaho; Rush Limbaugh's show played in his house for three hours every day, many years before the radio host called Price a "socialist" for raising his workers' pay; he played bass for Straightforword, a Christian rock band that performed across the Northwest, when he was in seventh and eighth grade.
Handling the business of his band put Price in touch with small business owners who were struggling with the terms dictated by what he called the "oligopoly" of credit-card processing companies. Those small-business operators inspired him, he said, to start Gravity.
What inspired him to do what made him famous--give out substantial raises, including 20 percent across-the-board salary increases in 2013 and 2014--was a conversation with a disgruntled employee who felt Price was "ripping him off."
"Ever feel like someone is mad at you, or hates you, and never talks about it?" Price asked the audience, by way of teeing up that anecdote. "Seems to happen to me more than most people."
Price concluded by reflecting a bit on what has happened since he raised his workers' wages this spring. His company, he said, focuses on "the most unglamorous thing you can do on the planet. But, he continued, "we are connecting it to a larger vision of change," and being a part of "something bigger."
He went on to say: "What I am trying to practice every day is, how do I suck less tomorrow at everything I do professionally?"
After the talk, some attendees were heard grumbling over Price's refusal to acknowledge the questions raised by the Bloomberg Businessweek article. But offstage, Price was surrounded by well-wishers who pressed their cards upon him and snapped selfies with him. In that scrum, he declined an opportunity to comment for this piece.
Inc. is preparing a more detailed follow-up article on Price.