Dan Price is on a roll.
After appearing on the cover of the November issue of Inc. magazine--with a story that to date has generated nearly a million page views--he announced a $500,000-plus book deal with the Viking imprint of Penguin Random House two weeks ago. Yesterday he saturated the airwaves with a combative appearance on the Fox Business Network in the morning and a lovefest on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah late last night.
Landing on The Daily Show is a particular coup for anyone hoping to influence the national conversation, which the co-founder and CEO of Gravity Payments certainly is. After creating a splash last spring by establishing a $70,000 minimum wage at his Seattle credit-card processing company--and cutting his own pay from $1.1 million to $70,000--Price is taking every opportunity to spread his message that business leaders can and should do much more to narrow today's widening gap between rich and poor.
"Our system is set up to incentivize me as a CEO to try to suck out as much value, pay everybody the least amount possible, charge everyone the most possible, and take the most for myself," he said on The Daily Show last night. "And does that system actually lead to the happiest life?"
It doesn't hurt that the 31-year-old man delivering these lines, with his beard, shoulder-length hair and matinee-idol looks, suggests a hip, modern version of another revolutionary who threw money-changers out of the temple a couple thousand years ago. Noah alluded to that last night when Price went on to say, "I would suggest that some of the most successful companies out there actually had something that was really magical called love, and love is a rational force that can overwhelm some of these economics and create, like, this new economic reality that we're going through."
"This is insane!" Noah replied, in mock horror. "So you are a young man who believes in sharing with others and you have long hair and the beard and you preach love? Have we met before?" (The crowd, of course, burst into laughter and applause.)
Though Price grew up in an Evangelical Christian home in rural Idaho, his mission is not a religious one, he says, but simply a matter of fairness. That's why he recently liquidated his entire $3 million net worth and poured it into his company. Now he lives on $70,000 per year, the same as his least-paid employees once the raises are fully implemented in 2017.
Price received a decidedly chillier reception on the Fox Business Network, when host Stuart Varney noted that outrage over low wages had reached such a fevered pitch that workers in 270 cities across the country walked off their jobs yesterday as part of the "Fight for $15" campaign to raise the minimum wage. Not content to oppose the increase, Varney argued that governments should do away with state-mandated minimums altogether. "If you abolish the minimum wage, you'd have a lot freer labor market," he said.
The private sector, Price replied, could render the issue moot simply by paying employees a decent living wage. "When companies take advantage of workers, you build the political pressure to start to create these situations where you need a much higher minimum wage," he said. "It's at a historic low right now. Do we think that profits should be at historic highs and a minimum wage should be at a historic low? I think it's an interesting question."
Price is clearly enjoying his newfound notoriety--not only to spread his message, he admits, but also to have fun and promote Gravity. He met Noah through a mutual acquaintance who set up a dinner in September with a group that included Noah and Colin Trevorrow, the "Jurassic World" director now on tap to direct "Star Wars Episode IX." Recently, he has hung out with hip-hop mogul Jay Z, spent time with Dave Grohl before attending a Foo Fighters show, and has received business advice and helpful connections from the model/businesswoman Tyra Banks.
Such celebrity attention actually pre-dates his April pay-raise announcement, Price says, driven in part by the National SBA Young Entrepreneur of the Year award he receive in 2010 from President Obama. "I can't put my finger on why, exactly, this has been happening," he said yesterday between TV tapings. "I just get a lot of help from unexpected places."