Entrepreneurs

$70K CEO: I wasn't ready for the surge of attention

When Dan Price, founder and CEO of Gravity Payments, went viral for deciding to institute a $70,000 minimum wage at his company last April, he wasn't ready for the surge of media coverage that came with it.

The attention brought in more business, but Price's subsequent behavior was placed under a microscope. In July, it was reported that Price's brother, Lucas Price, sued him, demanding he buy him out of his minority stake in Gravity. Price was blamed when top employees left the company. Although he drew praise for the new minimum wage, that only drew more attention to his paycheck before the buzzworthy moment, which had been above $1 million. (In his announcement, he promised to take down his pay to the minimum of $70,000.)

After his crash course in media relations, Price now accepts that publicity comes with risk.

"If you're going to go out there and expose yourself in the media, there's going to be all kinds of angles people are going to take and you can't take yourself too seriously," he told CNBC.

"Some people are going to call you a hero — they're wrong. Some people are going to call you a villain or an idiot — they're also wrong," said Price.

"The important thing is to stay true to yourself and to surround yourself with people who actually don't care if you're on the cover of Inc. Magazine or if you're on the cover of The New York Times ... and then staying true to your mission and letting that guide all the decisions you make," he said.

Price founded the Seattle-based company when he was 19 after noticing that coffee shops in rural Idaho struggled with the cost of credit-card processing.

"That seemed unfair to me because independent businesses, they're really the people that fuel all the creativity. They fuel a lot of the jobs in our society," said the 31-year-old Price. "So our simple promise was we're going to make it simple, easy and fair when you need to accept a credit card."

He inspires the same loyalty within his company by taking care of his more than 130 employees. Besides implementing a $70,000 minimum wage by 2017, Gravity employees also enjoy unlimited paid time off.

"We've kind of put our flag in the sand and we've said if you work here you're going to be taken care of," said Price.

"The downside has been that we're more known for paying people well than we are for making credit-card processing more affordable and more simple," he added.

Dan Price, CEO of Gravity.
Jarrett Bellini | CNBC
Dan Price, CEO of Gravity.

Despite all the fanfare, Price said, he cares more about the quality of the services his company provides than the spotlight.

"For us over the next four years, we're trying to, number one, make credit-card processing fair and simple for everybody," he said. "It's about purpose, service and making a difference and by staying focused on our main goal."

Gravity needs to be profitable in order for it to make good on Price's promise of a $70,000 minimum wage. Price plans on doing that by taking care of himself, too.

"For me it's a matter of focusing on health, sleep, running, getting some exercise, eating well. Those are the things that are really going to sustain you because it's not a sprint, it's a marathon," he said.

"It's not good enough just to draw a line in the sand. You have to stick to it and see it to its end."