What does it take to become Entrepreneur of the Year? YPO member Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, received the coveted 2014 honor from Entrepreneur magazine. Learn more about his leadership style, company culture and top insights for business leaders. Price founded the company at age 19 and joined the YPO Pacific Northwest Chapter in 2013.
What does being named “Entrepreneur of the Year” mean for you as a leader? What does it say about your team?
There was a blog that wrote a critique that the award was misplaced, and I kind of agree with that. I don’t think we’ve arrived at all. I think we still have a lot more to do. In the past, I’ve been proud of the cool stuff we’ve done, but I think it’s just one-tenth of one percent of what we want to do. As a leader, this means I have a lot more pressure and a lot more to prove. Some people say an award like this would validate what they’re doing; I would say we need to do things that will validate this award.
I think what it says about my team – and our clients and those who support us – is that they care about me and Gravity. They don’t care what they get out of it, but they genuinely want us to succeed at what we’re trying to do. We have some great people, but I don’t think we’ve arrived yet. It’s a nice chance to appreciate my team, but it’s also an opportunity to look at each other and use this as a challenge to mean what we say.
When/how did you first hear about YPO? What made you want to join?
I had somewhat of an informal mentor named Dan Levine. He’s here in Seattle and he told me a lot about YPO. He was the one who first told me about all the different things he got out of being a member. It was life changing for him and he thought I would really benefit from checking it out.
You were featured in the YPO-CNBC article about the benefits of unlimited PTO. How else are you innovative or what other conventional practices would you do away with?
Our philosophy is that every single person at Gravity needs to be the CEO of themselves. Some people get confused about what that means. It means we value challenges and struggles, and we don’t want things to come easy. We want to push ourselves to do and be better. If we do that, we’ll create a company truly meant to serve others. Each individual will create an ability within themselves that will pay huge dividends for the rest of their lives. So, we’re innovative in the sense that we don’t do things the easy way. Nothing is laid out and you don’t have somebody telling you what to do. You have the opportunity to pave your own path at this company.
Our whole purpose of being in this industry is to help independent businesses accepting payments. We wanted to transform this industry that many don’t trust by giving them the best possible options and support to accept payments. We structured the whole company – including no outside financing – to accomplish that long-term goal. A lot of our clients have said, “We want more; we want to do this; we want to do that” and we know we can’t do everything for everybody, but we try to do what we can to support them. One thing we’ve done to help was setting up an alternative loan program that helps independent businesses quickly access funds. We have been able to finance over $10 million for community businesses strictly based off word-of-mouth referrals.
The other thing we do differently is that we don’t pay our salespeople commissions. That’s been since day one. Our salespeople are incentivized based on customer retention and customer satisfaction. Our competitors pay these big sales commissions which make the price to the client go way up, while making the long-term satisfaction of the client go down. This doesn’t incentivize building a long-term relationship with a client, but rather a one-and-done type of deal. Our salespeople consistently check-in, make sure everything is working, review rates, help business owners understand their statements, and even send them advice articles on how to help their business succeed. All of that has allowed Gravity to keep our clients five times longer than the industry average.
What is the most difficult leadership lesson you have learned?
I’m not sure if it’s a lesson I’ve learned, but the most difficult thing for me in terms of being a leader is that I’m very optimistic about people. I really care about people I work and interact with, and people I meet. I see potential and how great a person can be, and it results in me holding very high standards for them. I see what they’re capable of, and it’s important for me they meet that potential. More often than not it does happen, but when things get in the way and somebody doesn’t meet their potential, it’s very painful.
Complete the sentence: “If I wasn’t a business leader, I would be a…
If I wasn’t a business leader, I would want to be a part of the Gravity team. I’m committed to what we’re doing. I want to show the world that treating your clients the way you would want to be treated, and using your client’s best interest as your motivation every day, will win out over greed in the long run.
What are the top 3 challenges for today’s business leaders?
I would say number one is figuring out and being clear on your purpose: What do you most care about? How are you going to stay focused and stick with your purpose even if it’s different than what other people care about? How are you going to inspire other people to do the same inside your organization?
The second challenge is managing risk and uncertainty. The world does not work in a linear way. Things change all the time, especially when there are groups of people involved. We can wake up one day and reality is completely different. How is your company or the group that you lead going to adapt and benefit from those changes?
The third would be to accomplish the first two in a way that is going to be healthy and sustainable for you. As a leader, one of the things you are is an example. I think it’s important to lead a life that is healthy overall and encourages the people you work with to do the same.
What is one must-read book for business leaders?
A book I enjoy is called Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. It’s a book about the psychology and the science of change, and emphasizing change within people. If there is something within yourself or within your organization you’d like to change, the steps to changing it may be less intuitive than you might think.
What do you do when you’re not working? Any surprising hobbies or talents?
I enjoy doing pretty much anything. I love to snowboard, surf, hike, play soccer, and workout. I just love variety. I like to try and learn new things as much as I can.
What is the best piece of leadership advice you have received?
If you want people to trust you, the way to earn their trust is to be 100 percent honest and transparent.
How has being in YPO positively affected your business or leadership?
I’d say a big part of leadership is empathy. Being a member of YPO is nice because you have a constant practice of learning to both receive and give empathy. For me, having more empathy is one of the most powerful things I can do to improve as a leader.