WILL THE REAL DAN PRICE PLEASE STAND UP?
Dan Price is known the world over for raising his company’s minimum wage to $70k. But while a lawsuit with his business partner-brother called his motives into question, and an alleged history of domestic violence drove one shiny shank nail into his otherwise divine reputation, a far deeper look into Price’s past reveals a breadcrumb trail fraught with contradiction and conflict.
Price has been tagged “World’s Best Boss... Real-Life Robin Hood... folk hero for the age of inequality... Corporate Jesus." Paul Keegan of Inc. Magazine (and also a contributor to Fortune, Money, The New York Times and Esquire) has been both a devout cheerleader and unwavering apologist for Price, as evidenced by:
“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.”
Price fully embraces such parallels with his biblical boyhood hero. In fact, his latest financial assertions altogether abandon research, rationale and science in favor of holy canon. During an appearance on The Daily Show, Price proclaimed:
“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 this new economic reality we’re going to.”
The nature of such a lofty commandment, about what kind of “new economic reality we are going to,” remains a mystery to everyone but Price. Apparently he “loved” overcompensating himself between $1.5 - $3 million per year, light years beyond the average CEO pay for a private sector company similar to his.
Or, perhaps it does have something to do with divine intervention:
Kenman Wong teaches business ethics at Seattle Pacific University. Price was one of his students.
“We see ethical business as part of the kingdom of God. Part of what we try to do is shine the light of heaven on our earthly affairs… For the faithful employer, I believe pay is a matter of discernment, requiring the guidance of scripture, prayer, wise counsel, and sound reason.”
Christianity Today said this of Price’s almighty gesture.
“In light of our country’s growing economic inequality, the 30-year-old Christian [Price] saw his own $1 million salary as part of the problem. Price’s move violates an understanding of capitalism that would require company to pay no more than the lowest price at which the market would allow them to hire appropriate workers. Scripture, though, has a very different perspective. To start with, God frequently and emphatically condemns business people who take advantage of their workers, particularly through exploitive compensation.”
Price himself makes this claim.
“In my background where I had faith that was really important to me, I was growing up, I was studying the bible two hours a day, I was really disciplined, and that’s really helpful in the business world.”
Price runs a private company and can pay himself whatever he wishes. However, "in the business world" in which he lives, his excessive compensation was not "helpful," especially in 2012 when his nearly $3 million dollar self-determined compensation package tipped Gravity Payments into the red. In other words, even though gross revenue grew, Price personally banked such a huge percentage of profit that he thereby jeopardized the business and its employees.
Perspective is clearly important when it concerns someone who is getting paid to preach fairness, transparency and sacrifice like his own personal gospel. Price repeatedly says his lifestyle has taken a significant hit since the wage hike. Yet, he still owns two properties: an income property in the North Queen Anne neighborhood and his primary residence in the Magnolia section (Seattle’s highest ranked neighborhood) a 3,400 square foot stunner with panoramic views of the Puget sound and an oversized pool estimated at $1.5 million+. He also owns a 36’ foot Cobalt yacht. A similar 2009 yacht is currently for sale in Seattle for $275,000.
Price has repeatedly claimed to remortgage both properties in order reinvest such funds into his business and shore up the shortfall coming from wage increases. Following a detailed review of title and other real estate documents, Price clearly lied. This aligns with Geekwire’s report from mid-December. After both reports were released and Price was caught in a trail of untruths, he did secure a home equity loan.
Price also repeatedly claims that he had to rent his house, sleep on friends’ couches, etc. He told Entreprenuer Magazine, “Why do I, as a single 31-year-old guy, need a multi-million dollar house to live in, like, it’s no problem for me to downsize.” A source that spoke with Hundred Eighty Degrees off the record said that Price seriously exaggerated the truth and actually lists his house on a vacation rental site during summers while he is away, on his yacht or generally in search of more easy income. Hundred Eighty Degrees did confirm that Price lists his house on AirBnB for $950 per night. However, his claims of moving out of his house, sleeping on friends' couches to get by, etc. are not true. He actually stays in a separate suite in his house during rental periods. Make no mistake, this is an abundance of nearly free-and-clear additional income.
Hundred Eighty Degrees spoke with Chuck Smith, former founder/CEO of PayPros (recently bought by industry giant, Global Payments) and 20+-year veteran of the payment-processing arena. Although PayPros served three times the number of Gravity clients and was founded 10 years prior, Smith said:
“My top salary level after all these years in the business is one third of what Dan Price made. I have no idea how he could possibly arrive at that figure.”
Global Payments is the 8th largest processor in the world - a colossal organization with 8,500 employees compared to Gravity's 150. Price does an infinitesimal amount of business comparatively. Yet, Global CEO, Jeffrey Sloan, had a base salary $300k less than Price. Heartland Payment Systems was recently acquired by Global for $4.3 billion. It too is an industry giant with 4,500 employees. The final base salary of Heartland founder, Bob Carr, before he exited after 20 years was $400k less than Price. Vantiv is mightier than Global and Heartland and three other top 10 processing behemoths combined. It is the 2nd largest processor in the U.S., but CEO, Charles Drucker has a base salary over $400k less than Price before he made his announcement.
In light of Price’s impulsive and singular $70k salary declaration, one would think he would support a far-from-generous $15 minimum wage for the working class.
Not so fast.
His very own hometown of Seattle was the first U.S. city to adopt a $15 minimum. While the plan took effect on April 1, 2015, it was just 12 days later that Price would utterly eclipse such groundbreaking news with his own announcement. Was this a carefully calculated PR move by Price? Only he knows for certain. But the timing is curiously convenient, to say the very least.
Perhaps more interesting, even stunning, is that Price does not appear to support a $15 minimum. He is an anti-regulation proponent and a tangled web of sound bytes where it concerns fair wages:
In an interview with The Guardian, Price deflected, “If I spent two months off my job and studied economics related to the $15 minimum wage, I’d like to think I’d be qualified to have an opinion on it.”
However, he did have an opinion on Fox News during which he declared, “A lot of times people are proposing government solutions, like in Seattle where I live we have the $15 an hour minimum wage, and for me, that's a sign of failure that we didn't self-regulate and self-govern, and had we done things like this (his $70k wage hike), there'd be no need for an outside entity."
Price made a similar statement at The Aspen Ideas Festival where he told CNBC host Kelly Evans that government intervention to install a $15 minimum is an "indictment" on business leaders.
It remains unclear how Price concludes that other businesses should adopt his $70k minimum, let alone how they can survive once they do so. Tim Low is a SVP at PayScale and a contributor to The Harvard Business Review. He deemed Price's policy "a novelty pay practice" and an approach that fails to "recognize individual contribution to the business." Harvard business, Professor Michael Wheeler, attested:
"... he [Price] should have considered how everyone’s compensation would have been impacted. Before taking action he also should have consulted with employees and key customers to address their concerns. Finally, he might have taken this step more quietly, without such a fanfare. I say this with the double advantage of distance and hindsight. I hope things work out for Dan Price and his people. For now his story should remind us all that good intentions aren’t enough. In fact, they can blind us from seeing that others may misunderstand our motivations and feel differently about our goals than we do. The more zealous we are, the less likely we are to see that others may object."
Nobody argues that this is a high-profile experiment with a giant PR payoff, but what is arguable is why Price believes it is far more credible than a livable working wage for those who work at retail shops or restaurants or labor jobs and for the small business owners who employ them. Price's company (and industry) can scale in a very different manner than most businesses whose engines would seize if forced to dish out unsustainable wages.
The business of payment processing is, by its very nature, fueled via math. Every merchant account requires careful management of rates, fees, projections and market indicators. Inc. Magazine's Paul Keegan has been an unabashed if not defiant Price devotee who says of his business acumen:
“As a numbers guy, he [Price] knows all the statistics... productivity gains are going to CEOs who earn, on average, about 300 times more than typical workers.”
Yet, when Price is questioned about the mechanics of his $70k hike, he is quick to discuss his own sacrifice of electing to reduce his salary to the same $70k mark that his employees will earn by December of 2017. Beyond that, he often if not always claims that his stewardship of numbers and basic economics is not worthy of further discussion: An example:
CNN’s Poppy Harlow asked Price, “Do you think there should be a cap on how many times more a leader can make than their average employee?” Price replied, “You know, you aren’t going to get a lot of opinions from me on macroeconomic theory just because I’m not qualified to give opinions on those things.”
Price’s wage hike was inspired by a 2010 study he claims to have read, to which authors Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton affixed the laborious title of, “High Income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being.” How does a study from 2010 correlate to conditions on the ground five years later? After all, 2010 was not exactly a banner year as Americans were still stuck in the muck of the worst economic era since the Great Depression. Even more dubious, Kahneman and Deaton analyzed respondent data collected by Gallup in 2008-2009, precisely when the economy disappeared into a sinkhole. At that time, the “money buys happiness” mantra was likely skewed by the fact that folks couldn’t pay the doctor’s bill and the car payment during the same month. A $70k minimum at that time would have sounded like a raid of Fort Knox. The authors admitted:
“No single article can settle this complex question definitively… The relevance of subjective well-being as a guide to policy is a contentious issue, on which we do not take a position. If measures of well-being are to be used to assess human welfare and to guide policy, the present findings raise the question of whether life evaluation or emotional well-being is better suited to these aims.”
How much of that study Price actually read is unknown. It certainly serves as an expedient reference point to explain his sudden inspiration, and one that would likely not be vetted by mass media, which was, in fact, the case. But does Price truly understand this passage in the research?
“When interpreting our findings, it is essential to distinguish changes from differences. What the data suggest is that above a certain level of stable income, individuals’ emotional well-being is constrained by other factors in their temperament and life circumstances.”
Price's interpretation was that the $70k threshold would immediately ignite a sense of euphoria for those well below that mark and even perhaps consequently cause an even greater sense of allegiance to him. Yet, the ultimate takeaway from such an assertion is that one cannot control the influences or affects of that which makes us human; money does not buy happiness but does buy some degree of stability. Mostly, however, it buys some time before one must straddle the remaining and often unforeseen hurdles of the future.
Price proudly considers himself the it-brand for proper pay and corporate principles.
“I would like to spark a conversation and have people start thinking about a different way of doing business.”
But what he never acknowledges is that, for decades, if not centuries, countless souls have placed their lives and reputations firmly on the line to "spark a conversation" over fair pay. And 99 percent have done so without air-conditioned TV studios, makeup, and $40,000 speaking fees.
Price is entitled to pilot a personal or professional odyssey with as much self-absorption as he chooses. In view of his dogged pursuit of interviews and speaking gigs, that bar is set extraordinarily high. Dan Price has sales reps staple a flyer about Dan Price to the business cards that they pass on to customers who then must be told all about Dan Price before being advised about the ins and outs of proper credit card processing. His speeches invariably reveal everything one should know about Dan Price’s boyhood triumphs, Dan Price’s business-building triumphs, Dan Price’s body-image triumphs, Dan Price’s publicity triumphs, and a sprinkling of business dictum.
Well before he even became a household name, Price had a press kit and video reel the likes of a seasoned entertainer. And for a payment processor, such a thing is downright unprecedented... page after page of professional headshot after professional headshot, video after video, hyperbolic copy points, transcendent teachings. Since he landed on the international scene, his ever-expanding corporate marketing squad follows his every move, clicking away during well-oiled runs, workout sessions or New Age-y meetings. About his $500,000 deal with Viking Press Price confoundingly claimed:
“Everyone thinks their life should be a movie or a book.”
He eagerly told CNN how a photo of him “surfing huge waves” occupies his desktop screen. And, when asked whether a large, publicly traded firm could adopt the Gravity model, Price said, "Absolutely… not only could they, I think we'll see that many will.”
Brown University asked Price to speak as part of its series titled Political Theory Project, designed to “invigorate the study of institutions and ideas that make societies free, prosperous, and fair.” Hundred Eighty Degrees spoke with PTP Associate Director, Daniel D’Amico, who articulated:
“College students who attended Price’s lecture were interested in conscious capitalism and discussing ethics and efficacies of minimum wage policy, and it’s interesting that some in the private sector are establishing their own policies.”
Price thought differently. He used seven straight minutes to, yet again, iterate particulars of his worldwide acclaim:
“It was, like, we had turned into Gangnum Style or maybe it was like ice bucket challenge – remember how, like, ice bucket challenge was, like, every post on Facebook?”
This rhetorical question was met with deafening silence as was most of Price's 45-minute, uninterrupted voyage from a fabled childhood to corporate conquests to the the lawsuit brought about by his what he sees as a spiteful brother. In fact, most of the "lecture" to the 100+ Ivy League students and faculty expecting to further explore a "debate about income inequality, the wage gap in America, and CEO responsibility" fell somewhere between aimless and disturbing.
Of his global impact, Price maintained:
“When I made this decision, my hope was that other business leaders would recognize you can pay a living wage and not only survive, but thrive. I think this will inspire people and we’ll start to see a reversal of this inequality trend. I’ve already started to see a few examples of this happening. One of my colleagues told me her friend walked into work at ReMax one day and got a $10,000 raise because the owner was so inspired by this [my] decision. Most recently, Facebook announced they were increasing the minimum wage for their team.”
Again, Price has reclassified a "living wage" at $7ok, without offering any more than a research paper as reason enough to adopt such a policy. At alma mater, Seattle Pacific University, Price said of such policy:
“I do think that it will really set the world on fire, because it will show that all of our assumptions about life, human nature and business can be wrong if we make them wrong.”
While Price readily admits he spends only one day per week at the office, primarily because of speaking engagements and talk show appearances, he grumbles that “...the media attention creates a lot of distractions. While it is helpful it might not be as helpful as you might think.” Despite his discontent, he continues tois on the hunt for a public relations guru, because:
“Our small company has captured the world’s attention.” Responsibilities include, “Build and leverage connections in the entertainment, media, and/or political industries… Secure a variety of appearances for the CEO, e.g. book signings, red carpet events and benefit galas… maintain a constant pulse on the CEO’s public image... Track record of working successfully with and marketing big personalities.” Price also seeks an Executive Assistant to the CEO who will “set meetings with high-profile individuals.”
Dan Price should not be entitled to a hall pass that enables him to evade the kind of scrutiny called journalism. A three-mile grin and broadcast nonchalance should never preclude media from vetting a messenger. Paul Keegan wrote a piece for Inc. Magazine in which he professed:
“Until Price dropped his wage-bomb, much of that debate was punditry. He gave it a name and a face: a modern Robin Hood helping the working class by stealing from himself -- and perhaps from shareholders of other companies whose bosses are now also putting employees ahead of profits. Was it coincidence that Walmart, that paragon of parsimony, coughed up raises for its lowest-paid workers?”
One has to guess Keegan never heard of the New York teachers who rattled cages in 1911 to gain equal pay or the women who courageously fought for the Equal Pay Act of 1963 which paved the way to the Civil Rights Act or the millions who march today for a livable minimum under the masthead of "Fight for $15" which has forever changed U.S. wage policy via successes in New York, California, Washington D.C and Price's home city of Seattle.
And does the average Robin Hood overpay himself by a mile, own multiple houses, a yacht, employ a round-the-clock housekeeper, cozy with celebrities and enjoy a lucrative deal with one of the world's largest talent agencies to secure speaking gigs for $50 grand? Robin Hood stole from the rich to pay the poor. Price stole from the rich and the not-s0-rich to pay himself first before he reached a point at which company morale was low, staffers were exiting in droves, a costly lawsuit with his very own brother loomed, and the timing could not have been any more ideal to don the part of heroic outlaw.
However, there comes a time when self-absorption reaches critical mass, when one feels impervious to scrutiny, or worse, when one is “surfing huge waves” without a grain of consideration for the consequences. It takes a certain type of bluster to seek attention in such a colossal manner, all the while knowing that said attention is a product of wooden nickels.
If you spend enough hours reviewing print and tape on Price, most of his talking points plays out like mercurial hogwash. He either makes it up as he goes along or he forgets how he made it up in the first place and stumbles down the tracks thereafter.
Of his wage hike, he told U.S. News, “I didn’t do it to inspire anybody.” Yet, on his very own blog, he opines, “My goal when making this decision was for other business leaders to recognize you can pay a living wage and not only survive, but thrive.”
During his keynote for the Inc. 500 conference in October, Price explained how four professional cameras manned by two of the planet’s most powerful news brands wound up in the room during his wage announcement. “I stayed in a friend's apartment in New York who worked for The New York Times and he said, ‘Hey, you know, you should reach out to the person that covers business and the economy at The Times.'" Yet, during his speaking engagement at Brown University four weeks later (for which Price received a generous honorarium and fully compensated travel), Price chatters ad nauseam about that same matter, but the details are poles apart. “I was traveling to New York, like a few weeks before [his wage announcement] and I had stayed in somebody’s home to save money. I’m like kind of a frugal traveler. And he had an extra room and I went on one of these, like, websites where you can, like, just borrow somebody’s room, I didn’t even have a private bathroom, so I had to get to know him and everything, and he worked at The New York Times and he said, 'Dan, your story’s really fascinating, we like what you’re doing, let me introduce you to somebody at The New York Times that may want to write about you at some point if you ever have any news.'”
In an effort to tug at heartstrings, Price told a packed house at his alma mater (Seattle Pacific University), “I saw a 60 Minutes story on income inequality and I cried the whole way through, and I don’t know why.” Price was referring to a story he purportedly watched sometime between December 2014 and March 2015. No such story aired throughout all of 2014 and even 2015; no story exists.
At a rotary club speech in Seattle, he offered, “Have you guys ever felt like shy and over-exposed, like I just don’t want to do this anymore, I want to focus on my work, I’m sick of these awards and talks and all that?” This was immediately followed by Price taking four minutes to iterate the ins and outs of being presented the Entrepreneur of the Year Award and how the criteria involves voting and how his video received three times the amount of votes as the number two video and more than all others combined.
In 2012, Price shared 10 networking tips via an interview with flipthemedia.com. His tips placed transparency at #1, followed by empathy, being humble, helpful, etc. But it was his #10 tip that proved to be a rather bizarre frontrunner. It was titled, “Don’t be a douchebag” and continued, “… throw away those self help books telling you how to win friends.”
A comment left beneath the article sounded off as such…
grunt says: March 16, 2015 at 10:28 am
Funny part in this list is the last one. I went to high school w this guy, and he had to be the most arrogant self-centered prick I had ever met. I’m proud of the guy’s success, and wish him the best. But ultimately that list makes me laugh, because it WAS everything he wasn’t in high school.
This could very well be a doleful high school grudge never overcome. But such an indictment was not a one-off. Similar comments have been waged along the way, such as these posted as responses to articles in Entrepreneur, CNN’s Billfold and others.
Irritated Aug 12, 2015
I met this guy in Miami, he was one of the top speakers, I tried to talk with him after, he was pretty arrogant and didn't have time for much conversation, he was more interested in the flirty girls than talking about being an entrepreneur. Sad.
KitNCaboodle Sep 24, 2015
I know this guy and he's unethical and shady. He's socially awkward and a misogynist. He thinks women are arm candy and is a horrid human being. For someone saying he is so broke its funny… has partial ownership in a yacht.
concrete and kitsch •
The linked article [Bloomberg Businessweek] doesn't surprise me in the least. I live in Seattle and my husband knew him from a place he worked, and a good friend of mine dated him briefly. He went by the nickname "Douche Price" and gives off some serious Buffalo Bill vibes.
To understand the Dan Price of today, one must know Dan Price pre-hoopla, the kid from Nampa, Idaho.
Ron Price is Dan’s father and ostensibly his biggest influencer. Ironically, Ron Price actually authors the very self-help books that his son so ardently disavows. And contrary to Dan’s “douchebag” claim, he actually reads and often cites such books as inspiration. Speaking to CNN he said:
“I am rereading a book called The Complete Leader, a phenomenal book... every chapter is a quick ten-minute lesson on whatever challenge you are facing that day. Full disclosure: I’m a little biased because it was written by my dad, Ron Price, who is one of the most influential people in my life in terms of teaching me about integrity and living out your values.”
Though father and son appear to be each other’s biggest fan, the latter has an interesting and inconsistent way of tendering praise. In a video celebrating Price as a Pacific Northwest finalist for the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year, he says of Ron:
“My Dad is, uh, an entrepreneur. He never really made it, but he worked so hard at it.”
This is not the kind of tribute that would melt a father’s heart. And what is it that Ron did wherefrom “he never really made it?”
Ron’s professional endeavors include President/CEO of AIM International in the late 80’s until 2000. AIM is “An international group whose common goal is to provide high-quality whole food concentrates and supplements that improve people’s lives.” AIM is also a multi-level marketing (MLM) operation, the modern version of the pyramid or Ponzi scheme that took hold in the 30s by enlisting consumers to be distributors. Nutritional products like Nutralite in 1945 were promoted as effective means for treating a variety of ills, including cancer. No such claims were backed by scientific evidence. Eventually, the FDA got wise to such scams and punished transgressors with vigor.
In line with this, by 1989, the FDA issued a regulatory letter to AIM that stated AIM products were “in serious violation of the food misbranding provisions.” In sum, Ron worked for a company that was, once again, clearly scamming consumers, especially those who were more vulnerable to predatory practices. Devoid of scientific evidence, AIM products claimed to be effective against cancer, arthritis, high blood pressure, obesity, depression, and even hangovers. The FDA also seized quantities of several AIM products and ordered regulatory decrees. Henceforth, Ron took the AIM brand overseas where products were “rebranded” and where he “built offices in 8 countries, tripled annual revenues, distributed nutritional products."
It is after Ron’s ruse at AIM, however, when the puzzle pieces of his son Dan’s professional and personal paths begin to click into place. Perhaps such a path is best summarized by extracting a line from Price’s own canned speech:
"Ever get the feeling like someone is mad at you, or hates you, and you don’t know why? Seems to happen to me more than most people."
In fact, Price knows precisely why this is the case.
Legal Case: Axia Payments
Ron Price founded a startup called Merchant Services Consulting, Inc. MSC was an independent sales affiliate for Axia, a provider of credit card processing services. In 2003, Ron hired his sons, Dan, 19, and Lucas, 25, as sales reps; both signed contracts with Axia’s chief, Randal Clark, replete with proprietary and confidentiality requirements identical to those of their father’s contract. One year later, Clark sent a termination letter to Ron Price stating:
“Projected productivity has never been realized… over the last two years, we have made little or nothing on your sales activity… Now you are increasing your financial demands, as well as wanting to increase your role within our company and with our strategic partners, but with less and declining productivity. You have left us with little choice but to reject your position, because this makes no business sense to us.”
The termination notice of January 2004 clearly informed Ron Price, Dan Price and Lucas Price that, “MSC was neither to represent Axia nor to contact Axia merchant accounts.” 30 days later, Dan and Lucas formed Price and Price, LLC, consulting for electronic payment services. In early March, Lucas emailed Clark stating:
“Dan and I have formed an LLC that is intending to market processing services. Because of the respect that I developed for you during my time there and because my time in your office launched my professional life, I wanted to keep you informed… we have every intention of treating the Axia companies with integrity on those occasions when we come across them.”
Clark replied with encouragement but reminded the Prices to honor their contractual agreements. They did not.
In June of 2004, Axia sued Price & Price because they “solicited Axia merchants and customers to leave Axia… used and disclosed Axia’s confidential and proprietary information and trade secrets by using customer and merchant lists and other confidential information in furtherance of their own interests…”
A temporary restraining order was issued against Dan Price and his brother because Dan penned a letter to Axia clients that claims how Axia clients were his and Lucas’, and that he has:
“...allowed the Santa Barbara [Axia] office to service you… we have a more direct connection, we are better able to manage electronic payments… we will be coming by to complete appropriate paperwork with each of you.”
Such paperwork was being issued to accounts that were clearly not the property of Dan or Lucas Price, per the Affiliate contracts that both of them signed. In other words, Price was breaching his contract, stealing clients and undermining relationships. How much Ron Price was complicit in such activity remains a mystery.
Clark eventually agreed to a successful out-of-court settlement. He has yet to answer Hundred Eighty Degrees' requests for comment about such terms. He still helms the since diversified and expanded Axia Holdings. Oddly, Merchant Services Consulting, Inc. remains intact to this day, with Ron Price filing as principal and his wife Pamela filing as Secretary.
Media outlets have never questioned Price about this troublesome entry into payment processing, though that kind of tale might not have gotten him a seat at a primetime TV interview or a talent deal or a book deal. Instead he told The Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2008:
“...the company he worked for folded at about the time he graduated in 2003.”
Again, neither Axia nor MSC ever “folded.”
For years, Price has told a very different origin story. He awkwardly attempts to connect his current career to the home-schooled kid from rural Idaho who was bassist-manager of a middle school Christian rock band that played local coffee shops that needed help with POS and payment processing services. Nowhere within the Axia court case documents, even within Price’s very own declaration, does he talk about any such credit card processing experience that he would have brought to Axia in 2003. In fact, his short tenure with Axia – by way of MSC - was terminated for lack of performance. And one would be hard-pressed to imagine that a 15 or 16-year-old would be negotiating credit card processing deals with banks and other finance companies.
During a speech at the DreamChange Love Summit hosted by the world-renowned Wieden+Kennedy ad agency in June of 2015, Price explained his foray into processing thusly:
“I was a Junior in high school and we had these businesses, and what I found was, there are a lot of independent business owners out there that had so much passion and so much love in terms of their product, but they were constantly being taken advantage of by big companies, and it was almost like the whole thing was structured against them. So there was a coffee shop owner named Heather in Caldwell, Idaho and we played acoustic shows there. She did so much for us, so I decided I was going to help her redo her technical systems and also help her redo her point of sale system.”
He hazily further explains how Heather referred him to over 200 other clients, and the snowball effect enabled him to launch his processing business as a freshman in college. Hundred Eighty Degrees is currently attempting to reach Heather for comment.
When asked about his son’s current celebrity, Ron Price clarified:
"Dan likes a challenge. He likes to do something big, and he likes to do something that's disruptive, that gets other people thinking and talking.”
Legal Case: Kathy Drew (Adams)
“Disruptive” summarizes how former Gravity Payments employee, Kathy Drew (now Kathy Adams) describes Price. Only three years after Price's court case with Axia, Adams sued Price in what apparently became a brutal 2-year battle. Hundred Eighty Degrees was able to track down and review all court documents.
Fearing that Price would further upend her professional and personal lives, Adams simply explained to Hundred Eighty Degrees:
“The terms of the settlement limit what I can say, but I can say I am happy, and happy to be done with it.”
Incidentally, Price’s out-of-court settlements regularly include clauses that essentially read as a gag order. He agrees to settle as long as Plaintiffs agree not to discuss results, disclose evidence or disparage him.
Adams’ court documents reveal that she sued Price for, among other things, fraud, negligent misrepresentation and breach of employment contract with requested damages totaling in the hundreds of thousands. She asserts how Price knowingly deducted and misrepresented commission income and pocketed such income as his own. Her contract, residual compensation terms and even a terms letter from Price himself are part of such documentation.
Adams court documents also reveal how Price “routinely, repeatedly… recorded the private telephone conversations between employees, between employees and their friends or family, and between employees and customers, without permission… at the direction of Dan Price…” This is a crime in the state of Washington. Former Gravity sales rep, Mark Webb admitted that Price instructed him to purchase a tape machine and record Adams, without her knowledge, just after she alleged that Price had been shorting her commission payouts. Both Webb and Price were on the call. Webb states:
“To my knowledge Dan Price’s plan to record my conversation with Kathy Drew [Adams] without her knowledge was successful. I participated in Dan Price’s plan because he was my direct supervisor and employer and I was in fear of losing my position and income.”
Oddly, if not disturbingly, Webb eventually revised that declaration a few weeks later with a rather incoherent explanation of his change of heart. After all, he was still working for Price, and Price's longtime lawyer, Paul Dayton, apparently realized the consequences his client faced.
Price accused Adams of disclosing confidential information/trade secrets and wooing referral sources and clients away from Gravity, the same allegations Axia waged against Price. In fact, Price subpoenaed the employer for which Adams worked following Gravity in an attempt that reads a lot like a tactic to unseat Adams from a career she had occupied for nearly a decade prior to Gravity. Further documentation illustrates how Adams had consistently been one of the industry’s top sales performers year over year while Price had been in business two years when he hired her. Incidentally, Price also attempted to prevent Adams from day-to-day patronage of her local business community (her dry cleaners, restaurants, etc.), claiming such establishments were Gravity referral sources she was trying to lobby away from him.
Like Axia before her, Adams won her case but settled out of court for damages in exchange for agreeing not to disclose details of the proceedings.
Legal Case: Consolidated Marine, Inc.
Bob Meng sued Price in 2013. He’s a small business owner similar to those that Price claims to hold dear. His case also lasted two years, and Like Clark and Adams before him, Meng would neither speak on the record about his settlement payout nor about other terms related to his suit, because:
“I can’t afford to risk him coming after me for something I say about the case or him, he’s that kind of guy. Besides, he has a lot more money than I do.”
Again, Hundred Eighty Degrees has read all documents related to the case.
Meng runs a small Seattle-based business that offers boat owners operation training, maintenance and service. Price bought a 36' Cobalt yacht some time between 2012-2013 and used Meng for such services. According to the lawsuit, Meng's claims include breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and a consumer protection claim. In essence, once training concluded, Price used Gravity Payments to reverse the credit card charge thereby leaving Meng unpaid for services rendered. Receipts for training and other services are included in court documents and illustrate that said services were rendered and originally paid for without complaint.
Legal Case: City of Seattle
In August of 2013, Price was arrested for assault, criminal trespass and property destruction. A restraining order was also issued against him. Hundred Eighty Degrees has acquired and reviewed all court documents.
Price walked into a well-known Irish bar/restaurant named Paddy Coyne’s, harassed patrons whom he did not know and was asked by the restaurant manager to leave. According to the report, Price, dressed in all white, then “stood up immediately, squared off with his fists clenched and told Johns [manager] he was not going to leave.” The manager and a bartender gained control of Price, got him outside and released him. But Price “smacked Johns in the face using an open hand claw” causing a laceration on the manager’s face, then grabbed his glasses and broke them in half before running off into a park. Seattle police later found Price walking in the neighborhood and arrested him. According to court documents, deliberations lasted over a year, and Price was put on a two-year probation (which ends 12/15/16), he received drug and alcohol screening, and is also subject to other court mandates.
Legal Case: Kristie Colón
Kristie Colón started dating Price in 2000 while in high school, married him in college in 2005, filed for divorce in 2011 and finalized proceedings in early 2012. On October 28, 2015, she gave a TEDx talk at the University of Kentucky (UK) during which she described how Price brutally battered her on numerous occasions.
Hundred Eighty Degrees contacted Kristie the night of December 10, immediately after discovering that her bio from a TEDx speaker page had been quietly removed and replaced. The video of her talk was scheduled to publish that same week but was also mysteriously AWOL. Like Clark, Adams and Meng before her, Kristie would not speak on the record.
Could she be yet another figure who falsely accused Dan Price? Perhaps. But what does she have to gain? The majority of those abused do not pursue a legal course for fear of retribution, physical or financial, since “financial abuse is a common tactic used by abusers.” One in three women has been a victim of physical violence by an intimate partner within a lifetime. Only 20 percent seek medical attention. 22 percent of abuse cases involve women who are pregnant. Women between the ages of 18-24 are those most commonly abused by an intimate partner. Kristie was 20 when she married Price and 21 when she recorded said notes of violence in the journal from which she briefly read aloud at TEDx. She also miscarried that same year.
Kristie flew to the University of Kentucky to speak at TEDx. Out of her sub-10 minute talk, a sliver over a minute of it addressed her abuse, and she did not name names. She could very well have sought to speak at any one of the more than a dozen or so Seattle-based TEDx events held over the past few years, the very place where she and Price shared a life together, and where, if she were consumed by avenging him, she could have done so with far greater thump.
When asked about the allegations of abuse against his son, Ron Price offered this unwieldy response:
“We don’t have any evidence that ever occurred.”
Dan Price’s own response was even more alarming. He neither mentioned Kristie Colón nor addressed what accusations clearly offend him. Such a response does not at all align with a traditional public relations / crisis management tactic.
“We’ve been floored at the attention our story has gotten over the past year, and inspired by the millions all around the globe who have engaged and shared their stories with us. Unfortunately, people in the public eye are subject to speculation and criticism. The recent story in Businessweek contained reckless accusations and baseless speculations that are unequivocally false. As a company, we’ve faced many challenges in our history. This has been a truly memorable year in many ways. We’re looking forward to working harder than ever in pursuit of our mission.”
Allegations of horrific violence morphed into pronouncements of global notoriety, and yet at no time does Price deny that he savagely beat his wife.
It is throughout Kristie Colón’s decades-old journal-cum-blog that one may best understand the personal journey she has endured. The journal entry alleging Price’s ferocious violence that she read aloud at TEDx was reportedly from May 2006. Her first blog entry on her blog site, from the same year, mentions a miscarriage, and more.
“In all honesty, I don’t feel like what happened to us was fair. First we dealt with the excitement and adjustment of being pregnant only to lose the baby a few weeks later. I’m 21 and I’ve already lost my dad and a baby. It just isn’t fair, and, yes, I know it never will be.”
By 2011, she reveals:
"The lady at the bank–I forget her name–was the first person I told out loud “I’m in the middle of a divorce.” … I feel broken and ugly and insecure inside–a failure for letting this all happen, for giving up control…"
However, it is an entry titled, “Writing in the Presence of Fear” that proves most unsettling.
“Two years since I left something that almost ruined me, in every sense of the word. It was a departure from the type of bad that crumbles mountains of goodwill, spins love into fear, and lets that bone-chilling loneliness settle in. Ugly truths exist behind closed doors… This year I fought hard for my voice… I allowed myself to be honest and angry when someone mean and cruel did really, really well. It allowed me to lean on the friends who are close. They told me anger is okay and I should probably start doing something with it.”
One year after authoring that entry, Kristie Colón made her way to the University of Kentucky and “did something with it.” She stood on that stage and shared her voice. That little something led to a lot of noise, then deafening silence, due to no fault of her own.
Once again, Price deployed his legal eagles; however, this time it was to wield proactive menace. Regarding Kristie’s missing bio, UK public relations reps Kelley Bozeman and Kathy Johnson told Hundred Eighty Degrees:
"Mr. Price’s legal team “called University counsel and alleged that Kristie’s speech included defamatory remarks which were false, so the University elected to remove her bio to avoid further conflict.”
They would not discuss her yet unpublished video at that time and told Hundred Eighty Degrees to contact TED’s PR rep. Margaret Sullivan, point person for TED’s publicity arm, Group SJR, deflected accordingly:
“I’m afraid that individual TEDx websites and questions about if/when TEDx talks get published to YouTube is entirely up to the individual TED organizers, so you’d have to ask them directly. Sorry I can’t be more helpful!”
Price and team perched a demonstrable crusade firmly on the front steps of the U.K. and the university demurred sans any proof. On December 10, Hundred Eighty Degrees tweeted that Price had stunningly wielded his legal sword in an effort to sever free speech at an institution of nearly 30,000 students, 12,000 staff and 2,000 faculty, not to mention, by association, an organization like TED (and adjunct TEDx) with tentacles stretched clear across the planet. After more engagement with the UK, they advised Hundred Eighty Degrees that the video would not publish; in fact, the video no longer existed as was confirmed by Geekwire.
Kristie Colón stood on that UK stage in order to speak about exercising writing and expression to identify, absorb and hopefully manage that which can often break one's will. And she was rewarded with a muzzle. Price and company strangled the First Amendment at Kentucky’s largest educational employer. TED’s very own global credo is “Ideas worth spreading.” How one is able to spread ideas while being suffocated remains a mystery.
The UK is a virtual municipality unto itself, but TED Talks is a kingdom -- a “nonprofit” kingdom, but a kingdom nonetheless. It charges anywhere from $8,000 to $150,000 per person per 4-5 day conference. Thought it has monopolized the speaking arena andattracts global leaders of all ilk, TED Talks operates with hardly an iota of public scrutiny.
On January 12 of this year, Kristie penned this entry.
"And that is how it happened. That’s how I ended up giving a “TEDx talk to 100 people about the amazing power of writing, of putting language around thoughts and pen to paper. It’s also how the talk ended up being debated and deleted, how reporters turned into publicists and why I had the hardest time writing anything–anything at all–when it was over. Phrases like “potential defamation lawsuit” and “disgusting things claimed” were being texted, emailed and phoned in to me. Basically, it was an introvert’s worst nightmare.
And so I did what I usually do when the Internet is having a temper tantrum. I sat back and watched. I watched some reporters do their job, brilliantly. And I saw others try, and try, and try, but still come up short. I watched people pretend to speak news but have nothing left to say. I watched people lie, omit, speculate, and bully. And it was not unlike our current presidential news cycle: a bit messy, mostly nonsense, and the truth slightly distorted.
This is real life, and we aren’t doing ourselves any favors by not talking about it. We aren’t protecting each other when we send the demons to the shadows instead of telling the truth–the first time. We need to stop with the hiding, and the shaming, and the victim-blaming. Or to put it more succinctly: We Need To Fucking Talk About It. And that is why I gave that [TEDx] talk. I gave that talk because through the lens of my own story I thought we could have an adult conversation, about adult things, and look at the benefits, research, and support for using writing to help process and integrate the parts of our stories we would rather forget. I want people to have the power to tell the story that is theirs–even if no one ever reads their words.
The story of my marriage and my dad’s death are only a piece of the story that’s shaped me. But dealing with the truth is way more powerful than any lie we could trade for reality because we get to write the ending.
Legal Case: Lucas Price
By this time, Price has been sued by an employer, an employee, a small business, and a stranger. He also brought The University of Kentucky and TEDx to its knees with a heavily mounted legal threat. And, his ex-wife has accused him of brutally beating her. The only thing left would be a lawsuit waged by someone near and dear to him.
And so it is.
Dan Price attended Seattle Pacific University from 2004-08. He founded Gravity Payments, LLC not long after landing in his dorm room. He married his longtime girlfriend Kristie a year later. In 2006, SPU’s newspaper, The Falcon, published a piece on Price and his growing business in which his brother Lucas said:
“Dan is very natural in dealing with people, along with his ability to be extremely diplomatic."
Lucas has since retracted such a sentiment.
He has not uttered a public word since he served Dan with a multi-part suit in March of 2015. Considering Price was Lucas’ best man, best friend and sole business partner, this turn of events is draconian and then some. In an attempt to break Lucas’ silence, Hundred Eighty Degrees reached out to his attorney, Greg Hollon, who replied on behalf of both he and Lucas.
When asked about how Dan Price has described a salary that was only $50K in 2011 and somehow $1.1MM in 2012, Hollon responded:
“The numbers set forth are not accurate, and appear to be a media narrative spun by Dan. Lucas objected repeatedly to Dan’s overcompensation. It is true Lucas has approved of Dan’s salary increases, however, Dan has also paid himself large cash bonuses despite objections from Lucas.”
In order to explore Price’s super-sized salary boost, Hundred Eighty Degrees contacted Towers Watson, the group Businessweek termed as the “compensation consultant” Price contracted to evaluate his pay. Communications Director, Josh Wozman, confirmed that Price was a client but forewarned:
“The company does not comment publicly on our work for client organizations.”
Towers Watson does not, however, take issue with client organizations commenting on Towers Watsons’ work for them as illustrated via video testimonials from NBC Universal, Time, Inc., MasterCard and others. Towers Watson also struggled to comment on the fact that while they negotiated a merger earlier in 2015 that caused company stock to plummet, CEO John Haley had already conveniently dumped shares to net a spiffy $10 million; yet another mysterious maneuver by a corporate chief.
Hollon also advised:
“In early 2014, Dan hired a business attorney that told Lucas that going forward, all communications would be through counsel. Lucas did not agree to the arrangement, but Dan proceeded in that fashion nonetheless.”
Hundred Eighty Degrees asked Hollon and Lucas about a "mediation requirement" in the parties' business compact. Though they would not comment on its specifics because of a protective order established for the now concluded trial, they did state:
“What is clear and beyond dispute is that the lawsuit was initiated through service on Price weeks before Lucas was first informed of the wage hike. There were no earlier discussions about the wage hike plan. The earliest notification to Lucas was an email on April 9, 2015.”
At his Brown University appearance in November, Price, yet again, snubbed this critical fact and pined on about how Lucas:
“…had always maintained a minority stake in the business and had been almost entirely disinterested in being involved, in talking about it and hearing about what was going on. I heard some complaints about things, but not for a long time. And all of a sudden, I have this crazy moment and all this excitement, and then two weeks later I’m being sued for it. So, that was crazy, and then I’m here. I’m trying to be transparent about what we’re doing because there’s a lot of interest.”
According to Hollon, this is unequivocally false. Lucas was an equal shareholder until 2008.
Ron Price says of his sons’ imbroglio:
“…their mother and me don’t lose sleep over it.” In another statement to his hometown newspaper Ron explained, “I guess I’m a little more stoic about it. Even though I wouldn’t want it to play out like this, I realize life is messy.”
Being “stoic” is as hard to comprehend as using “messy” to describe a situation in which two privileged sons spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to have Harvard and UCLA-educated “Super Lawyers” battle over millions of dollars which impact hundreds of lives and jobs. For most, that would likely be something to “lose sleep over.”
In the end, these words from Dan Price himself might prove most prophetic:
“The 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.”
There is another Dan Price who lives a solitary existence in the halcyon Oregonian woods. He tucked himself away in a tiny Hobbit-hole he built with his own hands 25 yearsago. He chose the lifestyle of a hermit because he wanted “peace from the madness of the world.” A former photographer who used to live in an Annabelle mansion, this 50+ version of Dan Price says:
“I learned how to edit, and I think I’ve edited my life all along."
Perhaps that is sage advice from one Dan Price to another. What would the life of the Millennial version of Dan Price be like today were he not so fixated on putting The New York Times and NBC in the room with him on April 13, 2015? And if he did not make the subsequent narrative primarily about Dan Price, such current scrutiny might never have been dispensed in the first place. Only a handful would know about the lawsuits, the lies, the fraud and the violence.
After all, this was supposed to be a story – or a debate – about tens of millions of Americans working long hours for limited pay and how a nation can otherwise tilt the scale in the proper direction.