The rise and fall of Dan Price, the CEO from Idaho who set a $70K minimum yearly salary

Dan Price, CEO and founder of Gravity Payments, recreates a ribbon-cutting for social media during a September 2019 visit to Gravity’s new Boise office. (Katherine Jones/Idaho Statesman)
By Lauren Rosenblatt Seattle Times

Remembering their time at Gravity Payments, some employees of the Seattle-based credit card processor recall a pernicious cycle.

Come in star-struck by celebrity founder and CEO Dan Price, a progressive social media star famous for setting base salaries at $70,000. Then notice the demands pile up. Attend a company event where colleagues share their personal traumas. Answer Price’s late-night calls. Overhear one of the CEO’s “explosive” outbursts.

Watch your stress level rise and work-life balance collapse.

Finally, get fed up and leave, or speak up and get pushed out.

Price was 19 and full of grand ambitions to slash credit card processing fees for small businesses when he launched Gravity in 2004. Now 38, Price has branded himself as a model corporate leader who puts employees’ interests ahead of his own.

But, in interviews with the Seattle Times, more than two dozen former Gravity employees said Price became obsessed with curating his compassionate persona, even if it didn’t match the person behind the viral posts. As CEO, Price cultivated a sense of fear and built a company that, as one former employee put it, was “just there to get Dan famous.”

Price grew up in Idaho, later opened Boise office

Price grew up between Melba and Marsing in rural Canyon County, the Idaho Statesman reported previously. He graduated from Nampa Christian High in 2003. He co-founded Gravity Payments with his brother, Lucas, while he was a student at Seattle Pacific University. His father, Ron Price, is a longtime Boise business consultant, coach, speaker and author.

Lucas Price eventually sued his brother, saying Dan Price paid himself excessive amounts. In 2016, a Seattle judge dismissed the lawsuit. Dan Price bought out his brother, taking complete ownership of the business.

Dan Price also bought a small Eagle company, ChargeItPro, which developed payment processing software for small businesses, and made it part of Gravity Payments. In 2019, he opened a new Gravity Payments office at 110 N. 27th St. in Boise with 40 workers, which later rose to about 50.

Price resigned as CEO from Gravity in August following accusations of assault and rape that have resulted in two police investigations. Price denies those accusations. Whether he remains a force at Gravity, a 200-plus person company based in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, remains to be seen.

Over the past five months, the Seattle Times contacted 75 people close to Gravity or Price. About 40 individuals shared their experiences.

In those interviews and in correspondence, as well as police reports, court documents and internal communications, a picture emerges of Gravity, a small company that drew an outsized amount of attention with Price at the helm. Gravity offered workers pay raises and opportunities to get in on Seattle’s tech boom, but, many former employees said, it came at the cost of stressful days, sleepless nights and lasting memories of working for a man six former employees described as a “manipulative” boss.

“You see the Dan in the news where he’s very charming and polished and then you’d hear these behind-the-scenes stories,” said Caitlin Palfenier, a former Gravity recruiter. “He either wants you to worship him or, if you don’t worship him, he wants you to be afraid enough to not do anything about it.”

Gravity declined to comment on specific allegations from former employees, or make current CEO Tammi Kroll available for an interview. A spokesperson for the company told the Seattle Times the statements from former employees are “either false, badly misleading or severely out of context.”

“Gravity’s business practices have created industry-leading satisfaction and retention among our employees and clients,” the spokesperson said. “The leadership team is committed to continuing to make Gravity Payments a destination employer for people around the country.”

Price denied allegations of harassment, assault and abusive behavior, while defending his record at Gravity. The claims made to the Seattle Times are “exaggerated or untrue,” Price said.

“I am immensely proud of the nearly two decades of work that went into building Gravity Payments into a thriving company that offers reliable credit card processing services to small businesses and provides good jobs to over two hundred people in Seattle and around the country,” Price said by email. “It has always been my goal for Gravity Payments to be both a successful and ethical company.”

Ex-wife said Price ‘wanted to be famous and … make a lot of money’

From its inception, Gravity was an extension of Dan Price.

He started the company in his dorm room at Seattle Pacific University, after noticing steep credit card processing fees – up to 3.5% of a transaction, on average. As the company grew, so did Price’s reputation. He was named National Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration in 2010 and visited the White House to meet President Barack Obama. He was crowned Entrepreneur of the Year by Entrepreneur Magazine in 2014.

“He always wanted to be CEO of a company – full stop,” said Kristie Colón, who has known Price since he was a teenager, and was married to him from 2005 to 2011. “I think he always wanted to be famous and there’s some prestige that comes with being able to own something. And he’s always wanted to make a lot of money.”

Gravity doesn’t have to disclose financial information as a private company, so its true size is unclear. Price owns 100% of the company, nine former employees said. Gravity and Price declined to answer questions about the company’s finances.

In the world of credit card processing, Gravity is a middleman, acting as a sales and customer service apparatus in a complicated web of transactions, according to four former employees. Gravity connects retailers to banks, and handles customer service, transactions and communication between the two. The machines that Gravity sells come from different companies, including Clover Network, a subsidiary of First Data. Kroll, a C-suite longtimer at Gravity, spent 12 years working at First Data.

Gravity’s attempts to engineer new products and services fell flat, said Jen Peck, a former director of engineering. Many Gravity engineers were new to the field and weren’t provided clear goals, making it tricky to compete with much larger payment processors like Stripe, Square and Toast.

There was rarely any executive direction, said one former project manager. “They just ran up a bunch of side endeavors just trying to get something to stick.”

Gravity hosted staff retreats in luxurious resorts – at Suncadia in Cle Elum, Las Vegas and Hawaii, among others – billed as a chance to set goals and strategize. Instead, the trips were like vacations, according to five employees who experienced them. Palfenier, the former recruiter, recalled snowmobiling and taking cooking classes. Grant MacLeod, a former product manager, said Price showed up to meetings too hung over to present.

As CEO, Price rarely visited the office, according to two former employees who worked closely with him. But his influence loomed large.

Workers say Gravity took mental or emotional tolls on them

Twenty-six former employees who spoke with the Times said their time at Gravity took a mental or emotional toll, but credited the company with creating friendships among co-workers or helping them gain a foothold in a new industry. Most said they believed in the vision of helping small businesses but said that was clouded by Price’s behavior.

A 27th employee said they were not bothered by the workplace culture or the head of the company; most of the other former Gravity employees who spoke with the Times described Price as an unpredictable manager prone to outlandish requests, grand entrances and outbursts.

Price once arrived at a company party by wakeboarding shirtless behind a boat, MacLeod said.

In the middle of a job interview, Price laid down on the couch, took his shoes off and began playing on his phone, Palfenier recalled.

One afternoon, Price walked to the middle of the office, an open floor plan, and announced he was going to shoot himself, Peck said.

Veteran employees warned new hires not to take his calls to avoid long criticisms. Some employees refused to work directly with Price, according to five former Gravity workers.

Stephanie Brooks, who worked in Gravity’s human resources department, said that in her first year at the company, a supervisor asked her to pick up a bag of trash left after a yacht party Price attended, unrelated to Gravity business. When Brooks arrived, the docks were locked. Feeling she couldn’t return empty-handed, she scaled the gate at the South Lake Union marina.

Still in her early 20s then, Brooks said Price offered to host a pool party for her at his house.

After five years at Gravity, she quit in 2020 without a job lined up. “I got in at what I call the ‘gold rush.’ I came in starry eyed,” Brooks said. “That was the golden age of Gravity before we started to see the facade.”

Brooks started at Gravity in 2015, right before Price announced he would cut his own salary and raise the company’s minimum wage to $70,000 a year – a pay boost that he pledged in 2019 to phase in for Gravity’s Boise workers, after setting their minimum pay at $40,000 upon buying ChargeItPro.

The 2015 announcement made Price a symbol for fair compensation and workers’ rights.

He appeared on Kelly Clarkson’s TV show, on Fox News and on MSNBC. In April 2015, Bernie Sanders congratulated Price, writing on Twitter that Gravity’s CEO “sets an example that other companies should learn from.”

When recruiters reviewed job applications, many read like love letters to Price.

“Gravity’s notoriety is what got Gravity business,” said Christoph Foulger, who worked on Gravity’s marketing team. The team focused on Price because “that got you results now,” Foulger said.

This is an abridged version of the Seattle Times’ original story, with contributions of Idaho information from the Idaho Statesman. Read the Times’ original story at A copy of that story, without photos, also appears on until March 28.

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