Krash won't crash
I love what the team at Krash is doing. They're building a nice new version of cohousing. Previously seen mostly in immediate-post-college, counterculture, and artist communities, Krash is targeting a new customer: founders / employees at (primarily infotech) startups.
The Krash facility is typically a place that can house a couple of dozen short-to-medium turm renters or more, with 2-3 single beds / room (including linen & cleaning service), multiple common kitchens, common living areas, and all the tech goodies that tech startup people need, from fast network to IdeaPaint walls and ping pong. Krash even has people in charge of content / programming, creating things like beer nights with leading founders, CEOs & investors.
It's in the latter situation I visited Krash a couple of months ago (and am late writing about it). I found a fabulous place full of 20- to 30-somethings, all who were kicking butt building businesses, and Krash was the perfect place for them. While the residents focus on building their business, Krash made the logistics of living very easy, and good.
Importantly, everybody there was going through the same thing in life (building a business). So they were living with people who could share & understand their woes, and their joys. They could use the extended network of other residents to recruit new hires. And they seemed to generally be having a great experience.
Krash has clearly found a great formula, with multiple facilities now in Boston/Cambridge, and having extended to NYC, Wash. D.C., and Chicago, and show no signs of slowing down.
I think Krash is revealing the promise of something even larger. The post-WW II baby-boom generation - my generation - spent much of life trying to find happiness in achieving independence - too-frequently at the expense of others. The last few years of my life has been spent among people in the open source world (e.g. Drupal), where the value of giving to a community effort has big payoff - not just emotional feel-good benefits, but in appealing, practical benefits. I'm seeing similar behavior & benefits in the world of business incubators like TechStars, MassChallenge, and others.
In large part, it's been a younger generation that is experiencing these benefits. However, I don't think it has to be limited to that demographic. In fact, I wonder if the baby-boomers might accidentally make this mainstream. I know I, and many I know, might well want a place to live that looks like Krash, but with adjustments to me, my economic level & stage of life.
Imagine something like the InkBlock in the South End, with a modern / new building, but oriented towards an entire building of cohousing units structured like this:
- Luxury-level finishes (e.g. Sepia-grade)
- 1,000 s.f. 1 BR, 2 bath condo
- A studio-style (real, but limited) kitchen, so I can have my own coffee, cereal, cook soup at lunch, etc.
- Some personal living space for reading, TV, cocktails with friends, etc., but a slighly smaller amount than a normal condo, in order to encourage me to go to...:
- Communal common areas
- Multiple ones, to accommodate TVs / quiet, etc.
- Multiple larger, commercial-size communal kitchens for residents to use when cooking for themselves or friends
- A handful of large & small private dining areas to use in this situation
- Full-time chefs / cooks in one of those kitchens, providing dinner (only) to any / all residents who aren't cooking for themselves. 2-3 main items on menu each dinner.
- People are on their own for breakfast / lunch.
- Street-level restaurant, shops, etc., like the InkBlock is proposing
- Organized content / programming (a'la, but different from, Krash)
- Shared bedroom / bathroom units for when family / friends stay. (Paid per-night of use to the condo association.)
- Optional cleaning & linen service.
- An asset-based (vs. rental) economic model
- E.g. I'm not living in a medicare-paid assisted living faciilty, I'm living in a condo I own, can sell at-will at market price, and pay (endure...) higher-than-average common fees to pay for the common areas, chefs, etc.
Yeah, I know - this sounds like it might be an old-style retirement home. Or Florida. And maybe if it was full of aging empty-nesters like me, it might seem like this.
But we baby boomers have repeatedly re-invented what our parents did, in much, much better ways. I think this type of high-end cohousing can be done to meet the needs of the millions of empty-nester baby boomers, many of whom can afford some version of this. I think the key will be finding the target customer segments that share enough common interests that the residents can preserve the identity they've built for themselves.
And whether they realize it or not, I think Krash is doing the early product / market fit, and economic model experiments - albiet with a different demographic - to discover how this can (will) scale up to a wider variety of demographics.
If these factors can be worked out, I think cohousing could be one of those Next Big Things, and there will be no crash ahead for Krash.
(Disclosure: I am NOT an investor in Krash; I just like the team, idea & market, and wanted to say so.)
Update, January 2014: At the time I wrote the above, I did not know the Krash team was raising investment capital; I wrote this post purely out of admiration. Subsequently, the CEO contacted me, and let me know the team had very-nearly completed a financing, and offered me an opportunity to invest. After careful evaluation, I'm pleased to say I chose to invest. So when I wrote the above piece, I was not acting in self-interest; I now have a vested interest in their success.
Update, March 2016: Crash crashed. Bummer. #predictions #worthwhatyoupayfor #writedown