Phil Fremont-Smith spent the summer of 2011 flying between Boston, where he lives with his wife, Jennifer, and San Francisco, where he was trying to raise money for a financial-services startup. An experienced entrepreneur, he’d schedule his networking dates down to the minute. But after one particularly productive trip, he felt an existential pang. “I was looking at the notes I had written on the backs of business cards and realized that none of the 25 people I had met with really knew me,” he says. A handshake over a cup of coffee wasn’t the kind of investor relationship he wanted to cultivate. He wanted something real—but still professional. “Something leverageable,” he says. “Something that really meant something.”
The following year, Fremont-Smith joined the TechStars accelerator to help grow his business. The program required that founders relocate to Boston, but few of them had places to stay. Fremont-Smith saw an opportunity. He and Jennifer, herself an experienced entrepreneur, already had a history of buying, renting, and selling vacation homes in Maine. They leased a six-bedroom house in nearby Cambridge, Massachusetts, and put an ad on Craigslist inviting people to apply for a room in their “cohousing” space, which they decided to call CrashPad. “Members brainstorm, practice pitches, and collaborate on projects as they live, cook, socialize, or just hang out at CrashPad,” the ad said. “Mentors, investors, and supporters drop by for impromptu happy hours.”
Hundreds of applications flowed in overnight. The Fremont-Smiths picked a dozen enthusiastic entrepreneurs with varying skill sets but a shared desire to connect, and moved them in the next month. Within a year, the couple had opened two more locations in Boston and one in New York, and changed the company’s name from CrashPad to Krash. After each of their companies was acquired, the Fremont-Smiths were free to run Krash full time.
Cohousing—or co-living, as it’s also known—holds much the same appeal as coworking. Sharing living space is often more cost-effective than renting or buying, especially in hot startup markets, and members hope that spontaneous interactions will drive creativity. The idea has been growing in popularity over the past several years, but what makes Krash unique is its emphasis on relationship building. “The single greatest determinant of someone’s success is their personal network,” says Phil. “Krash is about providing and accelerating those connections,” Jennifer adds.
The Fremont-Smiths refer to the Krash houses variously as “urban lodges,” “particle accelerators for people,” and “clubhouses for entrepreneurs.” Most people get a roommate, and almost everything is communal. (“You become very tribal when you’re sharing a bathroom and kitchen with people,” Phil says. “Barriers are broken down fast.”) Krashers, as they’re called, pay from $1,500 to $2,200 a month depending on the city and the time of year, which covers rent, linens, toiletries, and a fully stocked kitchen. They range in age from their twenties to sixties. They are startup founders, visiting professors, and even NASA scientists. Some already run established businesses, while others arrive with merely an idea. The typical stay is three to six months, but Krashers who want to stay longer can apply for “K2” status, which enables them to hop from Krash to Krash indefinitely.
Life at Krash revolves around networking and mentorship. Weekly family-style dinners unite residents from different houses within the same cities, and semimonthly fireside chats draw local investors and CEOs—who are required to bring a snack or a cocktail. The setting creates a unique kind of intimacy, says Jay Batson, a Krash investor who’s given talks at Boston outposts. “I’m very transparent about my past experiences, and you can only do that kind of thing in your home,” he says. “You can tell secrets in the house.”
To date, more than 200 companies have been started or developed through Krash. “It’s like this huge chemistry experiment where we take these elements that are necessary to create something, turn up the heat, and boom!” says Jennifer. Last summer, four Boston Krashers cofounded Dat Venture, an accelerator that helps European and Latin American startups launch their businesses in the United States. Bringing the experience full circle, Dat Venture is housing its inaugural class of 13 founders, all from Spain, at Krash.
“Underneath it all, we run a really operationally intensive housing business,” Jennifer says, “and it’s hard to do that well.” Real estate prices have risen 30% since she and Phil started Krash, and neither of them had any experience managing a multicity hospitality operation. That hasn’t hindered Krash’s expansion, though. Today there are four Krash houses in Boston, three in New York, and one in Washington, D.C., with new ones set to open this year in Chicago and Los Angeles. Ashton Kutcher tweeted in April that if it had been around when he was still “searching for himself,” he might have been a Krasher.
The rapid growth jibes with Krash’s philosophy. “A Krasher is someone who is not content to move at a normal pace,” explains Phil. “They want to start now.”