Wednesday, July 8, 2015


A friend of mine, Tree Bressen, recently pointed me in the direction of an article in Fast Company entitled: "How Krash And Other Startups Are Taking Coworking Home: It's called co-living, and it's all the rage."

Leaving aside my reaction to the name "co-living" (did the originators think they'd invented the concept of shared housing?), the article explores a new urban phenomenon that's a variant on co-working—where people rent office space with many others, which makes the facilities more affordable for all (users are buying access to expensive office equipment and meeting space rather than owning it, plus they get the bonus of being in an active business environment, and they needn't pay for what they don't need or use. Co-living, as featured in the Fast Company article, takes that a step further, emphasizing the connections and creative sparks possible when you rub two or more entrepreneurs together.

In particular, the article profiles what Phil and Jennifer Fremont-Smith have done in the last three years to develop Krash, a company that offers living spaces in Boston, New York, and DC (with offerings slated to open in Chicago and Los Angeles later this year) that are focused on entrepreneurial stimulation. Similar arrangements are available in the Bay Area and Brooklyn.

All of these are located in dense urban areas with a high cost of living. Fees in Krash houses range 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. The typical stay is only three to six months.

The sizzle is that co-living combines two things that are often separate: business stimulation and home sanctuary. You can talk venture capital while brushing your teeth, or how to slice payroll while slicing onions.

The bottom line on co-living is that if it works, it works. That is, if the owners of co-living houses are making money and renters feel like they're getting value for their rent, then it's a winner.

Still, as an expert in the social dynamics of people living together, I've got questions which the article does not explore. If I've learned anything from four decades of group living, it's that when people live together closely, friction among them invariably develops over time. And the longer you live together and the fewer the common values, the greater the tension. 

In short, when you rub entrepreneurs together you'll get more than just business ideas, and not all of it will be fun or marketable. When discussing group living, if you neglect to talk about friction you're talking fiction.

Maybe the Fremont-Smiths are banking on high turn over among renters to manage interpersonal tensions (by delivering on the business ideas and connections quickly and move 'em through before the pot boils over on how clean to keep the kitchen).

It appears that the only screens used when selecting renters are: a) whether the deposit check clears; and b) whether the prospective is intrigued by living with others looking to develop businesses. Entrepreneurs, as a breed, tend to be individually focused (what do I need and how do I get it?) rather than group focused. While they may be thinking about what's best for the group (as measured by the market), there is a definite iconoclastic bent among entrepreneurs, which does not lend itself well to harmonious vibes in a group house. The key stat in the article is how many successful businesses have been launched from co-living incubators; not how residents are able to reduce their carbon footprint or enhance their communication skills.

To be fair, I started living in group houses right out of college, jumping in with friends both for the reduced rent and the enhanced social atmosphere. I gave little thought to what skills it took to make group living work. While I eventually became good at it, it took decades—which is demonstrably not what the urban hipsters profiled in the article are looking for or intending that renters will devote to it.

While I'm all for entrepreneurs getting support, and I like the symmetry of Phil and Jennifer having figured out a business niche for themselves providing that support, I'm more interested in how people learn to get along with each other—especially how entrepreneurs can get along better with non-entrepreneurs—but, alas, the article doesn't touch that at all.

It will be interesting to see the extent to which co-living remains "all the rage," and the extent to which it foments rage—when the fissionable material of iconoclasts are asked to share a kitchen and bathroom.

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