Krush Founder Gina Ashe, Survivor of Horrific Car Crash, Has New Lease on Startup Life
As an entrepreneur, sometimes it doesn’t matter how much money you raised, from whom, or even what your company is building. Sometimes it just matters that you’re alive.
Meet Gina Ashe, the co-founder and CEO of stealthy Internet startup Krush, based in Cambridge, MA. She isn’t talking much about her new business yet, but a report in Mass High Tech said the company recently raised a Series A round from Boston-area angel investors and outside institutions, and it put the firm’s pre-funding valuation at more than $6 million. Previously, Ashe was part of the founding team at Sermo, the online physician community, and she has senior executive experience in marketing and finance at a number of firms.
But the most important thing about Ashe is that she is a survivor. On the afternoon of August 19, 2010, she had just left an investor meeting and was driving home on Route 2 west of Boston, when an oncoming car crossed the median and smashed into her head-on at 85 mph. The driver of that car, Shannon Gwiazda, died in the crash. Four other people including Ashe were injured in the four-car pileup, which closed the highway for several hours.
Ashe survived—in part because she was driving a Cadillac CTS 4, a car that people had teased her about (who drives a Cadillac?); the mid-size luxury sedan had a huge engine up front and extensive airbags. “It truly saved my life,” she says.
But she sustained serious injuries, including a smashed heel and ankle, four broken ribs, and cuts and burns over much of her body. She spent weeks in the hospital and was told she wouldn’t walk again. But with help from Daniel Palestrant, Sermo’s CEO, she found a surgeon at Brigham & Women’s Hospital who performed a new procedure that she says accelerated her recovery by six months. The surgery involved putting a plate and seven screws in her leg.
Ashe was bedridden for weeks, but progressed to using a wheelchair and then crutches—on which she delivered her financing pitch at the Open Angel Forum in Cambridge in October (which won her some Boston-area investors). Meanwhile, her Krush co-founders, Alexis Kopikis and Alan Osman from Propel Consulting, stood by her and kept the project moving. The site was two weeks away from launching beta trials when the accident happened. “There were days I thought I couldn’t go on, but they said, ‘No you have to think about this [or that],’” she says.
The local business community also provided a lot of support. “Women CEOs rallied around me like nothing I’ve ever seen. It was intense,” she says. “People showed up at my house with food.”
Ashe says one of her angel investors told her, “Half the reason I funded you is because you’re the most determined, relentless woman I’ve ever met.” Her friends and startup peers would concur. “People like that are unstoppable,” says Katie Rae, who heads up TechStars Boston and co-runs Project 11 Ventures. “You stop seeing walls. You say, ‘I can do whatever I want to do.’”
With a new lease on life, Ashe says she did a lot of “soul searching” and “thought long and hard about doing Krush, especially after the accident.” She says she’s fallen in love with building a business around social networking among teens and 20-somethings. “This is the first generation that grew up on the Internet. They’re so social and global,” she says. “They care about the stories behind the things they buy. They care about where things were made. These guys know what they want to buy. They can tell manufacturers ahead of time and avoid so much waste.”
So we’ll be hearing a lot more about Krush in the future, but it sounds like it’s a Web platform for young people to predict commercial trends, post and share products they think will be popular, and vote ideas up or down; it will incorporate game mechanics, crowdsourcing, and social shopping features. “In six months, we want to have something good to show people,” Ashe says.
As her recovery continues, she has been doing physical therapy in the early morning three or four times a week. And she has been walking without crutches for two weeks now. But some things haven’t returned to normal—and probably won’t for a while. “I haven’t gotten a car yet,” Ashe says. “I’ve been hitching rides.”