The rise of Kim Krushell, tech entrepreneur and champion
Five years ago Jay Krushell came to his wife Kim Krushell with a work-related problem that first changed her profession and is now changing the face of the commercial lending industry.
At the time, Kim Krushell was a successful politician, a longtime city councillor who had an excellent shot of taking over from Stephen Mandel as mayor if she chose to run. Jay Krushell was also a success as a lawyer and partner for the major local firm Witten LLP, but his work had taken a major hit. He had accumulated so many clients in his business of doing the legal work on commercial loans that he simply couldn’t move fast enough. He was swamped and some transactions moved too slowly. He lost a major banking client as a result.
The question he posed to his wife — a strong problem solver at city hall on numerous controversial issues such as shutting down the downtown airport and building the downtown arena — was how to fix this.
At first, the answer was to hire extra legal staff. But that proved costly and didn’t improve transaction times much.
Kim Krushell, who has a master’s degree in library sciences and knows about storing and searching digital information, thought a technological solution might work.
At that time, it took an average of 9.3 days after a business loan had been approved by a bank for a client to get their money.
Why so long?
Both the bank and its lawyer and the borrower and their lawyer had plenty of legal documents that needed to go back and forth, with each paper document needing to be manually inputted into an internal computer system by each party each time it changed hands by courier.
“The thing that was driving Jay crazy was the inefficiency just in general,” Kim Krushell said. “He was going, ‘Why can’t we do it faster? Why does everything have to be paper?’”
The Krushells’ first product, Lending Assist, was a secure portal where all documents were inputted once and all parties could get access.
There existed various kinds of programs and software for financial transactions, but none of them were custom-built for specific clients, something that the Krushells (along with Jim Ward’s programming company) figured out how to do with Lending Assist. At the same time, in partnership with Witten, Jay Krushell went to work making sure of the legality of this new digital lending process.
A major Alberta bank has run a pilot program with Lending Assist and is now finalizing a contract with the Krushells. In the pilot, the length of processing the average transaction went down to two days from nine days, Kim Krushell said.
The Krushells are now developing other products for banks and law firms.
Kim Krushell was a high-powered politician but she nonetheless found moving to business a huge challenge. “I keep thinking of myself as a politician and sometimes I think, ‘I’m faking it.’ Anyone who knows me with my iPhone would be laughing at me that I head up a tech company because I’m always sitting there going, ‘This freakin’ thing isn’t working.’”
But Krushell has found she has the networking and problem-solving skills to get the job done as a corporate leader.
“It’s kind of crazy and exciting at the same time … I’m pretty smart and I don’t know everything. Do you know why I’m actually not a bad CEO? I’m not afraid to be stupid. I’m not afraid to ask questions. I’m not afraid to say, ‘I don’t know this.’ And then ask people who are smarter than me what is the answer. I still have a lot to learn and I will see where we go. But, dammit, I have done an amazing job of actually leading a team with very little resources.”
To help other tech startup companies, she and Chandra Devam of the tech company ARIS MD, and Coun. Sarah Hamilton have started up Bar-Tech, backyard barbecue events where startup tech company founders mingle, show off their products and meet with local investors and media. Kim Krushell hopes to drum up investment. “Some people need to take risks on our own people and in our own city.”
What motivates her is building this city, she said, something that hasn’t change from her time on council. “I was a councillor because I care about Edmonton. That’s what I did when I was on council. And I still do.
“I see wins and hope. I see hope for us. I see hope for Edmonton. I think we can create a tech culture here.”