|Type of business C corporation|
|Area served Global|
|Key people Patrick Dugan, CEO & CFO
Matt Cohler, Investor
Casey Fenton, Co-Founder
Dan Hoffer, Co-Founder|
Industry Hospitality service, social network
Slogan(s) Stay with Locals and Meet Travelers
Headquarters San Francisco, California, United States
Motto Stay with Locals and Meet Travelers
Founders Casey Fenton, Sebastian Le Tuan, Leonardo Bassani da Silveira, Daniel Hoffer
Couchsurfing International Inc. operates Couchsurfing.com, a hospitality service and social networking website. The website provides a platform for members to "couch surf" as a guest at someone's home, host travelers, meet other members, or join an event. Unlike many hospitality services, Couchsurfing is an example of the gift economy; there is no monetary exchange between members and there is no expectation by hosts for future rewards. Like all hospitality services, Couchsurfing is a form of collaborative consumption and sharing.
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- How it works
- Registration and profile
- Meeting with hosting or staying at the home of other members
- Reference mechanism
- Use as an online dating service
- Conception 1999 2004
- Couchsurfing collectives 2006 2011
- Database loss and relaunch 2006
- Venture capital funding and IPO plans 2011 2012
- Cash burn rate
- Change to a for profit corporation 2011
- Members objection to for profit conversion
- Site redesigns 2012 2014
- August 2014 security breach and resulting spam emails
- Membership statistics and growth
- Crimes committed using Couchsurfing
The company raised $22.6 million in investment capital in two rounds of financing in 2011-2012.
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How it works
Registration and profile
Initial registration is free of charge; however "verification", which allows members to send unlimited messages, is available upon payment of an annual fee. Members complete a profile page that includes information about themselves, their interests, the skills they can teach others, their favorite music, movies, and books, and photos of themselves and of the lodging they offer, if any.
Meeting with, hosting, or staying at the home of other members
Members searching for lodging or a meeting can search for other members using several parameters such as location, age, gender, interests, availability to host, type of lodging offered (if any), and languages spoken, and then send messages to the members with whom they want to stay or meet. Members can also post their travel plans publicly and receive homestay or meeting offers from other members. Homestays are consensual between the host and guest, and the duration, nature, and terms of the guest's stay are generally worked out in advance. Hosts are not allowed to charge guests for their stay.
Hosts and guests are encouraged to "share something" and to spend time with each other, to "make new friends and help each other discover new things about the world".
Members can start or join events. The largest events are called "Couch Crashes", in which members congregate in a city to explore what it has to offer. Members can also use the mobile app to "hangout" with other nearby travelers.
Members have the option of leaving comments on their experiences with other members on such members' profiles. Those comments can not be modified or deleted afterwards, but they will disappear if the corresponding account is deleted. Members are encouraged to review references left for someone before hosting or staying with them. Members are also encouraged to review negative references.
Use as an online dating service
The Couchsurfing policies state "Don’t contact other members for dating, or use the site to find sexual partners. We will consider this harassment". Nevertheless, the site been described by some members as an online dating service. There are several stories of people meeting their spouses via the website.
Couchsurfing was conceived by computer programmer Casey Fenton in 1999, when he was 25 years old. The idea arose after Fenton found a cheap flight from Boston to Iceland but did not have a place to stay and did not want to stay in a "boring" hotel. Fenton hacked into a university database and randomly e-mailed 1,500 students from the University of Iceland asking if he could stay with them. He ultimately received 50-100 lodging offers. On the return flight to Boston, he came up with the idea to create the website. He registered the couchsurfing.com domain name on 13 June 1999.
Couchsurfing International Inc. was formed on 2 April 2003 as a non-profit corporation in the state of New Hampshire.
The website was launched in 2004 with the cooperation of Dan Hoffer, Sebastien Le Tuan, and Leonardo Silveira.
Couchsurfing collectives (2006-2011)
From 2006 through 2011, development of the website occurred mostly at Couchsurfing Collectives: events which lasted days or weeks and brought members together to develop and improve the website. Collectives took place in Montreal, Vienna, New Zealand, and Canada. However, the collectively-coded website, which was full of software bugs, could not handle the rapid increases in traffic and crashes were common. After the reorganization to a for-profit corporation in 2011, the collectives no longer took place. The use of volunteer labor is forbidden in commercial enterprises by the US federal government.
Database loss and relaunch (2006)
In June 2006, problems with the website database resulted in much of it being irrevocably lost. Founder Casey Fenton posted online asking for help. A Couchsurfing Collective was underway in Montreal at the time and those in attendance committed to fully recreating the original website. The collective raised $8,000 in donations to address the issues.
Couchsurfing was originally financed by donations; however, since the change to a for-profit corporation in 2011, it no longer accepts donations.
Venture capital funding and IPO plans (2011-2012)
In August 2011, in conjunction with the reorganization to a for-profit corporation, the company raised $7.6 million in a first-round financing led by Benchmark Capital and Omidyar Network.
In September 2011, El Pais quoted co-founder Dan Hoffer as saying that he had the goal of eventually having the company go public via an initial public offering.
In August 2012, Couchsurfing received an additional $15 million in funding from lead investor General Catalyst Partners, with participation by Menlo Ventures, as well as existing investors Benchmark Capital and Omidyar Network. The additional funding brought the company’s total funding raised to $22.6 million.
Cash burn rate
In 2013, an unverified "tipster" stated that Couchsurfing was incurring an $800,000 monthly expenditure rate.
According to an article written by a member in May 2015, «Couchsurfing has burned through most of its VC money».
Change to a for-profit corporation (2011)
The company applied for 501(c)(3) non-profit status in November 2007 but was rejected by the Internal Revenue Service in early 2011. Hoffler came to believe that non-profit status was an obstacle to innovation due to the audit and regulatory requirements and that a for-profit entity was then the best structure for the company.
The New Hampshire entity Couchsurfing International Inc. was dissolved on 4 November 2011. Its assets were sold to a for-profit Delaware corporation, also called Couchsurfing International, Inc., which was formed on 3 May 2011.
The company was originally a certified B Corporation in 2011 after it went for-profit but it is no longer listed as such.
Members' objection to for-profit conversion
The announcement that Couchsurfing had become a for-profit corporation raised serious objections from members. Founder Casey Fenton said he received 1,500 emails within days.
Even though the founders did not receive any cash from the financing, members were opposed to the founders having a valuable ownership interest in an organization that was financed by donations and built using volunteer work. On 14 September 2011, a posting was made on the couchsurfing blog that tried to assuage members' fears of additional fees and the sale of membership data.
The company spent more than $10,000 on a public relations firm to educate its directors on how to respond to the press about the conversion to a for-profit entity. A 3-page letter was sent to over 1,000 volunteers.
Two prominent members who were critical of the company had their profiles and posts deleted. This was perceived by certain members as being motivated by the company's desire to censor its critics.
Site redesigns (2012-2014)
The collaboratively-designed website was a mess and several people thought that it needed to be rebuilt from scratch. A site redesign in 2012 was made without gathering feedback from the members, thus infuriating users. Another redesign was implemented in November 2014.
August 2014 security breach and resulting spam emails
According to the Couchsurfing Community Support Team, on 15 August 2014 "the part of Couchsurfing’s system that sends email to members was breached and an email was sent to approximately 1 million members." The email advertised rival site Airbnb. The email contained malicious code, an XSRF attack (a Cross-site request forgery), including "embedded on-site action calls loaded as an image", which would have erased reader’s membership data and deleted member profiles. According to posts on Reddit, Couchsurfing censored some posts on the site referring to the incident and generally refused to explain how the breach was made.
Since August 5, 2016, Patrick Dugan has been the CEO, CFO, and Secretary of Couchsurfing International, Inc.
Co-founder Dan Hoffer served as CEO from 2011 to 2012, Tony Espinoza served as CEO from 2012 to 2013, and Jennifer Billock served as CEO from 2013 to 2015.
The board of directors of the company includes founder and Chairman Casey Fenton as well as venture capital investors Matt Cohler of Benchmark, Todor Tashev of Omidyar Technology Ventures, and Jonathan Teo of Binary Capital.
Membership statistics and growth
According to the website, Couchsurfing is "a global community of 14 million people in more than 200,000 cities".
Within one year of the public launch of the website, only 6,000 members had registered. At the time of the database loss in June 2006, the site had 90,000 members. In March 2009, the website reached the 1 million member milestone. An article in The Guardian in January 2011 stated that the site had 2.5 million members at the time. In March 2013, a freelance writer stated that the site had 5 million members at the time. In 2015, a book stated that the site had 7 million members. According to a May 2015 blog article quoting an unnamed spokesperson for the company, the site had 10 million members at the time but "1 million members log in 'at least once a month' – meaning another 9 million don’t." In February 2016, an article by CNBC stated that the site had 11 million members.
Crimes committed using Couchsurfing
Crimes committed using Couchsurfing as a way to meet victims include: