CouchSurfing

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Couchsurfing International Inc.
Stationary envelopes.png
Type of business C corporation[1]
Founded April 2, 2003 (2003-04-02) (New Hampshire non-profit)[2]
3 May 2011 (Delaware for-profit corporation)[3][4]
Area served Global
Key people Patrick Dugan, CEO & CFO[5]
Matt Cohler, Investor
Casey Fenton, Co-Founder
Dan Hoffer, Co-Founder
Industry Hospitality service
Social networking service
Services Homestay
Employees 11-50[6]
Slogan(s) Stay with Locals and Meet Travelers
Website www.couchsurfing.com
Alexa rank 4,206 (20 January 2018)[7]
Users 15,000,000[8]
400,000 active hosts[8]
Launched 12 June 2004; 13 years ago (12 June 2004)[9]

Couchsurfing International Inc. operates Couchsurfing.com, a hospitality service and social networking service. The website provides a platform for members to stay as a guest at someone's home (homestay), host travelers, meet other members, or join an event. Unlike many hospitality services, Couchsurfing is an example of the gift economy, collaborative consumption, and sharing; there is no monetary exchange between members and there is no expectation by hosts for future rewards.

The company raised $22.6 million in investment capital in two rounds of financing in 2011-2012.[10]

How it works[edit]

Profile[edit]

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.[11][12]

Registration costs[edit]

Registration is free of charge; however, members can pay an annual fee of €19-55, referred to as "verification", which allows them to send unlimited requests for hosting. Otherwise, members can only send 10 requests for hosting per week.[13] The fee is waived for 3 months after a member hosts a guest; members who host guests regularly will not have to pay the fee.[14]

Meeting with, hosting, or staying at the home of other members[edit]

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.[15] Homestays are consensual between the host and guest, and the duration, nature, and terms of the stay are generally worked out in advance. Hosts are not allowed to charge guests for their stay.[16]

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".[17]

Members can start or join events.[18] The largest events are called "Couch Crashes", in which members congregate in a city to explore what it has to offer, with the help of local members.[19] Members can also use the "hangout" feature of mobile app to meet with other nearby travelers.[20][21] This feature has been described as "something like Airbnb-meets-Tinder if Tinder were for making new friends".[21]

Reference mechanism[edit]

Members are encouraged to leave comments on their experiences with other members on such members' profiles. Those comments can not be modified or deleted.[22] Members are encouraged to review references left for someone, including negative references, before hosting or staying with them.[23]

Use as an online dating service[edit]

The Couchsurfing policies state "Don’t contact other members for dating, or use the site to find sexual partners. We take reports of unwanted sexual advances, both online and offline, seriously and they may be considered violations of our Conduct policy".[24] Nevertheless, the site has been described as an online dating service, "the greatest hookup app ever devised", and has also been used by the seduction community.[25][26][27][28] Several users have had stories of unwanted sexual advancement[29] and the organization has been criticized for "doing nothing about it".[30] There are also several stories of people meeting their spouses via the website.[25]

History[edit]

Conception (1999-2004)[edit]

Couchsurfing was conceived by computer programmer Casey Fenton in 1999, when he was 25 years old.[1][31][32] 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 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 between 50 and 100 lodging offers and chose to stay at the home of an Icelandic rhythm and blues singer.[31] On the return flight to Boston, he came up with the idea to create the website. He registered the couchsurfing.com domain name on 12 June 1999.[31][33]

Couchsurfing International Inc. was formed on 2 April 2003 as a non-profit corporation in the state of New Hampshire.[2]

The website was launched on June 12, 2004[31] with the cooperation of Dan Hoffer, Sebastien Le Tuan, and Leonardo Silveira.[32] The company has encouraged the celebration of "International Couchsurfing Day" every year on its June 12 anniversary.[9]

Couchsurfing collectives (2006-2011)[edit]

From 2006 until the company raised financing in 2011, development of the website occurred mostly at events called "Couchsurfing Collectives", in which members came together to voluntarily improve the website.[31] Collectives took place in Montreal, Vienna, New Zealand, and Canada.[31] However, the collectively-coded website, which was full of software bugs, could not handle the rapid increases in traffic and crashes were common. Many members believed that the website needed to be redesigned from scratch.[34]

Database loss and relaunch (2006)[edit]

In June 2006, problems with the website database resulted in much of it being irrevocably lost.[31][35][34] Founder Casey Fenton posted online asking for help.[36] A Couchsurfing Collective was underway in Montreal at the time and those in attendance raised $8,000 in donations and committed to recreate the website.[31]

Financing[edit]

Couchsurfing was originally financed by donations; however, since the change to a for-profit corporation in 2011, it no longer accepts donations.[37]

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.[38][39][40][41]

In August 2012, Couchsurfing received an additional $15 million in funding from an investor group led by 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.[10]

Change to a for-profit corporation (2011)[edit]

The company applied for status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in November 2007 but was rejected by the Internal Revenue Service in early 2011.[1][42] 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 corporation was then the best structure for the company.[42]

The New Hampshire entity Couchsurfing International Inc. was dissolved on 4 November 2011.[2] Its assets were sold to a for-profit Delaware corporation, also called Couchsurfing International, Inc., which was formed on 3 May 2011.[3][4][10][43]

At first, the company was a certified B Corporation;[1][44] however, it is no longer listed as such.[45]

Criticism from members[edit]

  • The announcement that Couchsurfing had become a for-profit corporation raised serious objections from members.[34][46] Founder Casey Fenton said he received 1,500 emails within days.[1] Even though the founders did not receive any cash from the financing,[47] members were opposed to the founders having a valuable ownership interest in an organization that was financed by donations and built using volunteer work.[34][39][48] 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.[1]
  • 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.[34]
  • In September 2012, Couchsurfing updated its terms of service. The updates were criticized by many members of the community. In a letter to the US Federal Trade Commission in September 2012, Peter Schaar, former German Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, criticized the terms of use because they "force the users to waive any control over their data if they want to continue to use the service." Schaar stated that these terms would be inadmissible under German and European data protection law.[49]
  • A site redesign in 2012 was made without gathering feedback from the members, thus infuriating users.[34][49]

Management[edit]

Jennifer Billock, CEO of CouchSurfing from October 2013 to October 2015

Since August 5, 2016, Patrick Dugan has been the CEO, CFO, and Secretary of Couchsurfing International, Inc. As of October 2017, William Francesco Deparis was the Director of Operations.[5]

Co-founder Dan Hoffer served as CEO from 2011[38] to 2012, Tony Espinoza served as CEO from 2012 to 2013,[39] and Jennifer Billock served as CEO from 2013 to 2015.[50]

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.[51]

Membership statistics and growth[edit]

According to the website, Couchsurfing is "a global community of 14 million people in more than 200,000 cities".[52]

Within one year of the public launch of the website, only 6,000 members had registered.[42] At the time of the database loss in June 2006, the site had 90,000 members.[35] In March 2009, the website reached the 1 million member milestone.[53] In August 2009, the website had almost 1.3 million members.[54] An article in The Guardian in January 2011 stated that the site had 2.5 million members at the time.[55] In March 2013, a freelance writer stated that the site had 5 million members at the time.[56] In 2015, a book stated that the site had 7 million members.[31] 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."[56] In February 2016, an article by CNBC stated that the site had 11 million members.[57] An article in 2018 said that the site had 15 million members and 400,000 active hosts.[8]

In 2017, Dan Fultz, head of support and safety, stated that "Couchsurfing activity certainly dipped between the ‘heyday’ and today".[58]

Crimes committed using Couchsurfing[edit]

Crimes committed using Couchsurfing as a way to meet victims include:

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Lapowesky, Issie (29 May 2012). "Couchsurfing Dilemma: Going for Profit". Inc. 
  2. ^ a b c "Business Information: COUCHSURFING INTERNATIONAL INC". New Hampshire Department of State. 
  3. ^ a b "State of Delaware corporate entity search - enter "couchsurfing"". 
  4. ^ a b "Bizapedia: Couchsurfing International Inc". 
  5. ^ a b "Business Search - Results". California Secretary of State. 
  6. ^ "Crunchbase: Couchsurfing.com". TechCrunch. 
  7. ^ "Alexa Internet: Couchsurfing.com". Alexa Internet. 
  8. ^ a b c van Brugen, Isabel (13 January 2018). "Deal watch: budget travel". The Times. 
  9. ^ a b "Where are you celebrating International Couchsurfing Day on June 12?". 2 June 2016. 
  10. ^ a b c "CouchSurfing Raises $15 Million Series B From General Catalyst Partners, Menlo Ventures, Others". TechCrunch. 22 August 2012. 
  11. ^ Marx, Patricia (16 April 2012). "You're Welcome". The New Yorker. 
  12. ^ Da Costa, Celinne (5 August 2016). "I've been couchsurfing nonstop for two months, here's what I've learned about human nature". Matador Network. 
  13. ^ Limited Introductions
  14. ^ Verification Payment Questions
  15. ^ How do I Create or Delete a Public Trip?
  16. ^ I heard of someone charging for a couch. Is that OK?
  17. ^ Tips to be a Great Couchsurfer!
  18. ^ How do I join an event?
  19. ^ Diving into Couch Crashes!
  20. ^ "Product Update: Make a new friend with Couchsurfing Hangouts!". blog.couchsurfing.com. 
  21. ^ a b Jacobs, Harrison (17 January 2018). "A little-known travel app that is Airbnb-meets-Tinder helped me have the wildest night in Tokyo partying until sunrise". Business Insider. 
  22. ^ "Updates to the Reference System". 14 July 2016. 
  23. ^ Kittle, Cody (15 February 2011). "Adventures in Couch Surfing: One Sojourner's Truth". Time. 
  24. ^ Couchsurfing Policies
  25. ^ a b Zigos, Julianne (7 December 2013). "Couchsurfing's Sex Secret: It's The Greatest Hook-Up App Ever Devised". Business Insider. 
  26. ^ Mejia, Brenda (9 March 2016). "Couchsurfing: A Dating App?". The Huffington Post. 
  27. ^ Litton-Cohn, Claire (1 April 2014). "Using Couchsurfing to hook up: The unspoken culture of sexsurfing". Matador Network. 
  28. ^ Bromley, Caroline (26 March 2014). "6 Unfortunate Realities Of Couchsurfing Hook Ups". Thought Catalog. 
  29. ^ Elliot, Charlie (9 July 2014). "13 Creeped Out Travelers Explain The One Couchsurfing Host That Left Them Crawling In Their Skin". Thought Catalog. 
  30. ^ McArthur, Sarah (26 October 2017). "What You Should Know Before Backpacking in Costa Rica". The Huffington Post. 
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  33. ^ "Whois Record for CouchSurfing.com". 
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  35. ^ a b Arrington, Michael (29 June 2006). "CouchSurfing Deletes Itself, Shuts Down". TechCrunch. 
  36. ^ Fenton, Casey (28 June 2006). "Help! - Innodb and MyISAM accidental DROP DATABASE - 112 tables gone forever?". forums.mysql.com. 
  37. ^ "I Want to Donate to Couchsurfing!". 12 May 2015. 
  38. ^ a b "CouchSurfing Raises $7.6 Million in Series A From Benchmark Capital and Omidyar Network to Expand Services and Fuel Growth in Cultural Exchange Network" (Press release). PRNewswire. 25 August 2011. 
  39. ^ a b c Vivion, Nick (11 October 2013). "CouchSurfing CEO steps down amid layoffs, uncertainty". Tnooz. 
  40. ^ Tweney, Dylan (24 August 2011). "Benchmark plops down $7.6M to make Couchsurfing into a for-profit". VentureBeat. 
  41. ^ "CouchSurfing Just Closed A $7.6 Million Round Of Funding". Business Insider. 30 August 2011. 
  42. ^ a b c Longenecker, Justin G.; Petty, J. William; Palich, Leslie E.; Hoy, Frank (January 15, 2016). Small Business Management: Launching & Growing Entrepreneurial Ventures. Cengage. 
  43. ^ Perlroth, Nicole (24 August 2011). "Non-Profit CouchSurfing Raises Millions In Funding". Forbes. 
  44. ^ Richardson, Vanessa. "CouchSurfing CEO Daniel Hoffer on Becoming a B Corporation". Intuit. 
  45. ^ "B Corporation". 
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  47. ^ "Myths and Facts: Couchsurfing's conversion to a B Corp". blog.couchsurfing.com. 14 September 2011. 
  48. ^ Chen, Adrian (2 September 2011). "Users Revolt After Hippie Couchsurfing Site Goes Corporate". Gawker. 
  49. ^ a b Roudman, Sam (7 November 2013). "How to Lose Funds and Infuriate Users: Couchsurfing, a Cautionary Tale From the Sharing Economy". techPresident. 
  50. ^ Lunden, Ingrid (10 October 2013). "Tony Espinoza Steps Down As CEO Of Couchsurfing, Jennifer Billock Steps Up As Interim As Startup Lays Off Staff, "Doubles Down" On Mobile". TechCrunch. 
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  57. ^ Saiidi, Uptin (12 February 2016). "Office Envy: Inside CouchSurfing's San Francisco workspace". CNBC. 
  58. ^ Coca, Nithin (13 October 2017). "Why hasn't there been a new Couchsurfing?". The Daily Dot. 
  59. ^ "Leeds couchsurfing.com rapist jailed". Yorkshire Evening Post. 29 October 2009. 
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  63. ^ "French Couchsurfer host filmed guests in shower". The Local. 2 September 2015. 
  64. ^ Kirchgaessner, Stephanie (29 May 2015). "Couchsurfing rapist Dino Maglio escaped investigation for months". The Guardian. 
  65. ^ Squires, Nick (17 March 2015). "Italian policeman 'drugged and raped' couch-surfing guests". The Daily Telegraph. 
  66. ^ Huan, Si (17 March 2014). "Foreign couch surfer arrested for stealing from hosts". Foreign Policy. 
  67. ^ "Young American traveler murdered by Couchsurfing host in Nepal". Women in the World. 9 July 2016. 
  68. ^ Kaplan, Sarah (8 September 2015). "Missing American volunteer, Dahlia Yehia, beaten to death in Nepal". The Washington Post. 
  69. ^ Hammer, Joshua (5 July 2016). "The Disappearance of Dahlia Yehia". Foreign Policy. 
  70. ^ Silver, Marc (8 September 2015). "Killing Of Young Woman In Nepal Spotlights Travel Safety". NPR. 
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  72. ^ "Long Island Man Gets 10 Years for Rape of European Tourist". Patch Media. 14 October 2016. 
  73. ^ "Long Beach Man Gets 10 Years For Raping German Tourist Staying In His Apartment". CBS New York. 14 October 2016. 
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  75. ^ CHARLTON, COREY (17 March 2016). "Did American woman brutally murdered in Vienna meet her killer on CouchSurfing website? Au pair, 25, had hosted travelers via accommodation sharing service". The Daily Mail. 
  76. ^ Parker, Nick (28 September 2017). "Drunken royal tailor, 64, sexually assaulted a tourist he had lured to his home via a 'couch-surfing' website after plying her with Prosecco". The Sun. 

External links[edit]