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Couchsurfing International Inc.
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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
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, 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]


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]


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 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]


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]


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:


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External links[edit]