CouchSurfing

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Couchsurfing International Inc.
Stationary envelopes.png
Type C corporation[1][2]
Founded April 2003 (New Hampshire non-profit); January 2004 (launch); May 2011 (Delaware for-profit corporation)
Headquarters San Francisco, CA, United States
Area served Global
Key people Matt Cohler, investor
Casey Fenton, Co-Founder
Dan Hoffer, Co-Founder
Industry Hospitality service, Hospitality exchange, networking
Services Homestay
Slogan(s) Stay with Locals and Meet Travelers
Website www.couchsurfing.com
Alexa rank 2,482 (July 22, 2016)[3]
Users 10,000,000+
Launched 2004
Current status The non-profit Couchsurfing organization was formally closed in December 2011.

Couchsurfing International Inc. operates Couchsurfing.com, a hospitality service and social networking website. The website provides a platform for members to "surf" on couches by staying as a guest at a host's home, host travelers, meet other members, or join an event.

As of August 2012, the company had raised $22.6 million in investment capital.[4]

Etymology[edit]

Couchsurfing is a neologism referring to the practice of moving from one friend's house to another, sleeping in whatever spare space is available, floor or couch, generally staying a few days before moving on to the next house. The term pre-existed the website in vernacular usage; for example, "Couch Surfer" was the title of a song by Bran Van 3000 written in the 90s.

The company, its website, and the general culture of hospitality exchange it is meant to support are all commonly referred to as "couchsurfing". The "c" and "s" are sometimes capitalized, giving "CouchSurfing". Participants frequently refer to themselves as "couchsurfers" or "surfers". "CS" and "CSer" are used as abbreviations.

How it works[edit]

Registration is free of charge, although users can become "verified" upon payment of a one-time or annual fee.[5] In 2014, former CEO Jen Billock, suggested that the company may implement additional features that would only be available to paying members;[6] however, no such features were ever implemented.

Members complete a profile page that includes information and photos of themselves and of the accommodation they offer, if any. Members looking for accommodation can search for hosts using several parameters such as age, location, languages spoken, and gender and then send messages to the hosts with whom they want to stay. Members can also post their travel plans publicly and receive homestay offers from potential hosts.

Members can also use the mobile app to "hangout" with other nearby travelers.[7]

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.

Safety mechanisms[edit]

There have been mechanisms Couchsurfing Inc claims increase safety and trust, with safety related information visible on member profiles for potential hosts and guests.

Members have the option of leaving reciprocal comments on their experiences with other members.[8] Each profile had specific links to make all negative references easily readable in one place. Negative references were occasionally removed by the site when they were deemed to have been done in a retaliatory or unfair manner.[citation needed]

A personal vouching system was discontinued in November 2014.[9][10]

Use as a dating site[edit]

While the site has been described on the Internet as a dating site, Couchsurfing tells members, "Don't contact other members for dating – we will consider this harassment."[11]

Membership statistics and growth[edit]

According to the website, Couchsurfing is "a global community of 10 million people in more than 200,000 cities".[12]

According to an article written by a member, a spokesperson for the company has said that 1 million members log in every month.[13]

Growth in membership[edit]

An article in The Guardian in January 2011 stated that the site had 2.5 million members at the time.[14]

In March 2013, a freelance writer stated that the site had 5 million members at the time.[15]

In 2015, a book stated that the site had 7 million members.[16]

In February 2016, an article by CNBC stated that the site had 11 million members.[17]

History[edit]

Corporate structure[edit]

Couchsurfing International Inc was founded in 2003 as a non-profit organization in New Hamsphire and was liquidated in 2011. Its assets were sold to the private for-profit corporation Better World Through Travel, later renamed Couchsurfing International, Inc.,[1] which defines itself as “a mission-driven for-profit corporation”.[4]

Couchsurfing International, Inc is a privately owned for-profit corporation, incorporated in 2011 in the State of Delaware by Casey Fenton and Dan Hoffer.[1] It had been a certified B Corporation since August 2011 but since May 2016, it is no longer listed as one.[18]

Financing[edit]

Couchsurfing International Inc. is a privately-held corporation and chooses to not publish any financial or ownership data. After the corporation purchased the assets of the previous non-profit organization in 2011, according to company press releases, a $7.6 million first-round investment was raised by Benchmark Capital,[19][20][21] with the ambition of going public at a future date.[22]

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.[23]

According to an article written by a member in May 2015, « Couchsurfing has burned through most of its VC money ».[13]

In 2013, an unverified "tipster" stated that Couchsurfing was incurring an $800,000 monthly expenditure rate.[24]

Management[edit]

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

After replacing Dan Hoffer 18 months earlier, Tony Espinoza stepped down as the chief executive of Couchsurfing in October 2013, amid layoffs constituting 40% of employees.[25] He was replaced by interim CEO Jennifer Billock.[24] In August 2014 she was designated permanent CEO by a renewed Board of Directors. Her tenure ended in October 2015[26] without any replacement being announced.

Conception[edit]

The Couchsurfing project was conceived by Casey Fenton in 1999, when he was 25 years old.[27][28] The idea arose after finding an inexpensive flight from Boston to Iceland. Fenton randomly e-mailed 1,500 students from the University of Iceland asking if he could stay. He ultimately received 50-100 offers of accommodation.[27] On the return flight to Boston, he began to develop the ideas that would underpin the Couchsurfing project. He registered couchsurfing.com later in 1999.[27]

The site was launched in 2004[27] with the cooperation of Dan Hoffer, Sebastien Le Tuan, and Leonardo Silveira,[28].

2006 database loss and relaunch[edit]

In June 2006, the project experienced a number of computer problems resulting in much of the database being irrevocably lost.[27] Founder Casey Fenton posted online asking for help.[29] A Couchsurfing Collective was underway in Montreal at the time and those in attendance committed to fully recreating the original site, with users to re-enter their profile data.[27] The collective raised $8,000 in donations to address the issues.[27] "Couchsurfing 2.0" was announced early in July 2006.

Couchsurfing collectives[edit]

From 2006 through 2011, development of the website was run in large part by Couchsurfing Collectives: events which may last days or weeks, bringing groups of Couchsurfers together to develop and improve the website.[27] Collectives have taken place in Montreal, Vienna, New Zealand, Canada.[27] After the corporate reorganization in 2011, the collectives no longer took place. The use of volunteer labor is forbidden in commercial enterprises by the US federal government.[30]

2011 incorporation[edit]

Couchsurfing International Inc. was formerly a Nonprofit organization registered in the U.S. state of New Hampshire.[31] In August 2011, Couchsurfing announced its change of status to a for-profit corporation incoporated in the U.S .state of Delaware.[32] Couchsurfing International Inc refers to two separate legal entities. The first was founded in 2003 as a non-profit organization, and was liquidated in 2011. Its assets were sold to the private for-profit corporation Better World Through Travel, later renamed Couchsurfing International, Inc.,[1] which defines itself as “a mission-driven for-profit corporation”.[4] A $7.6 million investment was raised by Benchmark Capital,[19][20][21] with the ambition of going public.[22] The site had previously been financed by donations from members and revenue from the voluntary identity verification service. Second and third rounds of investors contributed another $15 million.

The announcement that Couchsurfing had become a for-profit corporation has raised serious objections from members.[33] They were opposed to founder Casey Fenton and CEO Dan Hoffer making money from selling to investors with a huge benefit assets which had been financed by donations and benevolents' work (i.e. CS was in their eyes the community's work).[34][35] Also, they hinted that Fenton had known from the beginning that CS' 501c3 charity fiscal status would be denied in the end by U.S. tax authorities [1] [36] and that he remained intentionally very vague about the nonprofit dissolution, the buying back of its assets and finally the selling of a stake to investors.[37] The Couchsurfing corporate blog tried to refute those claims.[38]

Site redesigns[edit]

Over the years, numerous changes to the site were made. A redesign in 2012 was made without gathering feedback from the members, thus infuriating users.[39]. Another redesign was implemented in November 2014.[40]

August 2014 security breach[edit]

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.” According to a CS Ambassador and IT consultant, 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. By design or by accident, the action calls were deactivated in the original code. Couchsurfing censored some posts on the site referring to the incident and generally refused to explain how the breach was made.[citation needed]

Crimes committed using Couchsurfing[edit]

Several Couchsurfing International, Inc. hosts and travelers in several countries have been convicted and imprisoned for rape, murder and theft carried out on victims found through the Couchsurfing service. Some sexual assault convictions, including those in Leeds (UK, 2009),[41] Marseille (France, 2012)[42] and Padua (Italy, 2014),[43][44] have received extensive coverage in the international press.

Terms of Use update (2012)[edit]

In September 2012, Couchsurfing updated its terms of use. These were criticized by many members of the community. The former German Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, Peter Schaar, publicly criticized the terms of use and informed the US Federal Trade Commission about the serious shortcomings in the Terms of Use.[45] Schaar has stated that these terms would be inadmissible under German and European data protection law.

Claims of censorship (2013)[edit]

People unhappy with the website redesign voiced their concerns on group message boards.[46] In early 2013, prominent members in Chicago and Berlin were banned from the site and had their profiles and posts deleted.[46] The deletions were perceived by certain memebers as being motivated by the company's desire to censor its critics.[46] The company maintains that the two users violated the company's Terms of Use and that the deletions were not the result of censorship.[46]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "State of Delaware corporate entity search - enter "couchsurfing"". 
  2. ^ "Bizapedia: Couchsurfing International Inc.". 
  3. ^ Couchsurfing.com on Alexa.com
  4. ^ a b c "CouchSurfing Raises $15 Million Series B From General Catalyst Partners, Menlo Ventures, Others". Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  5. ^ Verification Payment Questions
  6. ^ "A rough ride to profit for CouchSurfing". Retrieved 27 November 2014. 
  7. ^ Product Update: Make a new friend with Couchsurfing Hangouts!
  8. ^ "Updates to the Reference System". July 14, 2016. 
  9. ^ "What are Vouches?". July 14, 2016. 
  10. ^ "What’s changed on Couchsurfing?". couchsurfing.com. Retrieved November 20, 2014. 
  11. ^ Zigos, Julianne (December 7, 2013). "Couchsurfing’s Sex Secret: It’s The Greatest Hook-Up App Ever Devised". Business Insider. 
  12. ^ "About Couchsurfing". 
  13. ^ a b "The improbable rise and fall of Couchsurfing". kernelmag.dailydot.com. May 24, 2015. Retrieved January 18, 2016. 
  14. ^ Baker, Vicky (January 22, 2011). "How to stay with a local". The Guardian. Retrieved January 29, 2011. 
  15. ^ Coca, Nithin (March 27, 2013). "The Rise and Fall of Couchsurfing". Retrieved March 27, 2013. 
  16. ^ Handbook of Research on Global Hospitality and Tourism Management
  17. ^ Saiidi, Uptin (February 12, 2016). "Office Envy: Inside CouchSurfing's San Francisco workspace". CNBC. Retrieved February 12, 2016. 
  18. ^ ""Couchsurfing International | B Corporation"". 
  19. ^ a b "B Corporation". B Corporation. Retrieved 2012-02-22. 
  20. ^ a b Tweney, Dylan (24 August 2011). "Benchmark plops down $7.6M to make Couchsurfing into a for-profit". VentureBeat. Retrieved 11 September 2011. 
  21. ^ a b "Couchsurfing Moves from NGO to B-Corps: Bona fide or Bogus?". Triplepundit.com. 2011-09-28. Retrieved 2012-02-22. 
  22. ^ a b "El jefe de Couchsurfing asegura que su objetivo es salir a Bolsa" [The Boss of Couchsurfing ensures that his objective is to be listed on the stock market]. El País. 13 September 2011. 
  23. ^ "CouchSurfing Raises $15 Million Series B From General Catalyst Partners, Menlo Ventures, Others". 22 August 2012. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  24. ^ a b Ingrid Lunden. "Tony Espinoza Steps Down As CEO Of Couchsurfing, Jennifer Billock Steps Up As Interim As Startup Lays Off Staff, "Doubles Down" On Mobile". TechCrunch. AOL. 
  25. ^ "CouchSurfing CEO steps down amid layoffs, uncertainty". Tnooz. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  26. ^ "Jennifer Billock". LinkedIn. Retrieved 7 January 2016. (registration required (help)). 
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h i Handbook of Research on Global Hospitality and Tourism Management
  28. ^ a b "How CouchSurfing Got its Start, and Landed VC Millions". Entrepreneur (magazine). December 9, 2011. 
  29. ^ Fenton, Casey (28 June 2006). "Help! - Innodb and MyISAM accidental DROP DATABASE - 112 tables gone forever?". forums.mysql.com. Retrieved 29 January 2011. 
  30. ^ "elaws - Fair Labor Standards Act Advisor". United States Department of Labor. Retrieved 20 November 2014. 
  31. ^ "Business Entity". New Hampshire Department of State. 25 August 2011. 
  32. ^ Perlroth, Nicole (24 August 2011). "Non-Profit CouchSurfing Raises Millions In Funding". Forbes. Retrieved 24 August 2011. 
  33. ^ "After going for-profit, CouchSurfing faces user revolt". GigaOm. 1 September 2011. Retrieved 17 November 2011. 
  34. ^ "Users Revolt After Hippie Couchsurfing Site Goes Corporate". Gawker. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  35. ^ "CouchSurfing CEO steps down amid layoffs, uncertainty". Tnooz. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  36. ^ "Couchsurfing Dilemma: Going for Profit". Inc.com. 2012-05-29. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  37. ^ "CouchSurfing "conversion" issues". Couchwiki. March 24, 2015. Retrieved Jan 18, 2016. 
  38. ^ "Myths and Facts: Couchsurfing’s conversion to a B Corp | Couchsurfing News Blog". blog.couchsurfing.com. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  39. ^ "How to Lose Funds and Infuriate Users: Couchsurfing, a Cautionary Tale From the". techPresident. November 7, 2013. 
  40. ^ What’s changed on Couchsurfing?
  41. ^ "Leeds couchsurfing.com rapist jailed". Yorkshire Evening Post. 29 October 2009. Retrieved 2 August 2010. 
  42. ^ "Il piégeait les étudiantes qu'il hébergeait". Europe 1. 17 July 2012. Retrieved 16 April 2014. 
  43. ^ "Couchsurfing, carabiniere arrestato per violenza sessuale". Il Mattono. 30 March 2014. Retrieved 16 April 2014. 
  44. ^ "Couchsurfing rapist Dino Maglio escaped investigation for months". theguardian.com. The Guardian. 29 May 2015. 
  45. ^ "Schaar kritisiert Backpacker-Netzwerk Couchsurfing". ZEIT.DE. Die Zeit. Retrieved 2 March 2015. 
  46. ^ a b c d Pauline (March 10, 2013). "CS Controversy: The Place Pages and Banned Ambassadors". Retrieved March 10, 2013. 

External links[edit]