CouchSurfing

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Couchsurfing International Inc.
Stationary envelopes.png
Type C Corporation[1][2][3]
Founded April 2003 (New Hampshire non-profit)
January 2004 (website launch)
May 2011 (Delaware for-profit corporation)
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 2,447 (July 26, 2016)[4]
Users 10,000,000+[5]
Launched 2004

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.

The company raised $22.6 million in investment capital in two rounds of financing in 2011-2012.[6]

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 released in 1997.

The company, its website, and the general culture of hospitality exchange it is meant to support are all commonly referred to as "couchsurfing". The name is often stylized as "CouchSurfing", with the "c" and "s" are capitalized. 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.[7] In 2014, former CEO Jen Billock suggested that the company may implement additional features that would only be available to paying members;[8] however, no such features were ever implemented.

Members complete a profile page that includes information suchs as their philosophy and mission, the skills they can teach others, their favorite music, movies, and books, and photos of themselves and of the accommodation they offer, if any.[9][10] 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.[11]

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.

Unlike Airbnb, homestays arranged on Couchsurfing do not involve payment for lodging.[12]

Safety mechanisms[edit]

Members have the option of leaving comments on their experiences with other members on such members' profiles.[13]

Members are encouraged to review references left for someone before hosting or staying with them.[14] Members are also encouraged to review negative references.[15]

A vouching system was discontinued in November 2014.[10][16]

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."[17][18]

Membership statistics and growth[edit]

According to the website, Couchsurfing is "a global community of 10 million people in more than 200,000 cities".[5]

According to an article written by a member, a spokesperson for the company has said that 1 million members log in every month.[19]

Growth in membership[edit]

Within one year of the public launch of the website, only 6,000 members had registered.[20]

An article in The Guardian in January 2011 stated that the site had 2.5 million members at the time.[21]

In March 2013, a freelance writer stated that the site had 5 million members at the time.[19]

In 2015, a book stated that the site had 7 million members.[22]

In February 2016, an article by CNBC stated that the site had 11 million members.[23]

History[edit]

Conception (1999-2004)[edit]

Couchsurfing was conceived by computer programmer Casey Fenton in 1999, when he was 25 years old.[24][25][3][26] 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.[24] 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 offers of accommodation.[25] On the return flight to Boston, he came up with the idea to create the website. He registered the couchsurfing.com domain name on June 13, 1999.[25][27]

Couchsurfing International Inc. was formed on April 2, 2003 as a non-profit corporation in the state of New Hampshire.[28]

The website was launched in 2004[25] with the cooperation of Dan Hoffer, Sebastien Le Tuan, and Leonardo Silveira.[26]

Couchsurfing collectives (2006-2011)[edit]

From 2006 through 2011, development of the website occurred mostly at Couchsurfing Collectives: events which lasted days or weeks and brought groups of Couchsurfers together to develop and improve the website.[25] Collectives took place in Montreal, Vienna, New Zealand, and Canada.[25] 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.[29]

Database loss and relaunch (2006)[edit]

In June 2006, problems with the website database resulted in much of it being irrevocably lost.[25] Founder Casey Fenton posted online asking for help.[30] A Couchsurfing Collective was underway in Montreal at the time and those in attendance committed to fully recreating the original website.[25] The collective raised $8,000 in donations to address the issues.[25]

Financing and ownership[edit]

Couchsurfing was originally financed by donations; however, since the change to a for-profit corporation in 2011, it no longer accepts donations.[31]

Couchsurfing International Inc. is a privately held corporation and chooses to not publish any financial or ownership data.

Venture capital funding and IPO plans (2011-2012)[edit]

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.[32][33][34][35][36]

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.[37]

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.[38]

Cash burn rate[edit]

In 2013, an unverified "tipster" stated that Couchsurfing was incurring an $800,000 monthly expenditure rate.[39]

According to an article written by a member in May 2015, «Couchsurfing has burned through most of its VC money».[19]

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

The company applied for 501(c)(3) non-profit status in November 2007 but was rejected by the Internal Revenue Service in early 2011.[20][3] 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.[20]

The New Hampshire entity Couchsurfing Incorporated Inc. was dissolved on November 4, 2011.[28] Its assets were sold to a for-profit Delaware corporation, also called Couchsurfing International, Inc., which was formed on May 3, 2011.[1][6][40]

The company was originally a certified B Corporation[3][41] but it is no longer listed as such.[42]

Members' objection to for-profit conversion[edit]

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.[3] A 3-page letter was sent to over 1,000 volunteers.[3]

However, the announcement that Couchsurfing had become a for-profit corporation raised serious objections from members.[43] Founder Casey Fenton said he received 1,500 emails within days.[3]

Even though the founders did not receive any cash from the financing,[44] members were opposed to the founders having a valuable ownership interest in an organization that was financed by donations and built using volunteer work.[33][45] On September 14, 2011, a posting was made on the couchsurfing blog that tried to assail members' fears of additional fees and the sale of membership data.[44]

Management[edit]

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

There is currently no CEO; however, co-founder Dan Hoffer served as CEO from 2011[32] to 2012, Tony Espinoza served as CEO from 2012 to 2013,[33] and Jennifer Billock served as CEO from 2014 to 2015.[39][46]

Terms of Use update (2012)[edit]

In September 2012, Couchsurfing updated its Terms of Use. 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.”[47] Schaar stated that these terms would be inadmissible under German and European data protection law.[47]

Site redesigns (2012-2014)[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.[47] Another redesign was implemented in November 2014.[10]

Resulting claims of censorship (2013)[edit]

People unhappy with the website redesign voiced their concerns on group message boards.[48] In early 2013, prominent members in Chicago and Berlin were banned from the site and had their profiles and posts deleted.[48] The deletions were perceived by certain members as being motivated by the company's desire to censor its critics.[48] The company maintains that the two users violated the company's Terms of Use and that the deletions were not the result of censorship.[48]

August 2014 security breach and resulting spam emails[edit]

According to the Couchsurfing Community Support Team, on August 15, 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.”[49] 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.[50] 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.[50]

Crimes committed using Couchsurfing[edit]

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

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "State of Delaware corporate entity search - enter "couchsurfing"". 
  2. ^ "Bizapedia: Couchsurfing International Inc.". 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Lapowesky, Issie (May 29, 2012). "Couchsurfing Dilemma: Going for Profit". Inc. Retrieved May 29, 2012. 
  4. ^ Couchsurfing.com on Alexa.com
  5. ^ a b "About Couchsurfing". 
  6. ^ a b "CouchSurfing Raises $15 Million Series B From General Catalyst Partners, Menlo Ventures, Others". August 22, 2012. Retrieved April 9, 2013. 
  7. ^ Verification Payment Questions
  8. ^ Brown, Kristen (November 26, 2014). "A rough ride to profit for CouchSurfing". SFGate. 
  9. ^ Marx, Patricia (April 16, 2012). "You're Welcome". The New Yorker. 
  10. ^ a b c "What’s changed on Couchsurfing?". blog.couchsurfing.com. Retrieved November 20, 2014. 
  11. ^ "Product Update: Make a new friend with Couchsurfing Hangouts!". blog.couchsurfing.com. 
  12. ^ I heard of someone charging for a couch. Is that OK?
  13. ^ "Updates to the Reference System". July 14, 2016. 
  14. ^ Couchsurfing: Safety Basics
  15. ^ Couchsurfing: How Can I Find Negative References?
  16. ^ "What are Vouches?". July 14, 2016. 
  17. ^ Zigos, Julianne (December 7, 2013). "Couchsurfing’s Sex Secret: It’s The Greatest Hook-Up App Ever Devised". Business Insider. 
  18. ^ Mejia, Brenda (March 9, 2016). "Couchsurfing: A Dating App?". Huffington Post. 
  19. ^ a b c "The improbable rise and fall of Couchsurfing". kernelmag.dailydot.com. May 24, 2015. Retrieved January 18, 2016. 
  20. ^ a b c Small Business Management: Launching & Growing Entrepreneurial Ventures
  21. ^ Baker, Vicky (January 22, 2011). "How to stay with a local". The Guardian. Retrieved January 29, 2011. 
  22. ^ Handbook of Research on Global Hospitality and Tourism Management
  23. ^ Saiidi, Uptin (February 12, 2016). "Office Envy: Inside CouchSurfing's San Francisco workspace". CNBC. Retrieved February 12, 2016. 
  24. ^ a b Q and A with Casey Fenton of CouchSurfing
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h i Handbook of Research on Global Hospitality and Tourism Management
  26. ^ a b "How CouchSurfing Got its Start, and Landed VC Millions". Entrepreneur (magazine). December 9, 2011. 
  27. ^ Whois Record for CouchSurfing.com
  28. ^ a b "Business Entity". New Hampshire Department of State. Retrieved 25 August 2011. 
  29. ^ "elaws - Fair Labor Standards Act Advisor". United States Department of Labor. Retrieved November 20, 2014. 
  30. ^ Fenton, Casey (June 28, 2006). "Help! - Innodb and MyISAM accidental DROP DATABASE - 112 tables gone forever?". forums.mysql.com. Retrieved January 29, 2011. 
  31. ^ I Want to Donate to Couchsurfing!
  32. ^ 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. August 25, 2011. Retrieved August 25, 2011. 
  33. ^ a b c "CouchSurfing CEO steps down amid layoffs, uncertainty". Tnooz. October 11, 2013. Retrieved October 11, 2013. 
  34. ^ Tweney, Dylan (August 24, 2011). "Benchmark plops down $7.6M to make Couchsurfing into a for-profit". VentureBeat. Retrieved August 24, 2011. 
  35. ^ "CouchSurfing Just Closed A $7.6 Million Round Of Funding". Business Insider. August 30, 2011. Retrieved August 30, 2011. 
  36. ^ Wohler, Margaret (September 28, 2011). "Couchsurfing Moves from NGO to B-Corps: Bona fide or Bogus?". Triplepundit.com. Retrieved February 22, 2012. 
  37. ^ "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. September 13, 2011. 
  38. ^ "CouchSurfing Raises $15 Million Series B From General Catalyst Partners, Menlo Ventures, Others". August 22, 2012. Retrieved April 9, 2013. 
  39. ^ a b Lunden, Ingrid (October 10, 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. AOL. 
  40. ^ Perlroth, Nicole (August 24, 2011). "Non-Profit CouchSurfing Raises Millions In Funding". Forbes. Retrieved August 24, 2011. 
  41. ^ Richardson, Vanessa. "CouchSurfing CEO Daniel Hoffer on Becoming a B Corporation". Intuit. 
  42. ^ "B Corporation". 
  43. ^ "After going for-profit, CouchSurfing faces user revolt". GigaOm. September 1, 2011. Retrieved November 17, 2011. 
  44. ^ a b "Myths and Facts: Couchsurfing’s conversion to a B Corp | Couchsurfing News Blog". blog.couchsurfing.com. September 14, 2011. Retrieved January 18, 2016. 
  45. ^ "Users Revolt After Hippie Couchsurfing Site Goes Corporate". Gawker. Retrieved January 18, 2016. 
  46. ^ "Jennifer Billock". LinkedIn. Retrieved 7 January 2016. (registration required (help)). 
  47. ^ a b c Roudman, Sam (November 7, 2013). "How to Lose Funds and Infuriate Users: Couchsurfing, a Cautionary Tale From the Sharing Economy". techPresident. 
  48. ^ a b c d Pauline (March 10, 2013). "CS Controversy: The Place Pages and Banned Ambassadors". Retrieved March 10, 2013. 
  49. ^ Couchsurfing Hacked, Sends Airbnb Prank Spam
  50. ^ a b Weird glitch in "site improvements" email?
  51. ^ "Leeds couchsurfing.com rapist jailed". Yorkshire Evening Post. October 29, 2009. Retrieved August 2, 2010. 
  52. ^ "Chinese tourist raped after being offered free bed for the night from man on couchsurfing website". Daily Mail. October 12, 2012. Retrieved October 12, 2012. 
  53. ^ "Man accused of raping woman he met on couchsurfing.com website". The Daily Telegraph. 11 August 2009. Retrieved 2 August 2010. 
  54. ^ "French Couchsurfer host filmed guests in shower". The Local. September 2, 2015. Retrieved September 2, 2015. 
  55. ^ Kirchgaessner, Stephanie (May 29, 2015). "Couchsurfing rapist Dino Maglio escaped investigation for months". theguardian.com. The Guardian. 
  56. ^ Squires, Nick (March 17, 2015). "Italian policeman 'drugged and raped' couch-surfing guests". The Telegraph. 
  57. ^ "Young American traveler murdered by Couchsurfing host in Nepal". New York Times. July 9, 2016. 
  58. ^ Kaplan, Sarah (September 8, 2015). "Missing American volunteer, Dahlia Yehia, beaten to death in Nepal". Washington Post. 
  59. ^ Reddit: MISSING PERSON! My friend Dahlia was couchsurfing in Pokhara, Nepal, on August 6th, and has not been heard from since.
  60. ^ Hammer, Joshua (July 5, 2016). "The Disappearance of Dahlia Yehia". Foreign Policy. 

External links[edit]