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Couchsurfing International Inc.
Stationary envelopes.png
Type of businessC corporation[1]
Available inEnglish, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Simplified Chinese and Spanish[2]
Founded2 April 2003 (New Hampshire nonprofit organization)[3]
3 May 2011 (Delaware for-profit corporation)[4]
Area servedGlobal
Founder(s)Casey Fenton
Daniel Hoffer
Sebastian Le Tuan
Leonardo Bassani da Silveira [5]
Key peoplePatrick Dugan, CEO
Francesco Deparis, CFO[6]
ServicesSocial networking service
Employees11–50[7] Edit this at Wikidata
Users12,000,000 users
Launched12 June 2004; 16 years ago (2004-06-12)[8]

CouchSurfing is a global hospitality exchange service accessible via a website and mobile app. Members can request lodging publicly or directly from other members,[9] "hang out" with other members,[10] or join/create events.[11][12] Harassment is against the terms of service.[13] Members set up user profiles on which other members can post reviews.[14] The platform is gift economy — hosts are not supposed to charge for lodging and therefore are not bound to fulfill any lodging agreements.[15][16]

Members in most developed countries must either pay a fee of approximately US$2/month or US$15/year to use the platform.[17] Members can also pay a one-time US$60 charge to have their name and identification verified, adding a layer of security.[18]


Conception (1999–2004)[edit]

Couchsurfing was conceived by computer programmer and New Hampshire native Casey Fenton in 1999, when he was 21 years old.[1][19][20] The idea arose after Fenton found a cheap flight from Boston to Iceland but did not have lodging. Fenton hacked into a database of the University of Iceland and randomly e-mailed 1,500 students asking for a homestay. He received between 50 and 100 offers and chose to stay at the home of an Icelandic rhythm and blues singer.[19] 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.[19][21]

Couchsurfing International Inc. was formed on 2 April 2003 as a New Hampshire nonprofit corporation,[3] with plans to apply for 501(c)(3) tax exemption.

The website was launched on 12 June 2004[19] with the cooperation of Dan Hoffer, Sebastien Le Tuan, and Leonardo Silveira.[20]

Development of the website by volunteers (2006–2011)[edit]

People behind the magic

From 2006 until the company raised financing in 2011, development of the website occurred mostly at events called "Couchsurfing Collectives", in which members met to voluntarily improve the website.[19] Collectives took place in Montreal, Vienna, New Zealand, Rotterdam, Costa Rica, Samara, Alaska, Istanbul, and Thailand.[19][22] However, the collectively-coded website was full of software bugs and crashes were common. Many members believed that the website needed to be redesigned from scratch.[23]

In June 2006, problems with the website database resulted in much of it being irrevocably lost.[19][24][23] Founder Casey Fenton posted online asking for help.[25] 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.[19] In 2007, Google search volume for overtook the search volume for its major competitor Hospitality Club, after the one of Hospitality Club peaked in 2006.[26]

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

The company applied for 501(c)(3) tax status as a nonprofit organization in November 2007 but tax exempt status was rejected by the Internal Revenue Service in early 2011.[1][27] After researching alternatives, advice from lawyers, the need for additional financial resources, and competition from Airbnb, management decided that the non profit company would sell its assets to a newly founded for-profit corporation.[27][1]

The New Hampshire non-profit Couchsurfing International Inc. was dissolved on 4 November 2011.[3] Its assets were sold to a private for-profit Delaware C corporation, also called Couchsurfing International, Inc., which was formed on 3 May 2011.[4][28][29]

The company was briefly certified as a B corporation, but that certification was eventually removed.[30][1][31][32]

In the August 24, 2011, blog post announcement Casey Fenton confused a B Corporation (certification) with a Benefit corporation, "As a B (Benefit) Corporation, CouchSurfing will be part of a group of innovative businesses that deliver products and services with a commitment to social and environmental responsibility, transparency, fair work conditions, and doing good for the world... CouchSurfing will never make you pay to host and surf."[33] Couchsurfing was not a Benefit Corporation, and Delaware did not permit incorporation as a Benefit corporation until 2013, yet the error received widespread publication.[34][35]

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.[36][37][38][39]

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.[28]

Criticism from members of the conversion to a for-profit corporation[edit]

The guiding principles of the original non profit organisation promised that CouchSurfing operates as a nonprofit, a promise that was broken by Fenton and Hoffer.[1] The conversion to a for-profit corporation was objected to by many members.[23][40][41] Founder Casey Fenton said he received 1,500 emails in the days after announcing the conversion.[1]

Launch and development of mobile apps[edit]

In 2012, the company launched mobile apps for iOS and Android.[42] In June 2016, the company added a feature called "hangouts" that enables members to quickly meet with other nearby members.[10][43]

Management turnover (2012–2015)[edit]

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

Co-founder Dan Hoffer served as CEO from 2011[36] to 2012, Tony Espinoza served as CEO from 2012 to 2013,[37] and Jennifer Billock served as CEO from 2013 to 2015.[44] Casey Fenton is no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of the company.[45]

Change to membership fee revenue model (2020)[edit]

In May 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company instituted a permanent membership fee in some countries. Members who previously paid for "Lifetime Verification," were granted free access until May 2021.[17][46] The implementation of the membership fee led to "widespread anger" and criticism.[47] In 2012, Tony Espinoza had said in an interview: "Even as the site looks for additional revenue streams, the co-founders promise that hosting and surfing will always remain free."[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Lapowesky, Issie (29 May 2012). "Couchsurfing Dilemma: Going for Profit". Inc.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c "Business Information: COUCHSURFING INTERNATIONAL INC". New Hampshire Department of State.
  4. ^ a b "State of Delaware corporate entity search – enter "couchsurfing"".
  5. ^ "Couchsurfing: about us".
  6. ^ "Business Search – Results". California Secretary of State.
  7. ^ "Crunchbase:". TechCrunch.
  8. ^ "Where are you celebrating International Couchsurfing Day on June 12?". 2 June 2016.
  9. ^ "How do I Create or Delete a Public Trip?". Couchsurfing.
  10. ^ a b "Product Update: Make a new friend with Couchsurfing Hangouts!". Couchsurfing. 28 June 2016.
  11. ^ "Global Couchsurfing Event Calendar". Couchsurfing.
  12. ^ "How do I join an event?". Couchsurfing.
  13. ^ Zigos, Julianne (7 December 2013). "Couchsurfing's Sex Secret: It's The Greatest Hook-Up App Ever Devised". Business Insider.
  14. ^ "How can I submit references and feedback for other members?". Couchsurfing.
  15. ^ Marton, Attila; Constantiou, Ioanna; Lagoudakos, Georgios (4 January 2017). "Openness and Legitimacy Building in the Sharing Economy: An Exploratory Case Study about CouchSurfing". doi:10.24251/HICSS.2017.184. Retrieved 18 October 2020. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. ^ Coetzee, Liezl (December 2010). "Local exchange through community currency in an alternative gift economy : an anthropological analysis of the Cape Town talent exchange". Stellenbosch : University of Stellenbosch. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  17. ^ a b "Couchsurfing needs your help". Couchsurfing.
  18. ^ "Verification Payment Questions". Couchsurfing.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h Camillo, Angelo A. (17 August 2015). Handbook of Research on Global Hospitality and Tourism Management. IGI Global.
  20. ^ a b Moran, Gwen (9 December 2011). "How CouchSurfing Got its Start, and Landed VC Millions". Entrepreneur.
  21. ^ "Whois Record for".
  22. ^ Barnett, George A. (7 September 2011). Encyclopedia of Social Networks. SAGE Publications.
  23. ^ a b c DeAmicis, Carmel (10 January 2015). "How Couchsurfing became the Friendster of the sharing economy". Gigaom.
  24. ^ Arrington, Michael (29 June 2006). "CouchSurfing Deletes Itself, Shuts Down". TechCrunch.
  25. ^ Fenton, Casey (28 June 2006). "Help! - Innodb and MyISAM accidental DROP DATABASE – 112 tables gone forever?".
  26. ^ Rustam Tagiew; Dmitry I. Ignatov; Radhakrishnan Delhibabu (2015). Hospitality Exchange Services as a Source of Spatial and Social Data?. (IEEE) International Conference on Data Mining Workshop (ICDMW). Atlantic City. pp. 1125–1130. doi:10.1109/ICDMW.2015.239.
  27. ^ a b Longenecker, Justin G.; Petty, J. William; Palich, Leslie E.; Hoy, Frank (15 January 2016). Small Business Management: Launching & Growing Entrepreneurial Ventures. Cengage.
  28. ^ a b Gallagher, Billy (22 August 2012). "CouchSurfing Raises $15 Million Series B From General Catalyst Partners, Menlo Ventures, Others". TechCrunch.
  29. ^ Perlroth, Nicole (24 August 2011). "Non-Profit CouchSurfing Raises Millions In Funding". Forbes.
  30. ^ "Myths and Facts: Couchsurfing's conversion to a B Corp". Couchsurfing. 14 September 2011.
  31. ^ "CouchSurfing becomes a B Corp". American City Business Journals. 27 January 2012.
  32. ^ Baker, Vicky (26 August 2011). "Not-for-profit Couchsurfing becomes a company (with a conscience)". The Guardian.
  33. ^ "A New Era For Couchsurfing". Couchsurfing.
  34. ^ "Delaware Unveils Public Benefit Corporation Legislation".
  35. ^ Tan, Jun-E (2012). "6". “Building Trust In Electronic To Face Social Network Sites: Case Study Of Couchsurfing.Org” (PDF) (Excerpt On CS History). Nanyang Technological University.
  36. ^ 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). PR Newswire. 25 August 2011.
  37. ^ a b Vivion, Nick (11 October 2013). "CouchSurfing CEO steps down amid layoffs, uncertainty". Phocuswire.
  38. ^ Tweney, Dylan (24 August 2011). "Benchmark plops down $7.6M to make Couchsurfing into a for-profit". VentureBeat.
  39. ^ DeLuca, Matt (30 August 2011). "CouchSurfing Just Closed A $7.6 Million Round Of Funding". Business Insider.
  40. ^ Johnson, Bobbie (1 September 2011). "After going for-profit, CouchSurfing faces user revolt". Gigaom.
  41. ^ Roudman, Sam (7 November 2013). "How to Lose Funds and Infuriate Users: Couchsurfing, a Cautionary Tale From the Sharing Economy". techPresident.
  42. ^ Graham, Jefferson (12 October 2013). "Couchsurfing your way to a free place to stay". USA Today.
  43. ^ 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.
  44. ^ 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.
  45. ^ Chan, Nathan (15 May 2018). "112: The Crazy Origin Story of Sharing Economy Pioneer with Casey Fenton". Foundr.
  46. ^ "Verification Payment Questions". Couchsurfing.
  47. ^ Ferrarese, Marco (24 June 2020). "Pandemic hits 'couchsurfing' travel bug". Nikkei Asian Review.

External links[edit]