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Couchsurfing International Inc.
Stationary envelopes.png
Type of business C corporation[1]
Founded 2 April 2003 (2 April 2003) (New Hampshire nonprofit organization)[2]
3 May 2011 (Delaware for-profit corporation)[3][4]
Area served Global
Founder(s) Casey Fenton
Dan Hoffer
Key people Patrick Dugan, CEO & CFO[5]
Matt Cohler, Investor
Casey Fenton, Chairman
Products Homestay
Services Hospitality service
Social networking service
Employees 11-50[6]
Alexa rank 4,171 (17 February 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. Its website and mobile apps are platforms for members to arrange homestays, offer lodging and hospitality, join events such as "Couch Crashes",[10][11] and, via its "hangout" feature, meet other members.

The platform is a gift economy; hosts are not allowed to charge for lodging.[12] However, unless members have hosted in the previous 3 months or they pay an annual fee of €19-55, referred to as "verification", they are only able to send 10 new messages per week.[13][14] Members can either directly request lodging from other members or post their travel plans publicly and receive offers from other members.[15]

Upon creating an account, members set up an online identity, and after leaving comments on their experiences with other members, develop a reputation.[16][17][18]


Conception (1999–2004)[edit]

Couchsurfing was conceived by computer programmer Casey Fenton in 1999, when he was 25 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 nonprofit organization in the state of New Hampshire.[2]

The website was launched on June 12, 2004[19] with the cooperation of Dan Hoffer, Sebastien Le Tuan, and Leonardo Silveira.[20] The company has encouraged the celebration of "International Couchsurfing Day" every year on its June 12 anniversary.[9]

Development of the website by volunteers (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.[19] Collectives took place in Montreal, Vienna, New Zealand, Rotterdam, Costa Rica, Samara, Alaska, Istanbul, and Thailand.[19][22] 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.[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]

Change to a for-profit corporation and financing (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][26] Hoffer, in charge of strategic development, then believed that non-profit status was an obstacle to innovation due to the audit and regulatory requirements and that a for-profit corporation was the best structure for the company.[26]

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][27][28]

At first, the company was a certified B Corporation;[1][29] however, it is no longer listed as such.[30]

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.[31][32][33][34]

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.[27]

Criticism from members (2011–2012)[edit]

  • The conversion to a for-profit corporation was objected to by many members.[23][35] Founder Casey Fenton said he received 1,500 emails in the days after announcing the conversion.[1] Even though the founders did not receive any cash from the financing,[36] members were opposed to the founders having a valuable ownership interest in an organization that was financed by donations and built using volunteer work.[23][32] 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]
  • The company was accused of censorship after two prominent members who were critical of the company had their profiles and posts deleted.[23]
  • The company was criticized after updating its terms of service in September 2012. 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 service 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.[37]
  • Members were infuriated in 2012 when a site redesign was made without first gathering member feedback.[23][37]

Launch and development of mobile apps[edit]

In 2012, the company launched mobile apps for iOS and Android.[38] In 2016, the company added a feature called "hangouts" that enables members to quickly meet with other nearby members.[39][40]


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[31] to 2012, Tony Espinoza served as CEO from 2012 to 2013,[32] and Jennifer Billock served as CEO from 2013 to 2015.[41]

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.[42]

Membership statistics[edit]

Date Members Ref
June 2004 0 (Launch)
June 2005 6,000 [26]
June 2006 90,000 [24]
March 2007 173,000 [43]
July 2007 240,000 [44]
August 2007 285,000 [45]
September 2007 300,000 [46]
August 2008 600,000 [47]
December 2008 790,000 [48]
March 2009 1,000,000 [49]
August 2009 1,300,000 [50]
January 2011 2,500,000 [51]
August 2011 3,000,000 [35]
April 2012 3,965,492 [17]
October 2013 6,000,000 [52]
October 2014 9,000,000 [53]
October 2015 10,000,000 [54]
February 2016 11,000,000 [55]
January 2018 15,000,000, including 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".[56]


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External links[edit]