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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 Edit this at Wikidata
Users12,000,000 users
Launched12 June 2004; 18 years ago (2004-06-12)[7]

CouchSurfing is a social networking service and hospitality exchange service by which users can request homestays or interact with other people who are interested in travel. It is accessible via a website and mobile app.

While hosts are not allowed to charge for lodging, members in some countries must pay a subscription fee to use the platform.[8]


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][9][10] 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.[9] 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.[9][11]

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[9] with the cooperation of Dan Hoffer, Sebastien Le Tuan, and Leonardo Silveira.[10]

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

Lunch at former headquarters in San Francisco

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.[9] Collectives took place in Montreal, Vienna, New Zealand, Rotterdam, Costa Rica, Samara, Alaska, Istanbul, and Thailand.[7][9][12] 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.[13]

In June 2006, problems with the website database resulted in much of it being irrevocably lost.[9][14][13] Founder Casey Fenton posted online asking for help.[15] 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.[9] In 2007, Google search volume for overtook the search volume for Hospitality Club.[16]

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][17] After researching alternatives, advice from lawyers, the need for additional financial resources, and competition from Airbnb, management decided that the New Hampshire non-profit Couchsurfing International Inc. would sell its assets to a newly founded for-profit corporation.[17][1]

In August 2011, a private for-profit Delaware C corporation, also called Couchsurfing International, Inc., which was formed on 3 May 2011,[4][18][19] raised $7.6 million in a first-round financing led by Benchmark Capital and Omidyar Network and acquired the assets of the New Hampshire company.[20][21][22][23] The New Hampshire non-profit company was dissolved on 4 November 2011.[3]

The conversion to a for-profit corporation was objected to by many members[13][24][25] since the guiding principles of the original non profit organisation promised that CouchSurfing operates as a nonprofit,[26][27] a promise that was broken by Fenton and Hoffer.[1] Founder Casey Fenton said he received 1,500 emails in the days after announcing the conversion.[1]

The company was briefly certified as a B corporation (mistakenly labeled as a Benefit corporation in a blog post by Casey Fenton),[28] but that certification was eventually removed.[29][1][30][31]

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.[18]

Launch and development of mobile apps[edit]

In 2012, the company launched mobile apps for iOS and Android.[32] In June 2016, the company added a feature called "hangouts" that enables members to quickly meet with other nearby members.[33]

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[20] to 2012, Tony Espinoza served as CEO from 2012 to 2013,[21] and Jennifer Billock served as CEO from 2013 to 2015.[34] Casey Fenton was stripped of his board seat due to differences with management and is no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of the company.[7]

New investment (2015)[edit]

In 2015, Couchsurfing required additional funding but did not have the metrics to raise a Series C round. Instead, the company received funding from an investor group [Dugan Katragadda, a branch of Valencia Street Capital][35] led by Patrick Dugan, previously part of the business development team of Palantir Technologies and an avid sailor, diver, and pilot. Dugan's investment was large enough to reconstitute the board of directors.[7]

Around 2016, Ben Hanna, formerly the user experience and design team lead, approached outside investors about purchasing the company but the talks did not materialize.[7]

The company has stated that it is not a significant part of Dugan’s income. However, it tested, to "minimal success," more than 10 ways to fund the company, which included, "permitting members to charge for hosting, asking surfers to pay a nominal fee when confirming a stay, negotiated advertising and sponsorships, affiliate partnerships (Couchsurfing getting paid when members purchased something we promoted), selling merchandise, a Couchsurfing cryptocurrency/blockchain, and more."[7]

Change to subscription business model (2020)[edit]

In May 2020, during the COVID-19 restrictions, the company instituted a permanent subscription fee in some countries, which led to "widespread anger" and criticism.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Lapowesky, Issie (29 May 2012). "Couchsurfing Dilemma: Going for Profit". Inc.
  2. ^ "Couchsurfing Travel App". App Store (iOS/iPadOS).
  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. ^ a b c d e f Fedorov, Andrew (15 September 2021). "Paradise lost: The rise and ruin of". Input. Bryan Goldberg.
  8. ^ a b Ferrarese, Marco (24 June 2020). "Pandemic hits 'couchsurfing' travel bug". Nikkei Asian Review.
  9. ^ 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. ISBN 9781466686076.
  10. ^ a b Moran, Gwen (9 December 2011). "How CouchSurfing Got its Start, and Landed VC Millions". Entrepreneur.
  11. ^ "Whois Record for".
  12. ^ Barnett, George A. (7 September 2011). Encyclopedia of Social Networks. SAGE Publications. ISBN 9781506338255.
  13. ^ a b c DeAmicis, Carmel (10 January 2015). "How Couchsurfing became the Friendster of the sharing economy". Gigaom.
  14. ^ Arrington, Michael (29 June 2006). "CouchSurfing Deletes Itself, Shuts Down". TechCrunch.
  15. ^ Fenton, Casey (28 June 2006). "Help! - Innodb and MyISAM accidental DROP DATABASE – 112 tables gone forever?".
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ a b Longenecker, Justin G.; Petty, J. William; Palich, Leslie E.; Hoy, Frank (15 January 2016). Small Business Management: Launching & Growing Entrepreneurial Ventures. Cengage. ISBN 9781305405745.
  18. ^ a b Gallagher, Billy (22 August 2012). "CouchSurfing Raises $15 Million Series B From General Catalyst Partners, Menlo Ventures, Others". TechCrunch.
  19. ^ Perlroth, Nicole (24 August 2011). "Non-Profit CouchSurfing Raises Millions In Funding". Forbes.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ a b Vivion, Nick (11 October 2013). "CouchSurfing CEO steps down amid layoffs, uncertainty". Phocuswire.
  22. ^ Tweney, Dylan (24 August 2011). "Benchmark plops down $7.6M to make Couchsurfing into a for-profit". VentureBeat.
  23. ^ DeLuca, Matt (30 August 2011). "CouchSurfing Just Closed A $7.6 Million Round Of Funding". Business Insider.
  24. ^ Johnson, Bobbie (1 September 2011). "After going for-profit, CouchSurfing faces user revolt". Gigaom.
  25. ^ Roudman, Sam (7 November 2013). "How to Lose Funds and Infuriate Users: Couchsurfing, a Cautionary Tale From the Sharing Economy". techPresident.
  26. ^ Marton, Attila; Constantiou, Ioanna; Lagoudakos, Georgios (4 January 2017). "Openness and Legitimacy Building in the Sharing Economy: An Exploratory Case Study about Couch Surfing". Openness and Legitimacy Building in the Sharing Economy: An Exploratory Case Study about CouchSurfing. Proceedings of the 50th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (2017). doi:10.24251/HICSS.2017.184. hdl:10125/41337. ISBN 9780998133102.
  27. ^ 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}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  28. ^ "A New Era For Couchsurfing". Couchsurfing.
  29. ^ "Myths and Facts: Couchsurfing's conversion to a B Corp". Couchsurfing. 14 September 2011.
  30. ^ "CouchSurfing becomes a B Corp". American City Business Journals. 27 January 2012.
  31. ^ Baker, Vicky (26 August 2011). "Not-for-profit Couchsurfing becomes a company (with a conscience)". The Guardian.
  32. ^ Graham, Jefferson (12 October 2013). "Couchsurfing your way to a free place to stay". USA Today.
  33. ^ WIRA, NI NYOMAN (23 June 2016). "Couchsurfing to introduce new "hangout" feature". The Jakarta Post.
  34. ^ 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.
  35. ^ "Dugan Katragadda, L.p." U.S._Securities_and_Exchange_Commission. 10 October 2020.

External links[edit]