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Couchsurfing International Inc.
Stationary envelopes.png
Type of businessC corporation[1]
Founded2 April 2003 (New Hampshire nonprofit organization)[2]
3 May 2011 (Delaware for-profit corporation)[3]
Area servedGlobal
Founder(s)Casey Fenton
Daniel Hoffer
Key people Patrick Dugan, CEO
Francesco Deparis, CFO[4]
Casey Fenton, Chairman
Matt Cohler, Benchmark, Director
ServicesSocial networking service
Employees11-50[6] Edit this at Wikidata
Alexa rank3,661 (As of 6 September 2019)[7]
Users15,000,000 users[8]
4,000,000 surfers/year[8]
400,000 active hosts[8]
LaunchedJune 12, 2004; 15 years ago (2004-06-12)[9]

CouchSurfing is a homestay and social networking service accessible via a website and mobile app.

The platform is a gift economy; hosts are not allowed to charge for lodging.[10] It is based on the idea that people are generally kind.[11]

Members can either directly request lodging from other members or post their travel plans publicly and receive offers from other members.[12] They can also join events such as "Couch Crashes".[13][14]

Unless members verify their ID, address, and phone number and pay a one-time US$60 charge[15] (waived for members who host every 3 months[16]), they are only able to send messages to 10 other members per week.[17]

Although harassment is against the terms of service, the platform has been used for sexual encounters.[18][19]

Members set up an online identity and can leave comments on their experiences with other members.[20]


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][21][22] 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.[21] 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.[21][23]

Couchsurfing International Inc. was formed on 2 April 2003 as a New Hampshire nonprofit organization.[2]

The website was launched on June 12, 2004[21] with the cooperation of Dan Hoffer, Sebastien Le Tuan, and Leonardo Silveira.[22]

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.[21] Collectives took place in Montreal, Vienna, New Zealand, Rotterdam, Costa Rica, Samara, Alaska, Istanbul, and Thailand.[21][24] 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.[25]

In June 2006, problems with the website database resulted in much of it being irrevocably lost.[21][26][25] Founder Casey Fenton posted online asking for help.[27] 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.[21]

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][28] 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.[28]

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][29][30]

At first, the company was a certified B Corporation.[1][31]

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]

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.[29]

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

The conversion to a for-profit corporation was objected to by many members.[25][36][37] 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,[38] members were opposed to the founders having a valuable ownership interest in an organization that was financed by donations and built using volunteer work.[25][33] 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]

Launch and development of mobile apps[edit]

In 2012, the company launched mobile apps for iOS and Android.[39] In 2016, the company added a feature called "hangouts" that enables members to quickly meet with other nearby members.[40][41]

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[32] to 2012, Tony Espinoza served as CEO from 2012 to 2013,[33] and Jennifer Billock served as CEO from 2013 to 2015.[42] Casey Fenton is Chairman[5] but is no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of the company.[43]

Membership statistics[edit]

Date Members Ref
June 2004 0 (Launch)
June 2005 6,000 [28]
June 2006 90,000 [26]
March 2007 173,000 [44]
July 2007 240,000 [45]
August 2007 285,000 [46]
September 2007 300,000 [47]
August 2008 600,000 [48]
December 2008 790,000 [49]
March 2009 1,000,000 [50]
August 2009 1,300,000 [51]
January 2011 2,500,000 [52]
February 2011 2,400,000 [53]
August 2011 3,000,000 [36]
April 2012 3,965,492 [54]
October 2013 6,000,000 [39]
October 2014 9,000,000 [55][56]
October 2015 10,000,000 [57]
February 2016 11,000,000 [58]
January 2018 15,000,000, including 400,000 active hosts [8]
September 2018 Roughly 12,000,000 [59]

In 2017, Dan Fultz, head of support and safety, stated that "Couchsurfing activity certainly dipped between the ‘heyday’ and today".[60]


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External links[edit]