|Type of business||C corporation|
|Founded||2 April 2003nonprofit organization)
(New Hampshire |
3 May 2011 (Delaware for-profit corporation)
|Key people||Patrick Dugan, CEO & CFO
Matt Cohler, Investor
Casey Fenton, Chairman
Social networking service
|Alexa rank||4,171 (17 February 2018)|
400,000 active hosts
|Launched||12 June 2004|
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", and, via its "hangout" feature, meet other members.
The platform is a gift economy; hosts are not allowed to charge for lodging. 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. Members can either directly request lodging from other members or post their travel plans publicly and receive offers from other members.
- 1 History
- 2 References
- 3 External links
Couchsurfing was conceived by computer programmer Casey Fenton in 1999, when he was 25 years old. 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. On the return flight to Boston, he came up with the idea to create the website. He registered the couchsurfing.com domain name on 12 June 1999.
The website was launched on June 12, 2004 with the cooperation of Dan Hoffer, Sebastien Le Tuan, and Leonardo Silveira. The company has encouraged the celebration of "International Couchsurfing Day" every year on its June 12 anniversary.
Development of the website by volunteers (2006–2011)
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. Collectives took place in Montreal, Vienna, New Zealand, Rotterdam, Costa Rica, Samara, Alaska, Istanbul, and Thailand. 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.
In June 2006, problems with the website database resulted in much of it being irrevocably lost. Founder Casey Fenton posted online asking for help. 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.
Change to a for-profit corporation and financing (2011)
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. 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.
The New Hampshire entity Couchsurfing International Inc. was dissolved on 4 November 2011. Its assets were sold to a for-profit Delaware corporation, also called Couchsurfing International, Inc., which was formed on 3 May 2011.
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.
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.
Criticism from members (2011–2012)
- The conversion to a for-profit corporation was objected to by many members. Founder Casey Fenton said he received 1,500 emails in the days after announcing the conversion. Even though the founders did not receive any cash from the financing, members were opposed to the founders having a valuable ownership interest in an organization that was financed by donations and built using volunteer work. 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.
- The company was accused of censorship after two prominent members who were critical of the company had their profiles and posts deleted.
- 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.
- Members were infuriated in 2012 when a site redesign was made without first gathering member feedback.
Launch and development of mobile apps
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.
|June 2004||0 (Launch)|
|January 2018||15,000,000, including 400,000 active hosts|||
In 2017, Dan Fultz, head of support and safety, stated that "Couchsurfing activity certainly dipped between the ‘heyday’ and today".
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