Couchsurfing International Inc.
Type of business C Corporation[1]
Founded 2 April 2003 (New Hampshire non-profit)[2]
January 2004 (website launch)[3]
3 May 2011 (Delaware for-profit corporation)[4][5]
Area served Global
Key people Matt Cohler, investor
Casey Fenton, Co-Founder
Dan Hoffer, Co-Founder
Industry Hospitality service, Hospitality exchange, networking
Services Homestay
Slogan(s) Stay with Locals and Meet Travelers
Alexa rank 2,424 (1 August 2016)[6]
Users 10,000,000+[7]
Launched 2004

Couchsurfing International Inc. operates, a hospitality service and social networking website. The website provides a platform for members to "surf" on couches by staying as a guest at a host's home, host travelers, meet other members, or join an event.

The company raised $22.6 million in investment capital in two rounds of financing in 2011-2012.[8]


Couchsurfing is a neologism referring to the practice of moving from one friend's house to another, sleeping in whatever spare space is available, floor or couch, generally staying a few days before moving on to the next house. The term pre-existed the website in vernacular usage; for example, "Couch Surfer" was the title of a song by Bran Van 3000 released in 1997.

The company, its website, and the general culture of hospitality exchange it is meant to support are all commonly referred to as "couchsurfing". The name is often stylized as "CouchSurfing", with the "c" and "s" are capitalized. Participants frequently refer to themselves as "couchsurfers" or "surfers". "CS" and "CSer" are used as abbreviations.

How it works

Initial registration is free of charge, but payment must be made to use the service, either for each use,[9] or upon payment of an annual fee.[10] In 2014, former CEO Jen Billock suggested that the company may implement additional features that would only be available to paying members;[11] however, no such features were ever implemented.

Members complete a profile page that includes information suchs as their philosophy and mission, the skills they can teach others, their favorite music, movies, and books, and photos of themselves and of the accommodation they offer, if any.[12][13] Members looking for accommodation can search for hosts using several parameters such as age, location, languages spoken, and gender and then send messages to the hosts with whom they want to stay. Members can also post their travel plans publicly and receive homestay offers from potential hosts.[14]

Members can also use the mobile app to "hangout" with other nearby travelers.[15]

Homestays are consensual between the host and guest, and the duration, nature, and terms of the guest's stay are generally worked out in advance.

Unlike Airbnb, homestays arranged on Couchsurfing do not involve payment for lodging.[16]

Reference mechanism

Members have the option of leaving comments on their experiences with other members on such members' profiles. Those comments can not be modified or deleted afterwards, but they will disappear if the corresponding account is deleted.[17]

Safety concerns

Members are encouraged to review references left for someone before hosting or staying with them.[18] Members are also encouraged to review negative references.[19]

A vouching system was discontinued in November 2014.[13][20]

Use as a dating site

While the site has been described on the Internet as a dating site Couchsurfing tells members, "Don't contact other members for dating – we will consider this harassment."[21][22]

Membership statistics and growth

According to the website, Couchsurfing is "a global community of 10 million people in more than 200,000 cities".[7] According to a blog article quoting an unnamed spokesperson for the company, "1 million members log in 'at least once a month' – meaning another 9 million don’t." [23]

Within one year of the public launch of the website, only 6,000 members had registered.[24] At the time of the database loss in June 2006, the site had 90,000 members.[25] In March 2009, the website reached the 1 million member milestone.[26] An article in The Guardian in January 2011 stated that the site had 2.5 million members at the time.[27] In March 2013, a freelance writer stated that the site had 5 million members at the time.[23] In 2015, a book stated that the site had 7 million members.[28] In February 2016, an article by CNBC stated that the site had 11 million members.[29]


Conception (1999-2004)

Couchsurfing was conceived by computer programmer Casey Fenton in 1999, when he was 25 years old.[1][3][30][31] The idea arose after Fenton found a cheap flight from Boston to Iceland but did not have a place to stay and did not want to stay in a "boring" hotel.[30] Fenton hacked into a university database and randomly e-mailed 1,500 students from the University of Iceland asking if he could stay with them. He ultimately received 50-100 offers of accommodation.[3] On the return flight to Boston, he came up with the idea to create the website. He registered the domain name on 13 June 1999.[3][32]

Couchsurfing International Inc. was formed on 2 April 2003 as a non-profit corporation in the state of New Hampshire.[2]

The website was launched in 2004[3] with the cooperation of Dan Hoffer, Sebastien Le Tuan, and Leonardo Silveira.[31]

Couchsurfing collectives (2006-2011)

From 2006 through 2011, development of the website occurred mostly at Couchsurfing Collectives: events which lasted days or weeks and brought groups of Couchsurfers together to develop and improve the website.[3] Collectives took place in Montreal, Vienna, New Zealand, and Canada.[3] After the corporate reorganization in 2011, the collectives no longer took place. The use of volunteer labor is forbidden in commercial enterprises by the US federal government.[33]

Database loss and relaunch (2006)

In June 2006, problems with the website database resulted in much of it being irrevocably lost.[3][25] Founder Casey Fenton posted online asking for help.[34] A Couchsurfing Collective was underway in Montreal at the time and those in attendance committed to fully recreating the original website.[3] The collective raised $8,000 in donations to address the issues.[3]


Couchsurfing was originally financed by donations; however, since the change to a for-profit corporation in 2011, it no longer accepts donations.[35]

Venture capital funding and IPO plans (2011-2012)

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][40]

In September 2011, El Pais quoted co-founder Dan Hoffer as saying that he had the goal of eventually having the company go public via an initial public offering.[41]

In August 2012, Couchsurfing received an additional $15 million in funding from lead investor 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.[8]

Cash burn rate

In 2013, an unverified "tipster" stated that Couchsurfing was incurring an $800,000 monthly expenditure rate.[42]

According to an article written by a member in May 2015, «Couchsurfing has burned through most of its VC money».[23]

Change to a for-profit corporation (2011)

The company applied for 501(c)(3) non-profit status in November 2007 but was rejected by the Internal Revenue Service in early 2011.[1][24] Hoffler came to believe that non-profit status was an obstacle to innovation due to the audit and regulatory requirements and that a for-profit entity was then the best structure for the company.[24]

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.[4][5][8][43]

The company was originally a certified B Corporation[1][44] in 2011 after it went for-profit but it was no longer listed as such on the B-Corp website as of mid 2016.[45]

Members' objection to for-profit conversion

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.[1] A 3-page letter was sent to over 1,000 volunteers.[1]

However, the announcement that Couchsurfing had become a for-profit corporation raised serious objections from members.[46] Founder Casey Fenton said he received 1,500 emails within days.[1]

Even though the founders did not receive any cash from the financing,[47] members were opposed to the founders having a valuable ownership interest in an organization that was financed by donations and built using volunteer work.[37][48] On 14 September 2011, a posting was made on the couchsurfing blog that tried to assail members' fears of additional fees and the sale of membership data.[47]


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

There is currently no CEO; however, 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 2014 to 2015.[42][49]

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.[50]

Terms of Use update (2012)

In September 2012, Couchsurfing updated its Terms of Use. The updates were criticized by many members of the community. 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 use because they "force the users to waive any control over their data if they want to continue to use the service."[51] Schaar stated that these terms would be inadmissible under German and European data protection law.[51]

Site redesigns (2012-2014)

Over the years, numerous changes to the site were made. A redesign in 2012 was made without gathering feedback from the members, thus infuriating users.[51] Another redesign was implemented in November 2014.[13]

Resulting claims of censorship (2013)

People unhappy with the website redesign voiced their concerns on group message boards.[52] In early 2013, prominent members in Chicago and Berlin were banned from the site and had their profiles and posts deleted.[52] The deletions were perceived by certain members as being motivated by the company's desire to censor its critics.[52] The company maintains that the two users violated the company's Terms of Use and that the deletions were not the result of censorship.[52]

August 2014 security breach and resulting spam emails

According to the Couchsurfing Community Support Team, on 15 August 2014 "the part of Couchsurfing’s system that sends email to members was breached and an email was sent to approximately 1 million members." The email advertised rival site Airbnb.[53] The email contained malicious code, an XSRF attack (a Cross-site request forgery), including "embedded on-site action calls loaded as an image", which would have erased reader’s membership data and deleted member profiles.[54] According to posts on Reddit, Couchsurfing censored some posts on the site referring to the incident and generally refused to explain how the breach was made.[54]

Crimes committed using Couchsurfing

Crimes committed using Couchsurfing as a way to meet victims include:

See also

Other hospitality exchange networks

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Couchsurfing.

Related concepts


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External links

Look up couch surf in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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