CouchSurfing Finds $7.6 Million Underneath the Cushions

CouchSurfing, which connects travelers online with a place to stay in someone’s home, is reinventing itself by changing its status from a nonprofit. As part of that, it has secured $7.6 million in venture capital.

Investors in the round include Benchmark Capital and Omidyar Network. The San Francisco company also said its co-founder Daniel Hoffer will be taking over as President and CEO.

In order to raise the round, Hoffer explained that the company’s new legal status is listed as a B Corporation, which allows it to sell a stake in the company while also striving to have a higher transparency and social responsibility when compared to other entities.

CouchSurfing is a lot like it sounds.

It enables people to find a place to crash for free when traveling around the world, but Hoffer says it’s much more than that. He describes it as a social network that allows like-minded people to meet and learn about each other. Examples range from organizing a picnic in the park to a party at someone’s house, or a trip to Mongolia, where a farmer will give you a place to stay in a yurt and teach you the local customs.

Matt Cohler, general partner at Benchmark Capital, has joined its Board of Directors, along with Todor Tashev, investment partner at Omidyar Network, as a board observer.

CouchSurfing’s round of capital follows the $112 million investment in Airbnb, which operates in a similar space of connecting strangers online to swap housing — although it charges a fee.

Hoffer said the company’s status is changing, but the mission is not.

The capital will be used for rolling out new features that the seven-year-old non-profit with only 25 employees was not able to support before, including a much-needed mobile application.

Up until now, CouchSurfing has not charged users to find accommodations, nor has it advocated that guests pay hosts for their stay. Instead, it has primarily been making money by charging for identity verification, so that two strangers feel more comfortable with each other.

It will also be looking into new revenues streams. “It’s important for us to collect revenue in a way that’s comfortable to our community,” Hoffer said. “We are looking at premium offerings as one possibility. It’s important to us that core surfing and hosting remains free.”

Hoffer expects to hire a dozen engineers shortly to accomplish its list of objectives.

Following Airbnb’s massive round of funding, questions arose on its ability to safely connect people online as it scales after one customer had an extremely bad experience when her apartment was robbed.

Hoffer said that their service is designed so that people stay with people when they are home.

“Even our profiles are designed to facilitate meaningful connections, so when couch surfers stay with each other, they know each other in a more meaningful and personal way,” he said.

Photo Credit: C.M. Keiner.

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