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The Unexpected Couchsurfing Story

This article is written by Jeremiah Uke, a Contributor Author at Startup Istanbul.

Casey Fenton is the Co-founder and Founding chairman of the board at Couchsurfing International, also the CEO/Founder of Upstock.io (formerly known as Mast.ly), he has also founded other startups Wonderapp and Sovolve, he was present at Startup Istanbul where he shared the Couchsurfing story with us.

Casey Fenton grew up in Maine, in his tenth grade he learnt about philosophers, and started to wonder about freewill, and if he will spend his whole life in the small town, if he will go out and see the world, Casey started thinking about how he can escape and get experiences, Casey then started buying random plane tickets. In 1997 Casey went to Egypt and met a local, who hosted him and introduced him to his family, while discussing with his host’s friends one evening, the idea to climb the Egyptian pyramids came up, this led to him climbing the pyramid and a great experience, seeing the city from the top of a pyramid at 19, this pushed the idea of having a way to access several places in the world to learn about himself and the world even further.

A few years later, Casey found himself in a festival in the desert while driving cross-country, the festival was extraordinary, because it was about sharing things, building things together and Casey got the thought that the Couchsurfing idea should be for everyone and not just him.

In 2000, Casey built a minimum viable product for Couchsurfing in Iceland, Casey was able to hack in to a university student database and get 1500 names and email addresses, he made an email letter that said “hey, I’m coming to Iceland and I’ll like to hang out”, and 50-100 people responded with “yes, let’s hang out, let’s do this or that”, he actually went to Iceland for the weekend and met a lot of amazing people whom he had earlier emailed.

That was the genesis Couchsurfing, he continued with programming and building the platform, when he launched it, 6000 people signed up the first year, then 50,000 people, 100,000 people and then up to a million users, people started suggesting locations like mount Everest to “Couchsurf”, the users eventually got to mount Everest and started placing flags on its base camp.

Today, Couchsurfing is a hospitality and social networking service accessible via a website and mobile app. Registered Couchsurfers can use the service to arrange homestays, offer lodging and hospitality, and join events such as “Couch Crashes”. The platform is a gift economy; hosts are not allowed to charge for hosting.

Members set up an online identity, and after leaving comments on their experiences with other members, develop a reputation. Members can either directly request learned from other members or post their travel plans publicly and receive offers from other members. The platform boasts of over 15,000,000 users and 400,000 active hosts.

15 April 2019

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