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CouchSurfing network gets $7.6m investment boost

CouchSurfing International, a startup devoted to connecting travellers with like-minded locals, has received a US$.7.6-million boost from investors Benchmark Capital and Omidyar Network.

The investment is a part of the company’s transition from a non profit to a corporation focussed on doing business in a way which fosters public good.

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The initial idea behind CouchSurfing was simple. Launched as a social network in 2004, its aim was to match travellers with hosts in locations around the globe.

Members looking for accommodation can search for hosts using several parameters such as age, location, gender and activity level, with hosts being able to specify the kind of guest they are willing to take in. There is never, though, any monetary exchange between traveller and host.

The organisation evolved into a community where people visiting other parts of the world could be matched with local folks for experiences ranging from home stays to joint outings or taking part in family gatherings.

“CouchSurfing is a global network of travellers that seek out authentic experiences with the people they meet and the places they visit,” said co-founder and chief executive Daniel Hoffer.

“Accommodations is just one benefit,” he continued. “We also facilitate life-changing experiences that you could never find in a guide book.”

It is free to join CouchSurfing, with the site’s primary form of revenue being the US$25 fee it charges to confirm that people out to connect with others in the community are who they say they are.
The network boasts more than three million members and claims to have orchestrated more than 5.6-million “culturally infused experiences”.

As part of the investment deal, Benchmark general partner Matt Cohler will join the CouchSurfing board. Cohler was on the founding team at LinkedIn and among the first five employees hired at Facebook.

“It reminded me a lot of things I’ve seen at Facebook and LinkedIn early on,” Cohler said of CouchSurfing.

“It is almost a matchmaking service for travellers,” he continued. “There are a lot of people in the world who want to travel this way and have these sorts of experiences.”

The San Francisco company has announced that it plans to hire aggressively and beef up its infrastructure.

Famous couchsurfers include Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and singer Daniel Bedingfield.

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