CouchSurfing Raises $15M to Help Travelers Make Stronger Local Connections

CouchSurfing, the Airbnb predecessor that began life as a non-profit helping travelers find a place to rest their weary head while on the road, today announced that it has raised $15 million in new funding. The company became a for-profit enterprise after five years of being in business, and raised $7.6 million in August 2011. Reborn as a B Corporation (an entity which under U.S. law is committed to social good and sustainable business, and must meet higher legal accountability standards than ordinary businesses), CouchSurfing now aims to rebuild its product with the kind of care additional money in the bank can provide.

“The site was built in 2004, as you probably know, and needs so much improvement in speed, reliability, usability, etc,” CouchSurfing Director of Marketing & Community Annie Fishman told BetaKit in an interview. “And we have a lot of exciting plans for our mobile apps. We’ve already done significant work, but this funding will help us bring the site and mobile apps up to – and exceed – current-day user experience standards more quickly. So in the coming months we’ll be hiring more of the best engineers and product managers out there and rolling out new site and mobile features.”

While CouchSurfing already offers mobile apps, they do leave a lot to be desired. The social travel space has evolved considerably since CouchSurfing’s early days, as has the world of crowdsourced services in general, and special attention has been paid to mobile now that smartphones are common. Still, CouchSurfing’s basic premise, which has allowed it to amass five million members so far, will remain intact. The company provides free matchmaking services for travelers looking for a place to crash, as well as building communities around shared interests so that people visiting new destinations aren’t just getting a place to stay, but are also meeting locals who can introduce them to local sights, sounds and flavors, too.

CouchSurfing wants to dedicate even more attention to that aspect of the business with this new funding. It’s what Fishman says helps set the company apart from other startups in the space, like Airbnb.

“We don’t see ourselves as a hospitality-focused business,” she explained. “We see ourselves as a people-focused business, a connector of people around the globe, enabling them to share hospitality, yes, but also thousands of activities and authentic experiences. We aim to make this process of discovery and connection as easy and fun as possible for people.”

For now, CouchSurfing has just one source of income: the $25 one-time fee it charges users to verify their identity when using the service, which is optional. The company is staying tight-lipped about where they intend to make revenue, however, with Fishman saying only that there are some “interesting ideas” being discussed at this stage. This new round comes from General Catalyst Partners, Menlo Ventures, along with existing investors, and it seems likely that those investors will have some thoughts around building CouchSurfing into revenue-driven travel business, since General Catalyst counts Airbnb and Kayak among its portfolio companies.

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