Unrest at Couchsurfing: CEO exit, layoffs, user complaints

Couchsurfing, the website that pioneered the crowdsourced hospitality industry, is undergoing some major changes.

And they may not be good ones.

Last week, Couchsurfing CEO Tony Espinoza resigned. Couchsurfing director Jen Billock will become the interim CEO as the company searches for a replacement for Espinoza.

Espinoza’s departure comes amid reports of widespread layoffs and ongoing complaints from users about the social travel website, which helps travelers find hosts in other cities and countries and crash on their sofas for free. Couchsurfers report the full gamut of experiences staying with strangers — from pleasant to uncomfortable, from a soul-nourishing adventure to a creepy or even terrifying ordeal. It has 7 million members.

Some Couchsurfer users are unimpressed by the growth under Espinoza: “The number is fairly meaningless. It just means that 7 million user accounts have been created. Some of them are duplicate (multiple accounts by one person) and some of them were curious enough to register on the site but never actually used the services,” a member identified as Philip Wilson posted on a Couchsurfer online comment thread. “Now that it is a privately-owned for-profit company, it would be difficult to convince me that I am anything more than an occasional user of free services, same as I am with Facebook. I don’t consider myself to be a member, investor, customer, employee, or volunteer.”

Some said Couchsurfing, founded in San Francisco in 2004, lost sight of its mission as Espinoza focused only on adding members.

Members “went from passionate travelers who LIVED the CS mission to millions of people looking for a free hotel room,” said a Counchsurfer from Austin, Tex.

Couchsurfer members have reported difficulty getting onto the site and accessing their accounts since Sunday. This morning, the Counchsurfing website briefly went down, irritating users.

“I say we migrate to Bewelcome if we expect consistent communication,” wrote a user identified as Cherie Erwin, referencing a competing couchsurfing website.

As the company has transitioned its focus from a desktop to mobile platform, it has also shed employees. A spokesperson told TechCrunch about 40 percent of staff had been let go, and the company was down to about 20 employees. Blogger Marian Schembari posted on her website that she along with “a chunk of staff” were laid off the morning of Oct. 10.

“I could not be more grateful to Couchsurfing. I loved every day I worked there and I will always be a Couchsurfer,” Schembari wrote. She added that she’s “back to job hunting” and “luckily, I live in the most social media friendly city.”


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  • CrankyFranky

    um – since I read that CS is considered now to be a $ billion corporation (possibly mainly due to the cashflow of Airbnb) and the Silicon Valley investment model is based on minimum investment before it can be spun off to other investors at a 5-10x return on investment – I’d guess the ‘7 million members’ is being capitalised into a dollar value for onsale to succulent investors – or should that be investing suckers …

  • Makikiguy

    You have to be a real looney to drop in on some stranger’s couch or allow some stranger to stay at your house.

  • Selling Couchsurfing wounded the community deeply. How it’s been run since, has just about killed it.

    I would like to see some real stats, like how many CSers actually stay on couches each night.