Q and A with Casey Fenton of CouchSurfing

When Casey Fenton and his crew wanted to create a real-life community from a virtual one, they founded CouchSurfing, a site devoted to creating connections the world over by offering free places to stay.

What is “CouchSurfing” and why do people do it?
The CouchSurfing Project is an experiment in creating real life community from a virtual community. People are doing it because it is increasing the number of opportunities they have while traveling. It’s about creating adventures to remember for a lifetime.

How do travelers use your site?
Generally speaking, the main idea of the website is for members to surf each other’s couches. When someone surfs a couch, they are a guest at someone’s house. The site goes deeper though. Once someone becomes a member of the this social network, they invariably become woven into the community. Members are able to make friends all over the globe. This seems to reverse the “figure out where you want to go and then find someone to surf with” model. Now people make friends all over the globe and then actually go visit them. It’s our goal to maximize the number of opportunities our members have to meet each other. We’ve kept this in mind when designing the functionality behind this website.

What types of travelers use your site?
Passionate adventurers. People who want to see far off lands from a local’s perspective. People who want to make genuine connections and/or friends for life. People who are curious about the world around themselves and don’t always care to be on a pre-packaged tour.

How did you come up with the idea for CouchSurfing?
Well, the idea solidified when founder, Casey Fenton, got a cheap ticket to Iceland for a long weekend one April. With his ticket in hand, there was one problem: He had no place to stay and no desire to sit in a hotel all weekend and play Mr. Tourist. So, he came up with the ‘brilliant’ idea of spamming over 1500 Icelandic students in Reykjavik and asking them if he could crash on one of their couches. After exchanging emails with many of the students, he had many Icelanders offering to show him ‘their’ Reykjavik. So, after spending an amazing, crazy weekend just south of the Arctic Circle, never again would he get trapped into a hotel and tourist marathon while traveling. From that point onward, it was all about crashing on exotic couches. And, thus, CouchSurfing was born.

Is CouchSurfing a non-profit company? Is it a full or part-time project? How is is funded?
The CouchSurfing Project is a not-for-profit experiment in global social networking. It was created to help the founders meet some of the world’s most interesting people. We’re thrilled that it’s helped members do the same thing. Currently it is more than a full-time project for the founders. The Project is funded by members donations.

What makes CouchSurfing different from Global Freeloaders and Hospitality Club?
While we think that they all serve their purposes, the CouchSurfing Project is a an experiment in creating offline community from a virtual community, not just a way for backpackers to find a free place to stay. More specifically, there are differences in the freshness of profiles, use of technology, and a member’s ability to display their personality via their profile. To list some major technical differences, CS allows proximity searching (you can say, “Show me every couch within 50 km of Amsterdam.” and it will find couches in other countries.), offers many security features, and allows members to associate themselves in groups with other members.

What are the best parts about CouchSurfing?
The devotion of its members to giving back to the community. Members seem to believe strongly in the cause and are willing to put in time and effort to see it succeed. There is a strong sense of community where everyone feels a part of an important experiment.

Anything else you’d like to add?
You’re welcome to become a member of the community! 🙂