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Riccardo G.’s profile on Couch Surfing.com, the website that partners intrepid wanderers with willing hosts, notes that he lives in the “best neighborhood to go out and have drinks,” that he offers a “cozy/clean/nice sofa/couch” and that he’ll even let you bring your “small dog, if you just can’t live without him.” He describes himself as “amazing, outgoing, funny, smart” and says his interests include friends, eating, drinking, the gym and puppies.His photos show the good-humored Latin American native — dark, handsome, and fit — in exotic destinations around the world, from Cairo to Capri.
(Riccardo and other Couchsurfing users quoted in this article asked to be identified by pseudonyms.) On the business front, the crowdsourced hospitality site has been experiencing a rough patch lately.
After a controversial transition to a for-profit model in 2011, which brought $22 million in funding in the past two years, growing pains have set in.
In October, layoffs claimed an estimated 40 percent of the staff, and CEO Tony Espinoza announced his departure — giving an opening to competitors like Be Welcome and Hospitality Club.
Although the company has initiated a doubling down on mobile, the experience of users like Riccardo might suggest another path to profitability. The almost decade-old Couchsurfing, which is available in 100,000 cities across the globe, is becoming the go-to hookup app for a certain class of young world travelers.
“My first Couchsurfing hookup happened when I was staying with my friend in Miami,” Riccardo recalls. Months later Riccardo got a phone call from the same girl, asking if she could stay at his place in New York City. “I never talked to her again,” he admits, adding, “I mean, we’re friends on Facebook.” Couchsurfing was born after a budget-conscious traveler named Casey Fenton sent out a mass request for accommodations in Iceland and received 50 invitations from students with a free spare futon.
“He has a studio and was hosting two girls from France.” He slept on an inflatable air mattress with one girl, while his friend shared his bed with the other. Fenton soon realized people all over the world might not mind sharing their extra space gratis while making new friends in the process.
Today, each of the site’s 7 million members has a unique profile which reads like a personal ad, highlighting interests, locations traveled, details about their accommodations and, most important, references.
Bloggers like Maverick Traveler will help you spot the “8 Signs of a Slutty Couch Surfer Girl” by decoding her profile, and female-centric advice site You Queen has even offered tips on “How to Use Couch Surfing as a Dating Site and Get Away with It.” Meanwhile, a site called Couch Bangs.com, which declares that “Couchsurfing isn’t just for Couchsurfing,” offers a forum for proud couch-cuddlers to share their experiences via short posts with titles like “French Girl in Istanbul” and “Brazilian Girl in New York.” Couch Surfing’s Community Guidelines explicitly warn against contacting other members for dating, noting, “we will consider this harassment” — albeit without stipulating what the penalties are for violating this rule.
In an email interview, the site’s interim CEO Jen Billock told Business Insider that “members are ...