Couchsurfing™ is explicitly for-profit, prioritizing returns for investors over users and communities. At a fundamental level, the act of couch surfing cannot be monetized, and so profit can only be made by compromising the service. The mismatched incentives are the heart of the problems with Couchsurfing™.
Couchers.org is structured as a non-profit, freeing the platform from a need to turn a profit for investors. The priorities will be the users and community, and we have future-proofing to stop anyone ever from trying to cash in. The incentives of the platform and the user base must be aligned.
Continue reading for details on the Couchers.org non-profit model plan.
Our full Non-Profit plan
Building this next iteration of couch surfing, we can—and have to—choose a better business model that guarantees the long-term future of the shared resource. Trying to make a profit out of couch surfing is a bad idea because it undermines the societal good by distorting the incentives and because the experience of couch surfing is fundamentally non-monetizable. The only sensible business model is to structure it as a non-profit.
This means that we will take no capital investment, so there is no need to divert funds or incentivize profit for investors at any point down the line.
Future-proofing the organization
Couchsurfing™ started as a non-profit then transitioned to a for-profit company; this was the underlying cause of their incentive issues. We need to make sure this never happens to Couchers.org. We, of course, have no intention of selling out to make a buck. However, we must put in safeguards to make sure that:
- The couch surfing community is convinced by our mission, given they've been burnt before; and
- No one who ever is in control of Couchers.org in the future ever does anything nefarious, in the case that different people are running the team.
To ensure we remain a non-profit in perpetuity, we have a three-pronged approach based on legal, community, and technological methods. Each method should be sufficient on its own to ensure this, and the combination of them, we hope, is a believable and thought out guarantee.
Couchers.org is the sole project of the Couchers.org Foundation. This is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee for charitable purposes based in New South Wales, Australia.
Critically, the constitution provides not-for-profit clauses that prevent the company from selling surplus assets to a for-profit company, and from changing its structure to one that is not a not-for-profit.
As part of our community-centred plan, volunteers will be critical to the day-to-day functioning of the platform, such as through distributed moderation, as well as in advancing the platform in the core contributor team.
The idea here is that if Couchers.org ever stopped acting in the community's interest, and lost support of its volunteers, the platform would collapse. Further, many countries have labor laws that prevent volunteer work at for-profit companies. This would make the process of conversion into a for-profit extremely unprofitable, as the labor required to provide equal levels of service would be too great.
Having an open code source means that if anyone were to make the company for-profit, members of the community could quickly and easily make a new platform with a fork in the original code, and then rapidly implement their own platform and outcompete the original without all the downside of profit-seeking.
Couchers.org will primarily be funded through donations. From large organizations like Wikimedia to smaller models like YouTube content creators earning money through Patreon, there is ample proof that donations can be a sustainable and scalable revenue model. People are extremely willing to donate for services and content that they themselves appreciate, and want to see thrive for other people's sake.
Most importantly, a donation model ensures that the Couchers.org Foundation's incentives are aligned with that of the community. By relying on donations, the organization does still want to grow the user base to increase funding, but cannot do that at the expense of the experience of the already present users.