Building this next iteration of couch surfing, we can — and have to — choose something better 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 sense here is to structure it as a non-profit. However, we still need to deal with a revenue model to cover the costs of hosting and other expenses.
There are advantages in a non-profit model for keeping costs down. Most importantly, we take no capital investment so there is no need to create profit to channel to investors at any point down the line. We will also be able to attract volunteers who believe in the societal benefit of this project more easily.
We are actively exploring the right legal and community structure to make this work.
Any decisions or subsequent changes to the revenue model will be made in full consultation with the community. There are many different revenue models that we can adopt. Here are some potential ideas.
As a non-profit, we hope to attract donations from users of this platform. Many users of Couchsurfing™ have expressed that they would have been happy to pay donations rather than the forced contributions. Donations as a source of income would incentivize the platform into making a better experience for its users, as it relies on optimizing members' experience Furthermore, we believe that letting people pay what they want may allow some to make larger contributions, unlikely under a fixed price scheme.
We may be able to find organizations or government programs that offer grants to non-profits.
We can run ads on the website and phone apps. It would provide a predictable, reliable income stream. However, it interferes to some degree with the usability of the service as ads are annoying, and companies trying to get users' money runs against the ethos of couch surfing.
A frequently raised opinion is the idea of running the platform as a co-op. Users could voluntarily buy ownership of the platform as a one-off or subscription payment, allowing them to vote on decisions or leaders. You can see the enthusiasm for this idea on the comments of Couchsurfing™'s official response to the outrage over the forced contributions. The platform would be entirely community-owned, and so the incentives would run in direct line with the community. Potential downsides are that it may be hard to predict the dynamics of widespread ownership (for instance an undesired political element may evolve), and it may disadvantage users or communities from countries with less disposable income.