Suggestion to not build a 100% free website

Could I please suggest to the people running this project - don’t waste our time and yours trying to build something that is 100% free for everyone. We’ve been down this 100% Free route many times in the past and it has never worked. when you factor in “TIME” then it’s not worth it.

None of us are going to live forever - Time is more valuable than money - the only way you can build a 100% Free website and App without sponsorship is either you are independently wealthy or by working on this project part time whilst you have a regular day jobs to pay for your rent, food, etc

This means you have less TIME to work on this project.

We’ve seen the example set by BeWelcome & Trustroots - they’ve been around for so many years and they have so few members signed up to the system. To get a viable system you need a minimum number of members around the world. Building a decent system takes time and you gain time by having people working on this project full time … that is only possible if you have a certain income to pay for staff, servers, etc.

Rather then say to us all - we’ll make everything 100% Free for everyone - forever - say we’ll try to make a website that we aim to charge everyone no more than $20 a year to use. That $20 will unable us to hire FULL TIME members of staff who will work on this project at least 5 days a week as their full time jobs. So we can bring to you a quality system, so we can add new features unlike Couchsurfing which hasn’t seen a single upgrade in over 5 years.

The other problem with 100% free systems is it attracts freeloaders and doesn’t deter potential thieves, con artists, etc

For people in poorer countries give them a way they can earn credits towards their yearly fee or allow people in western countries to help sponsor their yearly $20 fee - but this 100% free route never worked in the past - so why do you think it will work again with you?

Think about Time more than money.

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Go for quality members than quantity - Couchsurfing has 17 Million members - but we all know the vast majority are low quality members. Most of whom haven’t bothered to even fill out their profiles. Look at the CEO of Couchsurfing’s profile - he’s barely filled out his own profile and not even logged into the system for over 2 months.

Imagine having 1 million high quality members willing to pay $20 a year - that gives you a $20 million dollar budget with which to hire wonderful people who want to work on this project full time not just because it pays their bills but because they love the idea of bringing people together from all over the world.

It gives you a budget to build apps, add new features, organise events around the world, etc

Please don’t make the same mistake Couchsurfing made by trying to be 100% Free - it didn’t work and in the end they sold out. Instead of making something 100% free - make something 100% sustainable so there’s no need to sell out, put loads of adverts all over the screen or sell people’s data.

Hey @archer, it might surprise you how much free time some of us have had due to the unique circumstances during the pandemic. Though, you’re of course right to say none of us are going to live forever and circumstances will be changing anyways. Still, there is a conscious effort with the building of to take advantage of the time we have now to make it sustainable when we have less time to dedicate to it and as time goes on needs less and less attention from a singular group.

Imagine having 1 million high quality members willing to pay $20 a year - that gives you a $20 million dollar budget with which to hire wonderful people who want to work on this project full time not just because it pays their bills but because they love the idea of bringing people together from all over the world.

Are you suggesting I’m not a wonderful person who wants to work on this project full-time for no monetary gain and I love the idea of bringing people together from all over the world?! :slight_smile:

Having a budget of $20 million for volunteers/organisers would indeed be great, but I don’t necessarily think money makes hospex better. It’s the users - mainly hosts and organisers - who make the platform great, at the end of the day, for no monetary gain whatsoever. They’re doing the real “work.” In my view, all they need is a functional tool to do that work with.

I think Couchsurfing’s downfall started with a lack of vision at the beginning. They created a platform that proved to be impossible for successive generations to work with. Lean operations and thoughtful, forward-thinking design would have made a huge difference. I seem to remember complaints from people who left CSHQ about how no one could figure out or keep up with the outdated programming on the site, which led to the Frankenstein website/app that you see today.


Well that’s great if you have a lot of time “now” to volunteer - but what about 5 or 10 years from now?
Are you going to be around then? Maybe you’ll get married and have children, etc and get too busy to volunteer? We all have life events happening to us that means we cannot be volunteers forever. The army of volunteer model is not sustainable as shown by Couchsurfing’s history.

How are you going to pay for the cost of running the website year after year? Couchsurfing was paying $40,000 a month to Google just to use Google Maps. What is your solution to location data that is free or super cheap?

I actually know a lot about how Couchsurfing was run in the early days before they sold out because I know several of the founders of CS personally and was also a long time volunteer for them working behind the scenes.

We used to get people come volunteer as computer programmers for 1 to 4 months at a time and then they’d have to leave because they needed to get a job to top up their savings. So what would happen?

Each person writes code in a different way. The computer code behind the website became a mess and the website would constantly crash and slow down.

New volunteers could barely figure out the previous volunteer’s way of writing code.

So many people are obsessed with the idea it must be free yet they never acknowledge the downside of “Free”

Everything in life has a cost attached to it - usually that cost is money or time. Money you can make more of, time you can never make more of.

There is also a huge safety benefit in having a small yearly fee. It would help reduce the number of people making multiple profiles, or fake profiles.

I also personally know and lived people that worked on the Safety Team at CS - they were up every night until 3am, 4am, 5am dealing with member safety issues from all over the world - The other people that lived in the same house as them would have to forced them to get some sleep.

so I have a lot of behind the scenes knowledge of some of the things that goes on that the general public don’t. Including what happens when a Couchsurfer dies during a CS event. Are you prepared to deal with all of that responsibility as a part time volunteer?

Do a search for the words Couchsurfing AND Rape and Google brings back over 188,000 results - It’s unlikely that’s the number of people that have been raped by someone they met through Couchsurfing - but it gives you a good idea of the dark side of websites like CS. Go read up on the stories that rape victims have posted online about being raped by someone they met via Couchsurfing.

If someone asked me if I would be willing to contribute $20 a year to create a website that helps prevent even one rape - then yes I think it’s well worth it.

Are you actually prepared to be available as a volunteer along with all your friends to make yourselves available at 3am when the call comes in that a member of your website has been raped or killed? Because I’ve seen this first hand and what people go through and how stressful it is to deal with such issues. You are bringing total strangers together in real life and most of the time it works out, but sometimes very bad things happen. Are you prepared for that?

What you have described is a company that is run extremely ineffectively, and so ran into many unnecessary problems.

There are free services. Have you ever wondered how is run?

So they had no code review process? This is not a problem in a well managed code-base.

They had a poor verification system that didn’t prevent multiple profiles.

They didn’t have distributed moderation. They had a poorly-run centralised service that was never going to be able to deal with the scale of CS.

They never really had safety features in place to try and reduce this (ties back into verification).

Look, I understand your point. But most of these issues can at least be handled by smarter solutions, and thinking about these problems properly from the get-go. These problems don’t just go away by chucking money at them either.

We have a HUGE advantage here that couch-surfing platforms have been around for 20 years or so. We have a lot of experience to learn from, this isn’t the wild west anymore.

This project is WAY cheaper than you’re likely imagining it is, because CS ran way over-budget because it was poorly built and thought out. Likely our donations will far exceed the running costs, and that extra money can be used where necessary to fund anything else that’s needed to avert these problems. That being said, none of these problems will be able to be fixed with money.


@archer it would be extremely useful if you wrote out and sent me a list of more problems like this that they encountered. Together we can find ways to solve these problems.

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Thank you so much for being here. Your concerns are valid and we really are doing as much as we can to make sure that the series of failures that happened to other platforms or is bottlenecking progress for other projects doesn’t happen to us. I get what you’re saying about how lives change and volunteers may come and go. So yes, to answer your question, not only are we prepared to deal with change, but I think even better we are working to prevent as many problems that would occur because of it.

People get raped in 5 star hotels. Money doesn’t mean safety when we are talking about this topic. Being safe from rape can only be possible with a strong and tight net community, and no money can buy that.

I may disagree with the guys here that starting without a userbase is a great idea, but I do awknoledge they are putting a lot of thought on it, and trying to came up with solutions for long time problems, and they are having some great ideas, I don’t think they should be dismissed as if they were just jumping into it without considering things first. :slight_smile:

I do not agree at all with a paid service. They camnoffer optional subscription (partreon has shown that it is possible to get people to subscribe easily to regular donations) but a mandatory fee changes completely the dynamics between hosts amd guests and the spirit.


CS was 100% free. It worked because enthusiastic members did donate. The last financial figures published by Fenton around 2009/2010 were showing in the 1 million overhead.

a hospex is a listing of people offering accomodation and of people looking for accomodation.

the switch into “social networking” mobile phone app thingies was just the business ideology of 2011 Couchsurfing International Inc. who dud believe, despite being warned, that they could turn into some kind of Facebook competitor.

a regular BBS system is all needed for a hospex.

events are typically self-organized by local enthusiasts. That what indeed made CS before 2011.

Fenton and Hoffer in 2011 went around doing a huge and expense PR stunt, repeating that they weren’t selling because money. As said, CS was making money back then.

They sold because they believed it was going to be a huge thing and they were going to be the next Zuckerberg.

the usual “there’s nothing like a free lunch” argument. The point with it is that then logically, there’s no point to accomodate people for free, it takes some of my precious time and time is money. CS wants to generate fortunes by making people invest their time in hosting for free travelers.


Is going to be entirely free, or will there be a fairly obvious nudge for members to make a donation?

There will definitely be a way to donate, but I’m not sure how obvious it will be :slight_smile: would you prefer it more obvious or less so?

I’m sure there would be some things that would be better if had the money to spend, so a donation is a very good way of raising funds.
People working hard to raise this platform are incredible by doing it voluntarily, but as the original poster of this thread said it something that shouldn’t be relied upon.
So that it doesn’t degenerate into something like the sex romps going on the the houses of the Australian parliament right now, I’d like to see a dedicated safety team that instantly responds and co-ordinates safety issues as soon as they arise and this could be just one of the things needs to pay for,

There are definitely good ways to spend money if we had it, including a full-time safety team. However I don’t think we should rule out donations as a reliable source of income if executed well. Wikipedia works in this way, and many people are happy to voluntarily subscribe to making donations for things they enjoy, which is how a lot of youtubers earn money through Patreon.

One of the great things about a donation model is that it makes sure that the monetary incentives are in the right place. If we make payment on entry the revenue model, then we become incentivized to draw many more people into the platform. However if we use donations, then yes we want more people on the platform but it can’t be at the expense of the userbase that are already there and donating. I think this is the right place to start before looking at other ways we can do things like in-app perks. What we absolutely want to avoid is limiting key features as a way to get revenue, like CS did with capping requests to 10 a week unless you pay.


A small suggestion.

I would suggest to make the website a freemium model. 90% of the website features will be available for all users and 10% extra for those who need those extra features. I’m also not asking to remove donations.

Some premium feature can include:
Dark Mode.
Public Trip (As mentioned by Saunter in Profiles for Users Thread )
VIP Badges
Direct patreon link for hosts


Agree. So maybe we should be more conservative about the features that are released in the beta version of the platform, so that there is a “reserve” of premium features to introduce and charge for later.

I don’t think Dark Mode should be a premium feature, btw but that’s just me.

I think a freemium model has a big downside in that it introduces a constant motive to distinguish website features and address the userbase as two different groups. I think we will stay more focused if we always think of one platform and one main userbase we want to provide a great service for. There’s certainly creative ways to raise money and receive donations that can stay entirely independent from the core product we offer. If you have ideas in this direction, we actually have a dedicated topic on donations and how to best raise money already: Do you think asking for any kind of donation is a good idea?

About the website being built and run for free, I’d like to stress the point that had been raised by @Emily in her first response: it entirely depends on the dedication and work of hosts, organisers and volunteers. The discussion about raising money easily suggests that this work is something we can get for free, just because no exchange of money is involved there. But it is actually the central contribution and donation we depend on. When thinking about about what makes the platform sustainable and self-supporting, attracting these contributions is the most important aspect and question to me.

Thinking about it, I’ll actually open a dedicated topic on this: Which tools and processes can we offer, that make it easy and rewarding to be an active contributor? If you have thoughts on this or experienced a good model already, please join the conversation there :slight_smile:

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So 7 months have gone by since this thread was posted - what’s the progress?

Why has things not moved at a faster pace - is it perhaps because those people that said they would make this happen can only do little bits of work on the side whilst they need to earn money from a full time job?

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Progress is good, you’ll see an update to the app in the coming weeks, followed by a proper beta release soon after.

Your point is correct, yes. Things would be faster if we had full-time staff. I really do appreciate your points but we are committed to being a free service, and there are other ways we will be able to generate revenue that won’t create a barrier to entry. Even if it wasn’t free, the site is currently non-monetizable (we provide no service until after it’s built).

I promise things are trucking along nicely thanks to a lot of hard-working volunteers, and I hope you’ll be suitably impressed by what can be done by volunteers in less than a year.


Hi there!
Im a new user since my membership on CS was removed because I didn’t want to pay for the usage there. I don’t mind ads. I don’t mind donations. But I DO mind paying fees on sites like these that pretty much depend on members like myself sharing my house for free to others. It just doesn’t make sense. I would rather have a slow building site (because let’s face it: If it ain’t broke it doesn’t need fixing. Personally I prefered CS first versions of the sites towards the later versions of the site) to a fast building one.

I know for a fact that other “good” members of CS has joined here recently. And I will ask more to join too and let’s see where all this is going. The way I see it what you should mostly worry about is being sued by CS for being too similar to their site.


I totally agree.