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Daniel Hoffer, a current mentor at 500 Startups, stopped by the Graduate School of Business at noon hour Friday to discuss his experience as co-founder and former CEO of hospitality network CouchSurfing.
Couchsurfing allows users negotiate informal homestays with others rather than actually renting rooms. Beyond that the network also offers travelers the ability to meet locals in a new area for a variety of activities.
While Hoffer touched on transitioning from a non-profit to for-profit organization and maintaining the vision of a company, a big chunk of his conversation was devoted to the dynamics of co-founders.
CouchSurfing was dreamt up by Casey Fenton who brought Hoffer on board to deal with the business side of the process. Initially CouchSurfing operated as a nonprofit until 2011 when they converted to for-profit, accepting $7.6 million of funding from Benchmark Capital and the Omidyar Network.
According to Hoffer, Fenton was the idealist. “Thinking outside of the box wasn’t a problem for him because he didn’t even know what the box looks like,” he said. Fenton wanted CouchSurfing to stand the test of time and to become a social movement. The goal of CouchSurfing was not to make money. It was about making the world a little bit smaller and more trusting.
Hoffer, on the other hand, had always been for-profit from the very beginning. When they first started, he made sure to write up a contract between the two of them that detailed what would happen if CouchSurfing were to ever go for-profit, as he suspected it one day would.
While they had opposing views on the profit side of things, Hoffer said he and Fenton worked out well because they didn’t overlap very much. “It was like yin and yang,” he said—a healthy and productive process.
Hoffer believes having too many MBAs as co-founders is a risk because they’re all taught to think the same way. A good combination would be an MBA and an engineer, like Hoffer and Fenton.
“A co-founder relationship is like a marriage. You’re going to go through so much together,” Hoffer said. “It needs to be very strong, especially when investors get involved and things start happening.”
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