The Evolution of a Sharing Economy Platform: A Case Study About CouchSurfing

Georgios Lagoudakos

Student thesis: Master thesis


The thesis aims to explore the evolution of CouchSurfing (CS), a pioneer in the Sharing Economy, in the process of building a sustainable business model after its change of legal status to for-profit corporation. For this reason, the strategic decisions of the company, over the years, are examined by analyzing the company’s events through different sources of empirical data. An interpretation of the findings is conducted by making use of Platform Economics theories, therefore an understanding of the CS’s course and goals, since its incorporation, is created. The thesis examines the significant changes in operation and platform which have not yet been examined from a business perspective by scholars. Moreover, CouchSurfing is a unique and complex case for examination due to the fact that it was operating as non-profit for almost a decade and had already approached a significant number of users and built a community of dedicated members before its incorporation. Such members reacted negatively in several management decisions about organizational and platform issues. Basically, they organized protesting events against company’s decisions and this research aims to explore the reasons behind their dissatisfaction as well. Moreover, users’ opinion as it was expressed in CouchSurfing’s official Facebook page is analyzed by extracting users’ comments on company’s Facebook posts related to the examined events and by conducting a sentiment analysis. In this way, the creation of a holistic picture of the situation and the events surrounding CouchSurfing is implemented. The thesis’s findings indicate that CS had a turbulent evolution and faced several strategic challenges in the process of building a sustainable business model. However, the company addressed these challenges by shifting its strategic direction and implementing several changes in its operation and platform over the years. Even though dedicated members and volunteers from the non-profit era protested against company’s decisions several times, the thesis’s findings indicate that they didn’t affect the evolution of the company and the user base continued growing. CouchSurfing achieved to eliminate complaints after placing in an executive position a person close to the community and created new revenue streams after the release of entirely new and technologically advanced platform.

EducationsMSc in Business Administration and Information Systems, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2016
Number of pages124
SupervisorsIoanna Constantiou