There have been countless attempts at hospitality exchange networks (I’ve written about many of them here). Couchsurfing is certainly the largest, but far from the only.
Why have so few of them stood the test of time?
The traveler side of hospitality exchange is obvious. No one has ever questioned whether there is demand for free or cheap places to stay with locals. If there is a cheaper way to travel than AirBnB (there is), people will no doubt do it (they do, to the tune of 30%-40% of all trips being friend/family stays).
Are there enough hosts to fulfill the virtually unlimited demand for free places to stay? That’s a very legitimate question.
Horizon has been on the App Store for 11 months (launched in mid March 2015). Our biggest learning is no urgency exists on the host side of the market. It’s now very, very clear why it took Couchsurfing a decade to reach 10 million members.
The reality is the way the real world works (answer a text, email, or phone call every few weeks) is perfectly fine with the majority of hosts. It’s true virtually everyone in the world is willing to host, but only when specifically asked by someone in their trusted network — and then only if they are in town, have space for others to sleep, and are without other plans during that time period.
It’s safe to say no hosts are pounding down our door trying to solve the problem of “help me host more people for free”.
It probably comes as no surprise to you that marketplaces in which only one side of the market cares about solving the problem (or even thinks there is a problem at all) are slow growth businesses. How are we going to counter the realization we’ve been focused on a one sided incentive marketplace? Stay tuned, we have some product changes in the works to share soon.
(PS: there may or may not be a hint to future product changes in our web app)