Visiting the Sea Turtles on Oahu while Couchsurfing

My time is up at Couchsurfing

In the interest of being straight and to the point: I was laid off from my position of Community Manager at Couchsurfing last Tuesday and I’m now looking for a new full-time job. The news has left me with sadness, as well as a lot to reflect on and think about as I begin the hunt for a new job, and a new company.

All in all, I was at Couchsurfing for roughly eight months in my role as Community Manager. During that time I learned a great deal, as the CS community is a very unique beast of 6 million members in over 100,000 cities. It’s a community that continues to grow by more than 50,000 users a week, despite the company running no advertising or having any marketing spend. It’s a company that is trying to reinvent its technical foundation, while already running at full-scale and getting daily international and national news coverage on outlets like The Today Show and AP Newswire (despite zero PR outreach). Couchsurfing is a social phenomenon that is much larger than the service and company itself, with a very difficult and storied past.

I had to learn a lot because of Couchsurfing’s storied past and I was challenged a great deal because of it. It was the biggest community I’ve ever worked with so directly, resulting in memes, jokes and sometimes mean-spirited attacks on me. Sometimes the jokes or attacks hurt, but unfortunately I feel those experiences are the standard rite of passage in any Community Manager’s career.Since I came into the community as an outsider, I’m coming away with a huge appreciation and love for what the CS community does in the world.

The company recently decided to change its approach to community, with more of a focus on community managers that have been sourced from the community. Due to my lack of history in the nearly 10 year old community, I had to be laid off.

When I decided to take the job at Couchsurfing, I didn’t realize that I was stumbling into the “Sharing Economy”, the next big silicon valley trend that everyone from the New York Times to Techcrunch are covering on an almost daily basis. In the past year everyone has been talking about how startups like Airbnb, Lyft, Uber, Sidecar, Postmates, TaskRabbit, Couchsurfing and others are disrupting markets and changing economies around the world. The sharing economy has basically connected users to other users, enabling them to share goods or services, with the goal of maximizing time, money or sharing in a unique experience.

From a community perspective, the sharing economy has been a very interesting dynamic for me to wrap my head around. In this dynamic, the companies only create a service or product that connects users to each other, where the users have a huge amount of control over another user’s experience. At Couchsurfing we would talk about how our goal is to get you off of our website or app as soon as possible, which is exactly the opposite of most internet companies which derive their funding from advertising/CPM based models. With the sharing economy, oftentimes the goal is to get a user to experience something in real life with another person, creating the opportunity for a magical and sometimes life changing experience.

It’s really fucking cool and really hard to do at such a massive scale.

Luckily I was able to have some of those experiences while I was at Couchsurfing. I got to go to Hawaii for a week and stay with a local on Kauai, find endangered Sea Turtles on Oahu, and I hosted complete strangers in my livingroom. Through Couchsurfing I learned to go outside of my comfort zone more, to trust others more, and it taught me to live in the moment more while I’m traveling.

My experience working at Couchsurfing has left me with a number of different takeaway lessons. I’m very thankful for many aspects of the company’s culture, including the very open and direct CEO, whom I’ve always found very easy to talk to during the good times or bad. There are a lot of special people at Couchsurfing that I consider friends and I already miss seeing them every day.

Lastly, I’m glad that I decided to get out of my comfort zones of video games or music. It was a really nice challenge, and proved to myself that community management skills translate to many different industries. As I start my new job search, I’m open to a number of different types of roles and opportunities. I think I’ll probably write another post about the self examination and career pondering that I’ve been going through, but for now I’ll just say that I’m still very much interested in Community Management roles.

If you hear of any Community Manager roles in San Francisco or Seattle, please contact me on twitter or linkedin.

Like what you read? Give Sam Houston a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.