Startup culture series: At CouchSurfing, employees may take time off to travel the world

In some ways, the CouchSurfing headquarters in San Francisco is exactly what you’d expect. It’s got an engineer rocking a “don’t shave” T-shirt, a twentysomething community manager who likes to put his feet up, and a CEO who plays a round of table tennis to take the edge off a Friday afternoon.

You’ll also find the signs of a cash-flush startup: the in-house chef, the fully stocked fridge, and the enviable perks. Since the traveler network and website transitioned into a B Corp., it has attracted some heavy-duty interest from investors. As we reported last month, the company that connects travelers with strangers willing to spare their couch pulled in $15 million in a General Catalyst-led funding round.

To compete with tech companies like Google and Facebook, CouchSurfing is one of many that offers great benefits and perks to attract talent and ensure its employees stick around. During a visit to CouchSurfing’s office in San Francisco’s Design District (just west of the Mission Bay neighborhood), I got a feel for the vibe, and new chief executive Tony Espinoza gave me a sense for what it’s really like to work at his company.

Best perks?

  • Travel: Employees can take off two weeks per year (expenses paid) to stay on a stranger’s couch anywhere in the world. According to CouchSurfing, how else could you learn about the company’s value if you haven’t experienced it yourself?
  • Snacks: CouchSurfing stocks the fridge with soda and coffee, and a personal chef rings the gong whenever a healthy snack is ready. CouchSurfing has plenty of vegan and gluten-free employees, so these folk always have plenty of options. During my visit, I enjoyed mouthwatering figs wrapped in goat cheese.
  • Benefits: Employees can expect the usual benefits package, with health, vision, and dental coverage with support for spouses and dependents.
  • The “work from the couch” mentality: More often than not, staff meetings take place on one of the half-dozen comfy couches.

What’s the culture like?

  • Decor: Everywhere you look, you see postcards and pictures of CouchSurfers traveling the globe. It gives the office an exotic vibe, and you genuinely feel like you could hop a jet to Paris at a moment’s notice.
  • Comfy: A swing is in the middle of the office, as is a Ping-Pong table that isn’t gathering dust in the corner somewhere. Many of the employees walk into the office, take off their shoes, and settle in for a day of customer support, programming, or designing. And no, it doesn’t reek of smelly feet!
  • Quiet with natural light: The office is full of sunlight, and it’s large and spread over multiple floors. Employees can take frequent “work from home” days and travel during the summer, so it was less bustling than I expected for a Friday afternoon. You’ll hear talking and laughing from the couches where employees gather for impromptu meetings. But in the engineering corner, you’ll only hear tap-tap of keyboards. Esponiza told me that the offices can get much busier, but it depends on the season and time of day.
  • A light corporate touch: While CouchSurfing has conference rooms, it’s hard to imagine them being used much with the exception of the monthly board meeting. Employees are often working from home, and they have a great deal of flexibility as long as they get their work done.

Hiring?

  • You betcha! CouchSurfing has openings for engineers at a variety of levels, trust and safety officers (CouchSurfing has a full team dedicated to ensuring that you won’t be sleeping on the couch of an axe murderer), product managers, and more. Check out the full list of openings here.

UPDATE 10/5/2012: We have revised this article to more accurately define the company’s vacation policies.

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“Startup culture” is a new series that highlights what it’s really like to work at a Bay Area startup. We’ll be profiling a startup every two weeks. Please send your suggestions for the most rockin’ office spaces, startup happy hours, or company perks via email (christina@venturebeat.com) or Twitter (@chrissyfarr).