Tony Espinoza Steps Down As CEO Of Couchsurfing, Jennifer Billock Steps Up As Interim As Startup Lays Off Staff, “Doubles Down” On Mobile

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Big changes at Couchsurfing, the social travel site that lets people connect and crash on their sofas and spare beds when visiting each other’s towns. Today, CEO Tony Espinoza announced that he is stepping down as the company lays off staff and refocuses on mobile. In the interim, Jen Billock, who currently is listed as director of member experience at Couchsurfing on her LinkedIn profile, will become the interim CEO as the company embarks on the search for a permanent replacement.

“The past 18 months serving as CEO have yielded some of the most meaningful and powerful experiences of my 20 year career building technology. Today as I step down as CEO I’m proud that Couchsurfing is poised for the future with a great team, substantial funding, strong investor backing, and a passionate, growing community,” Espinoza writes in an email. The full text is below.

The startup, backed by General Catalyst, Benchmark, Menlo Ventures, Point Nine and Omidyar Network, is now going to focus on mobile — and we have heard that this is where all new hires will happen. The company up to now had raised some $22.6 million, with the last $15 million in August 2012.

As for the layoffs, it’s unclear still just how many there have been. A spokesperson tells us that the full number is about 40% of staff, with now 20+ people working at the company.

Earlier, a tipster had told us the proportion was 50% of staff. Another blogging about her layoff just calls it “a bunch.” We’ve reached out to Espinoza and Couchsurfing to confirm the numbers. A little more unconfirmed detail: part of the layoffs, apparently, have resulted in deep cuts to its engineering team, with the entire engineering team let go “except for a 3 person skeleton support crew,” according to a tipster.

Our tipster — again, this is unconfirmed — says that the reason for the layoffs and other changes is because the company has seen an $800,000 monthly burn rate. But we understand the company has a long cash runway at the moment to figure out ways to turn that around (staff cuts help, too).

We have the two internal emails sent to staff below about the management changes announced today, although the layoffs really started to take hold last week as we understand it.

These are not the first problems at the company, which had faced some pretty arch user complaints and privacy investigations.

More to come.

Tony Espinoza wrote:
Dear Couchsurfing –

Couchsurfing began as a global movement, and I am honored to have been part of its transformation into a mission-driven startup with a deep sense of purpose. The past 18 months serving as CEO have yielded some of the most meaningful and powerful experiences of my 20 year career building technology. Today as I step down as CEO I’m proud that Couchsurfing is poised for the future with a great team, substantial funding, strong investor backing, and a passionate, growing community.

I remain in awe of the CS community which has grown in every dimension, doubling in size to 7M members just since I joined the company. Along the way we raised significant financial support from investors who are aligned with the CS mission to make the world better through travel and travel richer through connection.

Late last year, I realized Couchsurfing’s rapid organic growth required that we crystalize and strengthen our core values — the foundation for everything we do. It was at this time that I reached out to long-time colleague, Jen Billock, whose proven track record as a compassionate startup leader made her the perfect candidate to focus on our community and transform the way we work from the inside out. She immediately championed the voice of the community and led key initiatives such as the new Ambassador program and an integrated approach to all communication channels, building the scaffolding for Couchsurfing’s evolving brand and member experience.

The board of directors and I are pleased to announce Jen’s appointment as interim CEO. The board will soon commence a search for a long-term CEO, and Jen has graciously accepted our request for her to step in at this important moment. We have a great deal of faith in her ability to lead the company through the next phase. I look forward to continuing to partner with her in the coming months as we double down on mobile and continue driving Couchsurfing’s mission.

Please join me in welcoming Jen to her new role!

And Jen Billock’s first email:

From: Jen Billock
Subject: Re: The Next Chapter

Thank you, Tony. I’m deeply grateful to have spent the past 11 months working so closely with you, and look forward to our continued work together.

And to the rest of the Couchsurfing team…

I came here to Couchsurfing to work with Tony. It’s not every day that one gets to work for a trusted friend and mentor. I am grateful to Tony for that fateful text message (I leapt at the opportunity via text before even speaking to him) because I landed a job that I knew I would LOVE, and it’s changed my life for the better in countless ways. I’m most grateful for being given the opportunity to work with such a talented team in service of Couchsurfing’s inspiring and passionate community. Working with a stellar team is what gets me up in the morning. And to be able to do that for Couchsurfing and its community has been both amazing and humbling. There is nothing in the world that I value more than the power of human connection, and, like a good tech start-up junkie, I believe in the power of technology to facilitate that and to make the world a more open place. Couchsurfing does that in profound ways. I have the pleasure of seeing it every day. Under Tony’s leadership, the global CS community has doubled, which has been incredible to watch.

I’m honored to be offered this opportunity, and to shepherd Couchsurfing, along with all of you, as the board conducts a search for a long-term CEO. Thanks for being here with me. I look forward to spending time with you all in the next few days as we continue to build momentum. My door is always open, and I’m always happy to talk, day or night.

Jen

[Photos: Flickr/Kmeron for LeWeb, LinkedIn]