Back in high school, all the cool kids sat at a certain table during lunch and it was the hopes and dreams of many that one day they would have the opportunity for a seat at that illustrious table. Nowadays, the cool kids’ conversations are not taking place at the lunch table, but they are happening in the Clubhouse. But this Clubhouse is not an actual place… it’s an app. Clubhouse is an invitation-only social media app for iOS, that facilitates groups of people, of up to 5000, to engage in auditory conversations. But, if we’re not in high school anymore, why are we creating apps that are so exclusive? Why can’t everyone sit at the same table without having an invite? Clubhouse claims that they have remained exclusive and invite only to ensure that they are able to efficiently manage and monitor the growth of their user base and continue to gradually improve the app to support a larger audience. Essentially, they didn’t want to become overwhelmed with new users and not have the capability to service those users adequately. So, don’t feel bad if you haven’t gotten an invite into the Clubhouse yet, because Clubhouse is just making sure that they are ready for you when you do.
Clubhouse was created in the Fall of 2019 under the name “Talkshow”, but caught lightning in a bottle when it rebranded and dropped on the iOS operating system in March 2020, the same month that a global pandemic hit. While everyone sequestered inside, and was no longer gathering at the lunch table, they found a common ground at Clubhouse. By January 2021, Clubhouse’s CEO Paul Davison announced that Clubhouse’s weekly user base was around 2 million individuals, and by February 2021 the app had 8.1 million downloads.
Yesterday, Clubhouse concluded their Series C round and was valued at $4 billion. So, why is this app so popular and why is it so valuable? Within Clubhouse, users can follow other users or they can follow topics of interest. And once you’re in the Clubhouse, you then have the opportunity to join a plethora of chat rooms. These rooms could be a couple friends just talking about their days, or it could be a room full of thousands listening to a prominent figure in society. The reason so many people are enjoying this app is because they feel like they are a part of the conversation and feel a much more intimate connection to the experience, as opposed to listening to a previously recorded dialogue or reading an interview. Clubhouse also seems to have an appealing prestige to it. It has members that range from Elon Musk to Drake to high level politicians. Well known celebrities obviously attract many users to the app, but the platform that the app creates is what keep people listening. Each “room” is also temporary, so when the conversation is over, everyone is dismissed, and this temporary nature discourages “social media echo chambers” where people with similar views continuously gather to agree over and over with each other. The adaptability and flexibility of this app allows it to cater to many different users and seems to heed the words of the world-renowned philosopher and fighter Bruce Lee, “Be like water my friend…” Another aspect of Clubhouse is the networking feature. Clubhouse is great at facilitating natural and serendipitous connections between people who can help and learn from each other. The app’s rules also make sure that these conversations are not to be transcribed or recorded, which allows users to let their guard down and have relaxed and natural conversations. This is a major aspect of the app, because if users feared that the words or ideas they talked about in these “rooms”, they would not be able to be open and genuine and the app would suffer. This privacy is a double-edged sword though, as Clubhouse has run into problems with racism and misogyny amongst users, with a lack of protocols on how to handle these situations. Twitter similarly is dealing with those issues as these companies want to create an open space that encourages free speech, but when that speech becomes hurtful and hateful, something needs to be done. How Clubhouse handles these situations will help determine just how popular it gets.
Users haven’t been the only ones taking notice of Clubhouse. Other major media companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Discord, and Spotify have followed suit, and started creating similar products to compete with Clubhouse. While Clubhouse was able to create an early and large market share, the big boys are coming to play and Clubhouse must be willing to adapt and grow, in order to continue their early success. Clubhouse has been successful because they have created a platform for honest and informative conversations amongst people who can benefit from each other’s perspective. The only thing left for them to do is open the club to everyone else, because when they do this, they may grow to be the size of the companies that are about to become their competitors.