The audio-based social network announced on Sunday in a town hall it would be rolling out to Android users worldwide by Friday afternoon, May 21. In a Twitter post, Clubhouse said that it would start its expansion with Japan, Brazil, and Russia on Tuesday. The company said it would add availability in other countries throughout the week, specifying that it would launch in Nigeria and India on Friday morning.
Clubhouse told Gizmodo on Sunday that it had begun its first wave of the Android beta rollout in the U.S. last week. In the end, the company also ended up launching its app in New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and the UK. Clubhouse said the app is still invitation-only, but that people can download the app on the Play Store, and friends on the app may invite them in.
Besides announcing its worldwide expansion on Android, Clubhouse said it was working on feature parity in Android and iOS. TechCrunch points out that Clubhouse’s Android app still lacks several features offered on iOS. During last week’s Android launch, the outlet stated, users couldn’t follow a topic, create or manage a club, link their social profiles, make payments, or change their profile name.
While Clubhouse’s expansion on Android was expected, and some might say overdue, the app might be hoping that rolling out to more devices will allow it to recover its lost steam. Since its iOS launch last year, the app has seen explosive growth, attracting tech billionaires like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
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The shininess around Clubhouse recently began to taper off, though. According to the analytics firm SensorTower, Clubhouse had 2 million downloads in January and then jumped to more than 9.5 million in February. Downloads dipped in March to 2.7 million and then again in April, when they dropped to below a million.
The reasons for Clubhouse’s rollercoaster of growth over these past few months are still up in the air. Some say that the app became a success because it launched at the beginning of the pandemic, a time when so many of us were stuck inside and starved for human connection. Today, the world is different. Things are opening back up again. Vaccinated people are taking off their masks and going outside, so the idea of chatting on an audio-only platform may just not hold the same appeal.
The social app landscape is different as well because users have more options. Big Tech’s social apps are all copying Clubhouse’s format. Instagram, for instance, has given users the option to turn off their audio or video when using Instagram Live. Twitter has launched Spaces, which allows users to join virtual rooms and have real-time audio conversations with others. Facebook is also working on its own version of Clubhouse, as are LinkedIn, Spotify, and Slack, just to name a few.
It’s unclear whether Clubhouse’s global rollout to Android will save it from becoming a passing fad, but we’ll find out soon.
Good news: The audio-based social network Clubhouse is finally bringing its app to Android after more than a year of iOS exclusivity, the company announced Sunday. Bad news: The beta is only available for U.S. users, and, just as with Clubhouse’s iOS version, it remains invite-only for now. So not just anyone can sign up and join in the app’s audio-only chatrooms.
Downloads of the app have reportedly been plummeting in recent months, so it’s likely Clubhouse hopes that welcoming users on the largest smartphone OS in the world users will save it from spiraling further. The app surpassed 9.5 million downloads in February but dipped to about 2.7 million in March and fell to just 900,000 in April, according to the analytics firm Sensor Tower.
In a Sunday blog post, Clubhouse said it plans to gradually roll out the Android version to other English-speaking markets and then the rest of the world. For those outside the U.S., you can pre-register for access on the Clubhouse page in the Google Play store to be alerted once the app becomes available near you.
“Our plan over the next few weeks is to collect feedback from the community, fix any issues we see and work to add a few final features like payments and club creation before rolling it out more broadly,” the company said.
Over the summer, Clubhouse also plans to welcome millions of iOS users who have been stuck on the iOS waitlist as it improves the app’s infrastructure, which includes expanding language support and adding more accessibility features.
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Clubhouse’s download rates could be declining for any number of reasons. Some experts have theorized that the audio-only social media craze may have been a pandemic-era fad that helped people feel connected while stuck in their homes. With vaccines rolling out and many areas across the U.S. opening up again, it could be that people are simply connecting in person more these days, leaving Clubhouse in the dust. It’s also possible that interest is waning because every other tech giant has either rolled out or is cooking up a copycat app to get in on the social audio hype train.
Another possible factor: Two high-profile security snafus hit the company in February amid a flood of hype and celebrity sign-ups, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. In Sunday’s blog post, Clubhouse acknowledged that it has struggled to keep up with its platform’s ballooning growth earlier this year.
“Earlier this year, Clubhouse started growing very quickly, as people all over the world began inviting their friends faster than we had ever expected. This had its downsides, as the load stressed our systems—causing widespread server outages and notification failures, and surpassing the limits of our early discovery algorithms. It made us shift our focus to hiring, fixing, and company building, rather than the community meetups and product features that we normally like to focus on.”
Clubhouse is increasingly looking like the flash in the pan experts suspected it might be, but who knows, maybe this much-anticipated launch on Android will turn things around. We’ll have to wait and see.
Clubhouse—the company that was making headlines just a few months back for drawing major celebrities (and Elon Musk)—seems to have reached a tipping point. In April, the app reached a grand total of 922,000 downloads, new research found, a sharp downturn after bringing in millions of new users just a month earlier.
These numbers come from the analytics firm SensorTower, which had previously pointed out that the app’s been on a downward slope for months. In January, Clubhouse hit 2 million downloads. In February, the app shot past 9.5 million downloads but dipped back down to about 2.7 million in March, according to the firm’s count. Now it’s fallen short of a million downloads per month for April, a low that we haven’t seen since December of last year.
There are all sorts of reasons those numbers might be on the decline. Some have theorized that the audio-only app, which remains exclusively for iOS, was a smash hit over the pandemic simply because so many of us were starved for conversation with other people. With vaccination numbers skyrocketing across the U.S., and people actually beginning to leave their houses for the first time in god-knows-how-long, there’s a chance that Clubhouse is simply a pandemic-era fad. There’s also the fact that high-profile competitors like Facebook, Twitter, and Spotify have collectively jumped onto the social audio train in an attempt to court Clubhouse’s user base. On Monday, for example, Twitter formally rolled out its own Clubhouse competitor, Spaces, to all Android and iOS users who have 600 followers or more.
Clubhouse, in the meantime, has been working on courting those users back. The company announced on Sunday that the company is testing an Android version of its app with a handful of “friendly testers” outside the company. Even though there isn’t a way for the broader Android community to sign up for this app right now, Clubhouse explained in its release notes that it plans to welcome these users to the platform “over the coming weeks.”
As more and more social media platforms start cooking up their own Clubhouse clones, Instagram is adding new features to its existing livestreaming service to get in on the voice chat craze. On Thursday, Instagram announced it’s rolling out the option to turn off your audio or video while using Instagram Live.
Instagram tested these new features publically on Monday during an Instagram Live broadcast between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram. Starting today, global audiences on both iOS and Android will have access to them too.
“We want to build on our Live product and offer even more ways for our creator community to drive serendipitous, engaging conversation with each other and their audience,” a company spokesperson told Gizmodo via email. “By giving people the option to mute their audio or turn off their video, hosts will have the added flexibility for their livestream experience, as the added functionality could help decrease pressure to look or sound a certain way while broadcasting live.”
As for now, broadcasters won’t be able to turn on or off the video or mute others in their livestreams, but Instagram said it’s working on adding these kinds of options soon.
In a similar move, Instagram’s parent company Facebook added Live Audio Rooms to its platform and Messenger app back in March. It also has a Clubhouse-inspired Q&A platform called Hotline in the works.
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LinkedIn, Twitter, Slack, and a slew of other online platforms have jumped at the chance to develop their own voice chat features in recent months, trying to capitalize on the relaxed, “video off” experience popularized by Clubhouse.
Whether or not it’s just a flash in the pan remains to be seen, but Clubhouse’s investors sure seem to have faith in its staying power. The company was reportedly valued at roughly $4 billion amid negotiations with investors during a round of funding earlier this month. However, Clubhouse’s explosive growth is starting to show signs of waning, Insider reports. According to data from app analytics firm Sensor Tower, the number of monthly app installs worldwide tanked between February and March, from 9.6 million downloads to 2.7 million downloads respectively.
Clubhouse’s rise in popularity has been partially tied to the coronavirus pandemic keeping many people stuck inside and pushing them toward socially distanced opportunities, such as public audio chatrooms, to connect. With the world slowly beginning to open back up again as vaccines roll out, it appears Clubhouse shtick may be wearing thin for some users.
Rumor has it the front page of the internet may be the latest online platform cooking up a social audio feature a la the voice-only chat app Clubhouse.
Reddit is quietly working on incorporating moderator-run voice chats onto the platform, a person familiar with the matter said in a Friday Mashable report. In an interview with the outlet, the source described the feature’s development as confidential and still in its early stages.
If this voice chat feature ever does see the light of day, odds are it’ll roll out under Reddit’s “power-ups” banner, an initiative the company launched last year to experiment with new subscription-based features specific to individual subreddits.
In its initial announcement, Reddit listed several examples of these features, called power-ups, such as the “ability to upload and stream up to HD quality video,” “video file limits doubled,” and “inline GIFs in comments,” among others. Subreddits can unlock these perks after enough of their members purchase monthly power-up subscriptions, with the minimum threshold for each community determined by its size.
At the time, Reddit made it crystal clear it wanted to hear from users for future suggestions.
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“The new experiment helps create a framework that allows us to add ‘nice to have’ features for subreddits,” Reddit said in its announcement in August. “We are starting with a few handpicked features and expect to add more as we get input from you and the communities that have opted into our early testing.”
Given all the buzz about social audio services these days, I suspect “voice chat” scored pretty high on the list of suggestions. Though I can understand why Reddit may want to keep things under wraps for now given how royally it screwed up trying to introduce chat rooms last year. TLDR: Reddit pushed out the feature with little forewarning and seemingly zero thought about moderation, as subreddit mods couldn’t opt-out of chats or control them. It was a disaster.
Reddit did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment, but we’ll be sure to update this blog when they do.
Time will tell if this audio chat craze is a flash in the pan, but what is clear is that the landscape is quickly becoming crowded. Clubhouse has inspired several copycats since its launch in March 2020, with Twitter, LinkedIn, Slack, and TikTok’s parent company, Bytedance, all reportedly rushing to get in on the action with their own audio chat features. Facebook also began beta testing for its Clubhouse clone, a web-based Q&A platform that it’s calling Hotline, this week.
Facebook on Wednesday ran its first public beta test of Hotline — a web-based Q&A platform that seems like it was dreamed up as the platform’s answer to the current voice chat app craze.
More specifically, Hotline is designed to function as a sort of love child between Instagram Live and Clubhouse, TechCrunch reports: Creators will address an audience of users, who will then be able to respond by asking questions with either text or audio. Unlike Clubhouse — which is strictly an audio-only platform — Hotline users will have the option to turn their cameras on during events, adding a visual element to an otherwise voice-dominated experience.
Hotline is currently being developed by Facebook’s NPE Team, which handles experimental app development within the company, and is being led by Eric Hazzard, who created the positivity-focused Q&A app tbh that Facebook acquired before pivoting Hotline.
A public livestream of the app’s functionality on Wednesday was led by real estate investor Nick Huber, who spoke about industrial real estate as a second income stream — which should give you a pretty good idea about exactly what type of “creators” Hotline will be attempting to net once it’s live. Close observers of the stream will have noticed that Hotline’s interface closely resembles Clubhouse’s, in that the speaker’s icon is situated atop or astride an “audience,” which is populated by listeners whose profiles appear below the livestream (on the desktop version, the audience is off to the side).
Where the app differs from Clubhouse is in its functionality for “audience” members, who will see the questions they ask appear in a list at the top of the stream which other users can then choose to upvote or downvote. The creator will also have the option to pull listeners onto the “stage” area to join them in a back and forth, which will be something closer to Zoom in nature than its audio-only forebears.
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In a statement on Wednesday, Facebook declined to offer specific details about a launch date for Hotline, but said that developers have been encouraged to see how new multimedia features and formats “continue to help people connect and build community.”
“With Hotline, we’re hoping to understand how interactive, live multimedia Q&As can help people learn from experts in areas like professional skills, just as it helps those experts build their businesses,” a Facebook spokesperson said.
A new round of funding the audio chat app is negotiating with investors may value the company at around $4 billion, sources told the news agency, although it’s “unclear how much Clubhouse is seeking to raise or which investors are participating.”
Bloomberg noted that Clubhouse quadrupling its own valuation in the span of just a few months would reflect the “astronomical expectations” of investors, which is a bit of an understatement given the company was only launched a year ago and has yet to prove livestreamed audio conversations can rake in that much revenue. As the Information noted back when Clubhouse hit a $1 billion valuation, there isn’t even an Android version of the app yet, and the company also isn’t making any money. Right now it’s still in the dollar-draining phase of its operation, trying to lure buzzy influencers with cash incentives in order to lay the groundwork towards monetization. There’s also the risk that Clubhouse’s live, public audio chat rooms are primarily so popular right now because the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is preventing its users from doing just about anything more interesting than attending virtual seminars.
Per Bloomberg, investment firm Andreessen Horowitz valued Clubhouse at around $100 million or so prior to January:
Andreessen Horowitz has been a major booster of the app. It initially valued the parent company at $100 million before the investment in January at 10 times that valuation. (Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, has invested in Andreessen Horowitz.)
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Nothing is certain yet, and of course, news about impending deals tends to pop up when one of the interested parties wants to push publicity in their favor. So we’ll see.
Clubhouse used to be primarily popular in Silicon Valley, where it attracted certain members of the venture capital set, tech workers, and journalists focused on the industry—not to mention a coterie of bigots and far-right agitators attracted by its loose moderation policies. (It’s also become a hub for rich VCs and various hangers-on to endlessly complain about “cancel culture.”) It’s since proved to have wider appeal, boasting a particularly vibrant Black community responsible for much of Clubhouse’s cultural cachet, and according to the New Yorker, had some 10 million users in February. Brands are now flocking to the app, and an ecosystem of sister apps and audio tools designed specifically to be used with Clubhouse has begun to flourish.
Even if Clubhouse doesn’t prove to be a flash in the pan, it’s going to have to compete with a huge and in some cases baffling array of apps that have eagerly jumped at the chance to clone its features. Facebook, TikTok parent company ByteDance, and Twitter, as well as business-world apps LinkedIn and Slack, are all rushing to launch their own audio chat features.
The invite-only audio chat app Clubhouse is sweetening the deal for creators by offering a direct payment option that would allow them to reap 100% of the rewards.
In a Monday blog post, Clubhouse announced that it would partner with the payment processing startup Stripe to offer direct payments on the app for the first time in order to bring the platform in line with its foundational principle of putting creators first.
“Our aim is to help creators build community, audience, and impact,” the blog post says. “And as Clubhouse continues to scale, it’s important to us to align our business model with that of the creators—helping them make money and thrive on the platform.”
Although not all creators will be eligible to receive payments immediately — Clubhouse says it will begin rolling out payments in waves “starting with a small test group” — apparently 100% of those payments will actually go to the creators themselves, with Clubhouse declining to take a cut of the profits.
The monetization tool will be the first built directly into the app’s infrastructure, and will allow users to tap on the profile of the creator of their choice and elect to “Send Money,” which will trigger a prompt to enter credit or debit card information. Once activated — and after a credit card processing fee has been paid — users will be able to send direct cash transfers to the creator of their choosing, all of which will be processed through Stripe.
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The announcement seems to be part of a larger initiative to incentivize would-be creators and influencers, which Clubhouse has been angling to net in droves. In March, the platform announced a new accelerator program called “Clubhouse Creator First,” which would “support and equip 20 creators w/ resources they need to bring their ideas and creativity to life,” per a tweet.
In short, Clubhouse — an invite-only social network that has clout-chasing and exclusivity baked into its premise — needs to be populated by chat influencers in order to thrive, and is creating an incentive package in order to keep those users on the app. And with dozens of copycat platforms already chomping at the bit to steal Clubhouse’s bit, it will need lots of good tricks up its sleeve to make sure it doesn’t lose valuable talent to any given number of competitors.
The latest platform dipping its toes into the tepid waters of the “social audio experience” is LinkedIn, which confirmed on Tuesday that it’s developing an audio networking integration for its app that will rival the existing voice-only chat app Clubhouse.
Clubhouse itself has inspired a host of copycats since its initial rollout in March 2020, with Twitter Spaces currently in beta testing and Facebook, Telegram and Discord all confirming that they have their own audio-networking features in the works. But LinkedIn claims that its own answer to Clubhouse was born less out of a desire to keep up with the Joneses and more as an answer to its own users’ needs:
“We’re seeing nearly 50% growth in conversations on LinkedIn reflected in stories, video shares, and posts on the platform,” a LinkedIn spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We’re doing some early tests to create a unique audio experience connected to your professional identity. And, we’re looking at how we can bring audio to other parts of LinkedIn such as events and groups, to give our members even more ways to connect to their community.”
LinkedIn’s version of Clubhouse will reportedly feature a stage that will function as spotlight for the room’s speakers, with a set of listeners situated below them like an audience — very “Ted talks-but-dystopian” chic. Alessandro Paluzzi, a leaker and audio developer, recently posted screenshots of the reverse-engineered Android version of the app, which shows that the new feature will also come equipped with tools to join and leave the room, react to comments, and request to speak.
LinkedIn, for what it’s worth, does seem to be the one place where it sort of makes sense to hop online and voice chat with strangers, and its developers are betting that the recent pandemic-necessitated nosedive into remote work will help to bolster its utility as a voice-based networking community.
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“Our priority is to build a trusted community where people feel safe and can be productive,” a spokesperson said. “Our members come to LinkedIn to have respectful and constructive conversations with real people and we’re focused on ensuring they have a safe environment to do just that.”
Clubhouse is prodigious. At just over a year old, the exclusive, invite-only app still doesn’t have a proper website or even an app on more than a single operating system. What it lacks in usability, though, the app store chart-topper makes up in celebrity cachet, millions of users, and access to a seemingly endless spigot of funds.
The platform offers audio-only chat rooms with hosts who talk and up to thousands of guests who listen—kind of like a live podcast with audience participation in a gated online community. For a lot of folks, the phenomenon of Clubhouse’s meteoric rise and the backdrop of an ongoing global pandemic are somewhat inextricable.
“You have to wonder whether [Clubhouse] would be this appealing in any other year,” mused Ana Milicevic, co-founder of the Manhattan-based tech advisory firm Sparrow Advisers. With in-person events canceled and most socializing limited to virtual, the success of the app certainly benefitted from quarantined users with sudden time to try out a new social app.
What isn’t certain—though there are theories—is how Clubhouse plans to survive if those funding spigots are shut off or whether it can sustain the hype.
Grow first, profit later
Before we talk about the millions of users (and counting) that are on the app, we need to talk about why so many of them flocked there to begin with. First, it debuted in Apple’s Testflight program in April 2020: the same month that states across the country began going under lockdown. By the time that the platform appeared in the App Store in October 2020 as something that anyone could download, it had racked up 10,000 users.
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As Milicevic pointed out, when Clubhouse began gaining a foothold with its initial user base, it wasn’t because the app was doing anything cutting-edge. Audio-based chatrooms have been the bread and butter of platforms like Discord and Skype for years at this point. Where Clubhouse did have the upper hand was exclusivity. True to its name, the only way to get into the club is knowing someone already inside—or even buying an invite from some kindly entrepreneurial stranger.
Clubhouse certainly isn’t the first app to foster a kind of exclusivity from the get-go. When Google first rolled out Gmail way, way back in 2004, the company lacked the reliable infrastructure needed to, say, offer unlimited storage to millions of people. Instead, Google gave about 1,000 people access to their new mail product and gave those exclusive few the ability to invite their family and friends. As it turns out, rolling out the product in this way accidentally turned into what one Google employee called “one of the best marketing decisions in tech history.” When access to a hot new piece of tech is only afforded to a select few, it leaves a sense of white-hot FOMO among those on the outside looking in. Some techies have even pointed out that being outside the Clubhouse bubble in 2021 feels not unlike being outside the Gmail bubble in the early 2000s.
“There’s a lot to be said about momentum in [the app] space,” Milicevic said. “Your ability to acquire new users—especially without paying through the roof for them—is directly related to your ability to survive.” Instead of pouring money into advertising itself, Clubhouse let others do the job by hosting influencer-driven events with massive, built-in audiences.
The first few people Clubhouse brought on board happened to be sort of people that would draw tons of users: preexisting cults of personality in the tech sector that already have a built-in audience on platforms like Twitter: think Oprah, Lindsay Lohan, and—naturally—Elon Musk, whose Clubhouse debut brought in so much traffic that the app short-circuited.
What drew Musk (and some of the other major names in tech) to Clubhouse in the first place is still an open question, though justabouteveryone agrees it has something to do with Silicon Valley superfirm Andreesen Horowitz—known as a16z for short. Founders Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz don’t only host their own podcasts on the platform and act as the tireless hype men for other people’s content, but they’re also largely responsible for bankrolling the app, leading two multi-million dollar funding rounds that helped push Clubhouse’s valuation to roughly $1 billion by early 2021.
“Clubhouse could not have come at a better time for social media,” wrote a16z partner Andrew Chen about one of the firms funding rounds earlier this year. “It reinvents the category in all the right ways, from the content consumption experience to the way people engage each other while giving power to its creators. It’s a fresh experience that brings humanity and context to online social engagement.”
Key to that “experience” Chen referred to in his post is the platform’s decision to forgo the traditional money-making methods that have turned companies like Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube into multi-billion dollar behemoths: targeted advertising. Rather than attempt to turn a profit right out the gate, the app made it through its first birthday riding entirely on VC capital—a tactic that might sound risky but is actually pretty common among the tech set.
“Because of the relatively accessible—and relatively large—sums of VC money in the U.S. ecosystem, we can afford to develop platforms that amass a large audience and then figure out monetization later,” Milicevic explained. “This isn’t a luxury for companies in Europe—the funding ecosystem is just different, and forces companies into getting to monetization faster.”
“That’s just poor design,” Milicevic added, referring broadly to grow-first strategies. “Inevitably, you’re going to end up making trade-offs that aren’t in line with your user-base.”
That is perhaps what’s happening with Telegram after its decision to adopt targeted advertising after going eight years being largely reliant on founder Pavel Durov’s own savings. Durov even had to explain himself, attempting to convince users not to “worry” about the ads.
Clubhouse’s creator contingency
When Clubhouse confirmed that it netted a $100 million funding round from a16z back in January, it noted that an unspecified chunk of that change went into creating an internal “Creator Grant Program” meant to fund a select group Clubhouse creators and ideally keep them from flocking to the copycat apps that are quickly cropping up on the horizon. Earlier this month, the company’s Creator First accelerator program rolled out in full, promising that 20 of the app’s creators could qualify for funding to help them, as the company put it, “host amazing conversations [and] build their audience” on the app.
Meanwhile, Clubhouse CEO Paul Davison’s previously hinted that the app’s creators might actually be funded by their own fanbase in the future, through features like subscriptions, ticketed events, and even direct tips.
If you’re wondering why Clubhouse is pouring this many resources into its creator economy when there’s always the very real risk that the economy won’t pan out as planned, look no further than Vine. Previous reports have pointed out that the largely creator-driven app snubbed a 2015 request from its top stars for a $1.2 million payout. Pretty soon after, a third of Vine’s creators left the app, which likely contributed to the app’s unceremonious collapse one year later.
A year later, we got another cautionary tale when report after report bubbled up describing Snapchat’s relatively chilly relationship with its influencer base. Naturally, a glut of influencers jumped ship for competitors like Instagram Stories, leading to a stock slump that translated to Snapchat bleeding hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of the following year.
“If you’re not going to start off with monetization, then you have to gear your company towards aggressive growth,” Milicevic said. “And if that aggressive growth slows down for whatever reason, well… you’re in a really really tough spot.”
Considering how people are quite literally falling over each other to get access to this app, it might be hard to imagine its growth sputtering anytime soon. That said, it’s worth remembering that this app is still (technically)in beta. Until now, the company was without a proper website or even a proper app in anything but the iOS operating system—though this week the company announced we should be getting a Clubhouse app on Android before the year’s end.
Meanwhile, the app’s veneer of exclusivity is starting to wane, disenchanting some of its formerly die-hard users. On the unofficial Clubhouse subreddit, some whispered disappointment about what they see as the platform’s slow evolution from professional network to something akin to a bizarre, audio-only Omegle where you end up in a room with a bunch of strangers and, potentially, weirdos. Without high-profile influencers to keep its core audience coming back, then, well. It could be RIP Clubhouse.
Even without a potential user exodus, Clubhouse’s ballooning user base comes with headaches of its own. Back in February, a report from the Stanford Internet Observatory revealed that the glut of the actual “tech” underlying the Clubhouse app was actually licensed from a third-party company—the Shanghai-based startup Agora. From that relationship, one user did some back of the napkin math to estimate what Clubhouse might be paying Agora to keep its app up and running. The costs? $1.4 million per month, assuming that there are two million users spending an average of three hours per week plugged into the platform. And if Clubhouse stays on this trajectory, those costs are only going to keep climbing—meaning that the company will need to figure out how to cash out on its users, and fast.
The good news is there are plenty of options.
What a Clubhouse consumer cash-out could look like
The first possibility is also arguably the most straightforward: just start charging people to access particular panels, or charging people for the Clubhouse equivalent of a backstage pass to talk with a speaker one-on-one before they hit the main stage in front of hundreds—if not thousands—of fellow Clubhousers.
“Here’s one way to think about it: Say Elon Musk is speaking, and you really want a smaller, more intimate chat—like say, with 100 other people—before he takes the main stage in front of 5,000,” said Debra Aho Williamson, a principal analyst with eMarketer. “I think people would pay to make that happen.”
Say what you will about Musk’s cavalcade of fans, they’re nothing if not extremely devoted to Tesla’s self-appointed Technoking. We’ve seen countless members from the fold pour upwards of $10,000 into Tesla stocks, even when some don’t even own one of the electric vehicles themselves. Earlier this week, one scammer masquerading as Musk managed to con a fanboy out of $560,000. While Williamson hasn’t calculated what the price point of a service like this would be, it’s safe to say that it would be pretty high up there.
Then there are the brands. In spite of the overt lack of advertising, we’ve seen a slew of major brands start shuffling themselves onto the platform and striking up deals with influencers that are already there. Earlier this month, a handful of these creators that had previously worked with major names like Netflix, Cashapp, and Showtime actually rolled out their own marketing agency specifically catered towards what can only be called “branded audio events.” Not long after, another Clubhouse user-created “Clubmarket”: a self-described “sponsorship marketplace” that—as the name implies—lets creators shop around for Clubhouse sponsorships that can potentially net them thousands of dollars depending on the room. Others have pointed out that in these sorts of branded deals, all Clubhouse needs to do is nab itself a commission.
What Williamson doesn’t see working is the typical banner ads that we’ve come to associate with other major platforms—both because targeted ads are kind of the worst, and because Clubhouse has kind of cemented its reputation as being a staunchly anti-ad platform.
That said, a middle-ground she could see working are the kind of ads you’d typically associate with podcast feeds: mid-roll spots that the announcer reads out (and potentially riffs over), perhaps bundled with a special promo for the people listening. These sorts of ads are gaining steam among advertisers, and fast, meaning that Clubhouse could snag some of that ad spend for itself.
Whatever approach Clubhouse lands on, it might want to act quickly. As its exclusivity steadily drains, another finite resource may soon become limited, post-pandemic—our time.