Why Kevin Hart, Elon Musk, more celebs are connecting with fans on Clubhouse
The aural allure of the 11-month-old Clubhouse is creating quite a frenzy beyond its exclusive status. The app is available just for iPhone users as the invitations are so rare they’ve even appeared for sale on eBay. The app with its unrecorded conversations has proven to be so popular globally that it’s now banned in China. On Thursday, there was a “What the hell is Clubhouse?” discussion attended by hundreds in a mix of Arabic and English.
What is Clubhouse, the buzzy new audio chat app?
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While Clubhouse hasn’t disclosed how many people use the app, it has been downloaded more than 8 million times worldwide – more than double its total on Feb. 1 – and 2.6 million downloads in the U.S. alone, according to app tracker App Annie. Clubhouse is reportedly valued at $1 billion and recently raised more than $100 million in funding last month alone. Facebook is reportedly building an audio chat, and Twitter is working on a similar product called Spaces.
Notable investors include prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalists and early Clubhouse users Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz. Horowitz’s wife, Felicia, who many credit with helping diversify members using the app, moderates a well-attended Saturday night virtual dinner party.
A recent gathering centered on an appreciation of Black art, covering topics such as street art and what would be shown in museums as well as making art more accessible and affordable. Guests included former Walt Disney Co. President Michael Ovitz, CBS News’ Gayle King, CNN analyst Van Jones, Tina Knowles (yep, Beyoncé’s mom), and hip hop impresario Fab 5 Freddy.
Another popular attraction is a weekly “town hall” with Clubhouse founders and serial entrepreneurs Paul Davison and Rohan Seth where they spend an hour Sunday mornings taking questions from members. During a unique way to spend Valentine’s Day, 5,000 people – the then-maximum number in a Clubhouse room – it’s now up to 8,000 (and thousands of others listening in an “overflow” room). They heard Davison deliver rapid responses to questions.
The app is currently exclusively on iPhone. So when will the app be available for Android users? “We’re working on it,” Davison said. He also maintained that members are humans, not bots. “We want to make sure that the person you are talking to is the actual person, that’s how it works for now,” Davison said.
Davison also responded to questions about its rules on misinformation, abuse, hate speech and bullying. There have been published reports and comments about misinformation, harassment, and dangerous rhetoric against the LGBTQ community. On Monday, there was an emotional chat titled, “Misogyny on Clubhouse.”
Davison reiterated comments that appeared in a blog post last fall that Clubhouse doesn’t tolerate any of those things and how it’s also adding safety features and empowering its moderators. The app also has blocking and in-room reporting features to give members more control over their safety.
Jennifer Grygiel, a social media professor at Syracuse University who’s been using the app since January, hopes that Clubhouse will fix any issues sooner than later as its invite-only membership increases.
“At some point, they may be pushed to address their business model concerns before there’s significant issues in this room. We see this on other platforms, like Facebook Live where there’s also real-time communication,” Grygiel said. “The risk of bad actors could emerge as their base grows. Like every other place on the internet, it could be exploited.”
But one former corporate executive of a multibillion dollar company and frequent Clubhouse moderator believes that the founders are taking everything members say into consideration while making major changes on the back end of the app.
“They’re growing and evolving,” said Kat Cole, the former chief operating officer and president at Focus Brands, the parent company of mall staples Jamba Juice and Cinnabon. Cole said Clubhouse could make a litany of changes members want, “but that would distract from a pure listening and speaking experience. They have had the discipline to add other tools, like a calendar, and trust and safety tools, to protect the space. There’s always more they can do.”
Cole, who is based in the Atlanta area and has a million followers, said she’s not an investor in Clubhouse but “a passionate member.” She hosts and dispenses advice in several rooms, including one called “Leadership Lab.” On Friday, Cole and Wenah co-moderated a Leadership Lab session titled, “Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide” based on the critically-acclaimed book by Harvard business professor and former Uber executive Frances Frei, who also participated and took questions. On Sunday, Cole and Wenah helped raise more than $70,000 on the app for those affected by the deadly winter storm in Texas.
A self-described multitasker, Cole, a married mother of two toddlers who’s an angel investor, mentor and on the boards of several companies, said Clubhouse offers her more flexibility than she envisioned after joining in May. “I can host rooms with thought leaders exploring important issues and I can participate in my jammies, make something to eat, and touch so many lives in the process.”
Cole likes the app’s “low friction and high ease of use.” She compares Clubhouse to attending a virtual conference, except you don’t have to travel or be seen. “Because it’s voice, I find I pick up more nuance, it feels more emotive,” she said.
Grygiel said Clubhouse’s strategy, from managing growth to hiring employees and making money will determine whether it will still be mentioned with Facebook and Twitter. “Networking alone doesn’t pay the bills, and it’s unclear who is benefiting from being in Clubhouse right now besides the early in-group that is already well connected,” Grygiel said.
Shortly after Clubhouse got its latest round of funding, Musk raised eyebrows appearing on the app to chat with Vlad Tenev, the controversial chief executive of Robinhood over the GameStop trading turmoil on Wall Street. Musk later tweeted he’d try getting Kanye West and Russian President Vladamir Putin on the app.
Not long after Musk, Facebook CEO Zuckerberg appeared on Clubhouse praising virtual and augmented reality.
Those surprise sightings prove anybody may show up, said Clubhouse member Cliff Worley, a senior director of portfolio growth marketing for Kapor Capital in Oakland, California. He feverishly tried listening to Musk in a packed room – and even an “overflow” room – with no luck. He settled for a livestream on YouTube.
“It was kind of like trying to buy the hottest pair of sneakers online on a drop date and you can’t get in the app,” Worley said.
Grygiel is uncertain about the app’s longevity. “Clubhouse may have a timeline. We’ll see.”
Worley, who has moderated chat rooms with his former boss, Shark Tank star Daymond John, disagrees .
“Clubhouse is a value-driven app. There’s no hiding behind a highly-produced video or photo shoot with this,” Worley said. “If your voice is not bringing any value, you will not have a significant following.”
Suezette Yasmin Robotham, a diversity, equity and inclusion practitioner at a Silicon Valley tech company, shares a similar sentiment.
“I think this has created an opportunity for more voices to be amplified on an even playing field,” said Robotham who has co-founded a Black Love Club.
Of course, the app brings business opportunities. For Ruby Gadelrab, the founder of MDisrupt, a platform pairing digital health innovators with industry experts, she hopes chatting with a digital health founder she met on the app leads to a partnership.
federal officer was fatally shot during a protest of Floyd’s killing. A Clubhouse member was so moved she drove an hour from Silicon Valley to help Wenah overcome her fear.
She shared that in a Twitter thread in August, six months before the app’s popularity surge and becoming the app’s third icon.
Last week, she reflected that “I still feel a sense of healing, a sense of belonging, and instant community.”.