Clubhouse, the hottest new-ish social media app that focuses on live audio and candid conversations, has had quite a start to 2021, so far. In late January, the San Francisco-based team secured a US$100 million investment in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz, valuing the company at US$1 billion—that's unicorn status in start-up speak.
And then on Sunday night, Pacific Time, Elon Musk hopped into a chatroom, and for 90 minutes fielded questions from a panel and discussed topics including Bitcoin, tunneling, the vaccine roll-out efforts in the United States, the future of Tesla, how much he loves Cobra Kai, and how his day-to-day calendar is just packed with back-to-back meetings (billionaires, they're just like us). In an unexpected move near the end of the chat session, Musk pulled Robinhood CEO Vladimir "Vlad" Tenev onto the virtual stage and grilled him on the recent Gamestop fallout. All of this happened live, in real time, fed directly into the ears of thousands of Clubhouse users in the main chat room as well as dozens of overflow rooms. The audio feed was also piped live to other streaming platforms, including YouTube.
In an era of global lockdown and self-isolation, when summits and conferences seem unlikely to take place anytime in the near future and opportunities for first-hand live, interactive exposure to key global figures and thought leaders can often wind up feeling passive and one-sided (hello livestreams), the Clubhouse app provides a surprisingly intimate environment for communities and interest groups of all variants. There are large-scale events like Musk's appearance on the platform, and there are also niche interest groups. A quick swipe through today's scheduled programming surfaces sessions including:
- A UFO discussion led by a leading authority on the topic
- A Berlin startup community chat
- Morning prayer and chanting groups
- Homeschooling best practices groups
- Sewing groups
- Women in IT lunch rooms
It's also easy to set up private audio rooms for select friends, meetings, or 1-1 chats, with the benefits of Clubhouse being that the concept of meeting moderation is built-in to the user experience—i.e. moderators have the mic, the audience can raise their hands to ask a question, and the moderators have the authority to bring people on "stage" to speak.
For anyone who grew up in the '80s and remembers those teen chat lines where you could dial a local number to just... talk to strangers? That's sort of what Clubhouse is like, only there's more information, more audience segmentation, and it's a little bit more exclusive, at least for the time being. According to a recent report, the platform has grown from 600,000 users in December 2020 to 2 million active users. Joining is via invitation-only, and each new member is allocated two invites at initiation and more invitations to dispense as they continue to engage with the app.
(Related: Meet Yoyo Cao, the Social Media Superstar)