Silicon Valley's latest tech unicorn, the audio chat app Clubhouse, reached a $1 billion valuation just 10 months post-launch. And now, just a few months later, it has an estimated value of $4 billion. Naturally, the rising -- if not shooting -- star plucks users away from Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook. But could the social network designed for collaborative communications devour platforms well beyond social?
In 2020, video conferencing platform Zoom became a household name, beating stiff competition from well-known platforms ranging from Skype and Google Hangouts to Microsoft Teams and GoToMeeting. Zoom quickly landed in homes and on screens across the nation, lifting its stock as high as $568 per share in October 2020. Shares have been steadily declining as it falls off of its high horse, with shares as low as $308 in April 2021.
It begs the question: Is the future of Zoom doomed in light of the new social-networking app Clubhouse?
Meetings are, after all, the original platform for professional social networking, collaboration, brainstorming, and productivity. Now there's a new stage that has been created to promote collaboration and inspire innovation, and it's far superior to the (dare I say basic) video conferencing tool, Zoom.
The existing communications platforms effectively provide a virtual boardroom with a table, chairs, and power outlets. What is brought to the table is (quite literally) dependent upon the participants. Meanwhile, Clubhouse provides the stage and the staging for a meeting of the minds.
What Is Clubhouse?
For everyone who is not currently part of the club -- which currently consists of around 10 million users, according to CEO Paul Davidson in a recent "town hall" meeting on the app -- Clubhouse is an audio chat app.
As much as that sounds a lot like what people in the past would call a good old-fashioned phone call, it's a "completely different ecosystem," as Abraxas Higgins, founder and creator of the largest U.K.-based club on Clubhouse says. What makes it different is that it involves podcast-style consumption, with video-conferencing-style collaboration.
It can feel like sitting in the audience of a TED Talk meets a YouTube Live. But it can also be reminiscent of a 1990s-style AOL group chat, where strangers convene over a shared interest, which can be anything from entrepreneurship and angel investing to Formula 1 and psychedelics (yes, these are actual categories in the app). But rather than chatting via text, like a subreddit, people from all over come together and chat via voice.
What's different about Clubhouse is not just that it's audio-based. Conversations have always been audio-based. It's not that it brings people together over shared interests. That's always been the nature of social networks. What sets it apart from everything else -- from Twitter and podcasts to YouTube and Zoom -- is how it structures these conversations.
Providing the Stage for Collaboration
Where other social networks and video conferencing tools provide a platform for communication, Clubhouse provides the stage. This stage is where those speaking, as well as those on deck to speak, are. Everyone else is in the audience, and should you wish to join in on the conversation, you simply raise your hand and the moderator can add you to the stage.
The brilliance of the app lies in this structure and its ability to better unleash ideas, creativity, and collaboration. Whereas over on Zoom, there are often multiple people who want to speak at the same time, and since no one knows who wants to speak, it becomes a confusing mess where participants are always waiting to pounce at the next available pause, everyone jumps to unmute, and consequently, all then speak at the same time.
Creating Work Spaces That Work
Clubhouse took the concept of the office meeting room and moved it online with three types of conference rooms. The open room is like an open-door meeting, where everyone and anyone can enter and participate. In social rooms, you can see the meeting happening but you can't attend without an invite. And closed rooms, which resemble a closed-door meeting in the boss's office, are invite-only and for private conversations.
Over at Zoom, you just have a "Zoom room," which means nothing in itself but is most reminiscent of sitting in an office and having colleagues pop in. If you have the setting on to admit people, then you simply have an office with a door; otherwise, you're in a cubicle where anyone can show up anytime -- as long as they know where to locate you by having your Zoom room link.
Building the Future of Virtual Collaboration
Clubhouse is more than a social networking and virtual communications app. It could just provide a glimpse into the future of virtual collaboration that opens the formerly private doors to public participation, opinion, and ideation.
One of the many business-friendly features of Clubhouse is that members can create their own clubs (or groups) within the app. This gives professional teams the stage to convene, and what's more, the unique opportunity to get the public directly involved. People follow brands on social because they want to know what's going on. And yet, research and development have largely been a behind-closed-doors type of operation.
With Clubhouse, innovative businesses can connect with audiences, beta test, and create a user-generated feedback loop. With public entry into certain meetings through a remote open-door policy, businesses could acquire both market research and a marketing channel. When audiences feel more involved in a business's development and future, they become, in return, more brand loyal. Clubhouse is a completely different ecosystem that connects and engages people. It can help businesses connect with people. It can help build businesses.
After all, businesses are built on people, and when people who are the end-users are at the forefront of development, tech startups build better products and services. And those startups that build better products and services are those that become the unicorns that go from 1,500 users to 10 million users in under a year and reach $4 billion in a matter of months.