Feb 9, 2021 - Technology

Clubhouse gains momentum as Big Tech leaders join

Screen shot from Clubhouse website

Recent appearances from Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk on Clubhouse are bringing attention to the venture-backed audio social network, which has also seen a boost in downloads over the past few weeks.

Yes, but: The app is already beginning to face the same growing pains that other upstart social networks have experienced for years. For example, Clubhouse — which requires an invite to access — is reportedly already being blocked in China.

By the numbers: Clubhouse has been downloaded about 4.7 million times to date since launch, according to Apptopia.

  • It's been growing a lot faster in the past 90 days, the firm says. It hit 1 million downloads at the end of last year, per Apptopia. For now, it's only available on iOS.

Catch up quick: The app has been available in the App Store since September, after months of quiet testing among tech insiders, though access still requires an invite.

  • The company recently raised around $100 million in Series B funding led by existing investor Andreessen Horowitz at a $1 billion post-money valuation.

Between the lines: Like any app for social interactions, Clubhouse has already raised questions about the dynamics among its users.

  • While users from a slew of industries and communities, including many celebrities, have since joined the app, there were early concerns that it was too exclusive to Silicon Valley's best-connected and homogeneous insiders, mirroring trends in the tech industry at large.
  • Since then, Black users and influencers especially have steadily joined the app, though some are still wary of the company's intentions in courting them.
  • And with the growing number of high-profile tech and business leaders joining the app, some are criticizing the ability for prominent figures to cordon off unwanted listeners, such as journalists and other critics, by blocking them on the app.
  • The company said last month it plans to compensate some users who create and lead conversations while it also experiments with revenue models.

The big picture: A slew of apps centered around audio are booming, as audio messaging becomes a bigger part of social media and work amid the pandemic.

  • Billionaire investor Mark Cuban is co-founding a podcast app "where hosts can talk to fans live and monetize their conversations," per The Verge.
  • Twitter last year started testing "Spaces," a feature similar to Clubhouse's setup.
  • Wavve, Riffr, Spoon and other other audio-first social apps have also started to pop, Wired notes.

Be smart: The ubiquity of AirPods and other hands-free smart devices — especially while many people remain isolated and largely indoors during the pandemic — have made audio-first companies more attractive to venture capital.

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