Clubhouse is a Fad – Change My Mind

Clubhouse is a FAD

(Change my Mind)

EDITORIAL COMMENT, DECEMBER 21, 2021: I’m pretty much vindicated. When people on Product Hunt are saying Clubhouse is dead, and no one argues with that statement, then it’s dead. I called it again.

If you aren’t familiar with the Clubhouse app, then you’re probably just learning O.J. Simpson is a double-murderer.

Actually, that’s pretty harsh. There are many reasons a lot of people haven’t heard of it, and maybe never will.

It’s a hyped-up fad.

clubhouse is a fad

I’m on it, as are a few of my better-networked, business, and tech friends. Granted, that demographic tends to be biased towards an older crowd. Who’s using the app the most seems to be Millennials and 30 somethings.  To really be a Unicorn or IPO at $100 billion and keep growing, however, there need to be some serious stars aligned. The “killer app.” as we used to say.

I can punch quite a number of holes in this App. I’ve been on it and around it for a few weeks now, and researched and follow what’s going on with it.

It’s in “beta” right now, which means it’s limited to invitees only and is only available on IOS phones, which are only Apple phones, and you have to give out your phone number to activate it. You can reserve a username, even though you don’t have an invitation. That’s to get people to commit, become excited, and is more marketing strategy than operational necessity.

I know that. But I’m not sure everyone does.

Here’s a list of things I see as problematic for Clubhouse to be a long-term player and not just a really big flash in the pan. We see such things in tech all the time, so let’s not forget that when evaluating my reasons Clubhouse is a fad. Also please remember that while some of these reasons may seem petty there are a lot of petty people in the world, so these reasons may be more or less important to you personally. But when trying to grow consistently higher MAU numbers, an app has to universally appealing and designed and marketed, and made.

  1. It’s for invited members only
  2. The good usernames are taken
  3. It’s for outgoing, if not aggressive people.
  4. Rooms tend to get crowded.
  5. There are a lot of uninteresting clubs.
  6. There are a lot of uninteresting rooms.
  7. There are a lot of uninteresting users.
  8. It’s audio-only.
  9. Archives and searchability are difficult.
  10. The onboarding is nil.
  11. It intimidates people.
  12. It’s becoming a popularity contest, which no one really wins in.
  13. It’s a lot like amateur talk radio.
  14. There are a lot of “rules.”
  15. It’s easily replicated.

For those of you who think I’m wrong, I’m willing to debate it. Maybe on Clubhouse itself. But I can think of some strengths for the Clubhouse App as well. It’s no weakling.

  1. There are a couple of high-profile people using it.
  2. Some topics are interesting.
  3. People like to just listen to others talk.
  4. Rolling it out as “beta” and invite-only works sometimes.
  5. It has a lot of people and media hyping it up to the people who will like it and use it.

Some people may want to debate Clubhouse’s “Pros,” but I’m here to explain its “Cons,” because they’re the reason I think the Clubhouse App will be a memory before too long.

My lists are in no order of priority, but I may come back and rank them as such as time allows and I see Clubhouse grow to the point of saturation, then plummet and reach terminal velocity.

Making it “invite-only” and calling it “beta” has both pros and cons. The pros are that even though it’s being called, beta, I believe that’s more of a marketing strategy than a developmental one. I’m not saying it doesn’t offer some developmental benefits, such as allowing to pay for server strength as possible, instead of overloading and crashing servers from opening the floodgates. Although that approach isn’t what would happen.

An example I’d like to use is Product tHunt that successfully rolled itself out as a beta with invites-only. It was very successful but there’s a big difference between Product Hunt and Clubhouse. Several, in fact.

Product Hunt is an online website that was built by going through Y Combinator by Ryan Hoover, who’s savvy with his enterprises. When he rolled out PH, he personally brought people on board, which was a lot of work, but it paid off. I was member 14, xxx and he personally invited me and he and I became online acquaintances, which I’m sure he did with everyone. He made joining/signing up personal and welcoming.

Signing up for Clubhouse is different. You have to get an invitation from another person who’s a member, and it’s like you have someone vouching for you. Even though they may not know you from a hole in the ground. And you never really get to know the founders unless you stalk them down. They’re too busy building the app and hanging out in rooms and clubs to chit-chat with every single user.

That exclusion/inclusion factor is psychologically strong. It triggers FOMO worries, and for those who are instinctually collective in nature, it causes them to panic. They MUST get an invitation ASAP so they can belong. There’s some primal human behavior at play and being manipulated. On purpose.

Most desired usernames are already taken. That may not seem like a big deal, but it makes it a loser to many people. And I mean the people who are interested in an App like Clubhouse where appearance and self-identity are important. I’ve seen the types of rooms and people on Clubhouse and they have strong ties to their online identities (Yes, I know the app is an IOS app. Let’s pretend that can also mean “online” for the sake of this essay.)

One strength is that it’s already globally being used. I’ve been in rooms where another language other than English is being used several times already, from knowing some internationals. There are about 7,200,000,000 more people on this Earth than in the USA, where many people think the Earth begins and ends. Not quite. So the app appeals to the entire speaking world, so it scales. And scaling is what it’s all about with SaaS.

What I think are going to be some insurmountable obstacles is that the App is for people who aren’t afraid of speaking in front of others. Even though it’s not even close to getting on a stage and talking to 5,000 people, it still intimidates those who are fearful of public speaking, which includes most people on Earth. There has been a survey done where people are more afraid of speaking in public than dying. So people would rather die than use this app. Not good.

But let’s say speaking in front of others becomes easier and a new normal. Even then, you have to be asked to “get on stage” and you have to wave your hand to speak, and follow “Clubhouse protocol” and know the etiquette and social rules, lest you be decried, shamed, and humiliated by a bunch of strangers. That’s pretty harsh.

And, even aside from the “Clubhouse Rules,” you need to know how to speak in public with some grace and not um, uh, er and stammer your way along an incoherent path of crazy words. Even the best speakers rehearse their speech a LOT before getting on stage. It’s impromptu on Clubhouse, which adds to fear and the reluctance of participating. And if people don’t participate and speak, there is no App. It’s reliant on there being interesting and relevant media to absorb, think about and engage with. That’s hard after a while. It produces a bell curve sooner or later of just a few speakers that take the winnings, and the rest slide down to either end of the bell down to the longtails. With 5 degrees of freedom.

And before you know it, you have 20 % of the member creating 80% of the content. Statistically, that could be a lot, but is it sustainable? After a while, it’s just going to be talk radio on an App.

The media has hyped it all up. Not media with any credibility, mind you. The NY Times, PCmag, Socialmediaexaminer, Business Insider, and a long list of online rags. To many people that use the app, again, these publications define the truth for them and that’s the end of that.

But for some people, these publications aren’t what they profess to be. Which is unbiased, blind, smart, diligent, and wise, which is different from “Smart.” They have agendas and are prejudiced and more often than not, are written by people who have little experience with what they’re writing about. I’ve seen Food writers get assigned to Finance and Tech subjects at some “reputable” publications which have online media channels. New York Times, I’m looking at you. You, too, Washington Post.

Marc Andressen was someone who hyped the app, to begin with. That’s all it takes for many if not most media to fall over themselves to report on the item and declare it whatever he says it is.

I have mixed feelings about Marc, along with quite a few other Silicon Valley darlings. I honestly try to be as unbiased about them as possible. They’re gazillionaires and have an interesting life, which always looks greener than it is from my side of the fence, I know. I tend to think he was at the right place at the right time and knew the right people, and his success, at the beginning at least, was no more attributed to that. I have the same feeling for Matt Mullenweg and Mark Zuckerberg, and a long list of SV billionaires. Even if they’re only such on paper.

To sustain their success is something else, and I can appreciate that. It may be sheer luck to find yourself at the top of an industry, but it takes smarts and drive and a host of other traits to stay there, which I admire about them. Even if I disagree with how they do it. Which I typically do. Openly, as if that matters to them.

I’ll wrap this up with this disclaimer: I’ve been wrong before. I didn’t think Zuck would be as successful as a CEO as he’s been, and the same goes for Matt M., who I knew he’d never say goodbye to WordPress. He’s turned it into a foundation, but from the subsidiaries, he makes bank and still has a lot of power in some places. And that’s all it’s about to many people.

And that’s a perspective from the user’s side. What about monetization?

How can brands and products use this platform? It’s going to be tough without being awkward.

If you want an invitation to Clubhouse let me know.

OK, Two things here. I keep trying to find a way to engage and make the Clubhouse experience easy and “painless.” And the pains for me may be the pleasures for others, I realize. But every time I get on or “in” Clubhouse, it feels like walking into a mall packed with teenagers that have nothing better to do but talk about the trendiest subjects.

That’s a tough thing to market. But Silicon Valley turns marketing on its head all the time, and wins every now and then, hugely.

You’re supposed to be sensing and realizing the pain points of your customers, or people who you want to be your customers, and then try to solve their problems at the right time and place. That’s the marketer’s prime directive.

But heady schoolboys want to build it and then find a use for it. And keep looking around for other opportunities that might be interested in what the product/service was, which was created with no market research. It works….it’s just not the same, obviously.

But sometimes it doesn’t work, and it’s like. bunch of people trying to make a huge tower of people, and as they get taller and higher, they begin to come crashing and tumbling to the ground. That’s what I think will happen with Clubhouse.

Calling the people on it “creators” is confusing. What are they creating, exactly? Are we really going off into the esoteric with deliverables? But they’re doing that deliberately because people who “create” should customarily be compensated, right? And so there’s some monetization. That’s weak.

Clubhouse is two-dimensional. It’s hearkening back to the days of radio and walkie-talkies. The people in the Clubhouse are too young to know about such things, however. There’s the rub.

OK, Several months have passed since I first wrote this post. Let’s see where we are with the mighty Clubhouse. Here’s an article kind of outlining where it is:

It’s a social audio app. Hmmmm….explain?  There are developers building/parroting/forking the platform for some reason. And the investors themselves have somehow run the numbers and come up with a $4 billion valuation. There’s been no proof or realistic working of numbers to come up with that incredible valuation, however.

Silicon Valley has had a marketing problem for years. Decades. And it refuses to acknowledge it.  And that problem is this:

They create a solution, then try to find the problem it solves. They go about it completely backward. Sometimes they’re successful with this cart before the horse trick. A lot of times they aren’t and they can’t figure out what went wrong? This is the formula, in fact, that many, many young software designers/developers/engineers use. They build a product, go pitch it to investors, at a huge loss to themselves. They usually hand the whole idea over to the investors to do with it as they please and give a tiny “credit” to the inventor. And the investors hype it and pump it up and tweak it and market it and cash out. Welcome to the techno world of grifting. It flat-out ignores all marketing.

Marketing is about finding the solution to a problem at the right time in the right place. What problem does Clubhouse solve? None I can think of. What problems does Clubhouse create? A lot. We’ll wait and see what happens. $4billion valuation? Do they want to try to go public on the NYSE with that and see if they’re right? I didn’t think so.

Facebook is trying to get into the game as a”me-to” player. They beat MySpace with that tactic, but that’s because that was a good idea. Clubhouse is not. Who realistically has time to futz with finding “rooms” and “influencers” and paying in hopes of maybe gleaning some value? Not many people. Silicon Valley types, apparently, represent about .000001 of the 7.5 billion people o Earth.

Let’s say Clubhouse isn’t targeting everyone on Earth. So, who are they targeting? I don’t know. Has it been put on the table? Or is it wait and see what spaghetti sticks to the wall, like most of the “plans” that come out of this space?

I feel confident Facebook has a plan. But they sure aren’t going to share it. However, Facebook has several hundreds of billions of play money. They aren’t pitching to anyone. Maybe their customers, in the Silicon Valley tactic I just described. And when it falls to the floor, they kick it said and move on. Facebook can do that. The people behind Clubhouse, including A to Z pump and players Marc Andressen, Ben Horowitz and their ilk can’t so easily. I know they’re divested very smartly so something like Clubhouse falling apart like a Clubhouse built of cards isn’t going to distract much less destroy their business.

So I’m going to patiently wait. We’ll see who’s right in the “long-run” which I have a longer timetable than most stock analyzers, VCs, and people in America do. Which means more than a quarter (3 months).

OK, It’s Now July 22, 2021. Spotify has decided to get in on the action with Spotify’s Greenroom.

It makes sense and was probably a cakewalk to produce since Spotify’s whole game is audio. And it shows how the barrier to enter the space is relatively low. Not good for Clubhouse. Who doesn’t have the resources, user base, and money Spotify does, despite the investors valuating it high. Go figure.

Something to notice is that Clubhouse has chosen a green color to identify its brand. Spotify has had a green logo and palette for years. Let’s see who bows down.

Clubhouse has become a maze of rooms with people going wherever they can find a podium to wave their resume in the air. What a thrill. How to monetize that? We’ll wait and see. Spotify has an app they can maintain until MAUs begin to fade.

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