Somewhere there is a founder of Clubhouse doing the infamous Steve Ballmer monkey dance. But instead of a sweaty, hoarse “developers, developers, developers, developers,” Clubhouse founders Paul Davison and Rohan Seth are jumping around a virtual (sound) stage shouting “creators, creators, creators, creators.”
And that singular focus is what’s driving Clubhouse’s success.
At least, according to former TechCrunch editor-at-large, current SignalFire venture capitalist, and reigning Clubhouse influencer-du-jour Josh Constine, who boasts 3.6 million followers on the hot young social audio platform and recently hosted triple-AAA guests Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, and Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke in a single megashow on the emerging creator economy.
That growth is coming at the expense of the major legacy social platforms.
Like Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.
“We did this big research project about the creator economy, and we found that one of the biggest trends that we saw happening was creators were building a big audience on certain social media platforms but then having to move off of those platforms to actually monetize that audience,” Constine told me in a recent episode of the TechFirst podcast. “People are trying to move fans onto Substack, where they might pay for a subscription or get people to buy a Cameo shout out from them, or moving onto OnlyFans … you’re seeing creators have to go off platforms to monetize.”
The difference at Clubhouse? A focus from the very beginning on creators as the foundation of a social platform’s success.
“Clubhouse has talked from the very early days about how it wants to empower creators to build a business,” Constine says. “It started this creator pilot program which I’m part of, to help give a direct dialogue line between the early creators and the founders of the company, to make sure they build the features necessary for creators to build full-fledged, independent businesses right on that platform, without having to move off platform like you have to with so many other social networks.
That’s the “Creator First” Accelerator Program, in which Clubhouse will fund emerging creators with equipment, concept and creative help, guests and talent sourcing, plus promotion both on and off platform. And, of course, a monthly stipend from Clubhouse to cover ramen and maybe a bed at a co-living startup commune.
In addition, the social audio wunderkind will even connect you with the right brands to earn sponsorships.
Listen to the interview behind this story:
Focusing on creators has reaped rich rewards for Clubhouse already. This month Clubhouse hit almost 13 million downloads on iOS, according to App Annie, with about 1.3 million of them coming just in two weeks after March 1. In other words: growth is accelerating, and while the social audio platform is iOS-only right now, Clubhouse recently hired Android developers, so we can expect to see an Android version of the app launch soon.
But it’s not just about downloads. It’s about engagement. And Clubhouse has off-the-charts levels of engagement.
With those 13 million app installs, Clubhouse is seeing weekly average users reach 6.2 million, according to App Annie. That is literally unheard of in the mobile world, where most apps lose about 75% of their users within the first month.
“Garnering this level of success from invite-only access and limited to iOS is particularly impressive and has caught the attention of other publishers — particularly those in the social media space like Twitter and ByteDance (parent company of TikTok),” an App Annie representative told me via email.
A focus on creators has clearly been important.
But there’s also something very special about social audio, Constine says.
“When you whisper something into somebody’s ear, they believe you; they’ll do what you say,” he told me. “Audio is just too addictive, it’s got too great long session times, it’s too persuasive for other social networks to sort of bow out of it.”
There’s a lockdown-quarantine vibe to it, no doubt. That’s one of the reasons why Clubhouse and the entire social audio category took off, why there are now more than 30 social audio startups.
As analyst and Clubhouse aficionado Jeremiah Owyang told me recently, you come as you are: no business suit required.
No clothes required, in fact.
But the audio also relieves some of the isolation we’ve felt over the past year.
“I was just so missing that sense of spontaneous collaboration and discussion with other people ’cause we’d been locked inside for a month by then,” Constine says. “And I think there’s a lot of people in the tech world that typically, especially in Silicon Valley, would meet up after work for drinks to jam on ideas, and we felt like that was kind of missing.”
Clubhouse as the new dry bar, perhaps? The 18th-century salon of ideas, delivered via mobile app?
But if it’s a bar it’s also one where, Constine says, you throw in a little bit of value as a creator and “amazing things bubble to the surface.”
And not just for those with a big budget.
“You don’t need to be somebody who is rich enough to have a really nice video camera or hire a whole video editing team like on YouTube,” says Constine. “You can just jump right in with nothing but an iPhone. And I think that that means you’re getting creators that don’t appear anywhere else starting to build an audience, and so you’re getting a more diverse range of voices on a broader set of topics than on any other creative platform in its early days.”
Ultimately it’s about those creators. And finding ways on-platform for them to succeed. Some creators are already doing collaborations with brands to finance their evolution as social audio all-stars.
Clubhouse is providing some support. And more will likely come.
That said, there’s not yet a clear playbook to financial success as a Clubhouse creator, just like there’s not really a clear playbook on most platforms. Vine famously died by not supporting creators. Snapchat rejected creators for years before embracing them recently. Twitter is innovating and buying companies at a frantic pace — for Twitter — in the last year trying to build new ways for creators to monetize on platform, but they haven’t really emerged yet. (When they do, they will also help Twitter monetize on its platform, one might think.) I’ve seen YouTube creators liaisons explicitly say that Youtubers need to find off-platform means to support themselves to ensure they have a sustainable, livable income.
That’s led to what Constine calls phase three of the creator economy.
“Phase one was creators joining these platforms and monetizing through ad revenue share,” Constine says. “Phase two was these creators growing super huge on these platforms and monetizing through influencer marketing and sponsorships. But now we’re in Phase three where creators are moving their fans off platform because they can’t get great monetization features on platform, and cobbling together a suite of tools: things like Cameo, Patreon, Looped.”
Or, he adds, Fourth Wall for merch, Podia or Coursera for classes, and on it goes.
Even OpenSea for non-fungible tokens, perhaps.
“What we think that this means is that every creator has to become a founder,” says Constine. “They have to cobble together these tools and a team to be able to run them. You can’t just do your artistry. If you’re a guitarist, you can’t just play guitar anymore. You need to be a merchant, a merch designer, a data scientist, or a growth hacker. You’re going to need to be able to design NFTs I guess next, is the next big thing.”
(And yes, Constine has a collaboration with artist fnnch to sell NFTs, including this one of Zuckerberg, Ek, and Lutke as honey bears that sold at auction for 38.88 Ethereum, or $64,882.94. Interestingly, in this case a buyer doesn’t just get a PDF, a node on a blockchain, and some metadata. Fnnch also provides a physical 48”x36” painting.)
The creator as the new founder is the ethos of an age when more kids want to be influencers than astronauts.
But it’s also the model of a potential future economy, complete with virtual and digital artifacts, that can survive a world in which much of the work is done by robots, much of the thinking is done by artificial intelligence, and much of the rewards flow to hyper-capitalists building extra-planetary cities.
In other words, the creator economy might just be the revival of the craft economy, and might just be an economy that everyone can participate in.
And ultimately, what Clubhouse represents is one node on that creator economy that means that if you’re a creative person, if you have a passion, if you are making something, there’s going to be a place for you to create, to share, and to monetize. If video, YouTube or TikTok. If photography, Instagram or Pinterest. If writing, Substack. If audio, podcasts. Or … social audio.
And right now, mostly perhaps, Clubhouse.
Which, in spite of the fact that it has huge downsides in being exclusive and ephemeral with lower quality sound than a decent podcast, also has massive upsides in being exclusive (everyone wants in) and ephemeral (you must listen now) and good enough quality … with amazing leaders, executives, and hosts.
For people who like to talk — and people who like to listen — Clubhouse is currently the place to be.
“I loved Vine and TikTok, but I’m not a great storyboarder of like comedic content,” Constine told me. “I love Twitter, but I sometimes have trouble coming off authentic when I try to share knowledge there. But on Clubhouse, where I can just talk endlessly and I’m like pacing around this little room — my soon-to-be daughter’s nursery — you know, just ranting into my phone, that feels natural to me.”
“And I’m excited to see every creator find the medium that feels right for them.”
Creators, creators, creators, creators.
I can just see the dance now.
Get a full transcript of our conversation here, or subscribe to TechFirst here.