Most Influential Projects 2021

21 Clubhouse

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For unfollowing the leaders in the social media space

Considering Clubhouse now boasts millions of users and a market value of US$4 billion, it’s hard to believe the social media app was—by design—hard to join. After the voice-based platform debuted in March 2020, its buzz skyrocketed in part because of customer craving for real conversation during pandemic lockdowns, along with a push to bring in Black creators and celebrities.

It wasn’t long before venture capitalists and tech billionaires began making cameos on its audio chatroom channels, lending Clubhouse cachet during its beta phase and fueling demand for an app outside its iOS framework. 

This year, parent company Alpha Exploration Co. dramatically expanded access by introducing an Android app, adding a direct-messaging system and dismantling the invitation-only model. By July 2021, an additional 10 million people lined up to join Clubhouse. (Even PMI is using the channel to share better ways to work, advance power skills and drive meaningful change.)

As with many social media innovations, the app has inspired audio-focused clones, like Twitter’s Spaces, Spotify’s Greenroom, Reddit Talk and Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms, and sparked potential copycat moves by LinkedIn and Slack. 

For all the success, some media pundits are already declaring Clubhouse dead, though the company’s leadership is intent on keeping the party going, albeit on its own terms.

“We’ve always taken a measured approach to growth, keeping the team small … and getting feedback from the community along the way,” founders Paul Davison and Rohan Seth wrote. “When you scale communities too quickly, things can break.”

How Clubhouse Turned Up the Volume 

Screenshot of clubhouse app

March 2020: After testing an experimental voice-driven social network for months, Davison and Seth launch Clubhouse with a few hundred users—just as the world shuts down amid the pandemic. For standout UX from the start, a team gathers feedback by listening to users every day through the app, hosting town-hall-style events on the platform, and encouraging users to share concerns and ask questions.

April 2020: Clubhouse launches in Apple’s App Store. 

May 2020: After receiving a fresh round of private investments, the startup’s valuation zooms to US$100 million. 

October 2020: The team begins to experience—and solve for—the challenges of hosting live, unmoderated conversations. In October, days after one conversation turned hostile, Clubhouse unveils stronger moderation and safety guidelines, including real-time investigations into reported incidents. The site also steers users to recently added features, including blocking, muting and reporting tools.

January 2021: In the same month Clubhouse reaches unicorn status with a US$1-billion valuation, Elon Musk makes an appearance on the app’s "The Good Time Show."  A week later, Mark Zuckerberg shows up as a guest. A surge in global downloads follows—9.6 million in one month, up from 2.4 million the month prior. But the rapid growth takes a toll, leading to widespread outages and notification failures. 

May 2021: As Clubhouse releases its app for Android users, its global popularity skyrockets, particularly in India. By July, 10 million new users join.

July 2021: The team finally drops the invite-only model. It also unveils a new logo and website, as well as a direct messaging tool called Backchannel. Clubhouse ramps up efforts to highlight monthly influencers, such as Brazilian human rights activist Dandara Pagu and music entrepreneur Justin “Meezy” Williams. 

August 2021: The app reaches 600,000 active chatrooms per day, double the rate from three months prior.