Clubhouse: everything you need to know about the hottest thing in social media right now

Steven Loeb · February 24, 2021 · Short URL:

Thanks to users like Elon Musk, the company just passed eight million downloads and is valued at $1B

In the last year, social media has gotten a ton of attention - and it mostly hasn't been good. Twitter and Facebook banned former President Donald Trump from their sites, setting off a debate about whether they are agnostic platforms, or whether they are platforms that editorialize. Amazon, Apple and Google shut out fast-growing social media newcomer Parler, essentially making themselves the gatekeepers of public commentary, since few sites can operate outside of those platforms. There's also been talk of repealing Section 230, which allows social media companies to self-regulate.

Trust in social media has dropped significantly in recent years. A Pew survey from last month showed that while more than half of adults in the US say they get news from social media “often” or “sometimes,” around 60 percent percent say they expect that news to be inaccurate. This has been the sentiment since 2018

It's in that environment that Clubhouse has emerged and suddenly become the hottest thing in social media right now. It's the site that everyone is talking about, and it is growing quickly. 

But just what is Clubhouse, how do you get on there and how do you use it? We have the answers for you.

  • What is Clubhouse?

Founded in March 2020, Clubhouse, which is still in beta mode, differentiates itself from other social media sites by being based entirely on audio, rather than on having people write out their thoughts, meaning the content is more ethereal. 

Conversations are divided into "rooms," based on the topic of interest, such as literature, health, music, movies or business. When a user enters a room, their audio is automatically turned on, though the creator of a room gets to determine who can and cannot speak. If someone wants to speak, they have the ability to raise their hands and join in on the discussion. 

  • Who are the founders?

Clubhouse was founded by Google engineer Rohan Seth and Paul Davison, who had previously founded mobile app developer Math Camp, the company behind apps such as Highlight, Shorts and Roll. Highlight was a mobile ambient awareness app that sent the user a push notification when they are near another Highlight user; Shorts was an iOS app that allowed users to follow their friends' camera rolls; and Roll was an app that made it faster to share photos from a camera roll. Math Camp was bought by Pinterest in 2016. 

In a blog post, Seth and Davison described why they founded Clubhouse, and what drew them to an audio-only format.  

"Clubhouse is voice-only, and we think voice is a very special medium. With no camera on, you don’t have to worry about eye contact, what you’re wearing, or where you are. You can talk on Clubhouse while you’re folding laundry, breastfeeding, commuting, working on your couch in the basement, or going for a run. Instead of typing something and hitting Send, you’re engaged in a back-and-forth dialogue with others," they wrote. 

"The intonation, inflection and emotion conveyed through voice allow you to pick up on nuance and form uniquely human connections with others. You can still challenge each other and have tough conversations—but with voice there is often an ability to build more empathy. This is what drew us to the medium."

  • How do you join?

Here's the other reason that Clubhouse has become such a hot ticket: it's currently invite only, meaning that you can’t just go onto the App Store, download it and join in a conversation. You need to know someone to get in. It's a move that reminscient of Facebook's early days, when you could only join if you went to certain schools and had a student email address. 

Also, as of right now, it's only available on iOS, leaving Android users out in the cold (I had a friend who was all ready to invite me to to join, until I told her I have a Samsung phone). That might be changing, though; in a blog post last month, the company said that it would "begin work on our Android app soon." (The app also wound up on the Google Play store in India, but nobody is allowed to download it).

  • Who is on there now?

Despite those limitations (or more likely because of them), Clubhouse is seeing enormous growth: in May 2020, it had just 1,500 users but by last month that number had grown to 2 million. As of February 1, it had over 3.5 million global downloads and 8.1 million by February 16.

The other big selling point is who is on the app, namely some of the biggest movers and shakers, including actors, athletes and tech pioneers. 

For example, earlier this month Elon Musk interviewed Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev on the platform in the wake of the GameStop scandal. The conversation, which was not pre-announced, became so popular that it exceeded the maximum number of people allowed in a single room, which is 5,000. 

Now Musk has invited someone even more controversial, Russian president Vladimir Putin, to join him on the app. Those are the types of potentially explosive conversations that have people flocking to Clubhouse.

  • How does Clubhouse handle data and privacy?

One of the appealing features for Clubhouse users is it's Snap-like nature: once everyone is done talking, the room closes and the chats disappear forever, though anyone in the room is obviously able to record on their end.

Of course, Snap still got caught up in its own privacy scandal, in which employees of the company were accused of spying on users. So, even if conversations disappear on the front end, what happens on the back end might be a totally different story.

Just this weekend, chats on Clubhouse were hacked, and audio feeds were allowed to be broadcast on a third-party website. There are other concerns as well, including how it accesses its user's contact lists, which is how it allows them to invite others to join.

  • Has the site raised any money?

Clubhouse has becoming the darling of the tech world recently and VCs have responded in kind, pouring $110 million into the company in less than a year, including a $100 million round in January, which valued it at $1 billion. Investors include Andreessen Horowitz, Kortschak Investments, and Tim Kendall. 

In a blog post, Andrew Chen, General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, wrote that he had known Clubhouse co-founder Paul Davison since 2012, when he launched Highlight.

"In a social media landscape that typically compels you to spend hours staring at a screen—often distractedly flitting between multiple screens—Clubhouse lets you multitask while you listen. Like podcasts, you can listen while you take a walk, fold laundry, or work out. It can also be the centerpiece of your evening, like attending a lecture or talk. But it’s also interactive, so if you have something to say, you can raise your hand and chime in. Because you’re listening to people talk, Clubhouse is about a real-time exchange of ideas, not just consuming highly-edited, static content. It’s a fresh experience that brings humanity and context to online social engagement," Chen wrote. 

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