Investing in Clubhouse

When I first met Paul Davison, it took about 10 seconds to realize he was one of the most charismatic, energetic founders I’d met in a long time. He told me about a new startup he was building—a mobile-first social app that would bring people together. He had launched the app within the startup community, but had big plans to take it to a much wider audience. The startup I’m talking about isn’t Clubhouse, but rather a company Paul started in 2012 called Highlight. Highlight explored how to bring people together who were in physical proximity to each other—so that when you were at the same museum or party as a friend, you could say hi—and it was on the cutting edge of what you could do with mobile phones at the time. That company eventually sold to Pinterest, where Paul took time to delve deeper into social products in the context of visual curation. 

I was happy to reconnect with Paul last year when he told me he was working on something new. By then, he had teamed up with his cofounder and friend Rohan Seth, a seasoned entrepreneur and technical genius who spent years at Google working on Android and Maps, in addition to starting his own companies. The pair was launching a new product to bring people together, this time over audio, making it easy for people to both talk and listen. No, not Clubhouse—yet. This product, called Talkshow, aimed to make podcasting easier by helping users find other speakers and streamlining the usual tools required. 

You may be sensing a pattern! Paul has been working on social products for the better part of a decade, iterating and trying out new ideas, learning from past experiments, and steadily working toward a product that brings people together in new and creative ways.

This brings us to Clubhouse, which Paul and Rohan launched after Talkshow. Clubhouse is a new audio-first social app that makes it easy to talk to other people. The product is organized into a series of user-created “rooms” where you can talk with others, some of whom are speakers and others who are just listening. People can move fluidly between conversations as speakers or listeners, covering myriad topics.

The moment we saw it, we were deeply excited. Today we’re pleased to announce that Andreessen Horowitz is investing in Clubhouse. Most importantly, we’re excited to partner with Paul and Rohan as they build an amazing team, community, and product. Many folks at the firm have worked with Paul, Rohan, and the Clubhouse team—everyone from the marketing, talent, editorial, and market development teams to Chris Lyons at the Cultural Leadership Fund, who introduced valuable creators to the app in its earliest days. We believe Clubhouse will be a meaningful addition to the world, one that increases empathy and provides new ways for people to talk to each other (at a time when we need it more than ever).

Clubhouse was released in early 2020. At the beginning, it was just a single “room” where the founders hung out all the time. You could pop inside, have a great audio-only conversation with Rohan and Paul, and leave whenever you wanted. Clubhouse started out like many new Silicon Valley apps do, with friends and family in the tech community trying out an alpha or beta product, but it quickly grew as Paul and Rohan built new features at a rapid clip. The initial trial users started inviting more people and the Clubhouse community swiftly encompassed a burgeoning and diverse set of people and conversations. Groups quickly began to form around hobbies, cultures, careers, and curiosities.  It soon became obvious to me, as my time in the app reached more than a dozen hours a week, that Clubhouse is something special. It has been incredible to watch the community grow from a few hundred people to nearly two million weekly users. Paul and Rohan continue to use the app frequently to engage with users while working to build the bandwidth to support the app’s expansion.

Clubhouse could not have come at a better time for social media. It reinvents the category in all the right ways, from the content consumption experience to the way people engage each other, while giving power to its creators. 

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.

Clubhouse lets users communicate nuanced, detailed ideas in conversation; not everything needs to be bite-size or tl;dr. It’s the opposite of a video clip or a short post because it rewards discussion and exploration. I’ve seen rooms where people talk long into the night, eventually falling asleep with the app open. I’ve listened to many interactions among people from different sides of the political spectrum, and it often results in a conversation that’s not unlike what you’d get at a great dinner party. And while some degree of conflict and misunderstanding may be inevitable—no social company is free of these challenges—the team is committed to rethinking the ways we communicate with one another online and is working to build a trusted, safe space for people to be heard.

And at the center of Paul and Rohan’s vision for Clubhouse are the creators. These are the members of the community who organize rooms, invite their friends, and host weekly shows. They are the heart and soul of the product. The team has been building features to make it easier to moderate rooms and clubs, as well as working with creators to develop a business model that rewards the entire ecosystem as Clubhouse’s community grows. I love that this orientation contrasts with the typical ad-based business model that has supported social networks in the past. This centers the experience around community and quality, rather than clicks and volume.

We look forward to partnering with the Clubhouse team and helping build its community, product, and business. There’s a lot still to do to bring Clubhouse to every corner of the world and continually broaden the topics people might want to speak to or listen to. It’s going to be an exciting ride.

 

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