Yeah, I'm not sure that Clubhouse is going to have the staying power that many would have hoped.
The audio social platform, which quickly gained momentum earlier this year, and spawned a whole new social engagement format, is now facing significant challenges as alternate audio social tools and options emerge, and Clubhouse itself struggles to scale fast enough to both keep up and meet demand.
Which could end up being the killer blow for the app - which seems somewhat ironic, given that its invite-only, measured user sign-up approach was actually a key part of its early stage appeal.
The most significant issue for Clubhouse in this respect was the lack of an Android version of the app, which put a huge restriction on its growth capacity even before you consider its invite-only process. Clubhouse rectified this on May 9th, with the launch of its Android app, and this week, as part of its Town Hall platform update session, Clubhouse announced that more than a million new Android users have now signed up to the platform.
That's a significant amount when you consider that Clubhouse reported having 2 million users in total back in January. How many active users Clubhouse now has not been confirmed, but the app itself has been downloaded more than 15 million times, according to data from Sensor Tower.
It's just that not everybody who downloads it can access it, as it's still in invite-only mode. As such, Clubhouse's next big challenge is to open up to all users, so that it can fully capitalize on its growth opportunities.
Which Clubhouse is working on - last month, in announcing its latest funding round, and where it would be investing new capital, Clubhouse explained that:
"While we’ve quadrupled the size of our team this year, stabilized our infrastructure, launched Payments in beta to help creators monetize, and readied Android for launch, there is so much more to do as we work to bring Clubhouse to more people around the world. It’s no secret that our servers have struggled a bit these past few months, and that our growth has outpaced the early discovery algorithms our small team originally built."
So Clubhouse is well-aware of its challenges in this respect, and those have only been made worse by Twitter rapidly expanding its audio Spaces option, while Facebook has also now advanced to live testing of its own audio social tools.
Both access and discoverability could pose an existential threat to Clubhouse, and as more people get used to tuning into Spaces instead, and eventually, joining Facebook's audio social discussions in the groups that they're already a part of, the app's differentiating elements will be diluted more and more, and the impetus to even download Clubhouse could quickly evaporate as it's essentially swallowed up by the bigger players.
That's why Clubhouse needs to work quickly, on various fronts, if it's going to hold its allure - and Clubhouse is also working to roll out payments to enable all creators to monetize their efforts (now available on iOS and coming to Android in the next few weeks), while it's also set to unveil the first recipients of its 'Creator First' funding grants later this week, essentially funding more exclusive Clubhouse content.
And it still holds a level of gravitas with celebrities and big-name brands. Clubhouse says that both the NBA and Epic Games will be airing exclusive content in the app over the next few weeks, while Deepak Chopra and Alicia Keys are hosting a 21-Day meditation experience on Clubhouse, starting later this month.
This is where Clubhouse needs to maintain its connection - while it won't be able to compete on audience reach, or likely on discovery algorithms and highlighting relevant rooms to each user, it needs to work with celebrities and high profile users to facilitate connection with their fans, and maintain that exclusivity element that's made Clubhouse what it is thus far.
If it can uphold that, it could still become the platform of choice within certain niches, and those who prefer the less mainstream approach to audio social.
But is that a path to business success?
Really, Clubhouse is in a similar situation to what Snapchat was when Facebook sought to crush it by launching Instagram Stories. And it almost worked, but Snapchat re-grouped, and re-assessed what its true value was, and how it could double-down on those elements to sustain its momentum.
That eventually saw Snap put more focus on intimate connection, as opposed to social broadcasting, while it also invested further into exclusive content that holds specific appeal to its core audience.
Clubhouse could follow the same playbook, honing in its focus on more exclusive communities and conversations, and investing in content, as it's already doing. Maybe then it won't need to be as concerned about scale, and matching it with the big players - but then again, its opportunities do appear to be more limited than Snap in this respect.
Time will tell, but the challenges are rising, and Clubhouse needs to work both fast, and smart, to keep evolving.